Christ’s Invitation to Rest, Abundant Life, and our Response

The sign outside of Bethel Lutheran

Today I had the privilege to be invited to preach and lead worship, as well as a Bible Study on part 3 of the five gifts of discipleship, by my friends and colleagues Pastors Rebecca and Rich Sheridan at Bethel Lutheran Church in Omaha. Thank you for the invitation friends! What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from. It is based on the revised common lectionary readings assigned for today, the Fifth Sunday of Pentecost: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, and Psalm 145:8-14

Grace and peace from the one who calls you, knows you, loves you, and promises to give you rest. Amen.

I’m so glad it’s summer. I love this time of year- longer days, sunshine, shorts and sandals… and then I look at my calendar. It’s a blessing to have so many important things to be a part of, and so much fun and wonderful things to look forward to, but I can also easily fall into the trap of feeling like I don’t have time for it all. Do you ever have that feeling? The feeling like you are running out of time?

Or, perhaps you have had a similar moment of dread that I had this past Wednesday? Just before lunch that day I discovered a growing hole in my pants while at work- you know a hole in an area where you really don’t want a hole or tear to form… “Oh dear, what do I do?,” I wondered. My brain immediately went to strategizing how I could make it through the day while avoiding embarrassment.

Thinking about today’s Gospel lesson
I think Jesus had these moments, feelings and fears in mind. Feelings that time is scarce, life is always on the go, and how on earth are we supposed to take the time to breathe, relax, and be? Or fears of, “what if,” “oh no,” and “what on earth can I do?”

Jesus’ call in the stained glass windows of Bethel’s sanctuary, as well as in our response of prayers, and remembrance of our baptism. (Part of the “Worship Centers” experience in the worship service.)

Today we hear Jesus say one of his most famous invitations. Jesus calls and invites us all, beautifully, longingly, and lovingly:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and 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.”[1]

“Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens…”[2] Jesus calls us one and all to come and follow. Jesus calls us to lay down our loads; to name our fears, worries, and all that keeps us busy, and gets in the way of living abundant lives. When we can be vulnerable enough to name the things that are getting in the way, we have an opportunity again to remember who we are- created, called, claimed, and loved Children of God.

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…”[3] This is a call to change. Perhaps it’s a call to confess of our busyness, our worries, fears, and all that gets in the way of our relationship with God, and our ability to follow as a Disciple of Christ? This is also a calling to a life of deep meaning and purpose- the life of being a disciple and steward of God’s love and mysteries. Gentleness, humbleness, and rest… these aren’t often held up as values in our culture today, but they are time tested hallmarks of what good leadership looks like, and certainly what it means to be a Child of God.

Jesus ends this beautiful passage by declaring, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[4] This is a reminder for us, that this is God’s work. God is here, God is with us, and God is for us. The burdens of life, of which there are many; the injustices of life and the world, of which there are many; and the work that needs to be done, which there is always plenty to do; are things that we turn to God to guide us. We don’t give them up necessarily, but we turn to God to guide us, lead us, and help us prioritize and reorient ourselves, in the hope that our burden might be light too, so that we can more readily be bearers of God’s love in the world.

Put together, these three verses of Jesus’ invitation provide guidance for life, discipleship, our relationship with God, and also for stewardship. They put what truly matters into perspective, and provide an opportunity for us to think about how we are stewards.

How are we managing or stewarding our time? How are we prioritizing and making decisions? Are we living life abundantly, or running around ragged feeling the effects of scarcity, or the fear or nagging feeling of not being enough?

Life Abundant and Holistic Stewardship
These are stewardship questions. They are questions from a holistic sense of stewardship. By this I mean that stewardship involves way more than just money.

Bethel Lutheran is a beautiful church on the top of a hill in Omaha.

Money is a part of it, but just as much as finances are things we manage or steward, we also steward our: time, our lives and bodies, our dreams, hopes, imaginations, ideas, questions, and stories; our vocations, passions, strengths; creation, and even the relationships that we are all in with each other, our families, friends, co-workers, colleagues, neighbors, and strangers.

There’s more obviously, but all of these pieces of our lives, are part of what it means to live a life as a steward. All of these pieces are things that have been entrusted to us by God, to live abundantly, but also to serve and love God, and to serve and love our neighbor. All that we have, and all that we are, has been entrusted to each one of us by the same God who today says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens…”

When we remember this, we remember that each of us is enough. We are called, created, and entrusted with unique gifts, abilities, ideas, and stories that together God can, and does, use each of us to build up the kingdom and to do God’s work.

The burdens get most heavy, and the weariness grows unbearable when we lose sight of God, but also when we lose sight of the fact that it’s not all up to us. And that not only are we in relationship with God, we are in relationship with all God’s children together. When we remember these relationships, we remember that we do not carry the weight of our worlds alone.

