Sermon: A Word for the Weary
A Word for the Weary
Text: Matthew 11:16-19;
(Gary W. Charles, Cove Presbyterian Church, Covesville, VA, 7-9-2017)
A deeply troubled man walks onto a dimly lit stage. He has not bathed or shaved for quite some time. The orchestra begins to play as Judas sings:
My mind is clearer now – at last all too well
I can see where we all soon will be.
If you strip away the myth from the man
you will see where we all soon will be.
Jesus! You’ve started to believe
the things they say of you.
You really do believe
this talk of God is true.
And all the good you’ve done
will soon get swept away.
You’ve begun to matter more
than anything you say.
In Andrew Lloyd Weber’s, Jesus Christ Superstar, Judas is weary. He is weary of waiting for Jesus to stop acting like God and to start leading the military strike of a Savior. Judas is weary of watching Jesus waste his time feeding a crowd of thousands that will only be hungry again in the morning and healing a leper who once healed will still be roped off from anyone in polite society and teaching that peacemaking is something other than a fool’s errand for those living under Rome’s oppressive thumb.
Judas was weary. So am I, but I am not weary like Judas. To the contrary, I am weary of countless, Judas-like, so-called, God-fearing, Christians who still try to turn Jesus into an armed guerilla from God. I was weary yesterday watching KKK members wear hoods with the cross of Jesus on them, spewing hateful words, confident that Jesus blesses their violent language, condones their racial hatred, celebrates their homophobia, and commends their ignorance. The Jesus they follow is tough on crime, tough on immigrants, tough on Jews, tough on weaklings who suffer from addiction, tough on anyone who does not prosper in life. I am weary, weary to the bone, of trying to counter the Judas crowd who pine for a violent and racist and sexist and homophobic Jesus.
Judas was weary. So am I. Do you ever get weary, weary to the bone? You lay in bed but sleep is nowhere to be found. You send your children to their rooms for the tenth time today. You have already read every book on parenting and you are still waiting for the edition that works. You are an hour late for the one meeting this month to which you cannot be late. You have a good job, a good family, live in a good community, and yet something is missing in your life and it is not a small thing.
Do you ever get weary, weary to the bone? It is not a matter of being tired. Everyone gets tired. It is not so much a drain on your body as a sickness in your soul.
Society has many prescriptions for bone weariness. Vacations are the most popular of them, far outselling booze and extra strength Tylenol. Vacations carry with them the dream of rest, fun, and the great American pursuit of happiness. In reality, vacations are often weeks at the beach with more rain than sun and children whining, “I’m bored!” Even if we were able to escape our weariness while on vacation, it sits on our doorstep to greet us when we return home.
Another popular prescription for bone weariness is, ironically, work but not just any work. Work that leads to success is supposed to be an unfailing antidote to weariness. The only problem with this prescription is that once we have climbed to the top of the heap, we discover that the carrot on the stick was an artificial vegetable. The more successful we are means the more stuff we can get and then the more we want and the more we want, the wearier we become.
Common over-the-counter drugs for bone weariness are trendy self-help books. “How to Lose Weight,” “How to Succeed in Business,” “How to Build a Growing Church,” “How to Make Friends without Even Trying” are books designed to help us conquer whatever ails us. For those not inclined to read, you can drink a nutrient shake twice a day until slim. One of the great downers in life is to reach your goal and realize that you can be just as weary at 130 pounds as you were at 180.
The problem with society’s prescriptions for bone weariness is that they only treat the surface symptom. It is like treating lung disease with cough syrup. The cough is only a symptom of what is killing us inside. No prescription will finally relieve our bone weariness because no prescription addresses what is underneath our weariness.
There is no dispute that we have a tremendous drug problem in America today, most currently, it is an extreme opiod problem, but even that is not our biggest drug problem. You and I continue to be sedated on solutions to our weariness that only masks it for a moment. We are invited to lose ourselves for a while in whatever the drug du jour, with the hope that when we come to we will no longer be bone weary. Unfortunately, there is no drug on the market or the black market that provides such a cure.
“Come to me all who are weary, weary to the bone, and I will give you rest,” is the invitation from Jesus. You and I are not invited to lose ourselves in Jesus, but to find ourselves in him. “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me . . . for my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” says Jesus.
St. Augustine called this a “strange invitation.” He asks, “How can Christ offer rest when the evidence is that coming to him not only does not remove the difficulties of life but even adds hardship and persecution?” St. Augustine concludes, “Nothing seems severe to those who love what they do! The yoke of Christ is easy to those who . . . who depend upon the grace of God to renew and to restore.”
Maybe St. Augustine was right. Maybe the yoke of Christ is easy, but by in large my generation did not think so. We rebelled against the idea of wearing anyone’s yoke, even the yoke of Christ. We were the free generation. We wanted no yokes around our necks because we were convinced that all yokes crush and kill. We followed the teachings of the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rosseau, who wrote, “Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains.” Rosseau advised us to get rid of every yoke upon us.
“Do not get rid of my yoke,” says Jesus. “It is the one yoke that sets you free.” St. Augustine is right. It is a “strange invitation.” By freely submitting to bondage, you and I become free. Life may still bombard us with trouble; life will bombard us with trouble, but when wearing the yoke of Jesus, we face life with more than just our own resources or society’s inadequate prescriptions.
Who can better teach us about the yoke of freedom than our Southern black ancestors? They lived with a yoke around their necks, no gentle yoke, but the vicious yoke of slavery. It was a yoke that seemingly would sap the life and hope out of any human being. Yet, often to their master’s confusion, many slaves willingly wore even one more yoke—the yoke of Jesus. Wearing that yoke, they were able to face the often violent burden of a dehumanized life without the need to dehumanize in return.
A faith song sung by slaves still sings to all bone weary souls: “Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again. There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.”
“Come to me, all who are weary, weary to the bone, and I will give you rest,” says Jesus. “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me . . . for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
As Heather sings and leads us in singing the anthem of American slaves, I invite all who are weary to come forward and to share with me or Jane or Josh or Jill a private word about your weariness, bone weariness, for which we will then pray.
As you come forward or as you remain in prayer in your pew, dare to believe the “strange invitation” of Jesus: “Come to me all who are weary, bone weary, and I will give you rest.”