Come to Me Sermon for July 5, 2020 from Pastor John
Sermon for July 5, 2020
Last Monday I went to Ironwood to visit my wife’s grave. As I drove into town on U.S. 2 I saw it. While in town I went to Ben Franklin to get some artificial flowers to adorn the grave and on several streets I saw it again. The cemetery is actually north of town in Ironwood Township, and even among the woods I saw it once. The dog was with me so we went to a park where there is dog trail and yes, you guessed it, I saw it again. As I left town and was close to the town of Bessemer, there it was plain to see off the highway. Just what did I see multiple times? Simple signs were posted all over the place: simple gray background with black lettering: “Troubled? Trust Jesus”. Yes, you and I, and the nation are troubled. According to David Brooks in a recent column in the New York Times wrote that according to the U.S. Census Bureau one-third of Americans show signs of clinical depression or anxiety and suspected drug overdose deaths have surged by 42% in May. We know all too well the Corona Virus threat has ended what we would call a normal lifestyle. People are still out of work and some businesses will not survive. Covid-19 deaths hit people of color at a higher rate revealing this nation has not done the work of rooting out racism. According to a Pew survey 71% of Americans are angry about the state of the country and 66% are fearful. Only 17% are proud. David Brooks called this “America’s Crisis of Spirit.” Are we troubled, in these times more than ever?
In the gospel lesson we heard Jesus speak words of invitation: “Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens.” Jesus knows our condition very well. Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew the crowds were growing in numbers around Jesus. Jesus saw their condition: they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus’ response was compassion for the people. Troubled, Jesus says “Come to me.” Anxious and fearful, Jesus says, “Come to me.” Angry about the country, angry because of hurt imposed upon you and oppressing you because you have lost a job or others have maligned you or betrayed you, Jesus says, “Come to me.” Feeling overwhelmed by one setback after another, Jesus says “Come to me.” Sick and tired of being sick and tired, and no longer watching the news because it all seems so bad, Jesus says “Come to me.” After listening to the reading from Romans that even though we know the commandments which call us to love God and neighbor, we know all too well that the power of sin can overwhelm our minds and lead us astray. Jesus still speaks the invitation: “Come to me.” The Holy Spirit wants us to hear and respond to Jesus’ invitation. No matter what we have done or what has been done to us Jesus calls us to come to him. This is not an invitation where you have to appear perfect, pristine and pure because he said come as you are with your weariness and heavy burdens.
Jesus did not say “Come to me and I will solve all your problems.” Jesus is not ATM machine, an “Automatic Trouble Mover.” Jesus did say “I will give you rest.” Rest can mean a good night’s sleep or a much needed vacation. But in the Bible rest means more, although rest in terms sleep is a vitally important health benefit. But we all have had times when the mind will not leave us alone reminding us all that needs to be done or worries that cling like saran wrap. Years ago I had an interesting experience at Holy Communion. I was coming back from vacation. It was a good time but as I was returning my mind began to tell me about all that needed to be done back in the parish I was serving. On my way back home I stayed overnight in a motel and woke up to attend church on a Sunday. During communion I heard the usual words of the “Body of Christ. The Blood of Christ for you.” But I had a sense of my burden being lifted by the real presence of Jesus. It was as if Jesus was saying “all will be well.” I returned to my three-point parish with 3 Vacation Bible School programs to plan. But I did so without worry or complaint since I was reassured of the presence of Jesus who replaced the worry-thinking of problems ahead with the faith of Jesus’ presence to guide me with grace. In Psalm 116 we hear “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous, our God is merciful. The Lord protects the simple; when I was brought low, God saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” Jesus said “I give you rest”, the faithful promise that he will not leave or forsake, enabling us to know the rest of “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.”
It is intriguing and humbling to hear the Psalm “God protects the simple.” In the gospel Jesus said “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” The wise and intelligent may think, “Who needs God, we have all the up to date technology.” “Yes, who needs God, my life is too busy.” People can say with some pride, “I am capable of dealing with problems on my own, what can God do for me?” Yes, technology is amazing but has both benefits and dangers. Yes, we are busy people and life can be demanding both purposeful but busy-ness can be detrimental. And yes, there is nothing wrong with pride in one’s abilities, but it can go too far. Jesus said I will give you rest for your souls. There is nothing superficial about the rest Jesus gives: it saves us from thinking our lives do not matter; it is rest that renews our life and refreshes with repentance, that gracious coming to Jesus for the rest of forgiveness of sins, the rest of the blessed assurance of being beloved children of God, and the rest of knowing we are created in the image of God.
God protects the simple, calling us to faith, trust in the simple truth that God is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit, that God upholds all who fall and does not forsake the troubled. I think of the story in the book of Exodus when Israel was led by Moses out of the terrible bondage and slavery in Egypt. As they were fleeing the army of the Pharaoh was in hot pursuit. The people cried out with fear and trembling. Moses told them “Be still, Keep quiet, the Lord will fight for you.” Psalm 46 pictures a world full of tumult and strife. The Psalm counseled prayer, “Be still and know that I am God, God who is your refuge and strength, a well-proven help in time of need. Jesus said “Come to me all who are weary and burdened 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 find rest for your souls. For my yoke is kind, and burden is light.” Jesus criticized some of the religious teachers of the time saying “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.” Beware of religious teaching that burdens you with thoughts of never good enough, never give enough, never faithful enough and there is no rest. Jesus says take my yoke and learn from me. Yoke was a picture of being connected to Jesus so to learn from him…many translations say his yoke is easy, but a better translation is that Jesus’ yoke, his connection to us is kind.
In the New York Times there was the front page story of a woman all-star athlete, Maya Moore, who gave up her career as a WNBA star so to help free a man from prison she knew was innocent. The man in prison, Jonathan Irons, was sentenced to 50 years for burglary and assault with a gun. This professional basketball star partially funded and publically backed efforts to free the man. Her efforts, along with others paid off and Jonathan Irons was released from a Missouri prison after being locked up for 23 years. It was an amazing sacrifice on the part of Maya Moore, to step away from her basketball career when it was at its height of fame. Jesus said in the gospel that he came to reveal God the Father. He did so by giving up more than an athletic career. Jesus gave up his life, carried the burden of the cross to reveal the love and mercy of God, mercy that removes the guilt and condemnation of sin, love that reveals the truth that God is for you and will not forsake you. When Jesus said “Come to me”, his cross-bearing revealed he will faithfully accompany us through life: because he is risen from the dead and Lord of all, we are assured of his faithfulness to rescue us from sin, rescue us from despair, and give us the rest of his presence which the Bible calls “peace with God which guards our hearts and minds.”
Perhaps you have heard about the terrible genocide that took place in the tiny African nation of Rwanda that ironically began on Easter Sunday, 1994. When it was all done, 800,000 people were killed in 100 days. A woman named Rose witnessed terrible carnage and destruction. She survived with two of her daughters but most of the other members of her family did not. When asked how she dealt with such trauma she said very simply “For this, I have Jesus.” Rose later adopted two children who were orphaned in the genocide. She supports her small family by translating Christian tracts into the local language and organizing an annual conference for widows. Her heart breaks when she hears stories of terrible loss, but what gives her the courage to face the future, she says simply “For this, I have Jesus.”
They say there is much anger and anxiety in the nation. What will give you the courage to continue, the faith to know that you are loved beyond all measure by God? Whatever your trouble may you hear Jesus say “Come to me and I will give rest for your soul”. In spite of the many signs of trouble may you know the truth: “Troubled? Trust Jesus”