Sunday, July 9, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. These words from Jesus can feel like medicine to a wound, and yet they can also cause some discontent. Who among us hasn’t experienced burdens and may even be experiencing them now? Life isn’t always easy. We’ve heard over the last few weeks in Matthew’s gospel that being a disciple doesn’t lead to a life of ease; being a disciple of Jesus means that we will face some really tough times if we are really doing what he asks us to do- proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near. It may seem almost contradictory therefore, when Jesus says “You will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” There’s nothing easy about this Christian journey when we face tough times. If we’re honest, we’d like a Savior who takes away our burdens rather than giving us the strength we need to overcome them. We’d prefer a Savior who takes away our problems rather than helping us to face them. It’s only natural to want things to be a little easier, especially if we’ve been struggling with something for a long time.
We’d prefer to have our prayers answered the way we want them answered rather than allowing God’s will to be done. Even St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans today, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Left to our own selfish desires we would choose our ways all the time, and what we want is not always what is good for us. St. Paul acknowledges that we are sinful and are constantly pulled to make the wrong choices. Our journey of faith is not an easy one, so again, why does Jesus say that if we take his yoke upon us our burdens will be lighter?
For those who don’t know, a yoke is a wooden beam normally used between a pair of oxen or other animals to enable them to pull together on a load when working in pairs. It makes the load lighter. Jesus is saying that if we take up his yoke – his cross, his ministry – then our burdens will be lighter too because we aren’t carrying them alone. Jesus is carrying them with us. If anyone knows about carrying heavy burdens, it’s Jesus. Only he carried our burdens willingly out of his great love for us. More often than not we make our burdens worse than they need to be. We try to fix them ourselves. We make then harder by trying to be right all the time. We burden ourselves with trying to be perfect. Jesus offers us rest from these burdens, and invites us to help ease the burdens of others too.
Being yoked with Jesus means that we are connected with him in our journey. We are united with him in his mission to unite the whole world into relationship with the Triune God. That journey and connection begins in our baptism.
Today we have the joy of celebrating Gwendolyn Rose Harrison’s baptism. It is truly a joyous occasion because it is the beginning of the discipleship journey that we have been talking about all month. Our faith journey begins when in the waters of baptism we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. We are yoked with Jesus- united with him – as we live out our lives as disciples. Life for Gwendolyn will not always be easy, but she will not be alone as she faces life’s challenges. Jesus is with her through the Holy Spirit. Her family, her friends, and her church community will also help her along the way. It is part of the promise we make at her baptism, and at each baptism. We promise to support her in her faith journey. It is the promise we have made for all the youth in this congregation, and all of us need to keep these promises to nurture each other in our faith journey.
Martin Luther called baptism “the most precious jewel” because through our baptism we receive the promise of Jesus’ presence with us always. We receive forgiveness, grace, and the gifts of the Spirit. When we face challenges, burdens that seem too much to bear, choices where we don’t know what to do, we – like Luther – can profess, “I am baptized,” as a way to remind ourselves that we have the power of God living within us to remove the fear that tries to take hold of us. In baptism we come to the fountain of living water and are refreshed. It is here that we first hear Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The rest that Jesus offers is the promise of his endless grace, the promise that we are loved by God, the promise that no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in we can trust in the promise that God is always with us.
The waters of baptism do not take away life’s burdens, but they make the burden’s lighter because of our connection with Jesus who overcame death, and gives us the promise of eternal life. Eternal life isn’t just that life that awaits us after we die; it begins with our relationship here and now with Jesus. It begins the moment we are cleansed through the waters of baptism, and continues through our life’s journey as we walk with Jesus.
Baptism is worth celebrating because it is where we first experience Jesus’ life –saving power and grace. This grace changes us; it transforms us; it seals us through the power of the Holy Spirit and marks us with the cross of Christ forever. In baptism we are claimed as God’s beloved, and that is a promise that remains with us through our entire life.
Today, we celebrate Gwendolyn’s baptism, and we celebrate our own. For through the waters of baptism we have been yoked with Christ – our burdens are lighter, and our hearts find rest in him. In Christ we find rest for the journey, and rest in the journey. Rest in the promise of God’s steadfast love and amazing grace. Amen.