This is the time to stop.

Oh friends. I am weary. My family is weary. A lot of people I know are weary. Our nation is weary. And we are carrying heavy burdens. And our stamina is wearing thin. And the noise around us and within us keeps shouting, Urgency! Vigilance! Fight, fight, fight!

Come to me, Jesus says, and I will give you rest.
OK, Jesus, that sounds nice, but get real. It will have to wait.

Rest is a luxury reserved for a less urgent time. 
But even if we were not nearing the pinnacle of a ghastly election season, when is this hypothetical “less urgent” time? When we are not in the largest refugee crisis since World War II? When there isn’t a standoff at Standing Rock? When black and brown bodies are no longer getting shot in the street? When scientists’ words about the polar ice caps and our changing global climate don’t feel as ominous as they do on this gorgeous, 70-degree Minnesota November day?  How about when things slow down in our lives, when we aren’t being pulled in a hundred directions a day? Maybe when Christmas shopping season isn’t encroaching and tax season isn’t around the corner and the bills slow down their pace and lighten up.  Perhaps we’ll have time to rest when there aren’t people relying on us, and jobs that need to be completed, and anxieties piling up. Seriously, Christ, nice sentiment, but what able-bodied, sharp-minded grown up person today can afford to rest?

Oh friends, rest is such a messed up, problematic concept for us. 
We believe rest is something you have to do when you absolutely cannot keep going, when you’re forced to stop and catch your breath so you can amp back up again.
We reserve rest for the sick and utterly depleted, for those recovering from surgery, or fighting illness. If you rest and are not sick, then clearly you are either lazy and undependable, or you are weak and needy.

Resting is so inconvenient. Like eating. Or using the bathroom. It halts our productivity and stops our momentum. We have to put down our work to do it.  If I can’t sneak it in between loads of laundry, or do it while I am driving, if I can’t accomplish something I’ve been meaning to complete, or listen to, or read, WHILE I rest, then how does it help me? It just sets me further behind!

Whom do we most esteem in our culture?  The tireless, the unstoppable, the fighters that just keep pushing themselves, those that get it done. 

Athlete, trainer and fitness writer, JonathanAngelilli, writes, “From a young age, we’re bombarded with the message that to be successful, we must work overtime, sacrifice our health, friends, even happiness and sanity to achieve what we want.
…Dr. Meyer Freidman, the doctor who first identified the type-A personality trait, calls this western disease "the hurry sickness."
We never say things like "I bet I can experience kidney failure before you!" But that’s how many of us behave.” “[E]xhaustion…is a status symbol in our culture.”

How are you? We ask each other.
“Busy!” we answer cheerfully, proudly, exhausted.
We might as well answer, “Distracted! Pulled in many directions. Unable to focus on or enjoy any one thing. Off the rails. Weary.”

I met a youth worker last week who has lupus. He rests. After a youth retreat or trip, he takes a day off. He said, “I am afraid my illness is seen as a legitimate excuse for rest. I don’t know how to invite other people to rest without them feeling like it doesn’t apply to them.”

He has an excuse. His rest is sanctioned. “Oh he HAS TO rest, or he would get sick.”  But we all would. If we did not rest, if we do not sleep, if we never stop, we will get sick, we will lose our minds, we will eventually die.
We are a restless nation, sick and losing our mind. 

Our text comes in the middle of a long rant of Jesus’ about how the people are missing the gift right in front of them.  And we began with the part where Jesus pauses in talking to the people, and raises his face to the heavens in one of those mid- argument prayers, like an exasperated mom, he blocks out the whining for a minute, heaves a dramatic sigh and intones, Oh, 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…

So what do infants get, that the brilliant and learned don’t grasp?  
What is it about young children, that Jesus says we must become like them to enter the kingdom of heaven?

