Getting the Help You Need
posted on July 22
GETTING THE HELP YOU NEED
“Come unto me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.”
I recently had the pleasure of taking part in a virtual Word and Table Service at Stokesdale UMC, where Ed McKinney serves as pastor. I have enjoyed getting to know many of their laity during my first few years here, and it was a joy simply to be inside the Sanctuary for the recording of the service. There were only three of us present for the filming, including Todd Thomas, one of their faithful leaders, who was handling the camera.
I enjoyed being a dialogue partner with Stokesdale’s WNCC Explore intern, John Murphy, who is a student at Appalachian State. John and I read (lectio divina style) several passages from Matthew 11, and then discussed them, interacting with several folks online via Facebook. It was great to have a multi-generational perspective on these passages. Several weeks later, these words from the close of Chapter 11 still resound in my spirit:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (NRSV)
I think many of us are feeling tired right now. Our clergy have had to adapt to both online and outdoor worship, learn new computer technologies, and keep up with the care of souls via physical distancing. They have climbed so many steep learning curves with so much grace! Our laity have taken on new roles in the church, learned new technical skills to assist with worship and lead Zoom meetings, and brought both comfort and resolve to your congregations. You have kept buildings in good shape despite regular use, taken opportunities to upgrade facilities during the down time, and managed important decisions around preschools, building use, and worship. You’re awesome!!! Doing all this in the heat of the summer, without our usual tools for refreshment and renewal is very difficult!!! It makes the above passage from Matthew worthy of our attention and continued reflection.
The first invitation of this passage is simply to “come” – to step away from the many things that burden us this season and just enter the refreshing presence of Jesus. Jesus acknowledges our weariness and sees our spirits carrying the burdens of these hard days. He sees us in a way that others cannot see us, and he sees our burdens in a way that others cannot. To others, the burdens we carry are invisible. To Jesus, they are visible and palpable. He sees us strain beneath them, and he has great compassion.
As I mature, I see that rest is a true gift. And it is sometimes hard to find. I just returned home from several days at the Outer Banks with my family. It was a great time, but I did find myself bringing along all the groceries, circulating clean towels, cooking and washing up, making sure the dogs were fed and walked, etc. Yes, I even had a hard time staying away from phone and email. Jesus promises rest, the true gift of carefree rest... rest in his care, relaxation in his presence. We can be comforted by the knowledge that he looks after us as we rest, offering us all the gifts of Psalm 23 – physical provisions, safety, protection, presence. Jesus wants to give us rest, but we do have to open ourselves to fully receive the gift. It reminds me of a parent asking a child to lie down and nap. It’s good for us, but sometimes we fought it, didn’t we?
I worry in this time that even though many of us are impeded from our normal pace of activity, we are still not getting proper rest. We can be awakened at night by concerns; we feel isolated from our communities; we receive distressing news from media outlets. We may even provoke arguments from time to time simply out of boredom and frustration, feeling that we “have nothing better to do” right now.
Jesus would call us at this time to take on a different yoke – not the burden of the day’s anxiety, but the mantle of obedience. He doesn’t force a yoke upon us; he gently asks us to “take” that yoke. To invite it over our shoulders, and to learn from Jesus. His times were turbulent, as well, yet he taught the gifts of timeless inner peace and obedience. He radiated humility and gentleness in his time, and I believe he calls us to the same ministry in our time. When our days are filled with humility and gentleness, our souls rest better at night. We don’t have to toss and turn in the night regretting a cross word or an angry post. We don’t have to grieve having neglected a chance to show gentleness to someone in need.
To attach ourselves to Jesus is to stay close enough to him to learn his humble and gentle ways. With the yoke of the world upon us, we cannot rest. With his yoke upon us, we not only rest – we also learn new ways of working. His yoke is “easy” because it is paired – both with him and with others. His burden is “light” because Jesus is doing such a good job of carrying it – and us – that we can function in new ways. The heaviness abates.
As we move into the latter part of the summer, I want you to take some quiet time to hear Jesus’ invitation to “come” to a place of rest and renewal. That may look a bit different for each of us this year than usual, but it’s no less important. I urge you to seek true rest; you know what you might need to “rest from” and how you might need to best rest. For Christians, resting has never been about elaborate vacations or getaways. It is more the search for a quiet space, a space where Christ already is and is asking us to join him. I will be sending a prepared sermon (and even a piece of music from some friends) that you all may use in your settings, so that your worship teams can have a week of respite in this hot and difficult season.
Please know you are loved, cared about, prayed for, and supported. We are with you during this time, and our Lord is beckoning us to be more present than ever with him, and more yoked than perhaps we have ever been – and truly more humble and gentle.
Love and Peace (and Rest) to All,