Sermon Oct 27

A Sermon Preached by Dr. Stan Henderson
Trinity Presbyterian Church
Oroville, California

October 27, 2013

“When the Burdens Are Heavy”

Matthew 11:28-30

This morning I’d like to talk about promises. All through life we make promises and there are all kinds of promises. Some are solemn promises such as wedding vows and military oaths. Some promises are legal contracts, enforceable by law. Some promises are just a commitment that you make to a friend to keep your word. Some promises are warranties and guarantees that we rely on. And some promises we know don’t mean anything at all, like fairy tales promises or election promises. But in general we put a lot of weight on promises. Promises mean something to us and we try not to make promises we can’t keep.

The Bible is a book of promises. From beginning to end we encounter these tremendous, dynamic promises that God gives to those who trust in him. To the ancient Israelites, God promises: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Along the way God leads them to the promised land. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promise and also the one who bears God’s promises to us. The promises of God go a long way in revealing to us what God is like and also in defining who we are.

This passage in Matthew I would put in the category of the great promises in scripture. This is one of the promises of God that we can stake our lives on. Jesus said: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I want to make three theological reflections on this passage. The first has to do with the invitation – “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens.” This is one of the grand invitations of Jesus. The heart of the gospel is that God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ, inviting us into a relationship with himself.

Right away we learn something about who Jesus is. He does not say – come to God and receive these promises. He is not pointing away from himself or beyond himself. Jesus says – “Come to me.” Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine. He is not only the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament, he is the presence of God in human flesh. In Jesus dwells the fullness of God. In Jesus, God gets a human face. And therefore we can receive the promises of Jesus as the promises of God.

The invitation is to all those who are weary and carrying heavy burdens. Different translations say fatigued and overwhelmed; exhausted and weighed down. I imagine that this promise is one that speaks powerfully to our lives. We know what it’s like to be weary and burdened. We may long to be freed from some painful hardship or difficult relationship. Our desire may be to be somehow lifted out of a problem that seems insolvable to us.

I’m reminded of the words of a weary farmer who was struggling to keep his farm going and to provide for his family. He said that at the end of the day he would pray: “Lord, I’ve done all that I can. I give it into your hands now. Help me to go to sleep. I’ll pick it up again tomorrow.”

Who are the weary and heavy burdened Jesus is inviting? I think he means something more than those who are bone-tired from physical labor. Jesus is addressing himself to the most needy in the world. Augustine wrote: “O God, you have made us for yourself and our souls are restless, searching, until they find their rest in you.”

This invitation is for everyone. It is for those who experience the burden of sin and who feel a distance and disconnection from God. At the beginning of John Bunyan’s classic book, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” the main character, Christian, is weighed down with a burden on his back. He says: “That is that which I seek for, even to be rid of this heavy burden; but get it off myself, I cannot.”

Jesus is also calling those people who consider themselves spiritual or religious. Some of those in Jesus’ audience experienced religion as an endless and impossible set of rules and regulations. For these people religion had become a laborious grind. Their experience was one of never being able to live up to the standards of their own religious convictions.

Jesus had some severe criticism for religious teachers who burdened people with practices that did not bring them closer to God. He said: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.”

Jesus’ invitation is for all of us. We shouldn’t think that we might be the exception or that this promise somehow does not include us. It is an all-inclusive promise to those who need the peace of God. That means the church is to be more like a hospital for sinners than a country club for the righteous. We come to church because we know what it means to be weary and heavy burdened.

The second point is that after the invitation to come is the invitation to take. Jesus said: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” Does that surprise us? Jesus invites the weary and worn-out and we might have expected him to say – just put down your burdens right here. Instead, it looks like we’re trading one burden for another. We think Jesus is going to offer a hand and he offers a yoke.

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