Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
Last Saturday, I woke up early in the morning with this sense of fear, September was over. There was no time left in the month to get anything else accomplished. No extra time to spend with my family. No extra time to visit with people. No extra time to work on messages or work on reports. Then, I started to think about my deadlines. Sunday was just around the corner, and I knew that it was important for me to make sure everything was prepared for Sunday. But also, we are trying to hire a youth director, and we are running about three weeks behind there. Charge conference is just in a few weeks, and I have reports and tasks to accomplish before we get there.
Then I glance over at my phone and realize that it is before 5am. I know I won’t be able to go back to sleep, so I get up, turn on the coffee and open my computer to get started on at least one thing. The problem with opening my computer is that I am then alerted to all of the, so call, “news.” Politicians acting like they are shocked that fellow politicians are trying to make political wins, while they are doing the same thing. The first human ever was infected by Hepatitis E, which is rat Hepatitius, which means he got it from a rat. And then I just start scrolling. Luckily my coffee is now ready, so get up and pour a cup. In just a few moments this delicious, dark, caffeine elixir is going to make it all better.
But all this happens before 5:30 and I still have work to do. We live in a hectic and anxious world. In many ways the world is just full of turbulence. It’s as if our lives have been jammed into a fragile airplane and we are going headfirst into rough turbulence.
Many of you are experiencing similar turbulence and busyness. When you used to ask people how they were doing they would generally respond with, “fine.” You likely know that fine can be mean a whole host of things. It can be very good, or you could just be covering up that you are having the having the worst day of your life and you just don’t want anyone to know. Well now, the general response to the question: How are you doing?, is “busy.” In many ways, busy is the new fine. But really, busyness is just a code for turbulence. It’s just code for, “my life is spinning, and I’m just trying to get by.
A few years ago, Dr. Suzanne Koven wrote about this issue of busyness. For the Boston Globe, she wrote: In the past few years, I've observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it's easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness. It's one with which, as a fellow sufferer, I empathize especially. (http://archive.boston.com/lifestyle/health/blog/inpractice/2013/07/busy_is_the_new_sick.html)
Busyness, turbulence, it’s all around us in life. In fact, we are in the midst of a message series that is exploring the turbulence of life and different medicines that are there to help us calm down and find some sanity. In week one, we explored rest as a powerful medicine to help alleviate some of the turbulence. Then last week we explored the false idea that everything depends on you. In at least some area of your life, I bet you hold a belief that it all depends on you. And we explored how that is really just a lie that contributes to adding to the turbulence of life.
Jesus knew something about the busyness and turbulence in life. Today we are going to look at some medicine that Jesus prescribes that can make a real difference in your life. If you have your Bible, I hope that you will turn with me to (Matthew 11:28-30).
Here Jesus says:
28 “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads,
See, Jesus knows that people have problems in life. Jesus knows that people struggle and get busy and experience turbulence. So he says:
28 “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.
If you are experiencing turbulence in your life, come to me. I will give you rest. A couple of weeks ago, we talked about rest as a remedy of busyness, but what Jesus is talking about here is a little different. He is about to tell us what it means to come to him. He says:
29 Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. 30 My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”
In the message translation of the Bible we read Jesus’ words a bit differently: “Are you tried? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Clearly, as Jesus was talking to his followers many years ago, Jesus knew that people were tired, weary, worn out. Jesus knows that busyness fills our lives. Jesus knows busyness is a sickness to the soul.
Later in the bible, in a letter that James writes, we read what happens to those that are consumed with busyness. James writes,“with the rich; in the
midst of a busy life, they will wither away” (James 1:11). The actual image that James uses is of the scorching sun beating down on a field of flowers. Under that oppressive heat, the flowers fall, the beauty fades, and they wither away. So too is it with our souls when we are incessantly busy. Our beauty fades and we wither away. –Ouch.
But Jesus says: “Come to me.” What does Jesus mean by these words? How can Jesus really help us when we are busy and worn out?
It’s easy to assume or at least want Jesus to just take away your busyness. It’s easy to want to Jesus to just take away your struggle or turbulence or whatever your “heavy burden” is. You can pray Jesus, take away my busyness. You can pray, Jesus take away my struggle. But if you will notice in our scripture lesson, Jesus does not promise to take away you burden. Jesus does not promise to take away you busyness. In fact, Jesus does not offer to help us in the way that you might want.
So if Jesus does not promise to take away your busyness how does Jesus offer to help?