Well they don’t do a darn thing, really. 
They don’t contribute anything to the household economy or pitch in a single helpful thing to the community around them.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but babies don’t feel at all driven to accomplish anything, and they hardly ever compare themselves to each other, or to their developmental milestones, to gauge where they are lacking, or take pride in how they are advancing. Babies are completely unconcerned about persuading others to think like them, or judging those who don’t, and they rarely obsess about the future. And they are not especially known for their composure, poise, dignity, or stellar manners.

To be an infant is to be vulnerably and simply you.  
At the very most core –babies still seem completely connected to the truth that that we belong to God and we all belong to each other. What I mean is, infants are known and loved and cared for, simply because they are. And they are children of their parents; their identity is from the ones who gave them life. It would never occur to a baby to imagine you feel anything for them other than unconditional delight and devotion.  
They rest in their reality: My needs will be met.  
I can sleep when I am tired. 
I can eat when I am hungry.  
I can trust.  
I can close my eyes without fear.  
I am held.
I belong to these people. They belong to me.
The world is filled with beauty, wonder and love.

Jesus doesn’t say, Come to me you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you extra energy and the strength to power through.  I will give you an edge, a do-over or a bump up.   I will promote your agenda or satisfy your desires.  
Jesus isn’t offering a strategy to win, or to overcome our humanity and need.  
Jesus is inviting us to tell the truth with our lives, to live how we were made to live. To come back to the reality that babies still exist in, to return to the natural order of things. 
Rest is part of the cycle of creation itself, hibernation, germination, night, day, winter, spring.  It’s is initiated, (and in fact, commanded), by the creator of all, who rests, and the Old Testament often refers to the promise of salvation as “coming into the rest of God.” 
Admitting we need rest is an act of strength and honesty, not weakness. Rest is for the healthy and the sick; its for the real. It returns us to the truth – that we belong to God, every one of us, in this together.

Great!  So how do we do it?  
How do we actually put down what is weighing on our minds, pressing on our souls, clogging up our lives?

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” Jesus says. 
A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull.
“Take my yoke upon you.” This is a straight up trade. Jesus says, I will release you from your work and give you a different job altogether.  I will unhook you from all the you are dragging around, and connect you up to me, and what I carry into the world instead.

What are you weary of? 
What heavy burdens are you carrying around?  
These are what he will ask you to lay down.  
But these are also the things we sometimes think define us, or think can’t happen without us. These are the things that scream at us: Vigilance! Urgency! Now is NOT the time to stop!

Let’s just remember for a moment, what is the choice before us, when Jesus is offering a different way.

One way, the way of fear, says life is about self-sufficiency and success, and those around us are competition, threat and obstacle. It says the powerful matter and the weak don’t, that having more makes you better, and that all human worth is earned.  There is not enough to go around and someone is always trying to take what’s rightfully yours. You can’t really trust anyone but yourself, and the goal of life is security and self-preservation at all costs, so never slow down, never give up, never let go. That’s the yoke we are most often strapped into, the cart we are most often pulling behind us.  Regardless of how we each specifically fill it – this is the gyst of it for us all.

But the other way, the way of God, says life begins in abundance and gift.  Our God comes into this life with us in weakness and impossibility, and stands with the poor, the stranger, the abandoned and the overlooked.  You are loved already, just as you are, and you are not meant to be “perfect,” you are meant to be the only you God ever made, in all your glorious difference, alongside all these others who are different from you, but also who in it together with you as, sister, brother, friend.  Life is for sharing, there is enough to go around, and no matter what it looks like at any given moment, it’s all heading toward connection and wholeness, because God is the one who decides the end, and it’s already been decided.  This is what Jesus carries, bearing this is the work that Jesus is inviting us to join him in.

I had an awakening this week.  It went like this. On Friday morning, I woke up and I put on my yoke.  I strapped myself into the job of fixing, convincing, worrying – which,as we know, is simply rehearsing fear over and over.
The yoke I was carrying said We are divided! Hatred is rampant! Lies are the loudest thing! What if!  It screamed those words of worry, that we heard last week, What if! The worst thing happens! What if! pain and suffering…What if, separation and helplessness… The pressure sat in my stomach like a lead ball.  I couldn’t escape the near panic of it. 

