You might not even have had to look at the sermon title to know it. You could’ve known it from the icon on the bulletin. Life is streaming now. I don’t like stream of consciousness writing, James Joyce, William Burroughs, Henry Miller, and I don’t like streaming life. I sing with Edie Arnold, “Make the world go away; get if off of my shoulders.” But I don’t want all of life to pause. Just this and that so I can catch my breath. You’ve seen the special effect where all the rain drops or bullets freeze in air and the person walks between them. That’s what I want to do, and our text says I can. Translating literally Jesus says, “Come to Me all those who toil and being forever burdened and I will pause you. Take the yoke of Me upon you and learn of Me especially that gentle I am and humble in heart and you will find pause to the soul of you.” I’m in.
Press Pause on the wholesale rejection of Christianity. I don’t think it’s as bad as the internet makes it, but the war against Christianity is intense. You peak over the parapet daring to say a distinctively Christian thing and you will be shot at quicker than a WW I soldier peaking out of his trench. Right before our text Jesus excoriated the unbelief of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. The Lord had come to these places and preformed such miracles that the incredibly wicked cities of Tyre and Sidon would have repented and even the wickeder Sodom would have.
But does Jesus ring His hands in the face of such adamant unbelief? Does Jesus say, “No point in sending out missionaries. Unbelief reigns.” Or does Jesus say, “Time to change-up what we’re doing. Let’s give them what they want. Let’s not confront people with their sins. That’s a downer. Let’s preach the Gospel of acceptance not that of Jesus and Him crucified.” Nope Jesus is not bothered by unbelief, rejection, or the fact that most people don’t repent or believe. If He isn’t bothered, you don’t have to be either. You can press pause on fretting over that.
Instead what do you find Jesus doing? The text tells us: “At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” The things of God: reborn life in Baptism; Words that actually send away sins; and Bread that is the Body of God and Wine that is His Blood – are hidden from the wise and learned and revealed to nepios. We’re talking babies, infants. It’s not amazing that so few believe, so few see, so few are saved, but that anybody at all is. Give yourself time to realize this. Press pause on unbelief’s raging.
Press pause on thinking about God apart from Jesus. People talk God-this; God-that; Almighty God does this, that, and this. As for Jesus, God’s the big actor. Jesus is supporting cast at best. Seldom do some even mention and maybe even think of the God/Man. Seldom do they think of the One who says, “No one gets to Father except by Me.” If you refuse to take the Jesus-path then you are in effect refusing to climb up the only ladder God the Father ever let down from heaven for sinners to climb to heaven on. Oh there are plenty other ladders. There’s plenty of Tower of Babel’s. There’s Mormonism, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and then of course there are the ladders of your opinions, conventional wisdom, and Social Media. All these ladders beckon for you to climb them into heaven, but if you do, you will find yourself poking your head into hell.
Jesus presses pause on that sort of thinking by saying, “All things have been committed to Me by My Father.” It’s the Greek word for handing over. Jesus says the Father has handed everything over to Him the Man who is God. Find me something not part of “all things”. That means Sin, Death, Devil. That means yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That means things in heaven and on earth. That means your hopes, dreams, and fears. If you’ve worked for the government or a big corporation, you know the frustration of “That’s not my department.” Jesus says, irony intended, “I’m the Man to handle that request, complaint, sorrow, joy, heartache or headache whatever it may be. Nothing is so small that it doesn’t concern Me; nothing is so big that I can’t handle it.”
You’re familiar with the 19th century atheist Nietzsche’s warning not to stare long into the abyss lest you find the abyss staring back into you? God in His majesty. God who no man can see and live. God who is a consuming fire. God who dwells in light unapproachable. God apart from Jesus is that abyss. Jesus’ saying “no one knows the Father except the Son” in our text is like His “all things”. That Includes everyone, even you, especially you. No one can know, you might translate recognize, the true God except those to whom Jesus wills to unveil Him. Try to look at God apart from Jesus and at best you’ll burn your eyeballs into empty sockets at worst you’ll go crazy. Do you think it’s for nothing that Paul says God’s judgements are unsearchable and His ways past finding out (Rom. 11:33)? What does that say about those who persist in trying?
