Do you enjoy moving? All the carrying of boxes, lifting furniture, cramming stuff into a truck? Do you like it? But there are things that can make it a little easier, right? Appliance dollies... plenty of help... professional movers.
I'm not just bringing this up because it's that time of year that so many college students are moving and hauling their possessions all over the place. I bring it up because our text today from Matthew 11:25-30 is all about bearing burdens. It's about heavy lifting. The truth is, we all have burdens, right? Even if no one else notices - if you can feel it when you pinch yourself, if you are human - you have burdens. What makes the difference is how we handle them.
Are you going to try to handle it yourself, or do you have others there to help...or even better, are you ready to call on the professional?
Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened." The picture in these words is that you've been expending all your energy and are completely spent, but you still have this massive load on you that you can't get out from under. It needs to be borne.
And when you read the verses leading up to Jesus' invitation, it becomes clear that the primary burden he's talking about here is the burden of our guilt and our need in our relationship with God. That's a burden not a one of us could handle, because our sin means we deserve God's wrath. We're hopeless on our own. So Jesus says, "Stop trying to handle it." "Come to me...and I will give you rest."
Yet, how often don't we try to handle it on our own? Every time we let guilt eat us up instead of giving it to Jesus - we're trying to bear what is impossible. Every time I look to my hard work as reason for God's blessing and fail to realize that even the ability to work hard is a gift from God - I'm trying to heft the piano of God's kingdom work on my own (you know, something I'd never be able to lift). Every time you worry and naysay, you're looking at what you can carry instead of what Jesus does.
In college, I was in a car that hit a patch of black ice and skidded off the road into a ditch in a slushy, snowy mess. My friend and I were in dress clothes, with dress shoes, but it was cold out and we needed to get back to school, so all we could do was try to get that car out.
Now, understand, at that time, I was the strongest I have ever been in my life, in the prime of my football career and at that invincible stage. But even with two of us pushing, between the slushy mud and our tractionless shoes and the spinning tires - the more we grunted and groaned, the more we tried, the further into the mud those tires spun, and the further we were away from getting out. Plus, we were a mess.
Then, once our clothes were sufficiently covered in slush and mud, a pickup truck came by with a chain. He stayed up on the road, hooked up to our car and pulled us out like it was nothing.
All of our best effort, at our peak, with all our strength - could do nothing. But it wasn't a hard task at all when it was hooked up to that truck.
Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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."
Every other religion in the world, even many that call themselves Christian, they all say: "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and carry your own yoke." They tell us to do something that is impossible. They tell me just to keep trying to push that car up the hill even though I can see that all that is happening is that I'm spinning my wheels. "Keep trying!" They tell me to carry that piano - even though I can't even get it to budge off the ground. "Keep trying!" And "religion" - a.k.a. "Relationship with God" becomes an exercise in futility and a lifetime of the burden of guilt and frustration and wonder of whether I'm ever going to be able to carry this burden to the end.
But Jesus says, "Take my yoke." There he is, having carried the load, having done the work. He offers us a part in this yoke because he already took that yoke of the cross upon his shoulders. He bore the load of our sins and guilt and shame - and with that loud voice on
Calvary he shouted it finished. The job is done. The weight of our sins has been lifted off of us and buried in the grave. Then he burst the weight of the stone that tried to hold him in death and removed the weight of our death - so that now, our death is but an open door to eternal, unencumbered life.
And no matter how many times we slip back into the mud of our sins, no matter how much of a rut we're creating, no matter how much Satan tries to show us how heavy our sins weigh, here is Jesus in his Word inviting you: "Put down your burden. I've already carried that. Take my yoke.
It's easy lifting."
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.