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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost - 07/09/2017

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” I don’t think there’s anyone who, when they hear those verses, doesn’t identify with them, who doesn’t hear themselves as the “I,” as the subject of this verse. The “I” is me, it’s you; we all know the feeling of knowing what we should do, but not always doing it. Paul is the author so there is scholarly speculation about whether or not he is just writing about his own experience and doesn’t intend this as anything more than a personal confession. However…I would say that the scholars can speculate all they want about Paul’s intentions, but we’re still going to hear it the way we hear it with “I” representing all of us as Paul identifies an aspect of the human condition that we can all relate to.

What Paul also does here, is to provide a pretty good definition of sin. He may have specific things in mind when he writes about what he wants to do vs. what he actually does; throughout his letters he’s not shy about providing lists of such things. In these verses though, what Paul really identifies is our failure to be who we know we should be, which means our failure to be who God would have us be. That’s what sin is. It’s less about specific actions, although the actions do matter, more about our human condition, the condition of being inclined to act in ways that separate us from God along with recognizing that on our own, we can’t do anything about it: “I can will what is right, but I can’t do it.” For Paul, sin is not just the sum of human misdeeds, it’s a force to be reckoned with and such reckoning can make us weary.

The way the lectionary is put together, during this part of the church year there is no intentional connection between any of the lessons as the first reading, the second reading and the gospel are all parts of semi-continuous sequences as we read through portions of Genesis, portions of Romans and portions of Matthew. However, today, without too much of a reach, I think there a connection between the Romans text and the gospel from Matthew as in Matthew another sinful aspect of our human condition is identified.

Jesus tells a little parable about children sitting in the marketplace saying to their friends, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” No matter what was proposed, the friends didn’t want to play.

Jesus uses this parable in comparing himself to John the Baptist saying that John came with a very ascetic lifestyle and a harsh sounding message of repentance and people didn’t like him, claimed he had a demon. Jesus himself came with a more welcoming message and enjoyed dinners and parties and people didn’t like him either; claimed he was a drunkard and a glutton who hung around with the wrong kind of people. The moral of the story then is that some people will never be satisfied, they’ll always find fault. The children in the marketplace found fault with whatever tune or game was being played. Jesus and John presented themselves quite differently but people found fault with both of them.

We probably all have those times when we’re like the children in the marketplace and we can’t help but find fault with someone or something. It perhaps comes under the banner of “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate,” thus the connection with Romans, representing as it does yet another unappealing aspect of the human condition to which we are all prone. You also know that when you’re around those children in the marketplace for whom finding fault becomes their primary mode of expression, their negativity can make you very weary.

At the end of today’s gospel reading, Jesus addresses weariness: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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 by burden is light.”

What Jesus identifies here is another aspect of what it is to be human. He recognizes that all of us, in one way or another, become weary. It might be other people that make us weary, including the aforementioned fault finders who do drag us down and suck the life out of us; other people can do it in other ways but…others are not the only source of our weariness; it just happens. We become weary with ourselves, weary as we recognize our inadequacies and our sinful nature. In the Romans reading you can feel Paul’s weariness over his inability to the good that he wants; he’s tired and it comes through. It’s clear that he writes from personal experience so you can feel the weariness, the despair when he gets to, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death.” It’s Paul, weary of being who he is.

Recognizing our human condition and recognizing our inadequacies can make us weary but then, often, it’s life itself that makes us weary. It’s different for everyone because everyone’s situation is different. Often though, it’s just the routine of life that does it. For me it can be one more sermon to write, one more newsletter article, one more visit to make, one more meeting, one more call from the funeral home and also knowing that it’s not just one more of any of those things, but that there will be one more after that and after that and after that.

For you it’s different, but you know what I’m talking about. Everyone has those day to day realities of your life or your job that make you weary, even things that are not necessarily unpleasant or difficult, maybe things you kind of enjoy and which give you a sense of accomplishment which is the case for me. They’re just things that seem like they have no end and thus they can make you weary.

The text doesn’t seem to point to any one particular kind of weariness, only to the fact that Jesus is aware of our weariness and because of that he extends the invitation to “come to me.” “Come to me, and I will give you rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” It’s a beautiful verse, one that does offer comfort, even if exactly what Jesus means is harder to figure.

His offer of rest makes sense if we’re made weary by the burden of not doing the good we want but instead doing that which we hate. As we come to Jesus with our failings we find that we’re not met with a message of condemnation, but with acceptance. Coming to Jesus we’re met with forgiveness. We get a message of hope for ourselves and for the world that reminds us that we are, first and foremost, beloved children of God. That does ease our burden of weariness providing rest and the strength to carry on.

Jesus’ invitation is harder to make sense of though, when considering other kinds of weariness. If we’re made weary by other people, for whatever reason, coming to Jesus most likely isn’t going to remove them from our life. We might be able to distance ourselves a little bit and pay less attention to them, but they’re still there. If we’re made weary by the routine tasks of life, coming to Jesus isn’t going to eliminate those tasks; they still have to be done. Coming to Jesus doesn’t relieve us of responsibilities that can make us weary.

What coming to Jesus can do though, is to change our perspective. It’s a reminder that while life does come with difficult people, while it does come with responsibilities, there is more, there’s more to life than that. Jesus reminds us that there is another dimension to life, one that is sacred and life giving instead of life draining…if we will allow ourselves to enter in, if we will come to him. What happens though is we let the things that make us weary become all consuming; we let them occupy a larger place in our lives than we have to; we don’t allow ourselves to experience and enter into the rest Jesus offers and our weariness compounds.

Jesus’ invitation is about Sabbath. Luther’s explanation of “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy,” was mostly about worship. That’s legitimate, worship is important; but the biblical explanation of Sabbath is less about worship and more about rest, about a break from what makes us weary. For the people of Israel, Sabbath was a contrast between the way of the Lord, which invited and allowed for rest, and the way of slavery in Pharaoh’s Egypt where there was no rest, only the production of bricks and more bricks resulting in unrelieved weariness.

There is another way, and that’s what Jesus invites us to when he says, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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