FIRST LESSON Psalm 145:8-14
SECOND LESSON Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
SERMON: “Been There, Done That, . . .”
“Been there, done that . . . (finish it -----‘got the T-shirt’)” I don’t hear that phrase as often as I used to. For a while you couldn’t go a day without hearing it several times. Funny thing is the phrase can mean two different things. On the one hand it can be rather dismissive as in “I’ve already done it; don’t need to do it again, don’t need to hear about it.”
But it can also mean “I know where you’re coming from because I’ve been through it. It can connect us with people who are going through something we have gone through. I connect almost instantly with other cancer survivors, with other adoptive parents, with people who think their grandchild is the cutest, most adorable child on the planet. “Been there, done that” serves as an affirmation of having had a common experience.
Similarly, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden” was an idiomatic expression in biblical times. Jesus was not the first sage/ teacher/preacher to offer that comforting invitation. In a time when human beings were beasts of burden as often as animals, this image had real power. Keep in mind, the people of that time had no concept of a 40 hour work-week or ‘weekends off.’ The mandates of traditional Jewish Sabbath laws of “rest” were strongly appealing. To many, his words sounded familiar and for those who anticipated the coming of the Messiah, the Kingdom of God, his promise of “rest” was especially attractive.
What does this invitation from Jesus offer to people of our time and culture? When it comes to physical labor, we have it so much easier than the people Jesus was speaking to then. We have cars and trucks to carry our stuff around. Water comes into our homes and can be accessed from the kitchen sink, the shower and the washing machine. That washing machine cleans my clothes and a dryer saves me the work of hanging wet stuff out on the line. I don’t have to carry wood or build a fire to cook or to heat my home.
But we know that Jesus isn’t offering to take over our chores or our work. Jesus is offering to lift a greater burden. He offers peace for the soul. Jesus is offering the answer to the questions of what do I have to do to be good enough? How can I be acceptable to God? How do I make up for my sins? What do I have to do to shake off guilt and be good with God?
One of postmodern culture’s fantasies that feeds our inherent weariness, our perpetually overburdened souls, is the notion that we must all be “self-made.” There is something quite important for us to understand as we celebrate Independence Day. There is a counter-cultural quality to understanding today’s scripture. It goes against our usual way of thinking. America is the home of Davey Crocket who conquered the “wild frontier” and Wyatt Earp who tamed the “wild west.” We honor and value independence, self-sufficiency, strength and the glory of a “self-made” man or woman. “Give me liberty or give me death.” “The land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Surrender is what we do not do. With brains and brawn we became a super power in the world. “Yankee Ingenuity” is the brilliance that made us great. Resisting the yoke others would put on us is the strength that made us free. We still think of ourselves as the best, the strongest, the most powerful, best educated country in the world.
Now Jesus comes along to say that wisdom and intelligence do not cut the mustard when it comes to knowing God. Not only is the yoke not to be resisted, we are to voluntarily take this yoke upon ourselves and surrender to one who is greater than us! How counter-cultural can you get? Click on yoke and look it up in your Thesaurus and you will get words like repression, oppression and bondage. To be resisted – for sure. But Jesus tells us we cannot fight, or think or power ourselves into the kingdom of God and the peace of Christ.
When Jesus offers to share our burdens by becoming our “yoke-mate,” the weight of all the trying to be good enough, the pressure to succeed, to be the brightest, the richest, the best – evaporates. When Jesus becomes our yoke mate we throw off the weight of guilt for sins committed and for good deeds left undone.
Jesus’ yoke though “easy” and the burden “light” gives us direction and purpose for our lives. We no longer need to create, better, and recreate ourselves because we are now being gently re-sculpted into Christ’s likeness.
There is freedom in being yoked to a single focus and direction through Christ. Ever notice how those who have genuinely yoked their lives to Jesus don’t seem to think they are “missing out” on anything? The perfect freedom and fulfillment that come from a life lived in Jesus’ allows disciples of Christ to look down all life’s other torturously twisting side roads, speed traps and dead-end routes and affirm with a shake of our heads “no thanks been there, done that.”
So now what do we do with the freedom that partnering with Christ offers?
First it helps us find and exercise compassion for others. Life can be very painful. Everyone has the burdens, and however much you can share those burdens makes life easier for everybody. It’s lonely otherwise. Every moment that you share someone else’s pain, feel what they feel, makes you more human. Actor Bill Murray wrote, “I went through a lot of pain in my divorce. It made me feel empathy for people I don’t even like, because they’re going through it. I grant them all the slack I can.”1
Secondly we can use our experiences to turn burdens into bridges.
There’s the story of an ant carrying a piece of straw much larger than he was.
A man watching said to himself: “How interesting that the little ant can carry something so much larger than himself.”
So he watched the ant in fascination. As he watched, the ant came to a crevice in the ground. The crevice was too big for him to go down into and it was too wide to cross.
The ant took the straw, laid it down over the crevice, walked across the straw and then picked it up and went on his way. People ask me what I’m going to do when I retire, and I have many answers, but the one I look forward to most is a plan to volunteer at St. Mary’s to help others who are going through cancer. Someone once said that the “best revenge is living well,” and it is my plan to take revenge on cancer by helping others live well and carry that burden..
The ant turned his burden into a bridge.
Finally, today as 2000 years ago, Jesus offers us the peace, love and acceptance that come from being partnered with Christ. Ronald Patterson wrote, “When I was a little boy, I remember a non-churchgoing neighbor’s saying once that the reason he didn’t go was that he could see no earthly reason to get dressed up and hang a frown on his face to be told how bad he was. My yoke is easy – my burden is light?
Jesus says no to the frown, and no to the getting dressed up and no to the guilt trip. – Jesus says that the very center of faith is the loving affirmation that we belong, and we are accepted and we are cared for not because of anything we do, but because of who Christ is and who we are when he is at the very center of our lives.2
So, here at North Kent Presbyterian Church in Rockford, let us also say no to the frown, no to the need to get dressed up, and no to guilt trips. Instead let’s say yes to Christ who shares our burdens.
1quoted by Dotson Rader, Life Is Easier If You Can Share the Burdens, Parade, February 21, 1999, 6.
2--Ronald M. Patterson,