Sunday, July 22, 2012

Christian Gentleness (Matthew 11.28-30)

Sermon by:Robert Austell
July 22, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude (Flute trio): "Contredanse" (Mozart)
Song of Praise: "Everlasting God" (Brenton Brown)
Hymn of Praise: "Christian Women, Christian Men" (Hendry/Youngblood)
Offering of Music (Quartet): "Softly and Tenderly" (Thompson/arr. Cherwien)
Hymn of Sending: "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say" (VOX DILECTI)
Postlude: "Italian Hymn" (Giardini/arr. Travis)

"Christian Gentleness: a fruit of the Spirit"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: Matthew 11:28-30

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Are you tired? Weary? Worn out?  Did you hear the scriptures this morning?  Did you hear the promise of rest and relief?  Jesus is speaking to you and inviting you to come and see, to come and find rest in him.

Today we are talking about gentleness, one of the fruits of the Spirit named in scripture as one of the qualities God plants in all who believe and follow him.  One chief purpose of those fruits is to witness to the character of God as we interact with family, friends, and neighbors all around us.  So today we are going to look at the gentleness of Jesus Christ, named in this short invitation Jesus gives in Matthew 11.  And we’ll end by looking at how our own Christian gentleness can bless others. 

Come to Me (v. 28)

There are three imperatives in this short text.  Normally an imperative is a command, “Do this!” or “Thou shalt not!”  In this case they are invitational.  The first is the invitation from Jesus to “Come to me.”  And Jesus has a specific audience in mind.  It is all – ALL! – who are weary and heavy-laden.  Very literally, his words mean “those who are exhausted from working.”  But with his mention in the same text of “rest for your souls” it is clear that the weariness he speaks of includes and extends beyond physical exhaustion.  His invitation is to all (again, note ALL!) who are tired and burdened, in body, mind, or spirit… so much so that you feel the weight in the very core of your being, your soul.

And for the first and not last time in this short text, Jesus promises to give rest, relief, restoration in the places where you are worn down.  That’s some good news, isn’t it?  Are you weary and worn-out from work?  Are you exhausted from stress and worry?  Are you burdened by the circumstances of life around you?  Jesus invites you to come and offers rest.

So what does it mean to come to Jesus?

In good Jewish fashion, Jesus says what he wants to say twice, and unpacks it a bit the second time around.  Look at verses 29-30. 

Take My Yoke (vv. 29-30)

Read verses 29-30 as both a repetition and an expansion of verse 28.  They begin with another imperative-invitation, “Take my yoke upon you.”  This is an interesting image to use in this context because Jesus is talking about easing burdens and a yoke is a heavy cross piece laid across the shoulders for carrying burdens!  Is this just a strange bait and switch? …I’ll ease your burden if you’ll take on my new burden?

I think it would have grabbed the attention of his listeners, but it’s anything but trading one weight for another.  Jesus says in verse 30, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  It’s like Jesus saying, “Come work for me!” – which reminds me of when he called Peter.  Peter was a fisherman, a tough, physical job to be sure.  And Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men.”  Jesus was doing more than asking him to exchange one burden for another; he was inviting him to work of a different kind altogether.

So yes, Jesus invites you to take up his yoke, his work, in order to find this rest.  He does promise rest again for the second time in verse 29, “You will find rest for your souls.”  And clearly, if you look at those who gathered around Jesus then or those who follow him closely now, it’s not a life of swinging on hammocks with a gentle breeze.

Rather, there is one more clue in verse 29 as to why Jesus’ yoke or work is of a completely different nature that it brings rest and renewal of body, mind, and spirit.  It’s in the middle there: “…for I am gentle and humble in heart.”

And that’s the spiritual fruit that we’ve been looking for: GENTLENESS.  Roughly equivalent to “meekness” and paired here with “humble,” Jesus uses it to describe himself.  He is “gentle and humble in heart.”  And that is offered as explanation as to why his yoke and work brings rest.  Let’s ponder that.

