Are You Weary & Burdened? Come to me…

Todays reading is Matthew 11:25-30Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Helen.

I wonder if you have received any invitations recently. I was invited this week to a wedding. And the other day at work, about 10 invitations to staff meetings all pinged into my inbox—not quite so welcome.

This week begins a short series of talks called ‘Jesus invites you’. And this morning we are looking at the invitation in Matthew 11:28Open Link in New Window.

I imagine a hot day on the shores of Lake Galilee. A crowd has gathered to hear the teacher. They’re godly men and women, they are spiritually thirsty. But many of them are spiritually burdened, frustrated and anxious. They are working hard to stick to the 365 prohibitions and the 250 commandments into which the religious leaders had codified the Mosaic law of Israel. But they can’t. They’re working hard at their religion but they are oppressed by it. And then the teacher speaks: ‘come unto me, all you who re 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 will find rest for your souls’. I can see the joy and relief on faces as the crowd listen to Jesus and as many accept the invitation. The Jesus who has healed bodies is healing minds and souls.

Over 2,00 years later, this invitation is extended to us. Jesus invites us to come to him, lay down our burdens and find lasting rest for our souls. I could end there—maybe you won’t object to a 2 minute talk. But it’s not always that straightforward, is it? Because we all know that at times we turn from the invitation. Why? Well, perhaps I can share 3 barriers of which I am aware in my own life.

The first—looking for rest in the wrong place. One of my favourite hymns is ‘dear Lord and father of mankind’. I particularly love this verse: drop thy still dews of quietness till all our strivings cease. Take from our souls the strain and stress and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace, the beauty of thy peace’. This hymn was written by John Greenleaf Whittier. He was a Quaker poet and the hymn is actually the last 6 verses of a poem, somewhat surprisingly called ‘the Brewing of Soma’ It’s about native Indian Americans brewing and imbibing a highly addictive drug—and suffering the resultant hangovers. It’s about how they are looking for peace in the temporary pleasure of Soma and it contrasts this fake peace with the true and lasting peace of Christ. I don’t imbibe Soma, but I know that I sometimes fail to turn to Christ as my first port of call.

The second—worry. Jesus invites us here to find rest from worry. There’s a lot in the bible about worry—13 references in my concordance where Jesus gives the command ‘do not worry’. Worry is not something which God wants us to be shackled by. Many of you will have heard of Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie grew up in a Christian family in Amsterdam. She and her family harboured hundreds of Jews in their house during WW2. They were eventually caught and sent to prison. Corrie and her sister Betsy were imprisoned at Ravensbruck concentration camp where her sister died. The other members of the family perished in other prisons. During those awful years, Corrie had ample reasons to worry—worry about being caught, worry every day in Ravensbruck what the brutality of the guards would deliver. But she testifies in her book the hiding place to the rest which she found in Christ even in the midst of darkness. Her advice about worry is worth taking to heart. Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength. Carrying two days at once. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow—it empties today of its strength. An echo of those words of Christ’s words: each day has enough worry of its own.

The third—being ashamed of my burdens. Preparing a talk is always for me an opportunity to look at my own spiritual journey—not always a comfortable process. When Jesus invites us to come to him, he invites us to come as we are, not as some whitewashed version of ourselves. When the bible says we need to confess our sins and receive release from guilt, this involves being honest and about the burdens of sin which we carry. I came across a story about a man who was bitten by a dog. When he learned that the dog had rabies, he began making a list. The doctor told him that there was no need to make a will, that rabies could be cured. ‘Oh I’m not making a will’ he replied. ‘I’m making a list of all the people I want to bite’. I don’t have a list of people I want to bite, but I have realised in thinking about these verses this week that there are some petty resentments and wrong attitudes which burden me and which I need to lay down at the foot of the cross—daily. I need to ask for more love for people I don’t like—daily.

What is it like to find the rest which Jesus promises in the midst of turmoil? I asked my 92 year old mum that on the phone while I was thinking about this talk and I was deeply moved by what she said, so I asked if I could share it with you—my nephew showed her how to record it on WhatsApp and I wrote it down. I’d like to finish this talk by sharing her testimony with you.

There have been times in my life when this have been difficult, stressful and painful of course. At my age that’s inevitable. One, when my father died when I was 17 and in my final year at grammar school. He died at the beginning of January that year and my final examinations were the following June. I was very close to my father—his only child and it was a big loss. And yet, for some reason, I worked and worked well and hard for my final exams and did quite well in them—better than I had done in the previous external examinations 2 years earlier. And I know that I was helped, in a way that I had not done for myself. I was seen through. I have no doubt about that. Then 2 and a half years ago I found myself in hospital for several weeks and I was a sixes and sevens—89 years old and wondering what was coming my way. Where was I going to go? Who was going to look after me? I was a widow. My mobility was not the best and I was frightened. And then in the middle of the turmoil that I was going through, tossing and turning mentally and physically, I heard ‘be still’ wherever it came from. I heard it—be still. And a great strength and warmth—and it was deep deep and true—in my very soul—told me ‘all is well’. I am in charge—be still. And I was—I was calm. That was not just ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘oh have a good night’s sleep and you’ll be all right—no it was far more profound than that. And I know that whatever happened, I’d be all right—I’d be cared for.

Let’s end with a prayer: ‘Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest’. Thank you, Lord, for inviting us to come to you—help us to experience rest in our souls as we lay our burdens at the foot of your cross.

There will be a video version of the service.

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