“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
To all who are weary,
This morning, we are invited by Jesus to come to Jesus. For rest, for peace, and for salvation. But it isn’t easy. All we have to do is come to Jesus. But why is this so hard for us sometimes? If you are feeling weary this morning, heavy burdened, and tired, come to Jesus. God offers us rest. Put down your burdens. Stop the worrying and busyness of everyday life, whatever that may be, and come to God who invites us with open arms.
Romans passage this morning reads like a riddle:
15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. (Romans 7-15-21)
Apostle Paul does not understand his own actions. He does what he does not want. But rather, he does the very thing he hates! But he is clear about what he wants:
22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:22-25)
It is to delight in the law of God. He recognizes this as the desire of his inmost self. But at the same time, he feels part of him is made “captive to the law of sin that dwells in [his] body” (Romans 7:23). Apostle Paul struggles. Even Apostle Paul struggles to delight in the law of God! In his inmost self, a part of him wants to love and delight in the law of God. However, he found that at times, he did the opposite of what his inmost being wanted to do!
Jesus told us to love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as you love yourself:
37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
So, let us say that you want to love your neighbors as yourself. You do not understand your own actions. For you do not do what you want, which is to love your neighbors. But you do the very thing you hate, which is not caring about or being dis-interested in your neighbors. Maybe at times, instead of loving your neighbors, through inaction or through hardened hearts, you hurt your neighbors. As Apostle Paul states, in verse 19, For you do not do the good you want, but the evil you do not want is what you do. But Why? How can you stop? In verse 21, Paul writes that if he wants to do what is good, evil lies close at hand! What can be done, how can we get out of this predicament?
With both of these commandments, I would guess that we struggle. Loving God is what gives our lives purpose and meaning. But even so, we do not always stay in this place of loving. What does it mean to love God always? It would mean to read the Bible and to meditate on it, praying through the scriptures, and being transformed by God’s word. Every moment of our waking and sleeping moment! Wouldn’t that be attention that is completely on God and not wavering from loving God? I know that keeping my attention on any one thing for long periods of time is nearly impossible. So, what is possible for us? How can we best love our Lord our God with all of our being? I remember one pastor would encourage us to be in the attitude of prayer. She didn’t say let’s bow our heads, or pray with me. She invited the congregation to be in an attitude of prayer. And I would say that is exactly the posture we can become when we are loving God 24/7. In our attitude of prayer, we can love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
If we could somehow keep ourselves in the attitude of prayer and loving God, how do we love our neighbors as ourselves? I always take the opportunity to mention that to love others, we have to love and accept ourselves. You cannot love when you don’t feel loved. From God we are poured and over flowing with God’s love. This is the necessary condition for loving ourselves. Whether you are happy with yourselves or not, God loves you. If you love someone, you also care for and love things and people that matter to them. Isn’t this true? So even if you are not happy with yourself, if you feel God’s love, and in response love God, you have to love yourself as well. So, if you struggle to give yourself credit for works you do, or for ways in which you say or do things, if you find your inner voice is always criticizing you, stop and ask yourself, do I love myself? And if answer is no, then you have to go back and reflect on how you know and/or feel God’s love.
Everything starts with God’s love. God loved us first while we were yet sinners:
“8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).
As you are now, as you have been, and the person you will become through being transformed by God’s love, is the person God loves! So, if you are loved by God, and in response to God’s love, you love yourself, you also must love others as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them done to you is a golden rule that is derived from the commandment given to us by Jesus to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In such a time and place as this, as the nation is struggling with racial conflict, if we ask ourselves, how would I like to be treated if I were in their shoes, our actions, what we say, and how we vote might be different than when we only think about ourselves.
