“Come to me all of you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Ian McLaren
This Sunday I’m preaching a sermon I’m titling “Rest for the Weary.” I’m not sure I’ve ever preached on Jesus’ call for those who need rest in Matthew 11. At least not a whole sermon.
Here is where my mind is going as I prepare…
Yesterday, a manager from another branch stopped by ours and needed to use a computer and make a few calls. I joked with him about how he could use mine and I would spend the time in the break room. I didn’t get so much as a smile from him. So I walked away and said something to the guy whose office is next to mine, “He’s a personality plus, isn’t he?”
So yes, I can be quite the jerk.
And then last night I was mentally working on my sermon while cutting grass and I thought about him. I thought about the look on his face and I wondered. I wondered if he is fighting a hard battle. I wondered if he is trying to decide if he cuts his losses and buys another vehicle or pays for a new transmission. I wondered if he was worried about his kids. Worried about his wife. I wondered if he has to tell his friends “no” when they ask him to do something because money is so tight. I wonder if he was struggling and fearful about his job and was dreaming about something else. Does he long for rest knowing the rest is bookended by more labor? Does he look at the stars and wonder what they would look like if he were free from whatever burden he is carrying?
Maybe not. But day after day I deal with those who have these concerns or more. Fracturing marriages, financial problems, and wayward children. I cannot pastor them…and that is hard. But I can be kind to them.
My gut reaction is to be upset when they are upset with me. And sometimes I find myself on the verge of saying, “Do you have any idea what I’m dealing with right now?” Rarely, in the moment, do I wonder what they are dealing with. What hard battle are they fighting in that moment? I just assume they are mean people and like to be mean and so they are mean. Let me tell you, I have had some mean things said to me. But what if they are fighting tooth and nail and I am the closest thing to a friend they will talk with in days? What if their loneliness and hurt has caused them to lash out. I’ve felt all that from deep in my soul to right below my skin.
Another story. Imagine a young African-American man so distraught over his sins, he walks into a Lilly-white church in which he knows no one just to be prayed for. The service is over but all he wants is a pastor to pray for him. Our pastor was on a missions trip, so he gets sent to the once-pastor and is stuck with me. “I’m not a pastor anymore but I’ll pray for you.” “OK, he said.” A week later we talk again on the phone and his voice is just a weary sigh. His battles are varied and rage on multiple fronts. Judgment was easy, kindness needed.
My sermon may not even touch on these things. But I cannot help but know those who I will preach to about rest, probably need some. Far too often, I’ve looked out at people and just wanted to fix their attitudes and dispositions. I need to remember, that just like that manager, they are fighting a hard battle, most likely. And they need rest for their weary souls.