Come and Find Rest

The Return of the Prodigal Son (1667/1670), Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Come and Find Rest
Pentecost 5 2017
Rev. Doug Floyd

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 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. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:25-30

In the opening words of our Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that the Father hides things and reveals things. In fact, he offers thanks for this hiding and revealing, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” Then he reveals the great hospitality of the Father to His followers: “28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

What is He hiding and revealing? In this chapter, it appears to be the Kingdom of Heaven, which ultimately is the revealing of Jesus as King of the Kingdom and as Son of God. This news is hidden from the wise and revealed to the children or the childlike. In Matthew 18, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3–4). He links humility with the child. Simple trust.

Makes me think of God’s word spoken through Isaiah,

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
                        “I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
                        to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.  (Is 57:15)

He comes to the weak and lowly and reveals Himself while remaining veiled to the high and mighty.

Jesus reveals the Kingdom of Heaven, but not everyone sees. In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 11, the Kingdom of Heaven is breaking in but the wise and understanding fail to see it. At the opening of the chapter, John has been imprisoned by King Herod for proclaiming the message of the Kingdom. Herod is blind to what is happening and thinks he can stop it by imprisoning John and eventually executing him. The crowds are blind as well.

The cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven John’s ministry or in Jesus’ life. Jesus says,

16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 17      “ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ (Mt 11:16–17).

They fail to mourn and to rejoice. They are unable to respond rightly in the moment of Gospel Proclamation. This inability to respond is a sign of a greater problem, they are blind to the kingdom, to the works of God. And they are supposed to be the people of God.  Jesus continues, 

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Mt 11:18–19)

Jesus names the very cities where he has preached and performed mighty miracles and they failed to see. Matthew writes, (Jesus) “began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent” (Mt 11:20). The wise, the powerful, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the wealthy cities: all blind to the glory in their midst. They cannot see.

Why are they blind? Isaiah paints a picture of a people who have grown blind and deaf as they ran after idols of the land while failing to rest in God’s faithful love. This failure to rest, to trust even in the midst of difficult situations led to slavery. Slavery to alien ideas and ways that led them down paths that damaged them, wounded them, twisted them, and left them less than human.

They became so blind that they thought they were righteous but in fact were clothed in filthy rags. They didn’t even realize how far their hearts were from God.

We live in world of alien rhythms and ways. We are encouraged toward self-reliance and self-consumption and self-glorification. Even our worship and spirituality can be self-consumed. It is easy to be self-deluded and worshipping ourselves instead of God.

The ancient Israelites were eventually sent into exile for their rebellion against God. From the place of exile, Isaiah’s words would echo again this time offering hope through the song of the Suffering Servant. In this song, the servant enters into the judgment and the downward spiral of the people, but they cannot bear to look at him,

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
                        and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Is 53:3)

But as we continue looking at the suffering servant, we see something else.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
                        yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted. (Is 53:4)

As we look at him, we behold our griefs and our sorrows. We see our transgression and our iniquities. They are simply too much for us to bear. They are destroying our humanity. We are heavy laden with guilt, shame, anger, addiction, fear, depression and all the many other ways our world suffers in sin and brokenness.

When Jesus comes proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven, the people cannot see this suffering servant. He will be despised and rejected even as he reveals the very broken condition of the world, he reveals our own brokenness.

He also reveals hope and rest and peace.

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

He reveals the great welcome of God the Father. He reveals the true hospitality of the Father, Son and Spirit: a communion of love. Welcome all who labor, who are weary, who are heavy laden.

Only the humble, the childlike, the simple see and hear this welcome.

We do not come to Him as the wise Christians who know all. We do not come as the Anglicans who do our liturgy right. We do come as powerful and wealthy Americans.

We are weak, simple, shame-faced. There are no specialists at this feast. No experts. No professionals. Just because we keep an ancient liturgy, does not give us privilege at the feast. The clergy do not have special seats at the table. The rich and the poor come side by side.

We come as wanderers in from the cold. As refugees, tired in bone, weary in spirit. We come as the fearful, the lonely, the distressed, the distraught. We come hungry and hurt, struggling and sad. Sin-sick.

For many people, coming to Jesus means collapsing in the arms of Jesus. At times the pain of life is so great, so exhausting, that we have nothing left but to fall at His feet. He welcomes there.

When you hear the invitation of Christ Jesus and turn toward Him, you know already that He has revealed the Father’s love to you. You’ve been invited in to His treasure house, His place of rest, His home, His heart.

In today’s Gospel, we behold the mystery of God’s hospitality. He goes out into the highways and byways and compels us to come in. He clothes us, replacing dirty rags with robes of righteousness. He feed us the very fruit of life. He restores our soul.

