We are still in the midst of our Sabbath month here at the United Church of Huntsville. Life has slowed down. We are taking time from doing busy things to be human with each other and renew relationships. Actually given all of the illness we have suffered in the congregation we are most fortunate to be taking time away from projects and problem solving, so we can pay attention to people and our needs for care and rest.

Jesus understood the need for rest. Over and over again in the gospel story, Jesus retreated from the crowds to be alone and pray. In our scripture from Matthew Jesus had sent the disciples out on a mission to preach the good news, heal the sick and share with the poor. When they came back to Capernaum there were so many people clamoring to get Jesus’ attention they didn’t even have time to eat. So Jesus proposed to the disciples, that they should retreat to a lonely place to have time to rest, reflect and renew their spirits. This July has been a good chance at United Church to rest and renew before moving ahead.

While we are still in our Sabbath month I want to examine our scripture from Matthew, Jesus’ invitation to come to him to find rest. Actually, Matthew 11:30 is one of the sayings in the gospels some scholars believe is absolutely genuine Jesus material, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” In First Century Israel that phrase might have been an advertisement for a carpenter. A yoke had to be strong for plowing, but the yoke needed to be as light as possible, so its weight did not wear out the oxen.

So let us reflect this morning on some of the ways Jesus proposes to give rest to all of us who are weary and burdened. First, allow me to lift up the blessing of Sabbath rest. We have trashed the Sabbath in our modern culture. We go, go, go twenty-four/seven, wear ourselves out, and wonder why we become sick. The Sabbath is supposed to be time set aside when we can stop and be human – do nothing – time to be with ourselves, our friends and loved ones and God. Keeping the Sabbath would be much easier, if everything stopped around us, but we live now in a world that never slows down. Stores are open all the time. Commerce never ceases. So Sabbath keeping is a spiritual challenge. The Sabbath is intended to remind us who we are. We are not beasts of burden, though in the law of Moses even donkeys and oxen are allowed a Sabbath, one day in seven without work. We are more than beasts. We are human. We share the joy and the responsibility of self-consciousness with God. We all need a few hours in a quiet place to rest, and to be aware of time, eternity and our place in the Universe.

An important adjunct to our Sabbath time is prayer. We pray on the Sabbath, and our daily prayer times are opportunities to have Sabbath moments throughout the week. The importance of daily prayer is it gives us time each day to be most fully ourselves. We live in a culture addicted to entertainment. We seek diversion. And a little amusement from time to time is a good thing. But we need to remember that entertainment is an escape, where prayer is a time of engagement with God, when we become most fully ourselves. If we are always working or entertained, we miss the engagement with self in relationship to the divine, when we become most fully human.

Another way Jesus offers us rest is to step off of the tread mill of consumption – I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go. We work ourselves to exhaustion to afford things we do not need. Or we make purchases on the credit card or borrow money to buy what we can’t afford, and then we have to work, work, work like we are in some kind of debtor’s prison. I hope after the crash of 2008 most of us as consumers have learned to spend less, save more, and pay down debt. Jesus teaches us to pray for daily bread – necessities – not tomorrow’s bread, or next month’s bread, or a new car, or a home full of furniture – daily bread. If we limit our desires to necessities, we can be so much happier and find the rest Jesus promises.

Henry David Thoreau in Walden advised his generation to simplify. How many a poor immortal soul have I met well nigh crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down the road of life, pushing before it a barn seventy-five feet by forty, its Augean stables never cleansed and one hundred acres of land tillage, mowing, pasture, and wood-lot! The portionless, who struggle with no such unnecessary encumbrances, find it labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.

Simplify, reuse, reduce, recycle. Live simply so that others may simply live. A first step in simplifying our lives is getting rid of much of the stuff that fills all of our storage spaces, and takes over our counters. At our house I know Murphy’s Fifth Law applies: “all horizontal surfaces pile up.” I read a story about a man trying to get rid of couch he no longer wanted. He put this perfectly good couch out of the curb with a sign that said “FREE,” but nobody took it. Then his teenage son thought of a plan, he put a sign “$50″ on it, it was gone the next day! Cleaning out our stuff, and then not replacing it is the beginning of simplifying. We can also eat more simply, eating less, eating fresh is another step in simplifying our lives, and becoming more healthy. Simplifying by spending less time glued to our televisions or our computer screens can also free up more time for exercise, prayer, meditation, conversation with friends all healthy activities that improve our health and the fabric of community around us.

