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Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

And Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy
burdens, and I will give you rest.’
Doesn’t some part of you just go ‘ahhhh’ when you hear those words? Which one
of us couldn’t use more rest, wouldn’t rather lay down some burden or another
that we have been carrying? Life is tiring. The constant barrage of hard news in
our own country and abroad. The drumbeat of hard news in our own lives, the
injustices and traumas big and small that everyone of us contends with in our own
way. The treadmill of daily routines and tasks. Put it down? Oh, thank God. Yes, I’ll
take some of that rest. And yet Jesus doesn’t go on to say, ‘and while you’re
resting, I’ll just bring you a pina colada so you can keep on lying there.’ No, he
says something about his yoke and his burden and how we should take those on
instead. Because don’t worry, they’ll be light. And some part of us can’t help but
think, Aw man, really?
Because it’s the season of rest now, the overly warm downtime of the New York
summer. It’s the season when everything slows down – no decisions can be made,
no deals signed, no meetings held, because someone or other is on
vacation…save it till September. Even if it’s not you on vacation right now, the city
feels on vacation. Tourists have claimed the streets, and the New Yorkers that are
out and about are just…hanging around. We might find it hard to practice Sabbath
on a regular basis, this ‘city that never sleeps,’ but in this season, resting seems to
come a lot more naturally.
But already I can see the summer weeks slipping away. We had intentions for
outings and activities that we are realizing we’re almost out of time for. I’ve
missed the free Philharmonic concerts in the park, again. And those projects that I
always think I’ll do as June begins? Organizing the photos, sorting through family
letters, hanging pictures? Nah. Probably not happening this summer either. Life
just kind of rolls along, speedily churning through the daily routine, and it’s all too
rare that we stop to really wonder if it’s happening quite the way we meant it to.

Last week, Mary Ellen and I took part in a fast-paced week-long training workshop
on congregational development – packed full of information on all kinds of ways
to assess and understand and tweak and change what’s happening in our
community system here at St Michael’s. Just wait till we start unleashing this on
you all – it’s going to be amazing. But one of the biggest takeaways is also our first
homework project: to try out ways of listening to what is happening here on
Sundays, what it’s like for every one of you when you come to church. We
realized that we have been tearing along as a congregation since the very onset of
the pandemic, adapting and trying new ideas and ending some things and starting
others and generally building the plane as we were flying it, miraculously not
crashing. But we haven’t had a chance to really pause together as a congregation
and see how it’s going now. We’re carrying some big yokes, for sure. They seem
like good, important burdens. We have lots of worthwhile projects underway
here, and we look pretty darn impressive compared to some other congregations
(just saying). But are we carrying the easy yoke that Jesus has in mind for us? Is
this the burden God intends? Or are we just marching along making work for
ourselves? Maybe it would be good for us to stop and reflect. Well, not stop
exactly – but reflect, as we keep zooming along.
This kind of examination is something we each have to do in our own lives as well.
It’s the whole subtext to the spiritual disciplines: taking time apart for prayer,
setting time aside for Sabbath, committing money and resources to what matters
first. So we don’t just fritter it all away – so we develop a habit of reflection even
as we go along. But it’s funny how we will do all we can to avoid that kind of
reflection. Somehow it feels easier to keep running with the huge heavy packs
we’re carrying than to stop and assess just what’s in there. Maybe it’s because
when we’re honest about ourselves, we admit that we might be carrying and
laboring at things that really aren’t right. And there might be more to change than
we’re comfortable with. Maybe because we don’t want to face the truth that Paul
writes about in today’s epistle: ‘I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is
good, evil lies close at hand.’
I’m grateful for Paul’s words, because it helps to know our ancestors in the faith
struggled with the same things. Trying to live a life of devotion to God, following
the law of Torah, Paul finds nevertheless that his whole effort gets warped. The
authentic relationship he seeks with God gets perverted into something else, and
right where he sought to find life and energy, he finds only fatigue and death.

Now, we all know what it’s like to try to do what is right when the temptation to
do otherwise is so alluring. But Paul goes beyond even that, saying that the power
of sin is so great that it can take our best intentions, our greatest efforts to find
life and truth, and turn them against us. Sin for Paul is a power unto itself, leading
us away from God, and it uses any means possible to do so. I’m reminded of the
Harry Potter moving staircases at Hogwarts School: even as you climb up them
towards one place, they move and redirect you towards another. And there you
suddenly are in the place you didn’t want to get to at all. Paul is talking about
something like that: You wanted to find rest, and instead you are more exhausted
than ever. You aren’t where you meant to be. Your picture of how things should
be somehow doesn’t match up with what’s really there. Addiction can do that to
us. Ask anyone in AA or NA, they’ll tell you. And addiction comes in many forms –
we each struggle in our own way with that sin.
Paul cries, ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this??’
That cry of desperation is often what we have to get to before anything can
happen. Wise and intelligent as we are, we hide the truth from ourselves, thinking
that if we just try hard enough we can get there on our own. If we just take
control of our schedule, if we just focus a little harder, our lives will be how we
want them to be. And what Paul writes, and what Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel,
is forget it. It is Christ Jesus who sets us free, it is God who does what we cannot
do, it is the Spirit who gives life. Let go of your picture of how it has to be. God has
a better idea.
Jesus says that the good news is revealed to infants and not the wise – infants,
after all, do not need to be persuaded of their need; they’re dependent and don’t
try to be otherwise. They don’t carry the burden of ‘how it has to be.’ All through
the gospels Jesus makes it clear – the wise, the rich, the intelligent, the educated,
they all have the hardest time hearing his message. It’s the poor and outcast who
receive it gladly. Those who believe themselves to be well, he says, have no need
of a physician – those who know themselves to be sick know they need the
doctor’s help. As the first two of the Twelve Steps put it, we’ve got to admit
ourselves to be powerless. And then we can come to believe that a Power greater
than ourselves can restore us to sanity.

Jesus says, ‘Come…and learn from me.’ Learn from me as teacher, learn Me as the
subject. Get reeducated. Learn gentleness and humility of heart; learn to live
according to the Spirit and have life and peace. The way of Jesus is a reshaping of
every part of ourselves, everything we do in life. It is a lifelong learning that leads
to a whole change of mindset, setting our minds on what gives life, accepting
God’s free gift of grace. It is a gift freely offered, a rescuing already accomplished
– and it requires us to take it in our hands, cooperate with the rescue, follow the
one who leads. The yoke is easy and the burden is light. You know that sounds
So my prayer for us this summer is that we might stop and listen to God’s voice,
spoken in scripture, in our community, in the quiet of our own hearts. And that
we might let go of how things ‘have to be’ – let go of the burdens we’ve been
carrying for so long. And instead, that we might find rest in how God would have
us be. Because that’s good news. Thanks be to God.

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