The Promises of God- for you
We heard from the psalmist today that, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that the Lord has made.”[5] These are signs of the promises of God, for you. It is out of God’s love, that God wants you to live life fully and abundantly. God is in relationship with us, and the depths to which God’s love and compassion go are limitless.

The front of the sanctuary, with many visible signs and reminders of God’s promises.

Of course, we know just how far God’s love and compassion goes. It goes to and through the cross. We know of God’s love, through the stories of the gospel of the birth, incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. With the psalmist, we give thanks and praise for all that God has done for us- all of this and so much more, which God has done freely for us.

These actions are gifts to us and for us, which we cannot earn, but only be grateful and thankful for, and live a life of joy because of. With the psalmist, we remember these promises and God’s presence, and we also remember our call to “speak” and “tell of God’s power,” “to make known to all people, God’s mighty deeds and the glorious splendor of God’s kingdom.”[6]

God’s story is one that has been entrusted to us, but one that is also on-going through us.

Joyful Response
The way we live our lives as disciples and stewards is a sign of God’s love in and for the world. But most importantly, the way we live our lives in response to God’s free gifts is our joyful response to all that God has done. As the Nebraska Synod Director for Stewardship, it’s my joy to be able to hear these stories of ministry in action, but also to lift them up, and thank you all for being a part of it.

One of the ways that we respond to God’s gifts is through mission share….

One of Bethel’s joyful responses and ways that it serves its neighbor is through its mini-library outside the building for anyone.

Mission share is how every congregation is able to do ministry that spans the globe. It’s the undesignated offering that is shared with the Nebraska Synod and the larger church. It’s through congregational and individual support of mission share that the synod and larger ELCA can: plant and support new and renewing ministries; develop and share new resources; send missionaries around the whole world; respond to human need through hunger and disaster ministries; and support the work of seminaries and the larger church in raising up new pastors, deacons, and leaders for the sake of the church in this new age of being the church together.

On that note, I want to say thank you for your participation in mission share!  Because of you, and your 100,000 brothers and sisters in Christ, who together with you are the Nebraska Synod, we are able to do all of that ministry together. Because of being church together, we’re also able to facilitate call processes, helping congregations find new pastors; we’re able to experiment with new and innovative ministries; to support spiritual direction through the “Seeking the Spirit Within” institute; and together we’re able to raise up new leaders here locally in Nebraska, including Parish Ministry Associates; and support out serving arm partners like Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry (including Camp Carol Joy Holling), Mosaic, and Lutheran Family Services just to name a few.

All of these things that we each do individually, as well as together through mission share, are examples of our joyful response for all that God has done, continues to do, and promises to do. How we live our lives, seeking the comfort, solace and rest of Jesus, following him, making decisions, and choosing to do or not do things, are examples of we how we steward ourselves and respond to God’s gifts. So, thank you again for being a part of this church.

And Now for the Rest of the Story
Now back to what could have been the most embarrassing story.

Even though I had that moment of dread on Wednesday, making the nightmarish discovery of an unfortunate rip in my pants, it turned into a day of grace, and joy. I had a great phone call with another stewardship leader in the afternoon that left me inspired and hopeful. But most importantly, it gave me the chance to tell some stories of ministry in action- stories I have seen and experienced in my first year on the ground here in Nebraska.

The Bethel Lutheran sanctuary before worship.

I’m excited to see what lies ahead in my second year here in Nebraska, and to hear more of your stories today in fellowship after worship. And even on the bad days, when things don’t go as planned, when pants get ripped, or the hours seem to be flying by and we’re running out of time, we’re reminded that God is there to take our worries, fears, and burdens; to help us bare them, so that together we can be renewed and do God’s work in the world in our various vocations.

Pastors Rebecca and Rich, are away on vacation today enjoying a Sabbath and a time of rest that God calls us all to in today’s gospel. My hope is that each one of us takes that call, and how ever that might look like for us, we find rest and renewal in God in Christ, we remember the promises of God that we are washed in, in our baptisms, and we live renewed as disciples and stewards of God’s love. Thank you for being a part of this life of meaning and purpose with God- the challenging and beautiful life of being a disciple and steward. And thanks be to God, who is with us and for us, this day and every day. Amen.

Citations & Sources:
[1] Matthew 11:28-30, NRSV.
[2] Matthew 11:28, NRSV.
[3] Matthew 11:29, NRSV.
[4] Matthew 11:30, NRSV.
[5] Psalm 145:8-9, NRSV.
[6] Inspired from Psalm 145:10-12, NRSV.

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