Sermon for May 3, 2020
I found a story that fits our readings but I am not sure if it is a true story. “India has many boy merchants, and for their use, as they journey, the charitable have placed rest-stones along the roads. A woman missionary once passed a weary little fellow as he reclined against one of these stones and quoted the Bible to him: "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The lad was invited to the mission school, and there he learned to love Jesus. His face lit up as he heard Psalm 18 and the verse which begins with, "The Lord is my rock." "That is better than any resting-stone," he said. "It keeps one rested all the time."
Those words, “Come unto me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest” come from the gospel of Matthew. When I think of rest for our souls it gives me the sense of total relaxation and comfort. We will find rest in Jesus for our heart, our mind, our bodies, our will and our emotions. It is that sense of total rest that comes only from being in faith with Jesus. In fact, Jesus tells us that our rest comes from taking his yoke upon ourselves and learning from him. Perhaps the rest we get is not just the physical rest that comes from stopping our work, but the rest that comes from knowing that we have truth, that we no longer have to search for that certain something which causes us to be restless. It is that sense that we know we are in God’s hands.
I listen to the words, “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”. Our rest is important. But it is also important to turn our hearts to Jesus and take his yoke upon our shoulders.
We have the chance to hear about rest in today’s gospel. It is what led me to think about the passage in Matthew. Just before these verses begin, Jesus had sent his twelve apostles out into the world. He gave them authority over unclean spirits. They had been told to take nothing with them except the clothes on their backs. They were to proclaim that all should repent. They cast out demons and cured many of the sick when they anointed them with oils. Now, they had returned to Jesus and told him what had happened. It sounds like they were very successful. And Jesus tells them it is their time to rest. So, they jump in a boat and go across the sea of Galilee expecting to find some quiet time. They deserved their rest.
We have been forced into a time of quiet because of this pandemic. Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Let us take this time away from others to build up our strength and to prepare ourselves for what God is asking us to do next.
A week ago, we celebrated earth day, we have seen the improvement in air quality around the world. In places like Los Angeles and the eastern seaboard, we can see the improvement in air quality in photos that have been taken before and after. Other countries have seen this as well. I especially noticed the improvement in air quality in India. It is as if the earth has been given some time to rest to build up its strength and some time to prepare for what is to come next.
I wonder what you might be resting from and for. I hope that you are able to spend some of your time contemplating your faith life. Perhaps you might take advantage of this time to think about how you might learn from Jesus and find some true rest in his arms.
I find it difficult to rest for long periods of time. The quarantine we are under now seems to have lasted forever but we may decide later that it didn’t last long enough or that we didn’t take advantage of the time we had. Our time of rest may not last long. Look at what happened to the apostles. They tried getting away with Jesus for some quiet time but the crowds followed them and met them again when they finally pulled into shore.
The next events remind me that despite our efforts to learn from Jesus we remember that we will never understand everything about Jesus or about God. The apostles had just returned from doing great work proclaiming the word of Jesus. But soon they were taught that they have much more to learn. The crowds were all around them and the apostles first thought that they should send the crowds away for they had no food. Jesus told the apostles to feed the crowd. The apostles didn’t understand. We don’t have enough money to buy food for everyone. They didn’t know what Jesus had planned. Jesus used the small amount of food that one boy had brought. Everyone was fed from that small amount of food. It was an unexpected miracle, a mystery.
During this time of rest many are struggling. We might find a way in this time of restfulness to care for others. That is the way we take his yoke upon us. Simply staying in touch with others is a way to share God’s love. You also may wish to help others in need. Through the generosity of many, our million meals program last week sent money to help over 20 food banks in the valley continuing to provide food to those in need. Jesus taught us to care for others.
So we are encouraged by Jesus to find rest and we contemplate his marvelous works. We have one more reminder today and that is to be watchful. Just before today’s reading from 1st John, he shared that God forgives us and brings us into the light. But now, he shifts focus and warns us that false gods may come and lead us astray. The antichrist will come he said. We may not easily recognize the antichrist. The antichrist may not come as a devil figure who tries so obviously to lead us into sin but rather as someone who on the surface sounds like a follower of Jesus. We must be mindful of the ease by which we may lose our path. We turn to the teachings of Jesus himself and rely on them. The author of 1 John speaks of the Holy One, the Holy Spirit, who will keep us on the correct path. In John, we are told that we know the truth and if we listen carefully we will know the antichrist when we encounter him or her.
In our rest, we need to be watchful. One way to be vigilant is to pray the words that are found in our Psalm today. “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy Name”. Psalm 103 gives us a great list of God’s blessings. God forgives our sins. God heals us when we are sick. God shares mercy and loving kindness. God provides justice and righteousness. God is full of compassion and mercy.
Let us live in thanksgiving. For perhaps there isn’t much rest to be had after all. The apostles were not able to have rest because the crowds followed Jesus. We too may find that there is not much rest because the devil is always lurking.
Many of us, myself included, feel so constrained by the limitations placed on us from the pandemic. We wish that we could go out more, see friends, travel, and enjoy life the way we are used to doing. But we might consider this time as a time that Jesus has created for us. Jesus may have wished for us to have a time of quiet, a time to find a deserted place and rest a while. If that is so, then I think he would want us to rest physically. But I also think that Jesus would have wanted us to take the time to learn from him, to watch out for evil forces and to prepare ourselves for what is to come. May you find a way to rest in times of anxiety, may you actually rest even though you wish to be somewhere else or do something else. May you accept the yoke of Jesus for he said, my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Amen.
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