February 25, 2018 – The Second Sunday in Lent
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
Some good Christian people dislike the season of Lent. They find it dismal and depressing. All that emphasis on sinfulness and how we fall short of living as God would have us live! You may feel this way yourself. This morning I would like to say a few words that I hope will invite us to a more positive attitude to this holy season. The prayer at the bottom of your service leaflet is a good beginning: Grant, O Lord, that by the observation of these days of Lent we may grow in companionship with Christ.
In my first Daily Word for Lent I quoted these words of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel (11:28-29): “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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.” In these words Jesus invites his followers to companionship with him: “come to me.” And he promises rest for the souls of those who take on his yoke, that is, who live according to his teaching.
His invitation is for all of us who are weary and carrying heavy burdens. Now there are many, many kinds of burdens in life and many reasons we may be weary. For now, I would like to look at how our refusal to live by Christ’s teaching may add to our burdens and our weariness, using two common examples.
Let’s consider worrying. Jesus taught his followers not to worry. In the passage from the sixth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel – “Consider the lilies of the field” – Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will eat or drink or what we will wear or about what will happen tomorrow. Instead of worrying about these concerns, we are to “strive … for the kingdom of God.”
I am certain that everyone here worries. Food and clothing may not be on the top of our worry lists, but what will happen tomorrow surely has a place there. And I am certain that everyone who worries will readily agree that worrying is a burden, one which often causes us to lose sleep and become weary. It isn’t at all easy to stop worrying. I’ve never found that I could stop worrying just by telling myself to stop. Jesus tells us not to worry but instead to strive – a strong, active verb – for God’s kingdom and God will take care of our needs, the needs God knows we have.
You may decide that during this Lent you would like to rest from the burden of worry. What spiritual practices might help you? Our Lord says “come to me.” That is where we can begin. When you find yourself worrying, try turning your thoughts to Jesus. Repeat the name of Jesus instead of repeating the words that express your worry. You may wish to repeat the opening words of the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” Singing a favorite hymn may help direct your attention away from worry and to God. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” “Amazing Grace.” “O God our help in ages past.” Or pray about the situation you are worried about. Ask the Lord to help you carry your burden. Try to hand your worry to Christ. You may try to break the cycle of worrying by an intentional practice of gratitude. Thank God for your blessings, slowly, one by one, the blessings of the past and the blessings of the present. Or prayerfully recall the way God has helped you in past troubles, through other people and spiritually. It may help you most to turn your thoughts and prayers to the needs of others, especially to those who are facing or coping with difficult situations. Ask God how you might help someone who needs help. These are all ways we might strive for the kingdom of God instead of growing weary with worry.
Another teaching of Jesus that is difficult for many of us to follow is forgiveness. Jesus speaks often of forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer, found in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (9-13), we ask God to forgive our debts or trespasses as we have forgiven our debtors or those who trespass against us. Since we all stand in need of God’s forgiveness, these words of Jesus which follow the Lord’s Prayer speak quite clearly to us: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14). The teaching of Jesus is clear. But to follow his teaching can be very difficult.
This Christmas I was given a wonderful book, “The Ninefold Path Notebook” by Mark Scandrette with Danielle Welch. The book is based on the Beatitudes, a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-11). Each of its nine chapters focuses on one of the Beatitudes (called “beats” by the author), and includes both a meditation on the meaning of the teaching and suggestions for how to make the teaching real in the reader’s life. The challenge of forgiveness is addressed in Beat Five:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
The author reminds us that we may have difficulty forgiving ourselves for our failures and limitations as well as forgiving others for the ways they have hurt us. It is growth in compassion that will help us, to look at ourselves and all other people as beloved children of God. These are some questions offered to help the reader “step into the way of compassion.” “What are the mistakes and limitations you struggle to forgive yourself for? What would you tell a friend who was feeling this way about themselves? Who do you struggle to forgive? What limitations might have led them to treat you this way? What resentment do you carry? How has holding on to this shaped you, and are you ready to let it go?” (page 45). As we all know, to be unforgiving is a heavy burden. Perhaps this is the right time to forgive and be forgiven.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Will L. Thompson was a 19th century American composer who wrote many hymns and gospel songs. His best known work is a gospel song called “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling.” Hear these words of the first verse and refrain:
“Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me.
Come home, come home. Ye who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, O sinner, come home!”
In Jesus’ name. Amen.