Preaching: Rebecca A. Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, June 5, 2016
Scripture Reference: Matthew 11:25-30, I John 4:16, 18
Sermon: All My Days: Letting Go
Today is an exciting day for our community as we celebrate the graduation of students. A day like today brings joy and pride for what has been accomplished, delight in being free of homework and tests, for now, even a sigh of relief that you made it; whether that be students or guardians. Only I think it would be safe to say underneath all the excitement today there are also real worries and fears about the future. Graduating students may be struggling with fears about leaving home for school or if they can handle college-level classes. Maybe there are the worries about being about to find a job or staying in touch with friends. Parents also know this as a bittersweet moment as they celebrate who their children are becoming, but also worries and afraid for them as they feel less able to protect them. Today is a day like many others in that it holds a wide variety of feelings.
The truth is that for many of our days we don’t have to go looking for trouble or for things to worry about. They have a way of finding us. Even as many are anticipating the summer Olympics there is fear and worry about people traveling and contracting the Zika virus. Some of us worry about aging, whether it be about ourselves or our parents. There are the fears and worries about becoming less independent, costs of prescriptions, whether we are capable of caring for our loved ones, and so many other worries. Many are worried about things happening in the world and in politics, leaving many anxious about their investments, about travel. We worry about friends and family who are sick, experiencing stresses at work or home. We all have something or someone worrying us, and our worries, our questions, our fears seem to hold a hold of us, always lurking there somewhere in the back of our mind, causing stress.
That is why I find today’s Gospel reading so powerful and interesting. Just hearing the words from Jesus, “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest,” brings a sigh of relief. They are words that awaken within us a deep longing and need for comfort, assurance, rest. It almost feels like the promise of a fairy godmother or white knight who will come to protect and save us, make everything all right.
Only Jesus I no fantasy, no make believe character. Jesus is the real deal, and he offers that invitation, that promise when he and the disciples are neck deep in the troubles, worries, realities of life. He not only invites us to rest, but he models for us how to rest. To truly see the power of what Jesus offers it is important for us to note the context in which Jesus is speaking. He has recently sent the disciples out into the world to heal, to preach, and he warns them that they will meet resistance, that they will be persecuted. And indeed, not only do the disciples experience this to be true, but so does Jesus. Just prior to the words we hear Jesus speak, he is speaking in anger to towns where there were many questioning and not believing. And then just following today’s reading Jesus and the disciples face the questioning of the Pharisees, and of course, the long journey to the cross. Clearly, by all that surrounds these inviting words, Jesus is not able to simply wipe away all our troubles. He doesn’t make them magically disappear, but he offers us and shows us how to experience peace in the midst of our struggles.
They key is prayer. That is why today our second bead is bumpy like troubles. Jesus himself is angry and frustrated with the reactions he is finding. He is yelling at these communities, cursing them for their disbelief, and then all of a sudden, as if recognizing how worked up he has become, Jesus stops and he begins praying. Then he is able to turn his attention to those gathered around him, and I love the brief descriptive word added at this moment in the Message: “Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly.” Jesus himself needed that moment of prayer to let go of his troubles. That prayer enabled Jesus to be at peace and continue carrying on with the work before him, even though he knew there was more trouble to come. In Jesus’ own example we learn that it isn’t that our work is ever taken away, or that our troubles cease, but we are able to do the work; we are able to face the troubles with fresh perspective and awareness of God’s presence.
That is the invitation, and gift, Jesus is offering us. Prayer is that time and place for us to rest in the midst of our troubles, to experience for ourselves the peace God gives. It is an opportunity for us to let go of all our worries and fears, and let God hold them, care for them. Releasing our struggles to God allows us to be free so that they can no longer imprison us, control us, hold us back from living out God’s will for us.
There are different ways we can release our worries. Maybe in writing them down and burying them, burning them, shredding them so as to physically get rid of them. Maybe it is asking someone to pray with us. For me, I often experience breath prayers to be very helpful; as I take deep breaths I simply repeat over and over again a simple prayer, like, “Be still and know that I am God,” or “Lord, have mercy.” Not only do I experience my body relaxing, but those are the moments I experience the truth of I John, “There is no fear in love.” Those are the moments when my tension begins to ease and my attention is more on God than on my worries. I remember it isn’t all on me, but that God is in this with me. I can trust God’s love for me to see me through. I can’t escape things; there will undoubtedly be more challenges, more work that God is sending me to do, but now I am once again more aware of Jesus being with me.
Indeed a truth all of us can affirm from our own experiences is that all of our days hold reasons to worry and be troubled. It doesn’t matter how young or how old we are, we experience reasons to worry. Only equally true then is that all of our days hold reasons to pray, to go to God and find the peace and rest we need to carry on. That is one invaluable lesson we learn from Jesus as we long to rest.