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THE PROMISE OF SUSTAINING REST
Matthew 11:25-30

21st April 2002

As people grow older one of the greatest concerns is that they or their loved one will suffer from the onset of Alzheimer's Disease. Wesley Mission cares for about 1000 people over 50 years of age with Alzheimer's. Most of these are cared for by our Wesley Home Care staff in their own homes. They manage with a little oversight and help with medication, shopping and showering. However bad the impact on the individual of the decline of memory and rationality, the impact on their spouse or close loved one is even greater. My mother died with Alzheimer's Disease. I saw the problem first hand.

You can see the emotional and mental anxiety in the current film "Iris". The story traces the mental decline of the famous British writer and academic Iris Murdock who died not long ago. The film moves back and forth between Iris Murdoch's early days at Oxford University and her deterioration forty years later. Iris is played by two fine actresses: Kate Winslet as the younger Iris and Judi Dench who gives a heart-breaking performance as the older Iris Murdoch. The young woman is a vivacious intellectual with penchants for nude swimming and casual sex. She falls in love with bookish, stammering academic John Bayley. He wrote the memoirs upon which the script was based. "Iris" tells of its heroine's enduring love for John Bayley as her great mind succumbs to the ravages of Alzheimer's. He becomes a virtual parent to his wife. I know so many people utterly exhausted in their caring role, yet unable to let go because of the love they have for their spouse or dear one. One of the best works of our church is to help such carers find respite and some sustaining strength.

We greatly admire the devotion of such carers. But with the aging of the Australian population, there is an increase in the numbers of people affected by dementia, including carers. In 1995, 130,000 older Australians had moderate to severe dementia. In 2000, these figures had risen to 180,000 and within ten years there will be over 210,000 suffers from Alzheimer's. They desperately need to find the secret of sustaining rest. Unfortunately that is often found only after death. Sometimes the death of the sufferer and sometimes the death of the carer. It is at times like that Wesley Mission comes to the rescue once more, taking full-time care of the sufferer. I came across an old epitaph. A man had buried his wife with these words on her tombstone: "Here lies my wife. Here let her lie. Now she is at rest. And so am I." That is so true.

It is not only older people who are not coping with the burdens of life. Many others do not cope with the pressures of life: the young student under the pressures of examinations; unemployed youth faced with the general boredom of life and with lack of income; the middle-aged man confronted with a mid-career crisis; the housewife struggling to live up to the liberated super-woman image expected of her. There are many who are fatigued, tired, and weary. One of the most frequent of questions asked of doctors is, "Doctor, why am I so tired?" Here is a promise of Jesus: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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

1. WHAT DO WE MOST NEED?
On the wall of our Cottee Lodge for homeless teenagers at Ashfield, someone wrote those words, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened…." At 17? At 14? Yes, even the young have burdens and looking for rest. This is a promise of Jesus many people need today. In many hearts there is a restlessness. Saint Augustine found the answer; "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee." Long before him, Isaiah gave us this word from the Lord, "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength." 30:15

2. WHAT DOES JESUS PROMISE?
His promise is very personal. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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." It is a person-to-person promise: "I will give you…" . It is a free gift. It cannot be earned. We cannot pay for it or qualify for it. All we have to do is to receive it. That is always the basis of our relationship with God through faith in Christ. "For it is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift." Ephesians 2:8,9 That is what God is offering: rest. And it is a free gift. "I will give you rest."

God set the example of finding rest after labour. He rested on the seventh day after creation. The rest He offers is the rest of a heart that is right with oneself, of a life that is right with others, and of a soul that is right with God. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. There is serenity within us because we are as one with Him, with others, and with ourselves.

3. WHAT QUALIFICATIONS ENTITLE REST?
Someone might ask, "How can I get this rest? How do I qualify?" The Scripture says "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened." That is all that is needed: to be weary and burdened, tired from carrying heavy loads. Many qualify if that is all that is required. There are young people who are carrying heavy family responsibility. Recently, I met a young girl of thirteen years of age. Without a mother, she is caring for the whole family after she comes home, in between her home lessons and study. Older people also are bearing burdens of others. One lovely elderly lady has been caring at home for her sick son for 52 years. Many are bearing heavy burdens and become tired and weary from carrying the load.

