Inhale – Exhale – Grace
A sermon preached by Pastor Ken Carrothers on August 18, 2019
•Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Matthew 11:28-30•
Exhausted — stressed — tired — drained — burnout… How often have you heard others utter these kinds of words or felt them yourself? At one time or another, most, if not all of us, have been there.
Ferris Bueller was right: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Unfortunately, we live in a fast-paced world, where often we feel forced to overachieve. We spend our time hurrying, rushing, working too hard, until our energies are depleted and our well-being is in tatters. We tell ourselves there is no time to stop and look around.
Which is perhaps why we come to church. We come to church sensing it is a place for tired, weary people. And today we hear Jesus give the worn-out and fatigued a clear invitation and promise: “Come to me, you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
The reality is we have come to church for all sorts of reasons. Maybe the reason you are here today is because someone said you had to go. Maybe you are here to enjoy the piano. Maybe you are here for social reasons. Whatever has drawn you here — what we also know is that too many of us have come stressed and worried — troubled and tired.
I remember feeling overwhelmed and asking a wise friend: “What’s something we can we do when we feel an onslaught of challenge and turmoil to that point where it is overwhelming?” She had but two words for me: “Just breathe.”
This wise friend was right — what can we do but breathe? In and out. Inhale — exhale. There is something about the rhythm of breathing. Exhaling the anxieties, worries and stress of life, and then inhaling the promise and grace of God. It’s a kind of photosynthesis for the soul. Exhale the carbons, the toxins — inhale the goodness of God.
Jesus speaks from what he knows. He knew the importance of rest. The crowds followed him wherever he went. People wanted what he offered — healing, forgiveness, courage, hope, life, grace. And the amazing thing about Jesus is that he was always giving. He didn’t turn people away. But the Bible is full of times when Jesus did take retreat. When he would steal away a place of rest. And today, Jesus offers us a play from his playbook: “Come to me … and I will give you rest.”
So let’s give it a try. Let’s take a moment of silence — a time of rest — and breathe in Jesus words. I invite you to get comfortable, close your eyes, and we will take two minutes to rest together as we meditate on Jesus’ words. In and out. Inhale — exhale.
(Two minutes of silence)
Why spend time in silence? Why spend time quieting our mind? Why be still? Because when we do, a gift is given that we cannot give ourselves. Jesus hints at it when he shares the promise. Listen again: “Come to me… and rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me… For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
A yoke is a harness. Often it goes over the shoulders of a pair of animals so they share the burden together. It sounds restrictive — being tied to another, but Jesus’ yoke is not that, rather it provides a useful structure. As Jesus says, his yoke is easy and the burden is light.
And I would suggest that what Jesus is inviting us back into is a practice and gift that was given many, many years earlier to God’s people. The gift that comes in the silence is the gift of Sabbath.
Jesus was a Jew and he not only knew about Sabbath time, but practiced it. And I believe the practice of Sabbath provides the spacious context for Jesus’ invitation. His promise echoes one of the Ten Commandments that we read earlier: “Observe the Sabbath, to keep it holy.” Sabbath is a gift. It is a day of rest.
For us as American Christians Sabbath is a pretty tricky concept. It is difficult for us to regularly step out of the mindset and activity of the world around us: the measuring, comparing, competing, striving, producing and consuming. 24/7 connectivity in our pockets ensures we’re saturated at all times with messages that suck us into relentless comparison and division, ranking and judging, striving and measuring. With social media, texting, email and phones ever at the ready, we are lulled into the belief that the world can’t run without us.
Spirituality is nice, and God is, of course, real, but we wonder if we really need God. After all, if we need something — don’t we just have to go to the Amazon app on our phone? Which is perhaps why we are so tired. Why we are so weary. We are chronically over-committed, under-resourced and exhausted. Who has time for Sabbath? We figure we are so important and necessary that if we ever step off the spinning carousel it will all fall apart, and we’ll never figure out how to put it together again. And so we label Sabbath as self-indulgent and hold rest as a reward for a job well done.
And yet in Psalm 46 we are invited to be still and know that God is God. Otherwise even our efforts to be silent, to rest, to find refreshment and retreat will fall on our shoulders and we will be even more stressed because we can’t find the peace in us. Be still and know God is God.
Come to me says Jesus. I am the source of rest. Come to me and I will yoke you to my spirit and you will find rest. It is not in here — in our hearts… It is here — at the table… it is here — at the font… it is here — at the foot of the cross… and it is here — in the midst of the congregation. For God is where God promises to be. Jesus is among us.
Sabbath is one of God’s big ten, right up there with not stealing and murdering, because God knows not only cannot we not do everything on our own, but unless we regularly stop, we forget that God is God and we are not. We forget that we are creatures — with bodies and minds and hearts that need tending — dependent on the love and care of a creator who is ready to meet us when we stop moving long enough to be met. We forget that we are in this together, alongside everyone else, and we need one another because life isn’t meant to be a competition, done alone and against one another.
Rest is not a reward to be earned — it is actually the starting point. The Jewish day begins at sundown with all creativity, invention and construction happening in the second half of the day, fueled by, and resulting from, the previous rest. So when the Sabbath day arrives, everything stops, whether you are ready or not. Sabbath interrupts our lives and takes them over.
It is uncomfortable. It is strange. We are trained to measure the worth of a day by what we accomplish. We are trained to believe we only need what we can provide. But that simply is not the case. We need Sabbath and we need Jesus.
Now it won’t happen overnight. We are out of rhythm. We have forgotten how to remember. We have forgotten how to take time. We have forgotten how to depend on another. We have been delivered from a life of slavery where everything was measured on our output and yet we consistently choose to go back.
Sabbath rest, if we practice it, will infuse us with attention to the present moment. Poet, Mary Oliver once wrote, “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention.” Sabbath gives us the space to attend to the present moment… to pay attention to the present moment… and the present moment is where God shows up — God’s energy, God’s rest, God’s grace.
In his invitation, Jesus offers us Sabbath rest — let us breathe it in. In and out. Inhale — exhale. Grace. Amen.