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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

July 9, 2017

 The Invitation of a Lifetime

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Matthew 11:25-30

            This week the President of the United States gave a very important speech in Warsaw, Poland.  In the midst of that speech, our President referred to another world-changing, world-shaping speech given by, not a politician, but instead by a Pope.  He harkened back to that day, June 2, 1979, when the newly-appointed Pope, known in Poland as Karol Wojtyła, asked for permission to return to his native Poland.  He assured the leaders of that nation, that his desire was for religious and spiritual reasons only.  Nervous, but careful, Poland’s communist leaders decided it made more sense to say “yes” than to say “no” to the Pope’s request.  The Pope came, and as he promised, he only spoke about spiritual and religious matters, but the impact of the speech ended up being unmistakably political.  Indeed, it was a speech that literally changed the face of the world.  As he gathered to talk about Europe and Poland’s need for God and for the church, one million people gathered in the square in Warsaw, and with one voice, the crowd began to chant, “We want God!  We want God!  We want God!”  Soon Soviet oppression and control over Poland fell away, almost overnight, and unbelievably, over the next ten years, we watched the so-called Iron Curtain crumble. 

            Well, today we turn to a place in the scriptures where Jesus is uttering to the entire human family, “God wants you!  God wants you!”  This passage includes at the beginning a prayer of thanksgiving by Jesus, a prayer of thanksgiving that we will offer at this table called The Eucharist, a meal that means, literally from Greek, “to give thanks.”  And in the middle, Jesus offers an important theological statement, He says, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal to Him.”  So when Jesus speaks a word it is, literally, God in human flesh speaking to the human family.  Then comes Jesus’ invitation: “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  It is one of the most wonderful words ever spoken to the human family.  It is the word “come.”  “Come unto me,” Jesus says.  It is a word of invitation.  “All you who labor and are heavy laden.”  Have you ever noticed God’s concern for those who suffer and struggle?  Karl Barth said, “God always stands unconditionally and passionately on this side, and on this side alone, against the lofty, and for the lowly.”

            As a twelve-year-old boy, Paul Tillich, who would grow up to be one of the most important theological voices in American life in the twentieth century, was a child in the Confirmation Class of his father’s Lutheran congregation in Germany.  They had the custom that on Confirmation Sunday each child would stand up before the congregation and recite a verse from scripture that was to be recited from memory or by heart.  Tillich stood up before his parents’ congregation that morning, and he said these words: “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  After the service, a women he knew well, came up to him and said, “You’re a twelve-year-old boy, you’re young, you’re athletic, you’re gifted - what do you know about being heavy ladened and burdened with life’s cares?  Why didn’t you pick something more upbeat, more hopeful?”

            Looking back many years later, Tillich said, “I had no idea then how right my choice was, because this invitation of Jesus is a word fit for all people, of all ages, in all climates, and all circumstances, for all time.”  Through Jesus, God is saying, “Come to me.”  God wants you.  “Come” is a word of invitation, it is a word of welcome, it is a word of hospitality, it is ultimately a word of communion, an invitation to enter into a relationship that will change your life forever.

            In the entrance hall of what was and still is America’s greatest teaching university hospital, Johns Hopkins University, in the old front door, a door that has become over the years now the side door, stands a statue made of white marble, of Jesus with His arms extended.  And at the base of that statue, are these words: “Come unto me.”  It is the word of God for the human family.  An invitation, a pleading, if you will, for friendship and for relationship, an offer of life itself. 

            Then Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you.”  My friend Tom Long says it is important to recognize that while Jesus’ burden is light, He does not say, “Take my hammock upon you.”  He says, “Take my yoke upon you.”  Because a yoke is something you wear to serve.  Jesus does not call us to an easy life, or a life of ease and indolence.  Jesus calls us to a life of humble service, to a life of loving concern in the world for all God’s children, for the same people for whom God “loved the world so much that He sent His only Son.”  But the reason Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light is because it is a call by Jesus to live life the way it is meant to be lived.  Life is not given so we can serve ourselves, but to serve the world, and to love others and to be awake and alert to how God wants you to use your gifts to bless and deepen God’s life here in the world.  “Take my yoke upon you.”

            And then best of all, “learn of me.”  The word “disciple” is a word that means “student,” and it is a reminder to us that Jesus invites us to be learners all of our days.  This is the excitement of a relationship with Jesus Christ!  It is an invitation to grow deeper and deeper in love with God and with the world, and all the people that Jesus invites into this fellowship.  “Learn of me,” Jesus says, “for I am meek and lowly of heart and you shall find rest unto your souls.”  There is not a more important or more life-giving invitation than this.  “Come, and take, and learn of me.”  Be a student of Jesus.  Take His words to heart: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”  “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”  “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”  “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”  Then comes my favorite saying of Jesus of all: “Be wise as serpents, be harmless as doves.”  It is an invitation to embrace Jesus as a life-long partner, as a source of wisdom and truth, of love and life.

            I don’t know if you have noticed or not this past year, that Spanish golfer, who emerged on the scene with all kinds of promise at the age of nineteen, Sergio Garcia, has had a pretty good year.  For many, many years, he was the best golfer in the world who had never won a major.  I remember meeting him when he was nineteen years old, walking around Augusta with his mother and father on a beautiful spring day.  But a lot of years passed, and Sergio had not fulfilled his life’s dream.  This past spring, on an April day, Sergio Garcia won the Masters.  He put to rest the word that this was the one thing he had never done, and never could do.  I don’t know if you have noticed it or not, but Sergio is kind of excited about this, and he has not been asking the officials at Augusta National about protocol with regard to the green jacket that he won.  Wherever Sergio shows up now, he shows up wearing the green jacket!  He isn’t checking with the ghost of Clifford Roberts; he is just wearing it!  He showed up at Wimbledon this week to watch his dear friend Rafael Nadal, and he was sitting there wearing the green Masters jacket.  One of the biggest soccer matches every year in Spain is Real Madrid against Barcelona.  Sergio was invited to kick out the first ball, and he showed up to do it with his tennis shoes, and his green Masters jacket.  I mean, he is wearing this jacket for all that it is worth!

            Paul tells us that we are “to put on Christ,” to wear Jesus wherever we go.  Jesus is the One who offers the invitation, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls.”  That, dear friends, is the Gospel truth!

 

 

                                                                             Amen.

 

 

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