Soul Rest                   Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30                July 6, 2008
 
There is a difference between Sabbath, or Sabbatical, and vacation. Vacations are for getting away, having fun, visiting family, traveling. They’re people oriented. Sabbath can be all of the above, but is God oriented. It is “a strategic withdrawal from normal responsibilities to pursue rest, refreshment and renewal.” It is an intentional focus on spending time with God: reading Scripture, enjoying nature, meditating, contemplating God’s creation, spending some time away from electronic influences.
 
At the Pastors Sabbath Retreat I attended recently we were asked to go on a “media fast” in order to direct our attention on God and each other and away from cell phones, TV, radio, newspapers, etc. What a breath of fresh air it was!
 
As a pastor, it is easy to fall into the habit and studying to teach others and neglect studying so Holy Spirit teaches me. Likewise, each of us is called to be a minister of Christ in this world, at work, school, home, community.
 
As followers of Christ:
Though each person must bear their individual cross, a yoke is worn jointly.
When Christ commands the one (cross), at the same time he promises the other (yoke).
Our labor is faithfully to follow Christ’s way.
Our hope is his word that he will teach us the path.
Our rest is the assurance that he knows of our burdens.
The task is to join him in the venture called faith.
 
28"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
 
THEN: Jesus spoke these words . . .
 
--In a time when human beings were beasts of burden just as often as animals, this image had real power.
--In an age with no concept of "the weekend," the mandates of traditional Jewish Sabbath laws of "rest" had always been exceedingly inviting.
 
For those who had caught the vision of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, this promise of "rest" was real. As Messiah, Jesus offered a glimpse into the kingdom, into a place where burdens grew weightless.

NOW:             One of our current culture's fantasies, which feeds our inherent weariness and our perpetually overburdened souls, is the notion that we must all be "self-made" persons. We pride ourselves in our independence and ingenuity. We expend as much energy trying to build an image of ourselves in this life, this church, this family and community.

When Jesus offers to share our burdens by becoming our "yoke-mate,"/ the weight of all the stress of trying to maintain a certain image / that we think the world expects of us / quietly slips off our shoulders.
 
Jesus' yoke--though "easy" and the burden "light"--nonetheless gives us direction and purpose for our lives. We no longer need to create and re-create ourselves--we are now being gently re-sculpted into Christ's likeness.

I alone (for none else can) will freely give you (what ye cannot purchase) rest from the guilt of sin by justification, and from the power of sin by sanctification." From Wesley's Notes.
 
There is freedom in being yoked to a single focus and direction through Christ. Ever notice how those who have genuinely yoked their lives to Jesus don't seem to think they are "missing out" on anything?

REST (ANAPAUSIS) cessation, refreshment, rest. The word used is the constant word in the Septuagint for the Sabbath rest and is also used here in Matthew 11, where the contrast seems to be to the burdens imposed by the legalistic Pharisees (the religious lawyers of the day).
           
Jesus said, "Come!,' while the Pharisees said, 'Do!. 'Jesus spoke to people who were desperately trying to find God and desperately trying to be good by obeying religious laws. The harder they tried the more they realized their own inability to be good in God's eyes. Religion, without relationship, can become a burdensome yoke. It can stifle enthusiasm, quench creativity, and kill joy.
 
In contrast, Jesus says, Come. He promises to go with us for the distance. Throughout Scripture, we read, "I will never leave you nor forsake you," Abide in me and I will abide in you," "I will send to you a Comforter and He will guide you into all truth," and "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."
 
The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, is the one who walks with us because He is IN us. The word Paraklete is used in the Greek which means Advocate, or, the One Who Walks Along Side.
 
Therefore, "Cast your cares on Him, and He will give you rest." "And if Jesus Christ gives you rest, you may be sure it will be a rest indeed; it will be such a rest as your soul wants; it will be a rest which the world can neither give nor take away." It is the Sabbath Rest of the OT and the NT. This Sabbath rest was experienced on retreat. I experienced some wonderful insights in the quiet. I reflected on the brightness of the moon and how the moon is only a reflection of the sun, but still very bright. As Christians, we are a refection of God’s image and God’s light shines through us.
 