We can reduce the business of our lives by scheduling fewer activities. Most of us are over scheduled. Our calendars are filled with dates, appointments, projects, tasks. Most of our lives would be enhanced by attending fewer events. But one of the drivers of our business is somewhere in our past there was someone who accused us of being lazy. Maybe it was a parent, a teacher, some authority figure who accused us of slothfulness, and so we run as fast as we can, keeping busy all the time in order to live down the accusations of laziness. God does not demand we be busy all the time. If we can identify that little voice in our head driving us to constantly do more, we can finally say, “no mother,” or “no father,” or “no Mr. Wagner, I don’t have to always be doing something to be somebody.”

In our scripture Jesus says, “My burden is light.” Jesus invites us to unburden ourselves. Thoreau painted us an image of people carrying tangible burdens, stuff, so allow me to invite you to try to picture what are the intangible burdens, the spiritual stuff you are carrying? Maybe there is a load of guilt you are hauling around on your back. Things you should have done, but didn’t. Friends you let down. Relationships you could repair but don’t. Promises broken, un-kept.

Guilt can drive us to do strange things. A story is told about a man who got tired of the buying and business of Christmas. All the frantic haste and the crass commercialism disgusted him. So, he decided not to go along with the crowd. Among other things, he decided not to send Christmas cards or buy Christmas gifts, feeling that the expense and effort were non-productive. For the first ten days of December he felt good about his decision. But then, as the mail brought him greetings from friends near and far, he began to feel more and more guilt about sending no cards. Finally, four days before Christmas, he couldn’t stand it any longer. It was too late for anything else, but he would at least send cards. He rushed down to the pharmacy and grabbed the only box of Christmas cards still on the shelf. He bought it, purchased stamps, rushed home, and addressed cards frantically all evening. He addressed 49 cards. He had one card left over which he tossed on the mantle. That very evening he drove down to the post office and mailed the cards.
The next day he was strolling through the house and happened to see that extra card on the mantle. Suddenly it occurred to him that he had addressed and signed all those cards but had not actually read what the card said. So, he grabbed the card and took a look. This is what it said:
“This cheery card has come to say: A gift from us is on the way.”

I don’t know what guilts you carry. But I do know Jesus invites us to put them down and receive God’s forgiveness. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And note there is a second half to that request, as we forgive our debtors.

Some of us are carrying around grudges. People who have hurt us we refuse to forgive. Mistakes others have made that have harmed us. Insults, affronts, abuses we have suffered that can still stir us to anger, when we remember. So much energy we waste on unresolved angers. Life is too short. We need to be able to put down those burdens down and move on. When we hold a grudge it is like giving other people free rent in our heads. Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. And the reward for laying down our grudges is it frees us from the poison in our own souls, and it allows us to let go of our guilts. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those you trespass against us.

The other major burden we carry is fear. Especially right now we have many anxieties about the economy and money. What will I do, if I can’t find a job? Can I help my child through school? Can Iafford to retire? Will I have enough? Many of these anxieties are very real, and I don’t want to discount them. Jesus asks us to pray. God cares for us. God will provide. God’s providence may not come in the form we expect or would prefer, but God will take care of us. The birds eat, the lilies grow, God loves us.

Underneath all of our fears is the fear of death. Death is real. It comes to all of us. Death can be an oppressive burden until we allow Jesus to help us lay it down. With death we have a choice. We can choose to believe that when we die, that’s it. Life sucks and then we die. Or we can trust a different instinct.

Allow me to ask you to remember someone you have loved deeply who has died — maybe a good friend, a partner, a spouse, a parent, a child. Now let me ask you, have you ceased to love that person after their death? Love survives. Love goes on. Love never ends. Love wins. God is love. God never ends. God wins. And as Paul said, nothing in all creation, not even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Given a choice what do you want to believe? Choose love. Choose life. Let Jesus help you lay your burdens down. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”


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