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“The Church isn’t so Much in Decline, the Church is Exhausted” (July 9, 2017)

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17 “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I don’t think I’m telling you anything new by saying that being part of a church is a lot of work. It takes a lot of time, commitment, and practice to be a church. There are programs, budgets, planning, meetings, behind-the-scenes details too numerous to list that so many of you are involved in. Then there’s the whole discipleship thing—growing spiritually, following Jesus, forgiving and being forgiven, loving the world. There’s a lot of action and energy involved in being part of a church. People have invested a lot of themselves into their churches.

So it makes some sense, then, that as churches across the country in every denomination and tradition continue to decline in numbers, people within their congregations take on extra burdens and responsibilities, digging in their heels to try and stop it. They buzz around looking for the answer, seeing what that one growing congregation is doing and trying to imitate that. Each one believes that if the whole church would put more effort into their church, it would turn this ship around. Youth programming! some say. More Bible studies! some say. Spiritual worship! Some say. Better preaching! some say. Outreach and social justice! some say. And because they are convinced that putting more effort into these areas will save the church, they work themselves into a state of exhaustion. And when that doesn’t gain the results it should, they can get despondent, apathetic, and just plain tired. They become so worn out that being part of a church actually becomes a burden. Add that to other burdens they carry, e.g., worrying about their kids, their job, their healthcare, and the state of world peace, they simply can’t carry the burden of being part of the church any more. And they become part of the decline they fought so hard to prevent.

The church isn’t so much in decline. The church is simply exhausted.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

It seems that Jesus understands that we are tired. He gets that we fight so hard to save our churches. He gets that we pour so much of ourselves into carrying this burden of holding up the church that we are all weary. And Jesus comes to us and offers to lighten this load. Come to me, he says. Take my yoke, he says. Find rest, he says. Isn’t that just what we need?

But I cannot find rest while you are still carrying the load. And you won’t find rest for your souls if others are still under this weight. What we don’t yet understand in our culture is that your burden is mine. Mine is yours. We’re in this together—this church thing. Which is why Jesus doesn’t say, “Come to me, each one of you individually that are weary.” He says, collectively, “All who are weary.” Jesus is talking to the crowds here. Everyone. He’s not speaking to each one of us individually, but as a whole. We, together, take his yoke on us. We, together, come to him with our collective heavy burdens. We, together, are yoked with him and learn from him. It’s us together with Jesus, so together we bear our burdens. Together, his yoke is a lot easier when it’s spread among all of us and his burden is a lot lighter when we share it together.

It’s really that simple. There’s more and more sense to the Apostle Paul referring to the whole church as “the body of Christ.” We are joined together in Christ for support, for encouragement, for lifting burdens.

Have you seen that video on Youtube of a farmer that needed to move his huge barn in Bruno, Nebraska? Check it out. 344 people surrounded this barn, all grabbed hold, picked it up, and simply walked it to its new location. Everyone together. No one had too much weight. No one was overburdened. All different ages and abilities. Each one carrying some of the load, but no one carrying all of it. And they did what some said was impossible. Because they did it together.

Being part of the church isn’t easy. But we have to do this church thing together, this Christ thing together. If not, we’ll all burn out and burn up one by one. As the body of Christ, we’re here to lighten the load for one another. We’re here to take seriously the business of forgiving each other; carrying the needs and hopes of even those we don’t know. Going out of our way to show love; being inconvenienced, happily, to benefit someone else here. No one takes he load alone. But together the load is easy and the burden is light.

Being part of a church is not easy; walking with Jesus in the world is a heavy thing to carry. This is just too hard for any of us to do by ourselves. We’re all tired. We’re all feeling the weight. We need one another. To be about the work Jesus has given us, to live as Christ in the world, we need to do it together. We need each other.

“Come to me, you all are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give all of you rest. Take my yoke upon you together, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you all will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Together that sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

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Posted by on July 11, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Scrambled Yokes (Matt. 11:28-30)

Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

That sounds so good, but that just isn’t my experience. One of the reasons we have such a hard time following Jesus—really following—is that it is incredibly difficult and frustrating. Being his disciple doesn’t make my burdens lighter, in my experience it adds to them. Being yoked to Jesus and learning from him doesn’t give me rest, it exhausts me.

