Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Pentecost 5, July 5, 2020
St. Martin, North Vancouver
“Come to Me”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I yearn to be known and to be loved for who I am. Not just who I should be, when I am my best self. But an assurance when I am less lovable, in times of tiredness and irritation and uncertainty. When I am in a place that is familiar and comforting, it is easier to remember this. For me and many others, a church, almost any church, is a reminder of God’s love. When we step in the door, it is not the place itself that is holy, although it is set aside for the purpose of community worship. It is an awareness of the Sacred Presence that has been encountered by so many before us, met in the prayers of people over the years. We perceive that God shows up because our attention is open to the possibility of love reaching out to us here in this place.
God is always present. Intellectually, we know that we don’t have to go to a particular place to find God. There are many beautiful sacred buildings that have stayed closed to the public in the last four months to avoid the risk of large gatherings. Caretakers have looked after our holy places in anticipation of the day soon when they will re-open. But God didn’t get locked inside the doors of those sacred spaces and hide from the world. We have known the comfort and strength of the Holy wherever we have been confined.
We do not conjure up the Spirit by our approach. There is no one way to invoke the Divine. God doesn’t come running back when we sing a special praise song, or attend only when we are suitably penitent and mournful. Jesus told the crowd who gathered around that when they expected the Holy to behave in certain ways, they missed the point of listening to what God has to say. The religious authorities didn’t like Jesus because he didn’t conform to their idea of a prophet, and they didn’t like John the Baptist either. Maybe they were waiting for God to send someone who sounded and acted just like them. Perhaps they were expecting the voice of the Most High to thunder in the Temple at Jerusalem so they were sure they had the right deity. But God had been waiting for their attention so that they could hear the message of salvation through Jesus.
God waits for our attention. It’s not a matter of place but of time. Wisdom is found in spending time with God. Jesus invites us to do this in order to find rest for our souls. This sabbath, or holy time, is different from inaction. That’s something we may have found a bit too much of lately. In the midst of fear and uncertainty, our intention is important. How are we using the time we have been given to rest in God?
We learn about sabbath. We can learn from nature around us. The earth has had something of a sabbath rest to recover from human activity. We can also learn from the necessary shutdowns about the importance of certain jobs which have not had sufficient supports for rest. There is much from our own experiences about what we have found to be important for our physical, emotional, and spiritual health in isolation. And today the Bible speaks about the sabbath in Matthew’s gospel. As our individual and communal lives are reshaping how will we keep sabbath more intentionally?
God is inviting us to remember to keep holy time as we expand our social circles and adjust the hours of our days,. Now is the moment to reflect on what we have learned about ourselves and our relationships with each other and with God. Wouldn’t it be good to carry forward some of the ways that have sustained us spiritually and work them more intentionally into our lives? Whatever time we set aside to cultivate our souls is sabbath rest.
One way to do this is to shape for yourself what is called a Rule of Life. When Jesus says, “Come to me”, this helps answer the question “How?”. As William Paulsell reflects, “It is unlikely that we will deepen our relationship with God in a casual or haphazard manner. There will be a need for some intentional commitment and some reorganization in our own lives. But there is nothing that will enrich our lives more than a deeper and clearer perception of God’s presence in the routine of daily living.” [i] A Rule of Life starts with describing the spiritual practices we want to engage in to help draw us closer to God. Some considerations for inclusion are:
- Daily prayer time (perhaps the Anglican offices of morning and evening prayer or another form which suits your personality)
- Daily reading of scripture
- Sabbath practice (what days and times you set aside on a regular basis to cease from work)
- Acts of love
- Service with others
- Accountability (self-examination, a soul friend, an advisor or spiritual director)
We can write down what we currently do, along with realistic goals of engagement. For example, don’t commit to praying for an hour between 6 and 7 am if you a) you are not a morning person and b) this far exceeds your current practice. Build up gradually and review often. If you are honest with yourself and your energy and capacity, God will raise up opportunities in your day that get your attention.
This may all sound formal, but what a Rule of Life does is give you a structure for encountering the Holy in reliable and lifegiving ways. We find focus for developing attitudes of humility, charity, faith, and kindness. Nothing else is so needed in our wider community right now!
Jesus says, “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.” (vs. 29-30). A yoke is a piece of equipment that makes it easier for a person or beast of burden to carry something. When we are weighted down by responsibilities and cares and pain, life feels overwhelming. God’s help feels far away. It is easy to forget that God has given us the means to raise all of that from our shoulders. But picture what happens if we turn our attention to God’s being with us in this time and place. The yoke of our spiritual practices remind us. Then what we lift up is the spiritual wisdom that we are loved and precious in the presence of God. And that is not a heavy load at all.
“Come to me” is not simply a comforting word for a funeral service. It is an invitation here and now to renew life, whether we gather in a church building or find a way to be together in Christ from our homes. The practices we engage to deepen our relationship with God enable us to “be calm, be kind, and be safe” for the love of the world. Amen.
[i] William O. Paulsell, “Ways of Prayer: Designing a Personal Rule of Life” in Weavings 2, no. 5, p. 44 (1987)