Sunday, July 09, 2017

At Rest in Christ

Matthew 11:25-30
A few years ago, my dad was hospitalized following emergency surgery. My sisters and I took turns staying overnight with dad during his stay. One night, when I was going to be with dad, Ann dropped me off, but stayed a bit and was talking with one of my sisters. In the meantime, dad and I talked.

My sister told Ann, “I’m so glad that Dad has Bub [that’s what everyone in my family calls me]. He knows things about Dad’s life that none of the rest of us do.” I think that’s true. Sons, maybe especially first-born sons, have special relationships with their dads. They have inside information on their fathers. They get things about their dads and can share things about their dads maybe nobody else can.

Jesus spoke of Himself and we confess Him to be the Son of God the Father. In fact, in speaking of the first Person of the Trinity, the “creator of heaven and earth,” as His Father, Jesus was speaking of God in ways that were hardly known among God’s people, the Jews.

Jesus had an intimacy with God the Father that others noticed. And when Jesus taught those who believed in Him as the Messiah and Lord, God the Son, how to pray, He taught us to address His Father as “our Father.” Jesus shows us that, despite our sins, God the Father wants us.

Jesus, to put it simply, shows us the Father.

If we’re willing to see Him.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus talks about who can see the Father through Him, those who can’t, and what belongs to those who do.

Our lesson begins with Jesus allowing us to eavesdrop on His praying, His intimate conversation with the Father: “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. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.’” (Matthew 11:25-26)

It’s important to be careful here. Jesus isn’t here commending stupidity. He isn’t railing against learning, scholarship, or degrees.

Remember that the person the risen Jesus would later designate as apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, was among the most scholarly and learned men of his time.

Decades before, God chose to reveal Jesus’ birth to people we sometimes call “wise men,” because of their scholarship.

I think that God fully endorses it when parents tell their kids, “God gave you a brain; use it!”

When Jesus thanks the Father that the truth about Jesus as the way to life with God had been revealed to “little children” rather than to the “wise and learned,” He’s drawing a contrast between two different kinds of people.

The “wise and the learned” are people who are so wise and learned in their own eyes that they think they’re better than others. They close their eyes to the truth that sets before them. They’re like the people of Jesus’ day who saw Jesus feed crowds with a few scraps of food, raise people from the dead, cast out leprosy and demons, and still refused to believe that Jesus was God on earth.

Today, they’re people who write off answers to prayers offered in Jesus’ name; write off believers transformed by the love and grace of God; write off the faithful strengthened by God’s life-giving world. They say it’s all coincidence. Or rooted in feelings rather than facts. They ask for proof, even when surrounded by proof.

Little children, as Jesus puts it, aren’t people who are innocent or sinless. Whoever met a child who wanted a toy that belonged to another child knows that little children aren’t sinless.

But little children are open. They’re willing to acknowledge the truth of what stands before them.

It’s to “little children,” Jesus says, people who are open and willing to trust, who see Jesus for Who He is and through Him, see God the Father.

One of the things I say to atheists who wonder how I could be a former atheist who now believes, is that I came to faith after seeing Jesus in the lives of the people of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Columbus. By seeing them, I became willing to believe. The Holy Spirit took that willingness and is still weaving it into faith in Christ.

That’s why it’s important for the adults of Living Water to be involved in our youth and children’s ministries; kids need to catch your faith from you.

It’s why it’s important when you receive an invitation to be part of one of our discipleship small groups that you say yes; gathered around His Word, our faith is deepened and stirred in these intimate platoons of believers.

The Holy Spirit will give faith to anyone who is willing to have faith!

And faith is important business. Since we are saved from sin, death, and futility by our faith in Jesus Christ alone, we need, no matter how learned we become, no matter how many degrees we earn, no matter how accomplished we are, to have the openness of little children to see what God shows us in Jesus.

It’s to people like this that Jesus chooses to reveal all of “these things.” Look at what Jesus says next (He’s shifted now from praying to teaching others about the Father to Whom He’s just been praying): “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27-29)

A number of years ago, in the heyday of blogging, I became acquainted, just via the Internet, with a woman who described herself as a Jewish/Buddhist/atheist. She was a writer and we both occasionally contributed articles to the same group blog. She wrote an email one Saturday and I dashed off a quick reply, explaining that I needed to spend some time working on my sermon. “I’m not sure I know what God wants me to say yet,” I explained. She wrote back: “HA! You actually believe that God inspires what you preach on Sundays, that it’s the Word of God.” I wrote back later and said, “I pray that what I preach on Sundays is the word of God. I’m sure that it is when I get out of the way and let God speak His Word through me.”

She wasn’t convinced. I think that she was too “wise and learned,” too unavailable to the possibility of belief to believe.

Jesus doesn’t call us to check our brains in at the baptismal font.

But He does call us to cede control of our lives--brains, bodies, spirits, wallets, relationships, and every other part of our lives--to Him and to trust in Him. He wants to liberate our brains, bodies, spirits, wallets, relationships, and every other part of our lives from their imprisonment to sin and death, set us free to become all that God has made us to be.

When we lay ourselves open to the God we meet in Jesus through childlike faith, we see just how incredible the God revealed in Jesus really is!

When we see Jesus, God the Son, and through Him, God the Father, we’re ready to respond to the invitation that Jesus makes at the end of our lesson. “Come to me, [Jesus says] all you who are weary and burdened, 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 my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Only Jesus could claim to be God in the flesh and, at the same time, call Himself "humble" and do so credibly. Jesus voluntarily divested Himself of the advantages of His deity in order to serve and to die for us. That adds believability to His invitation.

And when Jesus addresses those who are “weary and burdened,” promising “rest,” do you picture Him speaking to you? I think that we human beings are almost born “weary and burdened.”
  • By things like trying to be in control in a world in which, literally, anything can happen. 
  • By trying to be worthy in a world where, it seems, there are lots of people who want to tear us down or push us down. 
  • By trying to get everything figured out. 
If you haven’t noticed, all of these things that we try to do-- seizing control, demonstrating our worthiness, figuring everything out--employing all of our wisdom, intelligence, and shrewdness, is futile if we do any of it on our own.

One of the passages we’re memorizing for our discipleship groups is Proverbs 3:5-6, which tells us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding; in all your ways, submit to Him and He will make your paths straight.” This isn’t fatalism; it’s faith. It isn’t passivity; it’s filling up on the power for living that only the God we meet in Jesus can give.

There is rest in that even when everything in our lives goes crazy. A woman I knew had just lost her husband. It was a tremendous loss. They had loved each other very much. Everyone commented on how calm this newly-widowed woman was. I know that she had her tears, when the pain of her grief was unbearable. But I too saw that calm. She was at peace, at rest in the Lord.

Those consumed with their own wisdom, who think that they must be in control, may never see Jesus--even when they read His Word, are touched by the fellowship of Christ’s Church, or receive the sacraments. Their minds, hearts, and wills are closed.

But when we come to Jesus with a childlike willingness to see and to believe, when we are open to Him, we see God. And in seeing Him, we rest, knowing that no one and nothing can ever separate us from God our Father. I pray that childlike openness and that supernatural rest for you today and always. Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

No comments: