Rest: A Lost Art in Our Society? – July 9, 2017

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Sermon Preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 9, 2017

Zechariah 9:9-12; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Have we become a society that has forgotten how to rest? How much do we allow ourselves to be driven by the ring or vibration of our cell phone or Face Book notifications? How many people are constantly in touch with the workplace after business hours, unable to set barriers around the need for Sabbath time, for completely detaching from the yoke of what may be a stressful life?

It seems to be a phenomenon of our time. I’m a victim of it as well. I enjoy the benefits of our amazing technology but it has changed the way I can disconnect from the distractions that get in the way of intentional and healthy respite time. It’s not generational but rather impacts generations across the board.

For example, the average American employee who receives paid vacation has only taken about half of those days in the past year. They fear getting behind on their work, believe no one else at their company can do the work while they’re out, and they feel they can never be disconnected. Some 80% of employees said if they felt fully supported and encouraged by their boss, they would take more time off.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus has words for another generation in another time and place. Jesus is expressing his disappointment over the crowds to whom he preached. Jesus compares them to obstinate children who refuse to join in each other’s games. They would neither dance to the music of the flute nor mourn with those who wailed. They are just totally unresponsive.

The wailer is a metaphor for John the Baptist, who came to preach severe words concerning God’s reign and the need to repent. Jesus, on the other hand, came preaching a more optimistic message of good news. These children are his growing number of opponents—those whom he just can’t please no matter what he says or does.

One of the things Jesus calls us to do is rest from our burdens. When he spoke these words to the crowds in the first century he was referring to the oppressive demands of the religious leaders of that time. Yet in a very real sense, we are all weary of something and all overburdened in some aspect of our lives.

Jesus calls to us in our weariness and in our weightiness and offers us his yoke to ease the weight of the burdens we carry. He doesn’t tell us he will take away the heaviness we carry but that he will replace it with the lighter load of a life that is free of the constant craving driven by contemporary society totally focused on material wealth, competitive production in our jobs, and is not supportive of the wisdom of many countries that advocate for extended and full interruptions from our work routines.

Some years ago I read an article in The Christian Century written by a Lutheran pastor who recalled a wedding he attended. He was struck by a woman trying to lure her little boy onto the dance floor. She tried to get him to dance a slow dance and then tried again when the beat was faster. She winked and cajoled and pretended to be sad having to dance all alone. He wouldn’t buy it. Finally, she gave him one last look of desperation, then turned her attention to a little girl standing on the sidelines who was more than eager to join her. They twirled around the dance floor giggling in delight, never even glancing in the direction of her stubborn little grump of a son.

The author of the article offered this reflection on what he observed at that wedding: “We hear the invitation to come, to step out into new patterns that offer revelations and wisdom that are so often hidden from the wise and the accomplished. We know the gospel. We even believe it. But it’s hard to trust it, to put on a new yoke and to set new standards for what it means to be human. We’re caught between rest and work, between the yoke of the world and the yoke of Christ.”

“The Ecumenical community of Taize in France is a place where thousands of young people gather every summer to experience a monastic lifestyle. The only requirement is to participate in worship three times a day: morning, noon, and night. After spending a few days at Taize, one of the young people said to one of the monks, “Do you know why I like it here so much?…because no one is telling me what to do. I know the stories about Jesus, and this to me feels like what it should be. I like it here because I simply get to be.”

Come to me, Find rest” Jesus tells us this morning. Have we become a society that has forgotten how to rest? What is it that gets in the way? That keeps us off the metaphorical dance floor where we take time out for a break? What in our life, what burden, what situation is so consuming us that we are missing the very benefit of Sabbath time? Maybe it is it time to put down our yoke and check in to “Spa Jesus.” Maybe we need to have a heart to heart with him and ask him to help us find the way to do that—how we learn what it is like to simply get to be.


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