Even if your thoughts aren’t constantly streaming about God’s judgments and His ways, there is a steady stream of TV, music, books, movies telling you about God apart from the Person and Work of Jesus. They go on about the things God has planned for you with nary a mention of your sins and the wrath of God revealed from heaven against them. God will provide your miracle. God is on your side. There is no fear of God before their eyes. They have no need of someone to keep the Law of God let alone pay the frightful price for their breaking it. They know exactly what God is doing outside of Christ and will know till their sins drag them down to judgment and hell. Press pause on that. Press pause on those who speak as if they have the Almighty God in their back pocket. Outside of Christ they really have the frightful, unknowable God of judgement. Outside of Jesus they have only their answers, excuses, promises to do better, none of which God will accept. So deceived, demented, demonized nothing but hell awaits them.
Press pause on all that the world invites you to. The world streaming past your eyes, ears, and mind invites you to toiling and forever being burdened. Its news burdens you with the problems of the world. Its social media wants you toiling over everyone’s and anyone’s personal problems. And like Henry Ford’s assembly line its news cycle can be sped up at will giving you hour by hour a new burden. And you, your flesh, is a co-conspirator with the world. I’ve read that people check their Smartphones every 4-10 minutes. I’ve heard your phones go off with news alerts, weather alerts, alerts reminding you to check your phone. Unlike the Emergency Broadcast System, there is never a test. There is never the calming voice that comes on saying, “This is only a test.” Nope. Every alert jacks you up. Well, Jesus says you can press pause. Maybe not make the world go away but at least get it off of your shoulders.
Rather than continue to wear the yoke of the world which binds you to the non-stop stream of the world’s consciousness and its content, you may take the yoke of Jesus. Usually this is pictured as being yoked side by side with Jesus but more recently it has been pictured as a shoulder yoke which a man puts on to make it easier to carry or pull a load (Gibbs, Matthew 11:2- 20:34, p. 591, fn. 34). We really can’t know which it is; just as grammatically you can’t tell if Jesus says, “learn from Me because I am gentle and humble” or “Learn from Me that I am gentle and humble” either way the result is “You will find pause for the soul of you” in Jesus. Get that? Though sit-coms and cartoons have a stock story based on the comedy that ensues when a person is determined to find rest, we still think we can, and so we have retreats, vacations, recreations. In my experience, these don’t give me rest, but provide a distraction by ginning me up in another way. Jesus says pause for the soul is found in learning about Him or from Him that God is gentle and humble in heart. Apart from Jesus, God is Mt. Sinai where the people beg, yes beg, God not to speak to them.
The One who has all things from the Father and the only One who knows the Father and can reveal the Father, is approachable, safe, begging you drop the yoke that joins you to the constant stream of the fallen world. And promises that His yoke is pleasant and His burden light. So when you have a yoke that is unpleasant and a burden that is not light, you’ve got someone else’s yoke or burden. That would be one furnished by the Devil, the World, or your Self. Luther says an evil conscience does that. It takes responsibility for everything from poor weather, to famine, to war. This is not the Lord’s yoke, this is your conscience. It does not speak for let alone have the authority of the Lord. Neither do the Devil or the World. You are free to cast off their yokes.
The current political climate relishes yoking us to not only the problems of our world, plastics in the ocean, but to the problems of worlds gone by from the Jim Crow South to the Crusades. We have to bear the guilt, the shame, and pain of those times, and pay in tears and fears for those sins. The Lord does not put the world on any man. Even the Greeks didn’t think a man carried the weight of the world, and not even a god did but a god of the gods, a Titan, Atlas. So when you’re overcome with the desire for the world to go away, for someone to take it off your shoulders, know it’s not God who’s placed it there. It’s you, the Devil, or the fallen world.
Our Collect was written in times like these. It comes from the Sacramentary of Leo the Great, bishop of Rome 440-461. This was during the first time Western civilization was dying. The original Collect pointedly asks that the Almighty and most merciful God would have the world “peaceably ordered for us” (Strodach, Church Year, 192-3). This thought is found in the liturgy of early Church, (80-90). She prayed after Communion: “Let Grace come, and this present world pass away.” Go on; let it stream by. It won’t carry you away. You’ve been paused. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (20230716); Matthew 11:25-30