Everyone has burdens. Some things just happen that are hard. We find ourselves in situations that heavy. What’s more, we bear the additional weight of trying to be successful at what we do. We carry the burden of hiding our own inadequacies.  We wonder if we’re competent, or how long before our incompetence is exposed. There’s the weight of worrying about whether we’re good enough, valuable enough, work hard enough that gets added to some life-situations that are already dragging us down some days.

So this promise Jesus makes sounds so wonderful. We come to him to get relief, rest. We walk with him, and have some weight lifted from us because he tells us his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. We become his disciples, trusting in him, following him, and expect some aspects of our lives to get a even a little bit easier.

But that doesn’t seem to happen. Following Jesus–really following him–means even more difficulty. Loving people who aren’t loveable is hard. Living a generous lifestyle means we have to give up some of the financial security we crave. Forgiving those who don’t deserve it is sometimes impossible. Recognizing that our best efforts are nowhere near good enough–acknowledging our own need for forgiveness–adds a burden that some days is too much to bear. We know Jesus is with us, but that doesn’t seem to lighten the weight at all. There are many days that being with him seems to make everything heavier and harder. So I wonder what he really means here.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” A yoke here isn’t the yellow part of an egg; it’s a shaped wooden beam that connects two oxen together side by side for pulling a plow or wagon. A larger, more experienced ox was paired with a younger, less experienced ox for training–mentoring. Together they could pull anything through any terrain. Together they were virtually unstoppable.

That’s the image Jesus uses here. He is offering to be our yoke-mate so he can mentor us. Together we would be unstoppable. That sounds wonderful until he says his yoke is easy and his burden light. That’s not how many, including me, experience it. It’s not easy, and it’s really heavy. I come to Jesus for rest for my soul, and wind up with an even more exhausting burden.

Jesus is talking to the crowds here. Everyone. He’s not speaking about us individually, but collectively. We, together, take his yoke on us. We, together, come to him with our collective heavy burdens. To be yoked with him doesn’t mean “me and Jesus” so Jesus can make my life easier. It’s us with Jesus, so together we bear our burdens collectively. Together, his yoke is a lot easier when it’s spread among all of us and his burden is a lot lighter when we share it together.

Now, here’s where this gets a little sticky. Because I don’t believe as a congregation we are very good at bearing each others burdens. We do show some care sometimes, yes. We have flashes of generosity. We catch glimpses of mercy. But we do it separately, individually.

But when it comes to being yoked together, honestly, we stink. We consider a connection to one another a hindrance to individual freedom. You see, we want to do whatever we want, and we want to do it in spite of the affect it has on those others we are yoked to. Jesus is leading from one side of the yoke, and we, together, are to be following from the other side whether we like it or not. And it doesn’t go well when we’re pulling in different directions, placing our own priorities ahead of everyone else’s; thinking our role and our ministry is more important than someone else’s. We don’t go anywhere–much less go where Jesus is leading. We have become adept over the years at insisting on our own way rather than working together, finding a scapegoat for the weight we each seem to be carrying, blaming a staff member, a pastor, a worship service, a council. We do that in an attempt to ease our own burdens, but we wind up imposing heavier ones on each other. And we all suffer for it. As a congregation, we seem to want to carry our burdens separately, individually, instead of together as Jesus invites us to do. It makes us all tired. It makes me tired.

As Lutheran Church of the Master, as those who together share this yoke with Jesus, I’m asking you to lighten the load for one another. We need to take seriously the business of forgiving each other; carrying the needs and hopes of even those we don’t know. Going out of our way to show love; being inconvenienced, happily, to benefit someone else here.

Discipleship is not easy; walking with Jesus in the world is a heavy thing to carry. I’m asking for your help. I’m offering you mine. This is just too hard for any of us to do by ourselves. We’re all tired. We’re all feeling the weight. We need one another. To be about the work Jesus has given us, to live as Christ in the world, we need to do it together. We need each other.

“Come to me, you all are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give all of you rest. Take my yoke upon you together , and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you all will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Together that sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2014 in Sermon

 

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