In the busyness of life, we often don’t reflect on God and the greater things in life. However, it is in these reflections that we draw near to God. Sometimes I think we’re afraid to draw near to God because we’re afraid of what we might find in ourselves. Again, that’s precisely why God calls as to himself. Only as Spirit of God reveals to us can we be healed.
 
When we come to Jesus, take his yoke upon us, and learn from him, we can have the rest, and peace of mind, that we crave. Only as we walk step in step with Jesus will we feel relief from the burdens and stress of our lives. (Romans passage: walk in the spirit) As we keep in step with the Spirit of God our journey feels less burdensome.
             
But first we have to 'Come.' Jesus says, Come unto me;" not just come to me, but come into relationship with me. Devotional writer Oswald Chambers says, that personal contact with Jesus changes everything. And that takes humility; it takes willingness on our part to say, I've tried to go it alone, but I can't bear it.' And we don't have to do it alone. Christ is with us and walks with us.
 
The yoke that Jesus speaks about is made for sharing the load. The word Yoke (zugos) serves to couple two things together and is used metaphorically of submission to authority. Quite often a younger, more inexperienced animal was yoked to a more mature, well-trained animal.
 
The question often is this: “Do we really want a gentle, lowly, humble savior and lord of our lives?" (Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources. )
 
The Jews used the phrase 'the yoke' for 'entering into submission to,' when they spoke of the Law, the commandments or the kingdom of God. To take a yoke in that day meant to become a disciple. When Jesus says 'My yoke is easy,' the word chrestos (for easy) means 'well-fitting.' Much beloved scholar, the late William Barclay, wrote that the ox-yokes, which are made of wood, were custom made for each ox of a team of oxen.
 
The animals were first measured, the yoke was made, and the animal brought back to try it on. Each yoke was carefully adjusted to fit so that it did not gall (irritate) the neck of the beast. "Jesus is not offering us a life of ease and rest if we join him. He is offering us a life of work that has purpose and is well-suited to us."
 
Jesus, having been a carpenter, might easily have meant, "My yoke fits well." The life that God has given each of us is tailor-made for our lives and needs. "My yoke is easy, or well-fitting," said Jesus. Another Rabbi said it this way, "my burden is become a song.' Our burdens in life can become a song as we allow God's love to share the burden with us.
 
Come, take, and learn. "We all need to wear the yoke of Jesus. Love of God. Love of neighbor. Mercy, love, and kindness. A faith that moves mountains and carries momentous burdens."         
 
Jesus words to his disciples, as we heard a few weeks ago, were to count the cost, take up the cross and follow. Dangers and hardships might come our way, but Jesus shares our yoke with us. Picture a pair of oxen pulling a wagon, or a flat-bed trailer of hay. The team pulls together; even their strides are coordinated.
 
Neither one, alone, can pull the same amount of weight for the same distance. "When Jesus invites us to take his yoke and to learn from him, he is inviting us to join him in harness -- to allow him to take the lead -- to let him help us through difficult places -- to let him show us how it is done." For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (NEB, my yoke is good to bear)
 
"Rabbis often spoke of the yoke of the Law, but always in praise. To accept this yoke, they claimed, was to put off the yoke of earthly kingdoms and worldly care. . . The metaphor of the yoke suggests 'sharing' the burden.
 
The yoke was made for two. As a carpenter Jesus must often have made yokes, and have made them as smooth and easy to bear as possible." (Cambridge, 89) Great care was taken.
 
Be still and know that I am God; take my yoke upon you: the rest of God. (NEB, I will give you relief … your souls will find relief.) Unless I, we, take time for Sabbath rest, we don't experience that deeper connection with God.
 
Come unto me and I will give you Rest. God has offered us Rest from the days of Creation to the coming of the New Jerusalem. Sabbath. Rest. Shalom. Let us pray . . .
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
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