In this country, right now, people of color are hurting. The pandemic did not hit every social economical group at the same rate. Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Blacks, and Latinos, our brothers and sisters who are black and brown have tested positive and mortality rates are higher than whites in this country. CDC reports:
“Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put some members of racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting COVID-19 or experiencing severe illness, regardless of age. Among some racial and ethnic minority groups, including non-Hispanic black persons, Hispanics and Latinos, and American Indians/Alaska Natives, evidence points to higher rates of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 than among non-Hispanic white persons. As of June 12, 2020, age-adjusted hospitalization rates are highest among non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native and non-Hispanic black persons, followed by Hispanic or Latino persons.”
What does this indicate? One possibility is that people of color are more susceptible to being infected. But why? Is the reason biologically based? Do people of color not have immune response that are comparable to white people? Or is the virus stronger in people of color? There’s no science to back up those hypothetical theories. The people of color are being more infected and as a result ending up dying due to Covid-19 because they are not able to protect themselves against the virus. We wear masks, and keep safe social distance from others in order not to be infected by others. But if you live in households where when one person becomes sick, they cannot be isolated in a room, or when you must show up for work and can’t work from home because you are an essential worker, and if you can’t drive to work, but must ride the subways…if you don’t have option of working at home or taking time off from work because you have savings or choosing alternate safe mode of transportation, you end up having to expose yourself to high risk of being infected by the virus.
The social economic inequality is the reality that leads to more infections in some ethnic groups and neighborhoods that have higher infection rate. The people of color are living in social economic inequality that has health and infection implications. If you were without options and had to leave home to pay for your rent, if you had to ride the subway the entire time others were quarantined at home by choice, what would you do? In light of the adverse situations that people are in, living in conditions worse than ours, what should we do? This is our homework this week. To situate yourself in the shoes of those who are less fortunate than you. Ask yourself what you would like done to you if you were in less favorable conditions, and see what kind of choices you would make, what kind of needs you would have. How you might get help and make demands for yourself? I ask you to pray about this, and to not take this reality of inequalities based on race as someone else’s problem. The truth is, unless the least of us are taken care of, our work is not done. And as always, the answer is…Yes, the answer is always…Jesus!
Apostle Paul says, “24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Wretched people that we are! Who will set us straight? Who will rescue us from this body/nation of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! It is only God who can rescue us from inner struggles we have. Whether we are having difficulty loving ourselves, perhaps even struggling to know God in God’s love, grace, and mercy, we need God to help us.
“28‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’” (Matthew 11:28-30).
We cannot get rest on our own from our busy lives or from the world on our own. If you could, you wouldn’t need to come to church. If you could find peace and rest on your own apart from the peace of God and rest that God offers us, you probably are not feeling the restless longing of your heart seeking God’s presence in your life. But for those of us who want this peace of God and the rest that Jesus offers us, how do we “get” this rest? Accept the invitation from Jesus! Come to me, Jesus says. All that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, come to Jesus and Jesus will give you rest. If you are feeling weary, carrying heavy burdens, would you come to Jesus this morning? Jesus offers us rest.
Notice, however, that Jesus offers us rest, and we are invited to respond. We must come to Jesus to receive this rest, and also, Jesus says to us to Take the yoke that Jesus offers and learn from Jesus. And you, me, and all of us, we will find rest for our souls. So, you see, God invites us, we come, and receive rest, and in response we take up the yoke that is easy and the burden that is light. We trade in our heavy burden for easy and light yoke/burden. We give up the lives we are leading where we are weary and heavy laden. We give up trying to control our lives and finding peace and certainty in our lives when it is impossible in a world such as this. We accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. And when we do, if you come to Jesus, he promises us rest. Rest for your body. Rest for your heart. Rest for your soul. Rest for your mind. Rest for your anxieties. Rest for your fears. Jesus offers us rest. In this rest we will find the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding: peace, knowing that God loves us, that God invites us as partners to do God’s will here on earth, and for us to respond by loving God and our neighbors as ourselves.
Let us pray – We give you thanks, O God of compassion, for the salvation you have revealed to the little ones through Christ Jesus, our wisdom and strength. Teach us to take up his gentle yoke and find rest from our burdens and cares. Amen.