Jesus comes to our world-weary lives and restores the childlike hope. As we turn toward Jesus, as we call upon His name, as we rest in His yoke, we discover His Kingdom: a kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

And if as we come to Him, He is leading us forward into the fullness of love. We return again and again to the hospitality of Jesus. Each day, each week we lay down and offer the power of these old sins, these old mindsets of rejection, of fear, of anger. By His grace, their grip begins to fall away. And soon, we are not simply walking toward but alongside Jesus. We are running with Him toward the cross, toward the joy, toward the family of God, Mt Zion, the city of the first born.

He is teaching us how to mourn with those who mourn and how to rejoice with those who rejoice. We are learning how to dance.

As I reflected on this week’s Gospel, I watched a documentary from 1981 called Stepping Out.[1] Stanley Hauweras[2] mentioned it while referring to a sermon of Rowan Williams.[3] I found the sermon and then I found the documentary.

It takes place in an Australian community of mentally-challenged people. Many have been there over half their lives. At times the pain of being cut off from the greater world is acute. A Chilean dancer, Aldo Gennaro comes to teach them creative arts. During the film, we watch him teaching them to breathe, to mirror each other’s movements, to dance. We also see him talking with them about their lives and interests. Gennaro reminds them that he is only there to give them the confidence to explore their own creative talents.

Then they begin to put on costumes and eventually make-up. They are transformed into artists. The film ends with a poignant performance at the Sydney Opera House. This transformation is gradual as they learn to relax and move and perform one step at a time. They are growing into a community of performers. In this movement, we see but a glimpse of how Jesus invites the simple ones, the disciples, and other followers into a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. They gradually walk into the fullness of this way, this life. And they are being changed step by step.

As Rowan Williams reflects upon the documentary of the mentally challenge dancers, he turns toward us, calling us into the way of Christ. He says,

Sit down, all of you handicapped, lumpish, empty, afraid, and start to feel that you too are rooted in a firm, rich earth. Opposite you is someone who, it seems, doesn’t need to learn. His roots are very deep, very deep indeed; he knows he is lovely and loved. Dancing is natural to him, he has no paralyzing, self-conscious dread, no self-protection to overcome. So he begins: he stretches out his arms, wide as he can. And so do you. Then he rises up, arms to the sky. And so do you. Then he takes your hand and swings you loose and leaves you to improvise the music—on your own, then combining with the others, then alone again, then with one or two, then all together, and alone again.

He dances so that you will dance. He shows you what beauty is, his body awakens yours. He’s there to be your partner and everyone’s; sometimes you’ll see him opposite you, sometimes not (beside you, behind you, holding someone else’s hands). But he’s there, in and out of your dance, always affirming your beauty, fusing together your mind and your imagination and your flesh, so that none of it will be lost. He gives you the fusion of his mind and imagination and flesh – his glorious body. The signs of his life, the patterns he makes, the presence of his beauty – all this is his body, signing to us, inviting us, making us alive. He repeats over and over his central gesture – arms flung wide, then palms carried upwards as he stands on the earth, carrying us, embracing us. As we watch, we know; our roots grow deeper downwards.

This captures for us a glimpse of today’s invitation. Jesus welcomes us the simple ones, the amateurs, the outsiders, the weak and trembling. As we walk toward him, we lay down our failures and our confidences, our sin and even our righteousness. We lay everything before Him and take up His yoke. Trust His faithfulness. Follow His Spirit. We don’t simply do this once, we do it today, tomorrow, the next day. We keep coming back.

Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, Have Mercy on Me a Sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, Have Mercy on Me a Sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, Have Mercy on Me a Sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, Have Mercy on Me a Sinner.

We come weak and weary to the table of the Lord, knowing His welcomes us, feed us, fills us, heals us, and will lead us. And step by step, breath by breath, we learn the dance of love.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Normally, you’ll notice a slight pause between the end of the sermon and the confession of the creed. This pause is intentional. It is a time to wait, to listen, to ask the Spirit to speak to us personally. Today, let us wait a moment and listen before our Lord. Let Him touch the weariness of soul. Let Him call you a afresh into His love. He can touch and heal you as you sit before. But in a moment we will also pray for one another. And if you feel so inclined, you’ll be welcome to come forward for anointing, for prayer, for a blessing.

[1] Stepping Out. https://aso.gov.au/titles/documentaries/stepping-out/clip2/
[2]  Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 117–118.
[3] Williams, Rowan. Open to Judgement: Sermons and Addresses (Kindle Locations 1035-1078). Darton, Longman & Todd LTD. Kindle Edition.

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