In the unusual turn of words, Jesus is describing himself as a kind of employer or master, inviting us to take his yoke or serve him.  What is different than our earthly labor, yokes, and burdens is that the one whose yoke we would now take is gentle and humble in heart.  A gentle Lord would not place on us a burden we could not bear, and would act out of love, justice, wisdom, and grace.  A humble Lord is a servant-leader, more interested in washing our feet and bearing our burdens than in using us up to get something done.  It is precisely BECAUSE of who Jesus is that his yoke is easy, his burden light, and the result rest for our souls!

Do you want rest?  Then come to Jesus, follow, and serve him.

And just as when he washed his disciples’ feet on the night before his arrest and death, he intends for his gentleness and humility to set an example for us.  That’s the “Maundy” or command in “Maundy Thursday” before Easter.  Did you notice I stepped over that part of verse 28?  He not only says, “Take my yoke”; he also speaks the third imperative-invitation, “Learn from me.” 

That’s how we offer godly rest to others around us who are burdened. 

“Learn from Me” (v. 28) – Christian Gentleness and giving rest to others

It may be that you are so weary and worn that you simply need to hear Jesus’ invitation to rest today.  If so, I invite you just to accept that invitation and offer. 

But there is more there for those who can hear it. Note that this is not all Jesus talked about in this passage. He didn’t just talk about receiving his gentleness, but exhibiting godly gentleness (and humility).  We are to imitate the gentleness and humility of Christ and that is how the spiritual fruit of gentleness works in the life of a follower of Christ.  Having learned from him, we witness to God and serve Jesus by extending rest to others through our gentleness and humility.

Just as Jesus’ gentleness is born out in acts of love, justice, wisdom, and grace, so our gentleness towards other is shown in acts of love, justice, wisdom, and grace.  Just as Jesus’ humility is shown through acts of service, so our humility is demonstrated as we love each other, love our neighbors, and even love our enemies.  Not only is this the work or yoke of Jesus Christ, it is the actual fruit of gentleness and humility God’s Spirit grows in the lives of Christians.

What might extending godly gentleness look like in day to day terms?

As a parent I think of how often I respond to one of my children or to Heather with a harsh word or attitude.  This does not ease their burden, but adds to it.

When you are checking out at the store, it’s pretty easy to lose any semblance of gentleness, right?  But think about the people around you; notice their stress; see if there is a gentle word or gesture you might offer and watch some of the stress melt away.  Or, for Jesus’ sake, think about the person at the register who faces hour after hour of stressed and angry shoppers.  See how you might ease that person’s burden in some way.  Particularly in your neighborhood stores, you probably see some of these people more than once – I think of Ike at the self-checkout at Harris Teeter on the corner.  Your gentleness will be remembered and your witness will not be missed.

I think this is the kind of work the deacons try to do.  They meet with folks in need or call you up on the phone to see what’s going on in your life and try to extend rest and renewal through acts of love, justice, wisdom, grace, and prayer.  That is their gentleness and humility at work in service to Christ.  If you’ve ever been encouraged by a deacon, you’ve experienced some of the fruit of gentleness.  And one need not be a deacon to care for folks in this way.  Meet with people, call them on the phone, see if there are ways you can offer some godly rest.

Ask yourself what it looks like for you to show gentleness… to show humility.  See if words and gestures of gentleness and humility don’t have the effect Jesus describes.

So, to be clear, let me note two things going on in this passage.  One is the invitation to find rest in trusting Jesus.  The other is the opportunity to learn from Jesus and extend that rest to others.  Some of you need the first word today; some of you need the second.

There is, in fact, some relationship between the two.  In the strange economy of God’s Kingdom, doing the work of Christ actually brings a sense of rest, refreshment, and renewal.  So maybe as you ponder this text you may even realize that God is speaking all of it to you.

Come to Jesus; take up his calling; learn from him.  Find rest and give rest.  That is the fruit of gentleness.  Amen.

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