Reflection July 5, 2020
"Rest for Our Souls" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
I pray everyone will have a wonderful and safe celebration of our country’s independence this Saturday. I’ve mentioned more than once that as a child, I loved celebrating July 4th. I’d save up my few coins to buy sparklers. Many of us will remember those by-gone days. Sparklers have rightly been banned but they were fun, especially as night fell. Every July 4th, I still miss sparklers!
I hope we all get to see some fireworks, even if it’s only on our televisions. Independence and democracy are always worth celebrating! It’s sad that many, if not most, of our fireworks displays will be curtailed because of the current pandemic.
In Matthew 11:28, we read these consoling words of Jesus: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” I believe many of us are feeling very weary right now with quarantine-fatigue!
Even though many, if not most, of us are staying home, our isolation can be very exhausting. We’re a species fashioned for relationships, created for human contact. I greatly worry about those who are isolated and elderly. Isolation is, indeed, a heavy burden. Our psyches, our souls, are not built for being alone. After all, God, in Genesis 2:18, announces that “it is not good (for humans) to be alone.”
In my 46 years of ministry, I’ve listened to thousands of stories and heard tell of countless personal burdens. Life can be so exhausting for those who carry financial burdens, especially the burden of unemployment, lost jobs, a wrecked economy and small business re-opening dilemmas. This is a good time to again listen to Jesus’ words about finding rest.
In a book I read a long time ago, Time and the Soul, the philosopher Jacob Needleman notes: “We are all living in a culture that traps us into doing too many things, taking on too many responsibilities, facing too many choices and saying yes to too many opportunities.” I used this quote a long time ago but it still rings true.
Needleman continues: “What used to be considered a sign of success, being busy, being involved in many projects or activities, is now being felt as an affliction. It is leading us nowhere.”
During these many weeks of isolation and rightful caution, I believe we’re being presented with a golden opportunity to address our distorted human condition. Being busy is not the pathway to a contented life. Success in life is best approached through the cultivation of deep and deepening relationships.
Again from Matthew 11:29: “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.”
At the time of Jesus, the obligations of the Torah, the 613 commandments of the Mosaic Law, were considered by the rabbis to be “the yoke” of the Torah. In the Matthew text, the “yoke” Jesus is talking about is his interpretation of the Mosaic Law; much easier, lighter, than the teaching of the Pharisees.
Jesus concentrated on what was essential to a compassionate, well-lived, life. Jesus was not at all concerned about the thousands of complex and obscure interpretations of the Torah. The “yoke” of the Torah had become a crushing burden. Jesus wished to present a lighter “yoke.”
Jesus calls us to “learn from” him. We’re challenged to spend our lives learning more and more about what Jesus taught. The “yoke” Jesus gives us, his gospel call to love, is much less complicated than Torah Law but infinitely challenging.
As I complete my last two months of ministry as pastor of our beloved church, I’m feeling a bit panicked. There are so many things demanding my attention. I could use some “rest” for my soul.
Yet if I wish to find rest for my soul, I believe I need to become gentle and humble in heart as Jesus was (and is). This is part of his “yoke.” Gentleness of heart means we refuse to allow aggression or violence to infect our souls. To be humble in heart means we refuse to let arrogance infect us.
Being humble is the opposite of what is called hubris. Hubris is an extreme form of arrogance where someone believes themselves to be God or if not God, then God’s advisor. We see this sickness of soul in many of our leaders.
The Jesus Yoke we take upon ourselves is to be gentle in heart. I wish I could claim to have achieved this goal. I cannot claim such. Yet I don’t know any other true goal from Jesus. If we want to be his follower, if we want to be a disciple, if we want to claim the label “Christian,” then “gentleness in heart” is our most important life-goal.
I mentioned years ago that the translation for the biblical phrase “to pray” is “to come to rest.” When we pray, we’re supposed to come to rest. I try each night to say a “final” prayer as a way of coming to rest. “Now I lay me down to sleep” is not just for kids!
In times of rest, however, it’s possible to become afraid. Fear is rampant right now. In time of rest we recognize our own brokenness, the wounds we carry. We see our need for healing.
Up until our necessary quarantine, we, Americans, used our leisure time to shop. Compared to people in Europe, Americans spent 3 or 4 times more hours shopping. I admit I liked shopping. But because of Covid 19, I now dislike it. Many of us, myself included, have become afraid of being around other people.
Jesus, our Messiah with the Gentle and Humble Heart, showed us our world will not always reward good deeds. He showed us that the Powers That Be might well crush the person with a gentle and humble heart. Well, then so be it! Good enough for Jesus - Good enough for me!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643