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Why Grace?

Our family just got back from a quick two days in Chicago where we walked among the masses of tourists, professionals and homeless. I think we saw people of every age, race and religion.  I love people watching.  You know if you sit and watch people long enough you see how similar we all really are.  We all have basic needs of food, shelter, safety, and rest.  And yet we forget these fundamental needs for others and ourselves. We forget that everyone is carrying a burden that we cannot see. Everyone. That’s a lot of burdens.  We forget that everyone can feel weary. Just thinking about all of those burdens is a burden! 

In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavily burdened.” We believe that Jesus didn’t just mean the audience he was talking to 2000 years ago, nor all of the people throughout history who have read those words, but indeed He speaks to all of us today, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavily burdened, take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lonely at heart.”

Jesus tells his disciples and the world that when we come to Him and we put exchange our burdens with His yoke, that His yoke is gentle.    He was gentle with Peter even after Peter denied Him.  He was gentle with Saul, even though he was persecuting Christians.  When we come to Him with our burdens of sin and worry, Jesus doesn’t exchange those burdens with shame or punishment, He exchanges them, with a yoke of gentleness. – you might call that grace.  If Jesus is so gentle, so willing to carry our burdens, why do we find I so difficult to let go?  Often it’s shame or self- reliance that makes us think we can’t or don’t need to go to the well.  Or, maybe we forgot we could go to Him in the first place. Or maybe we never knew we could. Or maybe we just don’t know how to come to Him.   I mean everything else in life is so difficult, or least requires a user I.D. and password, surely having a conversation with Jesus requires some work on our part.  Surely turning over fears and uncertainties requires some check-in process or form.

To be a person of faith – and to espouse the faith of a Christian doesn’t require work or justification, but it does require living in the uncomfortable reality of paradox. Paradox is the holding together of two truths that seem contradictory.  My best fast secular example of paradox that I can dish out quickly is the paradox we have all felt if we were ever 12 years old.  When you are twelve, you aren’t a little kid anymore and you aren’t a big kid yet.  You are both at the same time. Sometimes you want to go back and play the games you played when you were nine and sometimes you are curious about what the horizon of adolescents looks like. Sometimes you want to sit on your parents lap and sometimes you can’t get far enough away from your parents.  Both feelings are true – You are a walking paradox.  Welcome to the rest of your life. – Especially if you live a life of faith, because a person of faith means holding together of two truths that seem contradictory.

 For example, God is three and one; Jesus is true God and true man; Mary is virgin and mother, etc. Jesus says the first shall be last, turn the other cheek, love your enemy, and here’s a challenging one – Jesus says, you must lose your soul to save it.   The paradox I want to talk about today is that when you are up against your hardest thing in the world, the solution to that hardest thing is found by doing the easiest thing.

Ira Progoff wrote a little book called “The Well and the Cathedral.” He tells a story about people who long ago discovered a well, and they came, year after year, to the well to drink the refreshing water. They felt healed, made whole by the water. Then someone said, “Let’s build a building over the well.” They built a building. Years passed, and others said, “Let’s build a cathedral here.” They built it. As the years passed, this institutional church got bigger and bigger, and the people forgot about the well -- the wellspring underneath.

Gordon MacDonald once noted that no one ever collapsed because of the burdens of todays; it’s when the burdens of tomorrow are added to the cares of today that a person begins to sink.

Rev. Jenni Crowley – Cartee told me once about picture that her dad had in his office.  The picture was of a pastor with all of these burdens on his back, the finances, the building, the concerns of parishioners, the politics of the church, etc. etc. and then there is God, with his hands empty and he says, “Um, maybe you could let me carry that.”

Norman Vincent Peale once put it this way:  Sailing to the Near East last summer, I often talked with ships 1st officer. He told me a ship riding out a storm keeps going ahead by relaxing in the waves…. The ocean is a tremendous force and a ship is only a very small force, but we know how to make our powerful engines adapt themselves to the timing of the sea.  We don’t drive them relentlessly through the waves, instead we adjust our speed to the timing of the waves, so we are practically carried along by the sea.  That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavily burdened and I will give you rest.” We don’t then go and pick up our burdens after a while, we do pick something else up – it’s Jesus’ yoke.  We exchange what weighs us down with Jesus yoke of gentle grace.  How do we do that?  The answer is, we don’t, Jesus does it for us.  We need grace to put our burdens down. Jesus intercedes and asks us to let him take that burden in exchange for His gentleness.

Being a person of faith requires living in paradox. According to a certain theology, when we sin we are punished, and when we are good we are rewarded. This makes sense. But it isn’t what the sages, saints, or Scriptures tell us about God. This “theology” is designed to urge us to save ourselves, and unfortunately this is the theology that many people live by: we get back as good as we give to God. This means that our salvation depends totally on us and on our ability to become perfect, or at least good. Thank God, it’s not true.

This is not what Jesus teaches us. It’s much truer to say that our weakness and brokenness bring us to God—exactly the opposite of what most of us believe. It can take a lifetime, even with grace, to accept such a paradox. Grace creates the very emptiness that grace alone can fill.   – Richard Rohr, Paradox of Grace

St. Paul stated this with elegant concision: “’For power is made perfect in weakness.’. . . For whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is the easiest thing to do. If you are facing a challenge that you just keep pushing yourself into the wind, and making yourself exhausted, try taking the burden off your shoulders and ask Jesus if He has an opinion on the issue at hand, lay it out before Jesus, give it over, and then let His gentle grace intercede.   Now that is not so easy, I know.  That is why the church is here. The church community is to remind us of the gentle grace of Jesus.  We are not here to be Jesus.  We are here to encourage you to come to Him.

So whatever burden you are carrying today--  Whatever is keeping you up at night.  Whatever is so overwhelming and complicated and burdensome, I challenge you every day to do the hardest thing, fall back and let the waves carry you.  Remember the well is found in the church, in holy communion. Nobody gets through whatever they are going through alone.  That’s why we are told in Hebrews to not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some and to keep on encouraging each other.

So if you are weary, for whatever reason, however complex, Jesus invites you to come. Believe, abide and follow Jesus’ example and you will find rest for your soul. Amen.

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