Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 2, 2023
Psalm 145:13b-20
Matthew 11:25-30
Jane Shelton, CRE

What makes us weary?  I dare say it is the constant demands that are asked of us.  The appointments that have to be met, the relative or friend that needs our care and attention, the shuffling of children to their activities, and on and on it goes.

Where can we hope to find rest? Is there something we’re not seeing because we are so weary? What is it that makes us so weary we can’t see the one thing we need to see?

If you have been watching my Centering Prayer sessions, I have been sharing readings from “Towards Rest, Discovering the Qualities of Rest for Our Lives of Faith.”  It is notably stated that, ‘we live in an age of busyness’ where ‘we are pulled by the persuasions of productivity, performance, and prestige.’

We get caught up in all the demands, not that others put on us, rather demands we put on ourselves.  We are driven to achieve because we have been taught that achievement equals success.  And how much success do we need?  How much more do we need to do to accomplish all that will help us be the best and measure up to our peers?

Somehow we have lost sight of the fact that God gave us the example of rest in the very beginning of creation.  We learn in Genesis that after God had created all these things, he rested on the seventh day.  He rested from all the work he had done to enjoy it. 

When we attempt to rest from our hurried lives, we experience an internal war between being calm and still to what has become learned behavior of being on the move with all sorts of noise that fills our lives.  As I write this very sermon, I am up at 2 a.m. because sleep does not come for a mind that doesn’t rest.   I know all of you came here today to receive a message.  Or maybe you came here for the fellowship or to enjoy the music or the quiet.  Whatever the reason, you certainly would not come here and not expect me to deliver a message.  In any event, while I acknowledge I require sustainable rest, there is conflict in giving up the demands required to free the mind for rest.

Rest is a God-like thing that is a sacred action.  In rest we find we are able to actually be with God, to experience a relationship with God.  When we are able to clear the field, so to speak, it opens the opportunity to just be so that we can see all that is good.  Be aware of our surroundings, nature, the birds, and the sea.  Be present in expectation of what work God is doing in our lives as we rest with him.  Opening our minds and souls to whatever God provides for us. 

Imagine if you had been present with God in the beginning during all the works of God’s creation.  Imagine all the energy required to create the earth and everything on it.  Imagine all the wonder and beauty, and when it was finished, you stepped back from it, sat down with God looking over all of its beauty and wonder, and you rested with God! 

In the beginning, Just like creation was good, when God rested it was also good.  God gave us this example to remind us to stop and enjoy all that is good.  It allows us to experience harmony and rhythms created by God.

We tell ourselves that we will rest when the work is done, but then there is more work to be done, and on and on it goes.  When we rest, we are able to be present with others, to hear what they are saying to us, rather than acknowledging what they are saying without really listening. 

Rest allows us to stop looking inward at ourselves with all of our unhealthy obsessions and worries so that we can focus outward toward having child-like fun with others; simply breathing and enjoying nature.

God shows us rest as a choice that is a blessing for our lives so that we can thrive in a divine connection to God. 

When Jesus says, “come to me, and I will give you rest,” he is inviting us into relationship with God.  He is saying, give all your worries and burdens to me and go rest with God.

For those who attended Contemplative Service Friday evening, you were invited to consider what rest looks like to you, so I’ll ask all of you here now, what does rest look like to you?  (Pause) Maybe it has been so long since you truly rested that you don’t even remember what it looks like or feels like to rest.

Friday evening we had an assortment of photographs that I invited everyone to consider for what rest might look like to them if they could choose to rest.  The picture on the front of your bulletin is one of those.  (Show some of the other pictures if any are left over, and describe them…take them closer to the camera to show and talk about).

Along with these pictures, I offered some scriptures to consider that I’ll read to you, and you may want to take a moment to clear your mind and close your eyes as you enter a period of rest and listen:

“I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me.”  Psalm 3:5

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”  Psalm 4:8

“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  Mark 6:31

In each of these scriptures, we find protection and peace that is provided by our Lord who says, “Come with me, and I will give you rest.”  “Come with me by yourself to a quiet place and get some rest.”

God knows we need rest, and he makes it possible for us to choose rest with him.  He gave us the God-like ability to create, create, create, then rest and dwell in the presence of our Lord to be refreshed and renewed to experience spirit-filled creation supplied by the Holy Spirit.

David proclaimed, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.”  (Psalm 127:2)   When we live in a constant anxious state, we lose our joy.  We lose our connection with the divine and holy, and then we just “are” just working frantically without any vision for what God can make possible where we only see impossible.

When we stop to rest, God shows us what is possible.  God gives us the gifts needed to create and the gifts to rest and enjoy.

“Towards Rest” states, ‘When we are too impatient to wait, we miss the better doors that God opens for us.  We believe the common falsehood that we must work harder to achieve meaning, or else we are left disappointed and incapable.  Ultimately, we fear that by resting from all manner of labor, we will cease to prove our worthiness of being loved by actions, accomplishments and acclaim.’

When we do not rest with God, we become so worried about doors closing that we fail to see opportunities that exist in the doors that are already open.  And we fail to see the new doors that are opening.  We have our lists of what we have decided to get done, that we miss the things that God wants us to get done.

Yet God’s arms remain open, waiting for us to come rest a while.

When we first started doing centering prayer, which is a form of meditation, a quiet time to rest with God, we started out with resting for five minutes.  The idea being to not think about anything other than resting in the presence of God, and let God commune with us.  When we go to God, we ask for things for ourselves and for others, and I’m certainly not suggested we should not pray.  However, we also have been given the example to just rest with God.

I remember the first few times, I wouldn’t last two seconds before I was thinking about something that I was supposed to have done at work, for instance.  Then I’d re-center, and two seconds later, I’d think about what I was going to do when I got home, or I would think about a conversation that I had had with a friend.

It was really hard.  Those who have done centering prayer, you know what I am talking about.  It’s still hard!

But once you get the hang of it, once you understand how to let your mind rest, and just sit quietly, you begin to understand what rest with the holy really is about, and there is no better rest.  When you keep doing it, you begin to crave those times when you can get away for quiet rest.  You look for opportunities for a Sabbath.

When we rest, we see the world differently, and more importantly, we can see our relationship with God differently.  We begin to see the ways and directions God wants us to create, to play, to love, and to be filled with joy.

C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”

In rest we find joy and comfort, and can delight in all we are being called to live into in a new vision as we proclaim all we have learned from Jesus’ teachings.  Having a new vision takes courage.  Stepping out in faith takes courage.  Stopping long enough to find a quiet place takes courage.

It is my prayer for this congregation and the PNC that you take time to rest.  Turn negative thoughts of what you don’t have and see all the gifts that have been provided by God that are right here in our presence now.  How do we stop being busy so that we rest, recognize these gifts, and capitalize on those gifts so we can continue walking together in God’s creation. 

In order to know true rest, we must be willing to surrender all our burdens to Jesus.  I invite each of you to find a quiet place, and turn off the noise.  Go by yourself to a quiet place with Jesus, and see the new vision God is creating for First Valdosta, and know that it will be good and it will be blessed.  Amen.

*Cover Art by Unsplash, free domain