“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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-30 (NRSV)
Friends, this morning I wonder. How’s your soul? If you put aside all of your busyness and the distractions of life, how is your soul? How are you feeling deep down inside? Do you feel alone or connected? Do you feel fed or hungry? Do you feel broken or whole? Do you feel at home or do you feel lost?
In the coming weeks, as we travel through the season of Lent, it is my hope and my prayer that as we continue to ask, “How is your soul?” that we will all begin to learn, as today’s scripture says, to live freely and lightly. Now today, we are going to take a little time to assess where we are, in order to see where we need to go. The truth is, we don’t often take the time to assess where we are on our journey of faith because there are too many other things that are fighting for our attention. We have responsibilities and schedules. We have worries and concerns. We have conflicts with other people, and don’t even get me started with what we read in the newspaper or see on TV! But the truth is, my friends, our faith deserves our time because it’s not just a Sunday morning thing, or a “work on an occasional supper” thing, or a “spend a little fellowship time with others” thing. Sure, worship and fellowship and working together as a church is great. But we also need to take time to care for our hearts our minds and especially our souls. And believe it or not, many times, we can better connect with our soul when we remember our why.
Our why is the thing that brings us joy. It’s the thing that wakes us up in the morning and calls us to do whatever it is that we do. It’s the thing that makes our heart sing and kindles the light within us. But unfortunately, sometimes life gets too busy. We get distracted by other responsibilities and worries, and we forget about our why. Believe me, it’s easy for all of us to do! And it even happens here in the church. We worry about the number of kids we have in Household Huddle, the number of people we have helping at events, the empty spaces we have on our ministries, and whether we’ll have enough money to reach our budget at the end of the year.
We always worry about numbers, growth, and successful programs because those are measurable. They are quantifiable, and they are easily assessable. They tell us if we are keeping up or falling behind, and of course, we need to keep our eyes on those things. But even more so, we need to keep our eyes on our why. Because as a church, our why should be the fact that Jesus is constantly calling us into a life-changing relationship that leads us to wholeness and healing. That should be our why. It should be staying connected to Jesus and the way we live out our lives because of it. But when we lose sight of that why, which we easily do, and we focus only on numbers and budgets, and opinions and what other churches aren’t doing, then, rather than filling our lives and our church with wholeness and healing, we create anxiety. We learn to live in a constant sense of conflict, and we needlessly worry about what we don’t have. And the saddest part about it is that we think that’s okay. We accept it as normal, and we teach others, including our children, to live the same way.
Now I know that we need to raise enough money to keep our doors open and to pay the bills. And I know that stewardship is an integral part of living a life of faith. But what if, instead of worrying about how many people we average in worship, or how many confirmands we have this year, or how many kids we have in Household Huddle, or how much we made on the fair last year, we started asking what happened in our church recently that deepened our faith? Where have you seen the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life? Did you experience joy in worship today? What does our church have that is unique that we can share with the community and even the world? What relationships were built this morning? And by our own actions, what examples did we teach our kids today?
I had an eye-opening experience this week. First, I got the strangest text from my son. As many of you know, he is in his senior year at the University of Nebraska this year. And like many college-aged young adults, he is busy with lots of things. And attending church is not quite at the top of his list. But he texted me and asked what scripture he was given at his confirmation. I asked him why, and he told me that he has been listening to podcasts on religion and spirituality recently, and many of them talked about connections that we have with scripture and how many people find that they especially connect with scripture that they were given at different stages of their life.
Well, first of all, I was amazed that he was listening to podcasts about religion and spirituality. But then as we both talked about our experiences through confirmation, I realized something that I had never thought of before. Having grown up here in Oldtown, I have to admit, I often look back and try to imagine what it was like to be a minister during the glory days here in Oldtown. Back in the day, when our pews were full, everyone worked together. Our Sunday school was bustling, and there was an active youth group and an active adult fellowship.
But I know that one of the moments that made the most difference in my faith and in my life, besides always being connected to the church, was my confirmation class. Now you would think that with all the success the church was having at the time, the class would be very large, but for some reason, I was the only confirmand. Thinking about it this week, I really don’t understand why. There were other kids my age, but for some reason, I was the only one.
I remember I would meet with the pastor each week, and together we would read through the gospel of Matthew. There were no fancy workbooks or PowerPoint presentations. It was just the two of us, sitting in the living room at the parsonage, reading scripture and talking about what we read. I remember we talked about faith and belonging and what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ. I never worried about having to have the right answers, and there were no tests or quizzes. It was simply an invitation to take time to connect with Jesus, in my own way. And I honestly believe that it was through that confirmation class that I finally realized my why, and first heard the whispers of God’s call in my life.
It didn’t take a fancy program or a big class. It didn’t take having lots of money or having just the right answers. It took taking the time to connect with Jesus, listening to words of scripture with an open heart and an open mind and having the chance to process what I heard with someone that cared. It was a spiritual practice really, a scheduled time to sit with God allowing my soul to be fed. Interestingly enough, because we read through the gospel of Matthew, the scripture that I was given on my confirmation day was Matthew 11:28-30…
Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, 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 shall find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
So. when I think about my why, I think about that scripture. When I ask myself how is your soul, I think about that scripture.
Today, we heard that very same scripture from Eugene Peterson’s The Message, and I think in many ways he makes the message even more clear.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Friends, during the season of Lent this year, you are invited to try some new spiritual practices. Now, don’t worry, there is no right or wrong way to do them. And there are not any tests, quizzes, or assignments to hand in at the end. They are simply practices that help you spend time with and connect with Jesus. There is a list of this week’s practices on an insert in your bulletin, but each one will also be sent out via our daily email Lenten devotionals.
This week’s activities have to do with the practice of Examen, which is an exercise at the end of the day that helps you to look back to see where you experienced God in your life and where you could have used God’s guidance a little more. I would encourage you all to give it a try. Hopefully, if nothing else, it will give you a little time to connect with Jesus, a moment to think about your why, and a little time to assess how your soul is doing.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, think about your why and take care of your soul. And I’ll let you in on a little secret, the two are usually connected! So, if your soul is unsettled and you’re feeling tired and frustrated, you need to remember your why. And the best way to do both of those things is to step away from the busyness and stress of the world and spend a little time with Jesus.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!