Resting In Jesus
June 5 Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67*Psalm 72*Romans 7:15-25a*Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
This of course is the sonnet by Emma Lazarus dedicated to The Statue of Liberty, written for a fundraiser to build the pedestal upon which the Mother of Exiles now stands, familiar even to those of us who have never been there in person. The first colossus was the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. An amazing virtual tour of the Statue of Liberty can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/hdp/exhibits/stli/stli_tour.html).
The message of welcome to all still inspires, as we can imagine a long, difficult voyage coming to its end as we catch our first glimpse of the torch rising about all else. We too are tired, poor, huddled, seeking a place of rest and peace. We celebrate this weekend our heritage as a nation of independence and freedom. We remember the brave women and men who gave their lives on behalf of a nation that has not always honored their service (as in Vietnam), but who fought for the ideals upon which our country was founded. Currently, we stand on the edge of a precipice, with many crises tearing our country apart, and we need to hear again Lady Liberty’s call for a sense of home, rest, and peace.
Our Gospel lesson reminded me of Lazarus’ words, as Jesus says: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” But his is not a call for independence, but reliance, as we are to take on his yoke:
“But to what will I compare this generation? 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.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
At that time Jesus said, “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; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 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.” Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
The freedoms we cherish as Americans were paid for by the bravery and sacrifices of those who have served in the Armed Forces, Police, and other public service agencies, maintained today by those who bravely serve here and abroad. Freedom is not free. Likewise, God’s grace is freely given to those who believe in Jesus, bought with His blood. We can take neither for granted. As disciples of Jesus, we are to honor Him by serving Him, just as we as citizens live according to our laws and ideals. We respond to God’s grace by sharing it with those who have not yet accepted it.
We can certainly identify the world Jesus presents here, of people chasing after false things and ridiculing the good. Jesus was criticized for going to those who needed Him the most, while today we see churches pandering to those who may further the causes they support but who act contrary to Biblical teachings. You can’t say anything in the public sphere without getting attacked, sometimes from unexpected places. Too often, politics come before Jesus’ teachings, and those who follow Jesus find themselves just as divided from one another as those who are outside of the church. We tend to make things so complicated that we can no longer see the truth. So, let’s just take a moment and remember that we are not here to nitpick each other over every little thing we find in Scripture or elsewhere, for that is what Jesus criticized the Jews of his time as doing. We remember that we place our faith in a person. What we believe is important, but sometimes we just need to rest in Jesus, and remember that we are his. Stop analyzing everything and just sit at his feet and relax. Give him your worries, stress, guilt, etc., and abide in his love. Image him sitting there in front of you, surrounded by children, laughing and teasing, enjoying our presence. We too belong there, each a beloved child of God, accepted and forgiven. Rest in Him, enjoy his presence, listen for his voice. Offer him your prayers, receive his love.
When we talk of freedom in America, we generally mean we are free to do what gives us happiness and purpose. We don’t like being told what to do. In our reading from Romans, Paul complains that he does what he does not wish to do, that sin is active within his body, forcing him to indulge in earthly things. When Paul talks about freedom, he means freedom not to do sinful things, to be released from this evil force within each of us. He himself admits that while in this body we will fight sin, but in Christ we are released from it, and are forgiven when we come to Christ in repentance. We look forward to the day when we will be totally free from sin and death, as Christ died to have victory over such things. We rest now in Christ, knowing that he has obtained victory for us and has provided the way into eternal life. No matter how bad this life gets, no one can take that away from us. We can find rest in Christ even when the world is going crazy. When you can’t seem to escape the chaos of life, return to Jesus and sit at his feet again. Rest in his loving embrace and be filled with the Spirit of peace. We do what he tells us we should do and are happy to obey. Usually.
Today is also the first Sunday of our denominational year, in contrast to the church (or liturgical) year, which starts on the First Sunday of Advent. For some churches, this is the first Sunday with a new pastor, for some new pastors their first Sunday in the pulpit, for some, the first Sunday as retired pastors when they could have been sitting in the pew if we were meeting for worship. As a pastor, I look ahead to the coming year from this point, setting goals and expectations. Looking beyond one year does not seem helpful, as we have no idea where we will be. For now, perhaps we should think of re-opening (hopefully very soon) as a Grand Re-Opening or rebirth instead of a return to how things were, for right now it seems like everything has changed. Or to take a term from NASA, call it Operation Re-Entry. This is a time to be deep in prayer, entering Jesus’ rest with gratefulness and expectation. God alone stays the same when everything around us is changing, and we like Lady Liberty stand on that solid pedestal of Christ, bravely lifting his light to the world, offering all people his peace and love. Let us not dwell too much on the past, but mourn and move on, entering a new day of hope and service in Christ. May we too make the voyages He calls us to take, and always return home to His rest.