Sermon by Canon Henry Whyte
Fourth Sunday after Trinity, 5 July 2020
You can hear an audio recording of Canon Henry Whyte's sermon here
Come to Me….
Matthew 11. 25 -30
One of the things that I did in my long lost youth was to go on an Outward Bound Course. It was full of demanding expeditions in the mountains of the Lake District all designed to develop character and team work. These courses still continue and about a quarter of a million young people go on them every year.
I still remember one hot afternoon when a group of us were struggling towards the summit of Helvellyn with very heavy loads on our backs. One of my companions got into such trouble under the weight he was carrying that he really could not go any further. Our instructor, Sergeant Quinn, a Royal Marine Commando, came over and, to my amazement, he took the rucksack off my colleague’s back and carried it along with his own heavy load all the way to the top.
“Come to me” says Jesus, “all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest”. It is perhaps his most famous invitation and the heavy load of which Jesus is speaking is not a physical load. It is rather the burden carried by so many people who are striving to make themselves good enough for God.
It was the message of the Pharisees, the legalists of Jesus’ day, that in order to be accepted by God it was necessary to obey hundreds of rules and regulations. In fact they had it all written down that to be perfect in God’s sight you had to do 248 positive things and avoid 365 negative things.
For countless people all this was a terrible burden of obligation as they looked for acceptance by God. They were all too aware of repeated failures and of their condemnation of these by the Pharisees. In other words they were carrying the burden of legalistic demands that were impossible to fulfil.
The message and invitation of Jesus is one speaks to those who are burdened by trying to be good enough. The way to God, says Jesus, is not by striving to keep hundreds of laws. No, the way to acceptance with God is by coming to Him because He is the One who forgives sin and who releases us from all the burdens of trying to be good enough, all the burdens of failure and guilt. In other words the message of Jesus is not about trying to fulfil the demands of religion. It is about a relationship with Him that brings relief and rest for our souls.
What then about taking up the yoke of Jesus which goes alongside his invitation to come to Him? Is this just another equally heavy burden? No it is not.
Imagine that we are held as prisoners in some awful jail from which there is no escape. The regime there imposes more and more duties upon us. Then one day someone comes and, at great personal cost, gives each one of us a key by which we can escape.
That key is the key to freedom. If we use it then surely we will want to thank and serve the One who has made huge sacrifices in order to give it to us? Of course we will and especially as we learn more and more how our rescuer’s whole purpose is to make the world a better place for all who live in it. Yes, there will be some hard work involved but it is not the hard work of duty but of gratitude; not the hard work of obligation but the response of thanksgiving for the One who teaches us more and more about the ways of love and justice and goodness.
And not only does He teach us more and more but He also goes with us and works with us day by day as we take and accept the yoke of Jesus upon our shoulders.
This word picture is great because the yokes which were used in the time of Jesus were for two animals who were joined together to work together. Frequently an older one was harnessed with a younger one and would teach the novice how to do things. So its no wonder that Jesus describes His yoke as being an easy one to wear and the burden of it being a light one. And its worth remembering that wearing the yoke with Jesus means that we are working with Him in order to produce a harvest. Which is one picture used by our Lord to describe the growth of the Kingdom of God here on earth.
So come to Jesus, that is His invitation to one and all, old, midlife or young, in every nation and in every age. And keep on coming because none of us will ever be good enough for God through our own efforts. So we continually need His gift of release and forgiveness which brings us rest for our souls both now and hereafter.
Then we are invited to take His yoke upon us in gratitude for all He has done and is doing for us. He will teach us, and be with us and alongside as we work with Him to bring in the harvest of His Kingdom here on earth. It is the harvest of everything that is good
Can there ever be a better invitation than this one from Jesus? This is for each one of us to decide. If we say Yes and then live in all that this means then we not only have peace and rest with God but also an ongoing purpose for our lives. Amen.