Proper 9 Sermon Year A - "Putting on the Yoke of Rest"

Sunday, July 3, 2005

The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector - St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville

Preached at St. Andrew's By-the-Sea, Rye, NH

Zechariah 9:9-12; Ps. 145; Romans 7:21-8:6; Matthew 11:25-30

  In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

     A wise old monk was once lying down on the grass, relaxing underneath the warm sun, when a hunter came rushing toward him. Seeing the monk the hunter stopped and then chastised the monk for taking it so easy. Surely a man of God should be busy about his work?

     The monk sat up, looked at the hunter, and said, "Take your bow and shoot an arrow." The hunter was not sure why the monk would tell him to do this, but not wanting to offend a holy man he followed the instructions. Once he'd shot his bow the monk told him to shoot another, then another, then another.

     This continued until the hunter finally said "But sir, if I keep my bow stretched all the time, it will break."

     "Precisely" said the wise old monk. "And so it is with us human beings. We too will break if we push ourselves too hard without taking time out to relax."

     Jesus tells us, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Mt. 11:28-30)

     As we enter into the peak summer season, I can't think of a more inviting invitation to hear from Jesus. We as a culture are a labor and activity addicted, heavy laden people. And the invitation to find rest for our weary souls and bodies is a welcome one, because we are a society that has forgotten how to rest. And the truth is we have not only forgotten how to rest, but like the hunter in the story, we become disdainful, even contemptuous of those who do really rest. We have come to associate tremendous guilt and shame with taking the time to rest, no longer understanding the difference between slothfulness and Sabbath time. It's the Protestant work ethic gone awry.

     How many of us are driven by work, tasks, projects deadlines, schedules, and competition? I daresay virtually all of us, because we hold up these things as being virtuous. Even vacations, holidays, weekends - the times of "leisure" that we look forward too - are so programmed with activities, that we never really slow down to find that longed-for state of rest that Jesus invites us into.

     Just speaking of all of this frantic activity drains me. Maybe a better way to hear Jesus' invitation is, "Come to me all you who are utterly exhausted."

     There was a time, not that long ago - within my lifetime certainly- when Sunday was a day of rest: a true Sabbath. Except for the local newspaper stand and bakery - the Sabbath would have been incomplete without the Sunday comics, jelly donuts and hard rolls- everything was shut down on Sunday. Everything. And even the news stand and bakery closed by noon. Today Sunday is just one more day for labor. How many of us use Sunday to shop, take care of business, or do chores around the house? And then of course there is the encroachment of school sports like soccer and softball into Sunday mornings: a time that was traditionally reserved for worship and Sunday School. A time for giving thanks and praise to God - the source of all life.

     In a book titled Sabbath, the author Wayne Muller writes this,

" Rest is an essential enzyme of life, as necessary as air. Without rest we cannot sustain the energy needed to have life. We refuse to rest at our peril - and yet in a world where overwork is seen as a professional virtue, many of us feel we can legitimately be stopped only by physical illness or collapse."

     Last year I fell victim to this seductive believe that overwork is a professional virtue. And in late November I was brought down by physical illness and collapse when I contracted pneumonia. It took the wind out of my sails, to say the least. Just walking between my bed and the bathroom totally exhausted me, and I was down in bed for a month. Needless to say my frustration at being absent from the parish during Advent and the planing for Christmas was enormous. Withdrawal from the work addiction cold turkey is tough. But I had no choice - my failure to honor myself with appropriate rest - with Sabbath time for refreshment and renewal on a regular basis- resulted in my illness.

     The lesson learned while I was in bed that month, and the subsequent two months of slow recovery and a reduced work load, was that not having a balanced life with regular periods of healthy rest and Sabbath time, took a huge toll on me: physically, emotionally and spiritually. Six months later I am still not completely there in finding that balance, but I make it priority as I struggle toward the goal. I have come to realize that I am not in control of everything: God is and I have to have faith in that. A recent bumper sticker says it in a pithy way: "If God is your co-pilot, switch seats!" That is why Jesus' invitation to come to him and find rest for our souls is such a welcome one to me, as I hope it is to you.

     Jesus invites all of us who are weary and carrying heavy burdens to come to him for rest. Jesus' words are a balm to the ears of people whose lives are anxious, over-scheduled, and frantic. We need to accept his invitation. We need to stop looking for fulfillment only through our activities and work. They alone will never fulfill us - certainly not allowing us to be the healthy people that God desires us to be. Over work and excessive activity addiction often lead to high anxiety, hypertension, sleeplessness, and stress related disorders of all kinds. These in turn can lead to the abuse of alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, sedatives - to name some- which then create other addictions. These addictions - like all addictions - then contribute to preventing us from being healthy and whole.

     Instead we need to stop denying our weary longings and heavy burdens in us. We need to stop masking them by filling our life with our addiction to frantic activity. We need to come to the holy truth that we are only going to be filled by having a life that spiritually centers us beyond our work: that centers us in the One who invites us to rest and give our burdens over to him.

     This weekend we celebrate Independence Day. It is a time of honoring the gift of the freedom and democracy we have as Americans: a time we remember that we threw off the yoke of being controlled by a foreign power and claimed our God given rights to be a free people. Let this Independence weekend also be a time when we declare our independence from our addictions to over-work and frantic activity. Let's set ourselves free today putting on the yoke of Christ, which will make us free to enjoy rest and Sabbath. Claim your God given right to a balanced life that is healthy, whole and holy.

     This morning we gather around the Word and the Meal that we might be refreshed by God's peace and God's wisdom. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Words of wisdom indeed. Learn from Christ's wisdom, so that we may walk our lives in his gentle way of truth, humility and compassion which are the way of peace. The gift of restful peace is ours if we choose to accept his wisdom.

      Come to me", Jesus says "and I will give you rest." It's the best invitation you and I will ever receive.