September 4, 2022

Rested and Ready”

(Luke 14: 25-33)

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.  For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?   Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’  Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?  If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.  So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

     This weekend, which includes the first Monday in the month of September, is celebrated annually in our country as Labor Day Holiday Weekend.  Labor Day is a secular, or non-religious, holiday that recognizes the accomplishments of our American workforce.  The hard work and ongoing effort our American workers have put into their jobs are responsible for many major contributions to our nation’s growth, economic prosperity, and historic position of strength among the world’s leading nations.  For these contributions, workers are now rewarded with a paid holiday, a day off for the purpose of relaxation and personal enjoyment. 

    As you might imagine, having Labor Day as a federally recognized holiday for workers did not come easily and automatically.  Labor unions and activists had to continue to press to make this holiday an ongoing annual event for American workers.  They did so because they believed that it was important to have a special holiday each year to both recognize and reward the good work product produced by the hard work and effort of our labor force in America.  So, in June of 1894 then president, Grover Cleveland, passed the formal act creating the Labor Day holiday.  On the first Monday of September in 1894, the first national Labor Day holiday was celebrated.  Labor Day has been celebrated on the first Monday of September each year since that time as a paid holiday of rest to ready the workforce for further productivity.

     It is not often that the secular world behaves in a way that is consistent with the teachings of our faith.  A nationally recognized day of rest for our workforce provides a welcome exception.   You will recall that we recently discussed how Jesus himself alternated times of working with his Disciples in the mission-field of the world with times of rest from this labor.  Jesus, in his day, was aware that overworked laborers, even those who toiled to build the Kingdom of God, were subject to becoming burned out from their ongoing work.  So he often took his Disciples away to quiet places for rest, renewal, and the refreshment of their souls.     

     Living in the Roman Empire of the first Century, Jesus was also well aware of the heavy physical, mental, spiritual and financial burdens the people were enduring under the rule of the Roman Empire, in addition to those burdensome ritual behaviors being imposed upon them by the Pharisees and Sadducees of the Jewish Temple.  Of the Roman authorities’ worldly rule, Jesus taught his Disciples how to behave toward them in Chapter 12 of Mark’s Gospel.  Hear now these words:

They sent to him some Pharisees and Herodians to trap him in what he said.  “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?”  Knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.  Whose head is this, and whose title?  Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  And they were utterly amazed at him.

     Essentially, Jesus was telling his Disciples and followers to give the Roman rulers of their worldly means according to what had been prescribed for them to give.  Worldly wealth and means are neither necessary nor valuable in the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom is of the Spirit and of eternal truth.  

     The Temple Pharisee and Sadducees themselves were not blameless in the matter of creating difficult burdens for the Jewish people to bear.  Of them, let us see what Jesus had to say in Matthew Chapter 23:                                                    Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his Disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do what they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.  They tie up heavy burdens hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.  For you are like whitewashed tombs [he said to them], which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and all kinds of filth.  So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”   

     Jesus understood the inequalities and difficulties all of the above demands placed upon the ordinary everyday people struggling to cope with them.  And so, Jesus called these heavily burdened folks to come and follow him.  He said “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yolk upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  With these words, Jesus called his Disciples and followers to succumb and submit themselves to the yolk of his spiritual authority.  In him, Jesus told them, they would find rest for their weary souls.  You see, church, Jesus offers the only truly life renewing rest and abiding inner peace we can ever know-rest for our souls.  It is found in the marvelous gift of salvation that believers in Christ Jesus receive in his name.  It transcends everything that is in and of the world in which we live. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

     Brother and sisters in Christ, this most blessed rest we have in our Lord Jesus does not mean that there is not much work still to be done in the kingdom.  In fact, in our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus exhorts his Disciples and followers to understand, to plan, and to prepare for the work that is required of   Disciples in the world.  If we fail to do so, Jesus warns, we are likely to come up short of the resources we need to complete this work.  Issues of human equality through justice, diversity in personal expression through freedom and mutual respect, and forgiving others through sacrificial, agape love await our faithful submission to the call of our Lord Jesus to address them.  The yolk of his Spirit is upon us, his soul-filling rest is deep within us, and we are both ready and able to go forth to carry the crosses this life sets before us as followers of Jesus.  We can live in this world, but not be people who are of this world.  We have no other worldly idols, for we belong to Jesus.  He is our Savior and our Lord; and it is in his name alone that we stand this day-rested and ready to take up our cross and to labor in his kingdom here on earth.  Enjoy a blessed restful Labor Day.  Amen.