Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Bible Reading for 5th Sunday after Pentecost Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
In the book of Exodus, something happened that had never happened before: a God dwelt, not in the heavens, but among their people. At that time, when God set up the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, a precursor to the temple in Jerusalem, he said in Exodus 33:14 “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest”. I will give you rest. Peace from your enemies, safety, security. God’s presence would go with humans.
But now in this lesson for today we see the reversal of that. The people of his day would have heard the echo of those Exodus words when Jesus, says, not “I will go with you”, but you, come to ME, and I will give you rest.
Only God could claim to give people ret from their enemies. Again, Jesus was identifying himself as one with the Father. Once again, when people say that Jesus never claimed to be God, they do not understand just how many times he said things that the people of his day would have picked up on, which would let them know that was exactly what he was doing.
All the power, all the presence of God rests physically in the man Jesus Christ.
So many of the words of Jesus resounded with the echoes of words that the people of Israel would know well, from their sacred scriptures! They might have heard this one come back to them, too, from Jeremiah 6: 16
16 This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. and then God goes on to say: But you would not walk in it! You made bad decisions!
God’s people looked for peace and for rest in all the wrong places, in kings, and armies, and horses and chariots, and many sacrifices, but they were not walking in the ways proven, and promised to bring rest to their souls.
So many people today think that Christianity is a quaint superstition, something out of the past, that people “used to” live their lives by, but is not relevant today. And they go looking for something new. Something better.
And that is because they, and we, have got things mixed up, and have thought that it is an “old-time religion” and that coming to Jesus properly means worshipping in the ways that people did in the 1500’s, and singing hymns that are even older than that.
I have even heard people in churches say that if the young people don’t like it, or people who have never known anything about the faith before don’t understand it, then we just need to teach them! How attractive is this, to invite people to something that they don’t like, and then tell them why they are wrong not to like it! Is this giving people rest, or piling on more layers of “weary and heavy-laden”?
But the time-tested proven place to find rest is not in a liturgy or any form of worship. It is not in a hymn versus a song. If we insist on that then we are putting our own preferences above those of those we are trying to reach, and that is not different to the people of Israel who thought that if they just followed the right forms, did all the sacrifices, than God would hear them and love them.
One of the worst things that we can do as Christians is to put our own preferences above the mission and needs of the church.
The forms of the faith will not give you rest. Whether we have hymns or songs or a traditional liturgy or not will not give us rest. They can in actual fact become an idol that we worship! They can distract us from the most important point!
It is Jesus Christ who promised to be the one whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. Jesus, the only saviour, who swaps his eternal life and holiness for our sin and death, and takes them to the cross.
His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. Do you know that in Greek the same word that is used for “yoke” is also the word for the cross-beam of a cross? We take up Jesus cross, and he takes up ours. That is the only place to find rest for our souls, free from the burden of judgement and sin and death and guilt and hopelessness.
The role of the church, and I have said this for 20 years, is to make this timeless truth relevant to a modern generation. And the truth of the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord IS relevant. It is needed as much now as it has ever been needed. But if we point to him and present him in a form that puts a stumbling block in anyone’s path, then we are doing the opposite of what a church should be doing.
Just because something is new doesn’t mean it is better. But just because something is old doesn’t mean it is better either. I am sure that in this part of the world, people are not now farming with the same equipment, and in the same way as they were 50 years ago, or 100 years ago. But I bet some of the basics have not changed. They just go about it in a different way.
Jesus, in this beautiful grace-filled section of teaching today makes three invitations. And they go like this: Come, take, learn.
Doing these things is what is called discipleship. The first step is to come to Jesus. Forget about all the other stuff. Look to the man who is God, who shows power in weakness, love in suffering, and has promised to take your burdens and give you rest for your souls.
And then take that rest. Leave behind all your fears and failings and be at peace.
It’s not an easy thing to do. We are so programmed to worry. But when you have come, and when you have taken what he has to offer, learn, learn over a whole lifetime, that he can be trusted, that the peace he gives is real, and that it is there for you.
So keep coming, keep taking, and keep learning. Not to a church, not to a program or a congregation or a denomination.
But to Jesus the Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. Come and find rest for your soul. Amen.