Jesus says: 28 “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29 Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. 30 My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”
Instead of taking away your burdens or busyness Jesus tells you to come to him and to learn from him. The image that Jesus uses for this is the image of a yoke. Jesus asks you to put his yoke on and to learn—from this education you can finally find rest for your souls.
I didn’t grow up on a farm or around farm animals, so when I think about a yoke—I think about breakfast. I think about brewing that perfect cup of coffee. I think about those two eggs over medium with rye toast. Jesus didn’t really have cooking in mind when he said – take my yoke on you.
When Jesus is talking about the yoke, he is talking about the farm instrument. You might know this, but a yoke isn’t just a harness for a farm animal. A yoke is meant for two. Not growing up on a farm I honesty had little idea of what a yoke actually was, so I had to do some research. I found that:
A yoke is not only something that is only meant for two animals to increase horse power, or I guess ox power. The yoke is also something farmers used to train inexperienced animals for work. You take an inexperienced farm animal and team it or yoke it to a more experienced animal. From this, the more experienced animal teaches the new animal how to work, how to deal with the heavy stuff.
You see, Jesus doesn’t offer to help you in the way that you first think; Jesus doesn’t offer to help you in the way we most want. Jesus doesn’t take the heavy burden, Jesus doesn’t take the stress away, or the hurt away; Jesus doesn’t do what you think you want or desire. God is more concerned with your needs than your wants. So instead of promising to do what you want, Jesus is concerned with helping you with what you need.
He says, team up with me. Just as an inexperienced ox is yoked to an experienced one, team up with me and trust me. Jesus is inviting you to trust him and place his weight on your shoulders. Jesus is inviting you to place his yoke around your neck. It takes trust to team up with Jesus, and that trust helps you learn how to walk like Jesus. While Jesus never promises to take away heavy burdens, you will find that when you team up with Jesus and wear his yoke, your loads are lightened and our souls can find rest.
So how does being yoked to Jesus help us find escape from the turbulence and busyness? Being yoked to Jesus begins with trust and trusting God brings rest for the soul; in the words of the late Brennen Manning, “Often trust begins on the far side of despair” (Ruthless Trust, 117). To use the words of addiction and the Recovery community, trust begins when you reach rock bottom. “I have nowhere else to go—so, what the heck—I’ll trust God.”
When I think about trusting God and learning how to trust God, there is not a better resource that I have encountered than a book called Ruthless Trust by Brennen Manning. Manning was a Catholic priest, an alcoholic, married, and more than anything –a child of God.
He would argue, I think, that you are already at rock bottom. As you sit in this room today you are at rock bottom, on the far side of despair. He said that “the great weakness in the North American church … and in my life, is our refusal to accept our brokenness. We hide it, evade it, gloss over it. We grab for the cosmetic kit and put on our virtuous face to make ourselves admirable to the public.” But inside our souls are withering and broken.
So back to our question – how can we escape the turbulence? And if this escape begins with trusting Jesus, how can we find trust?
First, and I want to be very clear here—trust cannot be self generated. You cannot just will yourself to trust Jesus. Trusting in Jesus is the one thing you need to escape the turbulence of life, but you cannot make yourself trust.
However, there is something you can do to learn to trust. In the words of Manning, “What does lie within your power is paying attention to the faithfulness of Jesus. That’s what we are asked to do: pay attention to Jesus throughout our lives remembering his kindness.”
This week, I want you to read your Bible. Some of you do this regularly, some of you haven’t found it relevant in a long time. Pick one of the gospels that tells a story of Jesus: Pick Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John and read. But don’t just read. As you are reading make a list of every kindness you find in Jesus and of every way that Jesus is faithful. Faithfulness and Kindness. And ask yourself, “Could I actually trust this guy?”
As you attend to the faithfulness of Jesus, trust will form in you. If it doesn’t—call me out—call me a liar. But if you really attend to the faithfulness of Jesus you will begin to trust Jesus. Exploring the faithfulness of Jesus is this action of putting of Jesus’ yoke on, of learning from him and as you learn you will trust.
Your burdens will not go away. Your stress will not magically disappear. Your addiction will not magically cease. Your kid’s won’t get along all of a sudden. You won’t reconcile with your spouse of overnight. But you will begin to trust. And as you trust you will find that, though your burdens do not disappear, they seem lighter. That, though your stress doesn’t fall away, it seems easier to bear. Though the turbulence is still around you, you begin to trust that the plane won’t crash. As you trust, your soul will take the medicine, and you will be able to breathe. So read and listen this week for the faithfulness of Jesus – you will learn trust and you will find escape from the busyness and turbulence.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.