The Gift of Rest
The Rev. Dr. Ross McGowan Wright
The Church of the Good Shepherd
The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 22, 2018
Text: Mark 6:30-34
[Jesus] said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
The Christian life is an active life. When Jesus Christ calls us to follow him, he gives us work to do. He fills us with his Holy Spirit, and the Spirit reorients and redirects our lives, so that our work and energies are in line with God’s work. We may continue in the same job we have always had, but Christ gives us a new sense of purpose. We do our work to honor him. Life in Christ is the active life.
Christ also gives us rest. He knows when we are weary, burdened, and overtaxed by the demands of daily life and work; when we are “wearied by the changes and chances of this world,” as the collect for Compline puts it. Christ has entered fully into our humanity, so he knows what it feels like to be exhausted. He understands our fatigue. His compassion is expressed beautifully in his invitation: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
Rest is Christ’s gift to us – a gift, rather than something that we can create for ourselves. We may think we know what will bring us relaxation and renewal – a trip abroad; a week at the beach or the mountains; a new boat or bicycle; a weekend house. But how many times have we discovered that what we thought would bring rest has actually added more stress to our lives? Activities that we thought would make us happy end up causing frustration. The perfect vacation turns out to be draining – because of a cancelled flight; or a fight with a family member; or because we spent the entire time worrying about some problem at home. You can have everything you want outwardly and yet still feel inwardly hollow, empty, and superficial.
Rest is elusive. Whenever we have genuine rest – of the body and of the spirit – it is because of Christ’s gift of rest.
The gift of rest that Christ gives comes as we recognize the burdens we are carrying.
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Jesus said: Come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11: 28
For some people, work is a burden, because they are doing work that is exhausting, demeaning, or too hard. Recently, a member of this congregation said to me: “I’m exhausted all the time. I’m spent. I simply don’t have the physical strength to do this job anymore.”
But there are also spiritual burdens? What are some of these?
We become a burden to ourselves when we know that we’ve taken a wrong path and we feel the burden of guilt or remorse. There is the burden of anxiety. There is the burden that comes when we feel that we have missed some important opportunity.
What do you need when you are carrying some great burden? You need a person you can fully trust – someone who understands what you’re going through and does not judge you. You need someone who understands everything; hears everything on your heart; a person who bears all things; believes all things; hopes all things; forgives all things.
Do you have such a person in your life? We all do. Jesus is that person. He is rest. He is gentle. He is the source of our deepest longing and the one who stills that longing. Jesus is our rest, our peace, our refreshment, and our deliverance.
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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. Matthew 11: 29
There are two ways to help a person who is laboring under a burden. Either you take the load off the person, or you help him carry the load. By being with the person, you make it easier to carry the load. Jesus never promises us a burden-free life. But he does promise to walk with us and to help us carry our burdens.
Jesus invites us to be yoked to him. To be yoked with him means asking each day: What is the will of God in Jesus Christ for me? It may mean continuing in the same responsibilities we have, but discovering that our work has meaning because he is taking up our cause; even as we take up his cause. It means committing every activity and enterprise to the Christ: Lord, I ask you to be part of this project; and I ask you to help me to do it as part of your project. In this way, we are yoked to Christ in the varied activities of our lives: in our relationships with spouse and family members; in our responsibilities as home-owners and citizens; in our work as librarians; doctors; teachers; business people; government workers; as active military; in our volunteer work.
“Come to me,” Christ says. Everything depends on the fact that a person is calling us – the person who is also the living God is making the invitation. Rest is found in a person, in the person of Jesus, who knows us all, who suffered all, and who is our redeemer.
Summer is a time when we often have expectations for rest. So let me ask you: Summer is half way over – how is it going with your rest? What kind of rest do you need? You may know exactly what you need – and you may have found it. But if you’re not sure what you need or where to turn to find it, take heart. The Lord of life knows when we’re worn out. He sees the burdens that we carry. And he invites us to find rest. All you need to do is to ask him. Call to him. And he will be there.