It is an absolute honor to be gathered together with you this morning, to be in the Spirit of God together. So, when Pastor Quann and I Pastor Philip Krey from St. Andrew’s were talking, and Pastor Quann invited me to preach here today, I asked, “Is there any special Scripture I should preach on?” And he smiled and said, “Whatever you like, just come and bring the Word.”
So, in our Lutheran tradition—our Lutheran flavor of church—we often use the lectionary, that 3-year cycle of Bible readings. And I am just so used to preaching inside those parameters, that I just wanted to be myself, to do what I do, and let God shine through. So we’ve got these verses from the Gospel of Matthew this Sunday, from chapter 11.
At this point in the story according to Matthew, Jesus has just picked his apostles. He’s called upon his twelve leaders and he has prepared to send them out, to heal and to cast out demons—to bring life to a world in need. And as he’s sending out the twelve, he’s telling them what to expect.
He tells them, in pretty clear words: it’s going to be an uphill battle. Jesus says as they go out to heal the world and proclaim the good news, they should bring no food, no money, nothing extra. Jesus says they are going to be beaten and arrested. Jesus even says their families will be torn apart because of him! Who would want to follow Jesus at this point, I’m not sure! But his faithful do follow, and Jesus sends out the twelve, and as the story in Matthew goes on, Jesus keeps preaching himself.
So, to “this generation” Jesus is preaching in our verses today. When Jesus says this funny line here, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” He’s talking about himself and John the Baptist. John came fasting in the wilderness and preaching repentance—screaming out for us all to admit and change our sinful ways! But “this generation” Jesus says, just accused John of being out of his mind. And then Jesus comes—the Son of God in the flesh, the thing we’ve all been waiting for! And when Jesus eats and drinks, and gathers sinners together with him, “this generation” thinks he’s a drunk and a fool.“This generation” only finds fault.
But Jesus says to his chosen ones: “It’s all right, don’t worry about them.” And then Jesus reveals something about the Gospel that is so powerful and beautiful. First, he says Jesus his message isn’t for high-minded philosophers and experts. It’s for all people, all of us. And second, Jesus says, “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 heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
All you that are weary. That word “weary” has just stuck with me all week. 2020 has been some kind of year so far, and I, for one, these days feel so weary. I even went and looked up the Greek word that is underneath the English there. And in Greek the word can mean quite a few things. It has a sense of fullness, a sense of “I’ve had it up to here.” And it can mean both laboring and working and being emptied out from toil.
Jesus says to you this morning, those who are weary—those ones are mine—come to me.
Now, Pastor Quann and I and Pastor Krey didn’t get together over Zoom for no reason. We got together because we are in a time of reckoning about our country’s history and present of racist ideas and unjust policies—a time when the weariness of so many people has exploded.
“But to what will I compare this generation?” Jesus teaches, “It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance…we wailed, and you did not mourn.’” When Jesus says “this generation,” who would that be today?
Who are the ones not listening to the cries of weariness out in the marketplaces?
Just a few days ago, I was chatting on the phone with a member of St. Andrew’s. This man is a good man—you know, a follower of Jesus. He says to me, Joshua—if I was Black today I would just be so mad, I would be so furious at this country. And I had to stop him. I said, what’s stopping you, yourself, from being so mad? In Christ we are all one—Jews and Greeks, male and female; we all citizens of the same country.
I urged him: This isn’t time to admit you “would” be mad. This is the time to admit you are fed up yourself! This is the time to admit you are full and weary, and that we need the yoke of Jesus to guide us. And he was quiet on the other side of the phone. Because I think he heard—maybe for the first time, I don’t know—he heard the wailing out in the marketplaces.
Like the apostles, Jesus has sent us out to heal and to give life to the world. Racism, though older even than America itself, is only one kind of illness, one kind of demon, Jesus calls us to heal. Jesus’ says to us today: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
God is our hope, and God is our power. We get rest and restoration in Jesus on this weary road toward justice. In Scripture and worship, in song and praise, the Holy Spirit we trust will revive us again, and again.
There are many ways to be weary. Weary from too much work and too many bills. Weary from too much sickness and too many deaths. Weary from just too much. And then there is weariness that is an emptiness. That is the special kind of weariness I have witnessed up in Bucks County.
There is a deep and hidden emptiness up where St. Andrew’s is. A weariness which needs to be acknowledged. I didn’t really mean for my message for you today to go in this direction. But in the past years, as I’ve read more and more, and educated myself I have learned that whiteness is an old, old invention—an old, pseudo-scientific lie told by English people to justify oppression. Whiteness doesn’t exist. It’s made up. The privilege is certainly real, but that’s where it ends.
And I’ve found the weariness up where I pastor is from a rising awareness that “whiteness” is coming apart at the seams. What weighs on me, is that lots of folks will surely seek out evil and easy answers to sure themselves up as they fall apart. At any rate, my point is this: some weariness is obvious. It says, “I’m tired, I’m fed up.” There is another weariness that doesn’t even know it’s weary. It says, “I’m empty and aching, but I don’t know why.” Whichever kind of weariness afflicts us Jesus reminds today, you’ve got to stand before God and admit, “I’m weary.”
And that’s not always an easy thing to do. We want to say, “I’ve got this myself. I’m all right.” It’s especially not very easy for white folks to do because of the lies of supremacy we have told ourselves. But we need to grow up, and stop taking the easy roads. We need instead to turn, turn and repent like John the Baptist begs us to, and say to our Lord, “We need help, Jesus.”
Christ does not say, “Come to me all you who are doing great; all who are fine on your own; all you who don’t really need a change in your lives.” But it’s, “come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens.” The weight of sin hangs on all our shoulders.
As people who have given ourselves to Christ, we know: you’ve got to want Jesus, you’ve got to feel convicted, you’ve got to acknowledge the weariness, before the good news makes any sense—before you can understand what the “rest” Jesus is talking about today in Matthew, when Jesus says you will get rest for your souls.
So, what is that rest? What are “these things” that Jesus is talking about when he says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” What are these things that are so simple that children know them? Matthew todays says it’s this: that sinners though we may be, God in Christ eats and drinks with us; that Jesus was lifted up on the cross, was dead and buried, and was raised again to show that we are enough. We are forgiven and held and known by God. God in Christ only wants us to feel loved, so that we, in turn, can love each other.
So, in this faith, in these simple things, I pray we can join our hearts together, and rest as God’s people in the love and the gentleness—and in the justice—that only Jesus can give. Let’s remember we are the apostles, sent to the world to give life, sent to the world to tell of God’s love and the rest that Jesus gives.
And may God bless our friendship if—in the Lord—we become friends, may Jesus bless our work—if we become co-workers in the Gospel, may the Spirit, through us, bring true and lasting rest to our weary souls and bring change to our weary communities.