5th Sunday After Pentecost

  1. Pentecost 5.20 “Rest” Matt. 11:25-30

“How beautiful it is to do nothing; and afterwards, to rest.”

It was a little poster I saw somewhere. Actually, I think Bonnie saw it first. It was just one of those little sayings that puts a smile on your face, that stuck with the two of us. We still use it often. Jesus seems to be a fan, as well. “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I think it’s my favorite single verse anywhere in the Bible. Certainly, top 3. Because if there is one single verse that captures the point of Christianity (which we’ve been talking about the last several weeks) it would be that one.

Rest. From our labors. From our burdens. Laying down the heavy load we’ve been carrying. Being picked up, carried ourselves to a place of rest, delight. What do you think the sheep are doing in the 23rd Psalm? Nothing! Just lying around in green pastures, beside (literally in Hebrew) waters of rest. How beautiful it is to do nothing (in a scenic place) and afterwards to rest. It’s why that Psalm is like the all-time greatest hit for most people. It’s what IT’S all about, this Christianity Thing…

It’s why the Reformation of Luther is such a big deal. After a millennium of burdening Christendom with works and duties and labor and missions, loading everybody up, Luther comes along and goes, “Uh, guys; the point is to do nothing and afterwards to rest.” Grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone without any works of our own. It sounded good then. It sounds good now. Because it is Good. It is Scriptural. It’s Psalm 23, Matt. 11:28. It’s the point of Christianity. Rest!

And yet we can’t do that very well can we? Nothing is the hardest thing for us to do! Pascal said it quite well: “There is nothing more difficult for a man than to sit quietly in his room.” And the Reformation wasn’t exactly a smashing success in terms of re-forming the church catholic around the actual Gospel, the True Point of Christianity. Frankly, it just sounds too good. We all think there has to be a catch!

In a way, there’s one, little catch. The rest, Jesus says, comes only if you “take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” So! There is a yoke, then? There is a burden? Yes; of a sort. “So, what is that yoke we have to get hitched to? What is that burden?”

Well, if you lived in the ancient world of the 1st century and saw the yokes they used to hitch oxen to wagons or plows, you would notice that they are basically cross-shaped. Has the penny dropped? Yes; the “yoke” Jesus speaks of, that brings eternal rest and peace, is his Cross. Just like he said last week, “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

And before you go “Oh, back to suffering and the cross! That didn’t sound restful and peaceful last week when you went on a bit long for my taste about that. You’re starting to lose me again.”

I recall when my son was about 10 or so and in a serious Star Wars Jedi lightsaber phase (do we really ever outgrow that phase? I haven’t!) and he had a toy lightsaber and was thinking it would be so much more fun to play with if you could really knock people out with it (if there are no losers in the game, can there really be winners? Great philosophical question!). And we went, “Uh, wouldn’t that be a little bit unpleasant and painful? Would that be fun?” And he said with a big smile, “Oh it would be fun! My knockout swords would be real peaceful and gentle, like falling asleep and waking up happy.” We still tease him about it. My yoke is easy, my burden is light, and my knockout sword is real peaceful and gentle.

But Jesus tells us in our Gospel, doesn’t he, that the big things of the Kingdom—the true and essential things, are hidden from the wise and understanding of the world and are revealed to little children. Jesus’ knockout sword, his Cross, doesn’t seem peaceful and gentle to adults, but children see it is! It is rest. It is peace. It is delightful beyond adult imagination, but little children can grasp it…

Christopher was indeed onto something with his knockout sword. The Cross is the knockout sword Jesus has in mind, I think. And it is a wonderful thing to play with. There is that frisson of danger and death that makes it exciting, and the cessation of work real play brings. Children’s games (well, children who’ve been well brought up on Tolkien, Lewis, and Star Wars) are always life and death battles. It’s why, even when they’re older, they’re still playing games like Call of Duty with plenty of death and destruction and mayhem and knockout swords. Adult games are dull because nothing much is at stake. Losing a bunch of money is nothing compared to losing life itself. Where the stakes are low, the delight and joy is low.

Yet… the burdens of adult games are heavy! We work ourselves to a bad death, struggle to kill the time, to manage the office politics, to get to retirement where we play more games with nothing much at stake.

Children’s games, by contrast, are typically life and death, instilling courage; whereas adult games, with little at stake, teach fearfulness. As Rilke wrote: “what we gain are small things/ and victory itself make us small.” Victory is not inviting to Jacob, wrestling the Angel. “his gain is to be profoundly vanquished/ by ever greater things.

Which is what happens in children’s games; their knockout swords kill in order to make alive. Dying, their characters immediately refresh—better, stronger—hungry to be vanquished again, by ever greater things.

Child’s play is never work. It is never a burden. It is never labor. The old saying “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” is true.

There was a commercial Bonnie and I love, from the early 90’s. It was a series of vignettes of little kids saying what they wanted to be when they grew up. But instead of astronauts, firemen, explorers, they said (wearily) pathetically adult things like: “When I grow up, I want to file all day.” No child dreams of that! But isn’t that what a shocking number of us adults end up doing? And, why? Where, how, did we lose life’s plot? To file all day is labor that will laden you most heavily!

Jesus comes to put the child’s consequential life and death play back into us. He puts the knockout sword of the Cross into our hands like medieval knights and it turns out that fighting, and suffering, and dying with Jesus on the field of battle, even when we lose, getting knocked out by his Cross, is real peaceful and gentle! It looks like it will hurt, like it will be bad, but it turns out to be great—the game we were meant to play. We get a name when we lose like this, and to “die behind the wheel” turns out to be a good death, indeed.

Like Jedi, Crusader Kings, being despised, hounded, and magnificently defeated like Jesus, Richard the Lionheart, or Obi-Wan is a win, not a loss—in the child’s imagination. Because it means rising up stronger than ever. “Take my yoke upon you”; learn the Jesus Game by Word and Sacrament, through faith alone, and you will know true Rest, and Peace, surpassing understanding, guarding heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.