Pastor John Kerr

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Theme:  “Come to Me and I Will Give You Rest”    Text:  Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

My first parish, Zion Lutheran in Clifton, Illinois, exposed me to farm life after growing up, attending college and seminary in the city. Elmer Widholm, the president of our Church Council and farmer, said there was a time when farmers worked from sunrise to sunset.  Now farmers can work long after sunset.

From our parsonage on the edge of town with farm fields to the west, we could see tractor lights shining across dark fields into all hours of the night.  I can drive through Minneapolis after a late evening hospital visit and look at office buildings with their lights on long after quitting times.

Modern technology has freed up time for us and it also has filled our time.  I can send emails at midnight to Rae Ann, our office manager, for her to pick up the next morning.  People used to walk around the city streets at lunchtime looking at the crowds, the sky and store windows.  Now we see them conducting business on their cell phones.

Perhaps our technological advances mean we have more time to spend with family and friends, or to rest and relax, or perhaps those advances mean we can spend more time doing work.

Jesus said, “Come to me and I will give you rest.”  We know what it is to long for rest.  Or if you have no work, or after being laid off because of the coronavirus, or if you just graduated from high school or college and you are trying to find work or your first job, your days aren’t filled with work or with rest.

What Jesus meant by rest was more than more sleep or a break in our busy schedule.  We may be restless even when we take time off.  We can be restless even when the stock market moves upward.  People whose salaries reach six figures, begin to seek more.  One hundred thousand dollars seems small when compared to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.  We continue to reach for more material satisfaction and we are restless.  Our restlessness doesn’t give rest to our souls.

I know people with too few evenings to spend with family and a quiet, nourishing dinner.  We’re overcome with the demands of work and housework, worry and exhaustion.  We barely know or see our neighbors.  We worry about getting involved in church or our child’s school PTA, because we could end up with a position on Church Council or as vice president of the PTA.  So we stay away.  This isn’t how we want to live our life with more worry and work.

So, we come to church on Independence Day weekend and hear Jesus invite those who are weary and carrying heavy burdens to come and find rest.  These words of Jesus are some of the most comforting in the entire Bible:  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  I’ve seen those words engraved on tombstones, etched in stained glass windows, and woven into needlepoint.  I’ve used those words with persons in the hospital and families who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

“Come to me” are warm words of welcome.

Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) was a Danish sculptor whose famous statue of Jesus entitled “Christus” or “Come to Me, a copy of which was on the altar in my first two parishes and in my third parish, during a remodeling of the sanctuary, was removed from the altar and placed in an indented area behind the lectern and lighted 24 hours a day.  In his original wax model of the statue Thorvaldsen had Christ’s arms uplifted in blessing.  The next morning when he came to his studio after a warm night, the wax arms had dropped to Christ’s side in an open “Come Unto Me” position and his head was tilted slightly downward.  When Thorvaldsen saw this new unintentional pose, he said, “That is what I am trying to portray.

Jesus opens his arms, reaches out to hug and gather in everybody.  Those who are invited are not just the rich, powerful and successful, but also those who are tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of our teeming shore, the homeless, the tempest lost, and those carrying heavy burdens.  

Over this Independence Day weekend, we’ve remembered and celebrated the freedoms we enjoy.  Over the last three and a half months, protest marches and riots have reminded us that we have a long way to go in our treatment of those “huddled masses” who are still yearning to be free.

Yes, we continue to experience the dangers of the coronavirus, the wearing of masks, social distancing and keeping six feet apart, no mingling in large crowds, and no hymn singing in church.  Then there is this beautiful picture of Jesus reaching out to welcome us into his arms.  I need that picture of Jesus right now.

But that welcoming picture of Jesus is not meant for us just to rest in Jesus arms.  Jesus, who welcomes us, is also the one who guides us.

Jesus uses the image of a yoke:  “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”  The yoke image doesn’t fit with rest.  We seldom hear or use the word yoke anymore, but our memories may bring to mind a piece of wooden equipment that joins two oxen or horses under a heavy wooden yoke, so that they may work together pulling plows or wagons.   Or you may have seen pictures of a wooden yoke on a person’s shoulders loaded with heavy buckets of water balancing on each end of a pole.  How can we find rest by taking up a yoke?

The yoke Jesus offers is not a burden, but a source of life and joy.  To be yoked along side Jesus is to learn from him, be guided by him as he teaches us about life and the treatment of others.  

A Sunday school teacher asked her class what a yoke is.  A boy raised his hand and said, “It’s something they put on the necks of animals.”  The teacher said, “And what is the yoke Jesus places on us?”  A girl said, “It’s Jesus’ putting his arms around us.”

In these days of a global pandemic, we are reminded of what Jesus does for us.  In our pain, weakness, anger and fear, Jesus welcomes us and promises to give us rest for our souls.  In our despair and distractions he joins us, guides us and teaches us the way of an abundant life.

This news doesn’t take away all of our burdens and struggles, but we can find hope and comfort in the open, loving arms of Jesus who is ready to welcome us, hold us and guide us.