31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
July 5, 2020
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
When some people say, “You need to come to Jesus”, what they really mean is “You need to fix your behavior.” In a previous ministry life, I had a “come to Jesus” moment with an entire youth group who had behaved abysmally at a national church event. They certainly needed to come to Jesus and shape up!
There have been times in all of our lives, including my own, when we have needed to come to Jesus and fix our behavior. When we have been like the people of Jesus’ time, acting “like spoiled children whining to their parents” (Matthew 11:16). Certainly, we have all had moments when we criticized people for fasting too much and criticized others for feasting too much. Moments when we judged this person for not wearing a face mask or for standing too close, and then criticized someone else for being unwilling to go out grocery shopping or attend a public event.
There are times when people just can’t win with us, no matter how they behave.
Jesus’ held his audience accountable for that overly critical behavior, and Jesus holds us accountable – when we are not fair, when we think we are better than anyone else, when we judge people by the places they go and the community they keep.
In those moments, we need to come to Jesus. We need to correct our behavior, open our hearts, hear others’ stories, walk in their shoes. We need to come to Jesus and be changed by understanding and compassion. We need to come to Jesus and become more Christ-like.
And there are other moments when we need to come to Jesus because we are tired, because we are worn out, burned out. Our translation from The Message says, “burned out by religion” (Matthew 11:28), and that might surprise some of you. You may wonder how anyone can be burned out by religion, however Jesus is not talking about a relationship with God. Jesus is talking about the demands that religious systems sometimes place upon their members.
The belief system of the Congregational Church is founded on each member having a voice in leadership, which means we have created this large committee structure with monthly meetings and in-between emails, to ensure many have a voice in leadership.
In theory, it is a wonderful thing – that we discern God’s calling together, that we lead this Christian community together. At the same time, it is also a way that burns people out because it can feel burdensome at times.
In Jesus’ time, the people were trying to follow hundreds and hundreds of commandments to be faithful in their relationship with God. In the New Revised Standard translation of this passage, Jesus refers to those commandments as “heavy burdens”, as a weighty yoke placed around people’s necks. Jesus understood that it left them feeling tired, worn out, burned out.
It is not just religion that can leave us feeling exhausted. Are you feeling tired, worn out, burned out from this pandemic and stay at home time? Are you simply exhausted at not being able to do much of anything? A wise member of this congregation said to me “isolation steals motivation”. Isolation certainly does steal motivation. Isolation makes us tired, worn out, burned out.
As do the countless demands placed on caregivers of all ages especially during this pandemic when for many, they have become solely responsible for care giving as they have also continued to do their out of home work and likely learned to do that out of home work in a completely new way. It’s like having someone double or triple the plates you were already trying to keep spinning. And it’s exhausting.
We all have our moments when we are tired, when we are worn out, burned out – and in those moments, we need to come to Jesus. We need to get away with Jesus and recover our lives – not the lives the world tells us we should be living, not the lives those around us want us to live. We need to recover the real lives God intends for us.
Years ago, a wise pastor told me that I am not responsible for making God’s people happy. God’s people will never be happy. There will always be one more thing someone somewhere wants you to do. It’s not my responsibility to make God’s people happy. It’s my responsibility to make God happy.
The same goes for you, too. It is not your calling. It is not your job to make anyone else happy, not your parents, not your partner, not your siblings, not your children, not your in-laws, not your friends, not even your boss and co-workers. You are not called to make others happy. You are called to make God happy. You are called to walk with Jesus, to work with Jesus, to learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
When we do that, when we come to Jesus, when we daily say to God “I am yours and yours alone”, we set aside the burdens of perfectionism. We are freed from that no win game of trying to please everyone all of the time, and we recover our lives, the lives God wants for us.
When we do that, we learn to live freely and lightly. We learn to live with joy, and that is a blessing to the world.