I have been looking forward to this week’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew for weeks. Really, I have. For at least a month, we’ve been plowing away through these set of instructions that Jesus was giving to the disciples on what to do and how to act once He was gone. And truth be told, it’s all felt kind of heavy.
We’ve had to make sense of things like in chapter 10, when Jesus said “Don’t think that I came to bring peace to the earth; not peace, I tell you, but a sword.” What’s that about?
And then that’s followed up by “whoever loves father or mother, son or daughter, more than me is not worthy of me.” I know. Uplifting, right?
That’s the kind of stuff we’ve had to make sense of in the last few weeks.
And then today, finally, we come to Matthew 11, verses 25 through 30. The verses I’ve been waiting for. Because Jesus says these words: “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.”
After looking at the texts from the last 2 months, hearing these words of Jesus is like a drink of cold water, on a hot, hot day. They make me smile. They bring a sense of peace. They refresh my soul. In truth, I need to hear Jesus’ words today.
I have a good friend named Scott, who is the campus pastor at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California. I was emailing back and forth with him last week; just checking in.
Scott told me about a reality TV show he’s been watching called Barnwood Builders, where these guys travel through the Appalachian Mountains “rescuing” the lumber from old log cabins and barns that were falling down, restoring it, and then using it to build these beautiful new homes.
One of the words they use on this show a lot, Scott said, is the word “patina.” Patina refers to the look of this old lumber after hundreds of years of wind, rain and sun. Patina is a weathered look.
So when I asked Scott how he was doing as a pastor, and a husband, and a father, in the midst of covid-19, and racial crisis. He said:
“I know that 100 days into the pandemic, my patina has changed.
I know my look has changed. My gray hairs are turning silver, and there will be no going back where I might try to describe it as salt and pepper. Nope. Gray to silver.
I know the patina of my spirit is changing. Walking in the shadow of the ever-present pandemic has a weathering effect on my spirit. I would SO love it to calm down, slow down, and for deaths and infections to diminish, but that is not happening right now.
And I know my patina of hope has taken a hit. I hope that we will reopen the campus soon, with a robust, full student population, big energy, and lots of face to face action. Nope. I can hope, but this is not going to happen for a while.”
I understand what my friend Scott is feeling. The combination of pandemic, and racial crisis, along with everything else is wearing down my patina.
- I am tired of preaching to a camera
- I am tired of not seeing people I care about
- I am tired of asking grieving families to socially distance
- I am tired of feeling like everything fun is being cancelled
- I am tired of the national tone of division. I am tired of how we can divide ourselves by race, or politics, or religion, or economic
Like my friend Scott, my patina is feeling a bit weathered and worn. And I know that we are not unique in this.
So, here’s my question for you today: How are you doing? How is your patina? How are you feeling right now?
Are you doing ok? I hope so. I pray so. But perhaps…just perhaps…you too are feeling kind of worn down and weathered. If so, that’s totally understandable. You are not alone.
Dr. Summer Ibarra, a psychologist, wrote recently that “Coping with COVID-19 during the past several months has forced all of us to make several major changes, any one of which would be enough to cause added stress to our lives. Stress, in any form, can take not only an emotional but also physical toll on our bodies.”
Dr. Ibarra goes on to say: “Add to all of this is some level of grieving. Some of us have already lost loved ones to the coronavirus, but we have all lost routines, contact with community, a sense of normalcy. Fatigue is an expected effect of both sustained stress and can also accompany grief.”
Did you catch that? “Fatigue is an expected effect…”
So, if you’re feeling a bit tired, if you’re feeling stressed or fatigued, if your patina is looking a little weathered or faded, well then actually, you’re pretty normal.
I don’t think we can hear Jesus’ words today often-enough: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
“I will give you rest,” says Jesus.
It might be helpful to put Jesus’ words into a little bit of context. The only other place in the Gospels where Jesus talks about burdens is in Matthew chapter 23. There, Jesus says that “the scribes and the Pharisees…tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others.”
You see, according to Jesus, the religious laws, which God intended to help us and guide us, had become a burden that instead weighed people down. The letter of the law had begun to outweigh the spirit of the law.
And the scribes and Pharisees had become the enforcers, and were no longer operating from a framework of love, as God intended.
Now to be fair, many of those old laws have fallen by the wayside.
But I think we have found other ways for us to burden ourselves. I think that we still carry this weight on our shoulders.
You see, we live in a world full of self-imposed expectations that create a burden for us…that weigh us down…that are exhausting to carry. The yoke we wear is the yoke of perfection…the yoke of image…the yoke of success…the yoke of pressure.
We want our lives to be a certain way, or at least to be seen a certain way, and so we work, sometimes pretty hard, we over-perform, to achieve this image.
I think we all do this at some level. I know I do:
- I want to be the perfect parent
- I want to be the perfect spouse
- I want to be the perfect son
- I want to be the perfect friend
- I want to be the perfect pastor
And so on.
I want to be perfect…or at least be seen as perfect as I can be. And I put pressure on myself to perform in this way. I want others to see me this way. The weight of my yoke is that I don’t want to be seen failing. Sound familiar?
We all wear a yoke. Yours may be different than mine. But whatever it is, whatever pressure we put on ourselves, we all wear a yoke.
And there is a cost to this. This drive to be perfect, or right, or correct, or whatever, can damage our relationships, and can push us into unhealthy behaviors and it can chip away at our faith. This are a weight that we carry. And it is heavy. And over time, carrying this weight is exhausting.
Jesus. Offers. Something. Different. Jesus’ burden is light. It is the burden of love, of grace and of peace.
If I had to paraphrase Jesus, I’d say something like “so who are you trying to impress? I am your Lord and Savior…I’m the only one you need to worry about…and there is nothing you can do or say that will make me love you less. You cannot impress me any more than you already do. So, let go of the expectations and the pressure…they are law. Rest, because I love you just like you are.”
In a world that is filled with pandemic initiated, conflicted angst…in a world that tires us out, Jesus invites us to set aside the weight, and receive a different, lighter, hope-filled, love-filled burden.
Know that you are enough. Know that Jesus has given you all that you need. Know that God’s grace is sufficient for you. Set aside your need to be perfect, and to impress, and perform, and to be who you think the world wants you to be. Instead, trust in the God who loves you as you are. It is enough.
Now rest. Rest in the love of Jesus. Rest in God’s care for the world. Let your patina be renewed. For Jesus is gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Thanks be to God!