Sunday, August 25, 2019

Moriah Hurst: Poems, prayers and promises

Milestone Sunday & Back To School Sunday

Psalm 71:1-6; Isaiah 55:2-3; Matthew 11:25-30

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Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.
I get one day off a week. My Sabbath day. Sure I may get part of a Saturday off some weeks but Monday is the day where I am allowed to say no to all things church or work related and I can rest. Yet this week I was very tempted to start working on this sermon on my Sabbath Monday. Because of the Block Party last week and the retreat coming up in a few weeks we have been busy in the office. One of my friends joked with me that we have the Mennopocalipse of the Fall. When I am scheduling for the youth it feels a bit that way. There are retreats, school kit blitzs, relief sales, music festivals, homecomings…not to mention school, sports and music events that I should get to.
I did not give into the temptation to start this sermon on my Sabbath but I started thinking about what was motivating or pushing me to want to encroach on this time and space that I hold sacred and set apart. I was motivated by my need to do things right, to preach a good sermon, be a good person and to show that I really am working hard. I want to preform well.
As a new school year starts I’m sure you have your long list of what is happening as things ramp up again. Even if you are not connected to a school, I bet you are looking at the many things that need to fit into your Fall plans. And part of the problem with ramping up again is that we didn’t really stop. The summer was full of reunions, trips, music festivals, camps, church gatherings; all good things. But we might be tired.
I feel like I might have preached this sermon before. But maybe we need to hear it again. I need to hear it and be reminded. Maybe I’m preaching for myself this morning and the rest of you are just listening in.
In my prayer life I often turn to the words of an Australian poet and cartoonist named Michael Leunig. One of his books is a set of philosophical and whimsical letters between two friends.  Mr Curly writes his musings to his friend Vasco:
"Dear Vasco,
In response to your question “what is worth doing and what is worth having” I would like to say simply this. It is worth doing nothing and having a rest; in spite of all the difficulty it may cause, you must rest Vasco – otherwise you will become restless!
I believe the world is sick with exhaustion and dying of restlessness. While it is true that periods of weariness help the spirit to grow, the prolonged, ongoing state of fatigue to which our world seems to be rapidly adapting is ultimately soul destroying as well as earth destroying.”

