Matthew 11:25-30 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank[a] you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[b] 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and 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 him.
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
“The Great Sustainer”
Psalm 55, verse 22. “Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.” This is similar to a verse I spoke on two weeks ago, in that it contains both an invitation and a promise. God invites us to cast our burdens on him just as a fisherman casts a net into the sea. That’s the picture. Take whatever burden you are carrying and throw it on God. He has large shoulders and a strong back. No burden is too big for him. And the promise is that as we throw our burdens on God, he will sustain us. Now some burdens will be gone completely as we cast them on God. Other burdens will remain with us. But God promises to sustain you as you carry that burden, so that that you will not be crushed by it. God is the great sustainer. So “cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.”
Life brings us different kinds of burdens. The first one I will mention are the unusual and unexpected burdens of life.
This Covid-19 pandemic came upon nations and peoples quite unexpectedly. It is a most unusual burden which we are carrying collectively and individually.
For some people this burden has been very heavy. So many have become very ill and too many have died. Front-line health care workers are under great stress, caring for vulnerable and very ill and sometimes dying people. Plus, they are burdened with anxiety about their own health. There is the burden on families who cannot be with loved ones who are seriously ill or in the last stages of life.
Or think of the heavy burden our political leaders are bearing. Often you can see the weariness on their faces and hear the stress in their voices. Inevitably some decisions will be good ones and others will not turn out so well. The burden of leadership is very great these days.
Then there are the financial and work related burdens people are carrying. There is the burden on parents who are working from home as well as dealing with restless children.
Now for some of us, the burden hasn’t been quite so great, but it is still there. We have had to rearrange our schedules. We have had to give up some independence and freedom. We are living with the uncertainty. All of us are all carrying an unusual burden in body, mind and spirit these days.
What can we do with this unusual burden? “Cast it on the Lord and he will sustain you.” No one has to carry this burden alone. We have the help of one another and we also have the help of God who will straighten our backs and clear our minds. His sustaining strength is equal to any burden, no matter how large. In your mind’s eye cast this unusual burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.
Secondly, there are common burdens that we all bear in life.
There is the burden of growing and learning and developing our skills. There is the burden of our work responsibilities. There is the burden of providing a living for ourselves and our families. There are the responsibilities we bear as citizens and tax payers.
On Mother’s Day we think of the burdens of parenthood. Now there is great joy when parents welcome a child into their home. But sometimes burdens of parenthood can seem quite overwhelming.
One Mom says that she’s going to try something different next summer with her kids and their dog. Next summer, she says, she’s sending the dog to camp and the kids to obedience school. One mother of three young sons wrote, “There have been days when I have fallen on my knees and prayed, ‘Please, God, no more. You were only supposed to give me what I could handle.’”
I’ve mentioned the burdens of motherhood. But the burdens of fatherhood are just as real. Thank God for faithful, responsible fathers. And even when your children become adults, you still worry about them and pray for them. Parenthood is a life-time burden.
How can we carry these common burdens and not be crushed by them? The Psalmist tells us, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.” This is why prayer, worship, Scripture and sacrament are so important. For these are times and ways in which we can throw our burdens on God and tap into his sustaining power.
Thirdly, life brings us spiritual burdens. These burdens are very common to us all.
There is the burden of regret. So often we think “if only I had made a different decision, if only I had been wiser, if only I could have seen the future.” Some people say “I have no regrets.” But can anyone honestly say that? Some people drive themselves crazy with these words, “if only.” But we can cast this burden of regret on the Lord and he will sustain us. God’s word tells us that “he is at work in all things for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” God takes all our decisions and choices, both good and bad, and weaves them into his greater plan for our lives, which is to make us conform to the image of his Son.
I read about a girl watching a group of women knitting a large quilt on a big frame. On the underside of the quilt the threads were all mixed up and jumbled. But on top the quilt was coming together in a beautiful pattern. God is not only the great sustainer, he is the great weaver, taking all the jumbled threads of our lives and weaving them into a good pattern which only God sees in its entirety, at least for now.
Another spiritual burden we carry is that of guilt. Who among us doesn’t feel some guilt over actions and words which have harmed or hurt others and ourselves? And the burden of guilt can be very heavy indeed, too heavy for some to bear. A few months ago we saw the movie “Richard Jewell” about the security guard who was wrongfully accused of a bombing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. The movie reveals how badly both the FBI and the media dealt with Jewell, before he was finally exonerated. The reporter, Kathy Scruggs, who first exposed Jewell as the suspect, was haunted by guilt over it for the rest of her life, and died from suspected suicide at the age of 42.
I still feel guilt when I think of the time in Grade 6, I shoved a girl off her bicycle. She scraped her knee on the gravel and rode home in tears. The next day she came to school with her knee bandaged. I have no explanation for my action other than this – I have a sin nature. So do you. We have all done something inexplicable like that. And it’s been done to us, as well. We carry a burden of guilt for our sins. So “cast that burden on the Crucified One and he will sustain you.” For the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin and makes us acceptable to God forever, and even gives us the power to make amends and to forgive as we have been forgiven.
We also carry a burden of grief. Most of us have wept tears of grief over the death of a dear one, perhaps unexpected, perhaps too early. Or even if the person lived to a fine old age, we still feel the loss most keenly. But “cast your burden of grief on the Lord and he will sustain you.” God will not let the burden of grief crush you as you hear and trust the Gospel promises. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you.” Beyond this world there is much more to come, a heaven in which God will dry all our tears, where the pain of loss and separation will be overcome at last by God’ eternal love. As we cast our spiritual burdens on the Lord, he does sustain us.
Finally, let’s consider the burdens God gives us.
Now you say – isn’t God the one who sets us free from our burdens? Well yes, through Christ God sets us from our greatest burdens and sustains us as we carry those that are still with us. But there is an alternate translation of Psalm 55:22. “Cast what he gives you on the Lord and he will sustain you.” “What he gives you.” God gives to each follower of Jesus a particular burden to bear for the sake of Christ and the Church – the burden of service, of witness, of generosity. Jesus said that any who want to be his followers must take up their cross and follow him. There is no such thing as a costless Christianity. Grace is free but it’s not cheap. For our sake, Christ bore the heaviest cross of all and God sustained him as he carried it all the way to Calvary.
God has given you a particular burden to bear for Christ’s sake. Don’t avoid it or try to cast it off. For you are not called to bear it alone. Christians bear one another’s burdens. And above all, we bear them with Christ’s help. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I want to add one thing quickly as I end. In a few months, I will be throwing off the burdens of full-time ministry and going off into the sunset of retirement. There is a bit of relief in doing so. But I can say that I’ve never really felt crushed by those burdens. Certainly I found the early years of ministry more difficult than these later years. There is a Latin saying to the effect that “one grows under the burden.” For me, this has been true. I have received much support and encouragement and wise counsel from faithful friends and church members, many of you. I am grateful for that. I have also received God’s help, far more often than I realize, and often without even seeking it. Yes, sometimes I have cast my burdens on God. Other times I have not been as faithful in seeking God’s help. But in spite of that, God has sustained me as I carried the burden. And it’s true for you too. For you are his beloved child. He knows the burdens you carry. So yes, “Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.” But know and believe this – that even before you seek him God is already at work, right now, strengthening and sustaining you. “As your days, so shall your strength be.” Truly our God is gracious and kind, far beyond our asking and our deserving. “O God, great is your faithfulness.”