Dear Friends in Christ,
You and I receive all kinds of invitations. Some of them we classify as unwelcome. For example, the IRS invites you to explain some of the deductions on your tax return. Other invitations, we classify as too good to be true. Like the email I recently received from a Dr. William Ola of Lagos, Nigeria. He offered me more than $10 million. All I had to do was send him my bank account and routing numbers so he could deposit the money. But some invitations are very welcome. Somebody has managed to obtain a few tickets for your favorite sports team and invites you to come along free of charge.
And yet, as welcome as those invitations are, they pale in comparison to the one Jesus issues in this text. This invitation is always open and ongoing. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” In fact, as we’re going to see, JESUS’ INVITATION IS THE MOST WELCOME OF ALL. So, let’s look at this invitation of Jesus phrase by phrase this morning.
First of all, Jesus says, “Come.” Now you can say that word in two different ways, can’t you? It can be a stern command, like a parent saying to a disobedient child, “You come here this minute!” Or it can be a gentle and loving call.
I don’t think it’s too difficult to figure out the tone in which Jesus says, “Come,” is it? Because it’s the same tone that he used so often in his ministry with so many different types of people. It wasn’t a summons but an invitation. Is that how you interpret his invitation to you?
Well, I suppose it depends on how you view yourself. Because you notice that Jesus doesn’t extend this invitation to those who have no need for him, but rather to those who are “weary”. Well, that’s an interesting word to describe yourself. It’s actually the same Greek word that John used to describe how Jesus felt when he arrived at Jacob’s well after a tiring journey in the heat of the day. There we are told that Jesus was “weary”. In other words, he was worn out and fatigued.
But it’s not just that Jesus extends his invitation to those who are worn out because they’re out of shape or because they didn’t get enough sleep last night. No, Jesus uses another word to describe those he invites to come to him; he refers to them as being weary because they are burdened. And this is a word that was used by the Greeks for a ship’s cargo. You know, the cargo that weighs down, or burdens a ship.
When I was a vicar in Puerto Rico one of my favorite things to do was to go visit the old, colonial part of the city named Old San Juan. Old San Juan is surrounded by a 500 year old wall that served as a fortress against invading ships. I can remember sitting on top of that wall on numerous occasions and just soaking in the vastness of the Caribbean Ocean. There I would be all alone in my thoughts.
But I never saw a pirate ship. I saw cruise ships come into the harbor. I saw ocean liners, tons of cargo ships, and oil barges. It was interesting. Since Puerto Rico is an island, most of what is sold on the island has to be imported from outside. And so, I would look at these ships carrying their heavy loads of cargo, weighed down, riding low and slow in the water. And then there would be the same types of ships leaving the harbor, but they were no longer weighed down. They were riding high at a much faster pace because their cargo had been removed.
And I thought to myself, “You know, that’s really the way it is with us in life. Sometimes we ride high in life. Things seem to be moving forward at a fast pace. But sometimes we ride low, don’t we? We feel weighted down—heavy laden as the King James puts it—and many people spend their life as one endless searching for the way to remove their burden.
Now you may say, “But I know that I’m going to heaven,” and praise God that you are! And yet we still feel the burden at different times in our life, don’t we? And until the day we do go to heaven, all of us are constantly being worn out by all the sin that we see happening in the world, and then the eerie thought: “But I sin too.” See, I’m the problem, because I sin too. We need to get to that point in our lives where we can admit that we’re also the problem, because when we do, then Jesus’ invitation will seem inviting to us. Then Jesus’ invitation will be the most welcome of all.
Because it is for all! Notice that little word here with such a big meaning. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened…” All means all no matter what language you’re using. It means that no one is excluded from Jesus’ gracious invitation. No sinner is too sinful, no burden is too burdensome for Jesus. Somebody says, “No Pastor, you don’t understand. You don’t know the things that I’ve done.” Well maybe I don’t, but Jesus does, and Jesus is the one speaking here, and he says “all”.
See, this is what is so hard for the world to understand. How can Jesus invite sinners? The Pharisees could never understand it. They couldn’t understand how Jesus forgave the adulterous woman and said, “Go and sin no more.” They couldn’t understand how Jesus graciously invited himself into the home of Zacchaeus, the cheater and swindler, and yet Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, I must come to your house today!”
I’ll bet the first thought that Zacchaeus had was that, “He’s coming to judge.” Like the principal inviting you to come to his office. But Jesus didn’t invite himself over to Zacchaeus’ house to judge; he did so to forgive; to show Zacchaeus that he already was forgiven. And the same invitation he extends to you today and quite frankly every day. “Come to me.” Who? “All.” All of who? “All who are weary and heavy laden.”
Well, does that sound like you? Because every one of us ought to be shouting in our minds, “That’s me! That’s me!” and I’ll tell you why. Because Jesus’ invitation is to come to him! And that’s what makes it so special. Forget about the burden! Forget about the past; it’s a new day! And Jesus says, “Hey, why don’t you come to me! For I, and only I, can give you rest!
So we certainly wouldn’t want to go to another place to get our burdens removed. All those other places are just placebos. You know, you think the doctor is giving you the medicine, but it’s really fake medicine, and so it doesn’t actually give what it promises. And all the while the people of this world are duped into taking this world’s placebos to alleviate life’s burdens. Placebos like pleasure, progress, work, success, popularity. They say, “This is what I need to feel good about myself. This is what I need to find inner peace!”
It doesn’t work. It only deceives, and so Jesus says, “It’s far better to come to me. For I’m the real deal. I don’t just mask the pain, I literally take it away. For I forgive your sins and I remember them no more. No more! You see, that’s what causes the rest in our lives. It’s knowing that God is no longer angry with me, and neither is the person who has forgiven me. It’s over with. It’s gone. You know, John the Baptist said it so well when he exclaimed, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away (literally, “lifts up”) the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Well, that’s what Jesus has done to you. On the cross he lifted up your sin. He took it off of your shoulders and put it on himself. So you can stand up. You don’t need to walk around with your back hunched over. You don’t need to go through life carrying all of those burdens. You stand. Because it would look really silly for me to walk around as if I were carrying something heavy, when it really wasn’t there. Do you know how many times we must look silly to the angels? We’re acting as if we have all this burden weighing us down, and the angels are up there in heaven saying, “But there’s nothing there!”
So stand up. Liven up. And get moving.
Today you will receive the body and blood of Jesus, and together with that, the pledge of his forgiveness. Can I extend an invitation to you as well? Can I invite you to believe what Jesus promises in Holy Communion and to come forward with a believing heart? Why carry your luggage when you’re standing on the moving walkway in the airport? You see people do this all the time. They’re on the thing. It’s there to carry you. And yet you see people carrying their heavy pieces of luggage. It makes no sense. Neither does it make sense to live as if you’re not forgiven when you already are.
You know, all of us are being transported in the course of our life to our final destination of heaven. You can’t travel for any period of time without baggage. Some people have lots of baggage as they travel; others have less pieces of baggage. Some have those huge suitcases that just weight them down; others have a different size of suitcase. But we all have baggage. Here’s the thing. We don’t have to carry it. Jesus invites you today with some very tender words. He says, “Let me carry it. You just keep moving forward. I’ll take care of the baggage. Your job is to rest in me.” Amen.