Jesus says: come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest.
As I talked to some of those entering High School this year they shared that they were encouraged to start building their resumes at the start of middle school. Volunteering and involvement in extra-curriculars was encouraged so that you can start working on getting into a good college – starting this work as an 11 year old.
Maybe we are sick as a society. Adults busily modeling exhausted lives for our children and thus showing them that this is the way to live.
But our lives are full of good things. I often come back to a phrase when talking to parents. It is not that we are choosing between good and bad things. We are choosing to say no to some good things so we have space to yes to that which is most excellent.
Are you spending your time and energy on that which is most excellent? In the words of the poet Mary Oliver: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
What are you aching and yearning for? What energizes you and are you spending your life on things that sustain you?
As the prophet Isaiah asks it: Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
In a world where time is money and we are run ragged trying to keep up, possibly one of the more radical and faith filled things we can offer is Sabbath rest. Stopping from our laboring, putting down our work.
While I was in seminary, in the midst of a full time load of classes, part time work in the library and volunteering in the community, I took up a practice of Sabbath. From sundown on Saturday to sundown on Sunday I did not work. This gave me the space to have time with my community, socializing and worshiping. It gave me space to rest and sleep. And then as Sunday evening rolled around I was ready to start studying again. Possibly the biggest gift in this was that it gave me a break from the guilt. Guilt that I wasn’t working harder, doing more, being better. For those 24 hours I was allowed to give myself a break. Even God rested, do I think of myself as better then God?
When we still ourselves in that resting place maybe we can connect with what we are really hungering for.
Again from Isaiah: “Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me; listen so that you may live.”
Sabbath rest takes a lot of work. You have to prepare for it and as I have heard from others and know well in my own life, just stopping does not restore us. How do we rest well?
 What is the promise of Sabbath? God rested after creation. In the Ten Commandments we are told to work 6 days and rest on the 7th; you shall not do any work on that 7th day. Even when the people of Israel wandered in the desert they did not collect food on the seventh day, and they rested.
As I reflect on the words of Psalm 71 – does God need to save us from ourselves and our own inability to pause for a conversation with God?
Why are we so busy? Will we let God be our Rock and Salvation or are we trying to save ourselves? Is our hope and trust really in God?
“Rescue me, O God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.”
Is the hand of the unjust and cruel the inner voice we have swallowed that tells us to keep working long hours, keep rushing our kids around to activities, keep studying late into the night to make a good grade, keep going to one more event.
Even our resting feels like a chore! Oh I have to make time for that too? Just one more thing to do.
Jesus says: “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.”
Those who were hearing Jesus’ words would have known well the image of an oxen being yoked. “Yokes were laid on the necks and shoulders of oxen and also on prisoner of war and slaves.” Elisabeth Johnson
This image of being yoked was referencing how people might be burdened by the rules and regulations of the Pharisees legalism. This weighed them down and Jesus extended to them a new kind of freedom. Instead of being yoked to the law this was an invitation to be yoked to Jesus.
As I think about what we are burdened with today, I wonder if we have set aside the do’s and don’ts of the church and our religious tradition and picked up those of our world? Set down a purity code and picked up a consumeristic one – consuming things and experiences. Set down not working on Sundays and picked up workaholism. Setting down religious judgements on our lives and actions yet carefully curating our on-line presence so our lives look fun, artistic and engaging. Rejecting a religious law that seems to confining and yet taking on a different set of “laws” that control us even more and may go unnamed and unchecked. Rules of be busy, prove your worth by doing and producing.
We have swapped one set of “dress like this” and “act like this” for another.
If we still have a sense of guilt and failure and not release then we have just swapped one set of oppressive rules for another. Are we still yoked in this slavery? This is not the kind of freedom Jesus wants for us.
            Jesus is not ruling over and putting the heavy load on us like a slave driver or master. But removing the weight that we bare. Yet, just as we put down one burden Jesus invites us to pick up another. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me”.
            The commentator Elisabeth Johnson writes:
“It is not that Jesus invites us to a life of ease. Following him will be full of risks and challenges, as he has made abundantly clear. He calls us to a life of humble service, but it is a life of freedom and joy instead of slavery. It is life yoked to Jesus under God's gracious and merciful reign, free from the burden of sin and the need to prove oneself, free to rest deeply and securely in God's grace.”
We are called to this work beyond ourselves. We lift up this yoke of Jesus in solidarity and common effort, accepting Christ’s load and priorities for the world. Becoming co-workers with Jesus, not a slave master but working and walking alongside with a shared burden. Stepping away from the competitive narrative of our world to be collaborators with Jesus.
As we talk of where we are going as a church I often think about following the energy. Where is there interest and enthusiasm – how do we follow that. But the caution here is that this can become self-centered, we only look out for ourselves and our own wants or the things we get excited about. How do we look to where Jesus may be leading and not miss the least of these and those with smaller voices, less power and tiny bank accounts? As we look at new structures for our life together as a church how do we share the load and the vision?
When I was teaching my students how to organize and plan for an event I would ask “how do you eat an elephant?” How would you approach a task so huge? You have to break it up into small bite-sized pieces. All the big work of the church is done by many hands taking small amounts of work and together we shoulder the burden, together we walk on carrying the load with each other and with Jesus.
The woes of the world are vast and when I get overwhelmed with what feels like a huge task I remember the words captured in the Talmud: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Come to this gentle, humble Jesus. Not a leader who drives us into the ground tirelessly. But a savior who takes up the challenge with us, showing the way by example. Not a guilt producing “to do” list, but work that we can lean into together.
My prayer is that we will not be squeezed by the burdens of our world but make space for our God. This year may we make time to be, sit, laugh, play, reflect, breathe, just stop, together as a community as we fall into step with Jesus.
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