You can find this week’s scripture readings by clicking here.
Something miraculous happened to me about two weeks ago: I got a cpap machine. (cpap=continuous positive airway pressure)
For the past 3 years or so, I’ve been in this seemingly endless cycle of feeling overwhelmed and never feeling like I had enough energy to attend to things. All my attempts to improve my health just made things worse – more exhaustion, more weight gain, more feelings of being overwhelmed… and my blood pressure creeped up. In March, I was finally able to schedule a physical with a new doctor here in town and I asked her to prescribe a sleep study. And that’s what did it.
There was nothing more I could *do* to feel better. What I needed was rest.
What we all need… is rest.
So, I’m reading Jesus’ invitation with this deep appreciation now:
Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matt. 11:28)
And it reminds me of a poem by William Wordsworth, echoing Jesus’ invitation to rest from the world that can make us so weary:
“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”
It’s the “world” we humans create that both Jesus and Wordsworth are speaking to:
The distractions, the addictions, the stuff,
the wars, the fear, the power-mongering,
the judgment, the comparison, the disparity of wealth,
the pundits, the politics, the bombs, the money, the greed,
the unkindness and name-calling, the positions and controversy,
the self-righteous opinions, the gossip,
the hate, the borders, the walls,
the nations, the governments, the guns.
The things we think are right and the things we think are wrong and the belief that we alone have the authority to discern such things.
The world is too much with us, indeed. We have given our hearts away. And we are carrying heavy, heavy burdens. We really think it’s all up to us – that we carry the judgment of God on our shoulders, deciding what is right and what is wrong.
Is it really any wonder we struggle to get through the day sometimes? Are we really surprised that we reach for some way to quiet the swell of panic or fear or pain that arises in us? We keep trying to plug the holes when what we really need is rest.
Because in all of this, we can so easily forget our blessed nature. We can forget that we are created and good. That all of Creation was made from the same elements and God called it all good at the beginning of the beginning.
We are good. We are holy. We are the beloved children of God all formed of the same earth, breathing the same breath. Jesus is asking us to remember this and attend to it.
Come to me all you that are weary and 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 heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:28-30)
This yoke that Jesus talks about refers to spiritual discipline. Not a discipline of doing, but of releasing. To lay our burden down, the burden of trying to be God. And, instead, remember ourselves and return to Love.
This word yoke is translated from the Greek word (d)zugos, refers to the heavy wooden bar that would join a pair of oxen in the field, enabling them to work together to pull a single plough. So, in the minds of those who were listening to Jesus, they picture this wooden bar that they have lain on the necks of their beasts of burden, meant to join a pair together, to work together.
This is not a harsh yoke. But it is a yoke, something that joins us with another. He is asking us to accept a discipline, to be joined with Jesus in this discipline so that the work of being in the world is easier. We don’t have to do it alone. This discipline will bring rest to our souls.
Paul talks about in his letter to the Romans this week: I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Rom. 7:15-25)
He’s talking about undisciplined behavior. He’s talking about the ways in which we temporarily forget who we are and whose we are. We forget that we belong to God and we mistakenly think we belong to ourselves alone and that we have no need to rely upon God.
And we stop praying. We stop listening.
And we surround ourselves with only those voices who agree with us, who reinforce what we already believe to be true.
This is far from discipline. This is indulgence. This is addiction. And this is when substance abuse can kick in.
Most people think that addiction is all about the substance itself. But ask anyone who has dealt with addiction, really dealt with addiction, they are actually dealing with the thoughts, emotions, beliefs, prejudices, and patterns that lead to reaching for the substance itself.
It’s why the 12-steps are not a checklist about removing temptations, but about learning how to respond differently to the world, how to form new habits of thought, new emotional patterns, how to find a sense of rest in the chaos of the world. And it requires confession. Steps 4-7 get directly to the point:
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
It sounds a lot like our Confession. I’ve spoken about the act of Confession before in sermons and in one on one conversations and other places. Confession is not a part of our worship because the hierarchy of the church thinks we need to spend time feeling bad about ourselves.
The purpose of confession is exactly the opposite, actually. Its purpose is to offer rest. Deep rest. Think about where it is in our worship: We have just heard the Word of God and then we pray for the world… offering our compassion, our hope, and our love for the world.
And then we have the Confession.
Before we share the Peace, we have Confession.
Before we come to the Table of Reconciliation, we have Confession.
Because we have to pray for ourselves. We have to be at peace with ourselves before we can be at Peace with one another.
We have to spend time reconciling with ourselves before we can be at a Table of Reconciliation with everyone else.
This is the discipline that Jesus is talking about. This is the rest that Jesus offers to us.
He says, Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Confession is the time we pray for ourselves and our own restoration. To acknowledge that we have missed the mark this week in our efforts to follow Jesus… and to be brave and be as specific as we can. Did I speak badly about another person? Did I treat people with respect? Did I blame someone else for my reaction? Did I act in anger? Did I do what I could to help other people? Did I respect myself? Did I love myself? Did I take care of myself?
Confession is the time in our worship when we rest deeply in God’s Love for us. When we recognize that: I’m deserving of my own compassion. I’m deserving of my own hope. And I deserve to act in accord with God’s holy law. Because I am God’s beloved, holy Creation.
Jesus doesn’t give us a set of laws – rules to keep us in line that we just use to keep other people in line. Jesus gives us 2 commandments and trusts us to figure it out from there: Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself.
It’s not that we are called to do nothing, my friends. On the contrary, the Gospel is very clear… we are called to mission, to be in the world. This rest that Jesus offers us is not a perpetual vacation from the world… that’s addiction. This rest that Jesus offers us is found in the discipline of continually laying our burdens down and returning to the Law of Love and then acting in the world from that place.
The place where we stop trying so hard to master the world and just rest in the heart of Christ. Where we are freed from the burdens we’ve been carrying for so long. The place that reminds us of who we are and whose we are. Where we know a sense of peace without the ideas of right and wrong, where Love is the only thing that is real.
Because we are only called to Love. And to spread that Love to others. It is from this place and this place alone that we humans discover our creations and our efforts are not burdensome nor wearisome, but are generative and productive.
Because we are doing our work in the world, not alone, but yoked by Jesus’ law of Love: Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself.
May Love be our discipline. May Christ be our home. May we find rest.