And it brought me to my knees.
 I wanted to take off that yoke, to be free.  
I wanted to step out of that way of being in the world and pick up a different way of being in the world, I wanted a different way of participating in life.

I longed for the yoke of trust, that says, Even if…, even ifall the things I fear happen, and more, 
Still God is God. 
Still, abundance and gift. 
Still, enough to go around. 
Still, all meant to be shared. 
Still, love is the truest, biggest thing. 
Still… all heading toward wholeness and connection, even when I can’t see it. 
Still, I belong to them and they belong to me.

“Coming to Jesus” isn’t a hypothetical thing.

So this is what I did:
When it feels like I can't take a deep breath past the pit in my stomach,
when logic and reason screams Argue! Beg! Make them see!
I sit very still.
I hold the ones I love before me in my mind. Love mixed with despair. Love mixed with disappointment. Love mixed with pity.
And I hold them there.
And I'm still.

Until the despair loosens its grip. 

And the disappointment diminishes. 

And the pity turns to compassion. 

And it's mostly just love remaining.
I really do trust, when I let myself trust (i.e., rest) that we all belong to God and we all belong to each other. And this ancient and eternal truth is what I long most to live from, live in, live towards.
So I see their faces before me, those I mostly only love,
and I grieve. And I forgive. And I seek to understand. And I let go.
And the stillness holds me here in love.
And now I can begin my day again.

My yoke is easy and my burden is light!  Jesus says, Come to me.  I will give you rest.
Why am I so hesitant to come when rest is what I need most of all?  Why do I cling to my tormenting, heavy yoke, when I could trade it at any moment for one that is easy and light?  Why do I choose the way of fear instead of stepping into the way of God, right here waiting for me in every moment?

When we say we are a Church that practices Sabbath, that doesn’t just mean we sometimes worship on Saturday nights instead of Sundays. 

Resting shows us the world keeps going without me at the helm, the fears I’ve been dodging wont consume me if I stand still… God is still God. Rest is central to our calling and identity as human beings.

Being a congregation that practices Sabbath means when Jesus says Come to me, we answer, Yes. OK. We will come.  We will lay down our burdens and our pride; we will admit our weariness, and we will welcome your rest. We won’t wait until we are sick or dying or out of our mind. We wont let rest become a last resort, a contingency plan, a life-saving measure. We will come now. We will begin here. Yours is the way and work we choose.

I love that in the Jewish understanding of Sabbath, the day begins at sundown. That means that rather than rest being a reward for a job well done or a last ditch attempt to recover from long, hard labor, rest is where it all starts. Rest is where your being and your belonging begin.  In the honesty of rest, my needs will be met.  
I can sleep when I am tired. 
I can eat when I am hungry.  
I can trust.  
I can close my eyes without fear.  
I am held.
I belong to these people. They belong to me.
The world is filled with beauty and wonder and love.
And when you wake, all your work and efforts and living flows from this place.  
The rest of God: Salvation.

When things feel most urgent, most pressing, most despairing, this is not the time to panic, talk faster, run harder. Strive further.
On the contrary, this is the time to stop. To be still.  To rest.
To “reorient your being to the one who loves us.”  This is what Sabbath is for.
God’s way is not our way. All true transformation, healing and newness comes through weakness, futility and impossibility.  Brothers and sisters, lest we forget: we don’t have a triumph and might faith, we have a death and resurrection faith. 
It’s our job to remind each other of that.

I invite you now to close your eyes, and hear the words of Jesus’ invitation to you:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Weighed down by heaviness? Come to me. Get away with me and you will recover your life. I will show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you will learn to live freely and lightly.”
(Mt. 11:28-30 adapted from The Message)

We are learning, beloved, we are learning.


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