On my tenth birthday I was given a book I read a score of times, "Black Beauty." The word picture is vivid of a horse when he was old, reduced to pulling a cart loaded with heavy bags of coal and driven by a drunken merchant. Because he spent too much time in the pub and hadn't time to make two trips, the driver would put on a double load of coal. On one occasion they came to a steep hill. The driver was sitting on the bags of coal, thrashing the horse with his whip, forcing him to pull the double load. The horse slipped falling on his knees. They stop on the steep incline and the driver enters another hotel, has a few more drinks and comes out with a friend who wants a lift. The friend has stuff with him and as there is no more room on the cart, he puts the stuff on the back of the horse. Then, with a double-handed whip, the driver beats the horse to force him up the hill! There are people who have been forced to carry heavy loads beyond what is reasonable to expect anyone to bear.

"Come to me," said Jesus. He will ease the weariness that comes because of the burdens and weight of life's difficulties. Jesus does not ask for your money, your possessions, your influence, your intelligence, or anything else. He wants you. He never asks for yours. Do you notice His interest? It is not in your achievements but in your anxieties. He knows your needs and cares. His interest is not in your performance, but in the burdens of heart that trouble you.

4. WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR HIS REST?
"…all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Any who are weary and burdened are eligible. Jesus becomes the centre of your healing, the spring of your strengthening and renewal of your life. He is at the centre of your faith and of your response. When you respond it is to Him. You do not respond to a church or to a denomination. You do not respond to a specific lifestyle or a certain type of dress. You do not respond to a certain dogma or a particular version of the Bible. You come to Him! That is the essential thing.

Jesus follows His promise to give you rest by saying, " 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." He is not saying: Instead of taking your burden, I am giving you Mine. He is making a distinction between the burdens that others carry and His provision for us. The yoke was a wooden implement used to join two oxen together as they pulled a plough or cart. Sometimes the yokes were ill-fitting and they were painful as they rubbed and chafed the neck of the oxen.

Sometimes they dragged down the heads of the animals because they were too large for small beasts. This is far from the intention of Jesus. "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Jesus was a carpenter. He would make yokes and He would make them to fit. I can imagine a sign outside the carpenter's shop in Nazareth: "My yokes are easy. They fit well." Jesus was saying, "When you come to Me, I do not add to your burden the way the Romans do - in increased taxes and levies. I do not add to your burden the way the Pharisees do. You have to do what they tell you but they do not practise what they preach. They pile on your backs loads that are too heavy to carry but they are not willing to lift a finger to help. If you are toiling under the Jewish religious load or under the repressive Roman law, come to Me. Put my way of life upon you. Follow my teaching, my example, my way of acting and thinking. That sounds like a yoke and a burden but My yoke is a burden in the way that wings are a burden to a bird." Those burdens are wings that lift! The burden Jesus offers is also one that lifts. When you are yoked to Him, He shares the load and His strength is yours to help you carry the heaviest of loads.

5. HOW CAN WE RECEIVE HIS PROMISE?
When you come to Him, take His yoke upon you, and learn from Him, you experience the truth that His yoke is easy and the burden is light. But where and when do you receive this promise He gives of rest? "Come to me." It is when you come - that you receive His rest. "Come to Me." - that is where you receive it. His is the only credible alternate lifestyle. His way is the only way that brings you the help you need.

Every year, thousands phone our Life Line Telephone Counsellors because of the burdens they carry. Thousands contact our Credit Line because of their financial burdens. Thousands see our doctors and psychiatrists because of their emotional and mental burdens. Thousands talk to our pastors and chaplains because of the burden of difficult personal relationships. Many talk of death as being the only way out until our Life Force Suicide Prevention counsellors help them. Thousands of unemployed every year find our staff help them into employment. Thousands bearing the burden of dementia find rest. Jesus does not offer an easy escape from your problems. He offers you sustaining rest within them. He offers you life-strengthening resources to bear them. "Come back and quietly trust in Me. Then you will be strong and secure." Isaiah 30:15 GNB

In the Old Testament there is the story of King Asa. A vastly superior force invaded his land. Before he went out to fight his foes, Asa took time out for prayer. He prayed, "O Lord, you can help a weak army as easily as a powerful one. Help us now, O Lord our God, because we are relying on you, and in your name we have come out to fight against this huge army." God gave them a great victory. 2 Chronicles 14:11,12. GNB. The battles you fight are different, but Jesus promises you victory.

He promises you rest, to equip you for living, to enable you to carry your burden. You find those resources simply by coming to Him. "Come to me," He invites. If you come to Him He will give you sustaining rest, rest from the burden and strength to bear it. That is His promise.

References:

  • The Australian Family Physician, Vol. 31 No. 4 April 2002. The College of General Practitioners.
  • Black Beauty, Anna Sewell A & C Black. 1947.

Wesley Mission, Sydney.