“Given Rest” Colchester Federated Church, July 5, 2020, (Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30) Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (**Virtual Worship)

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.  Put on my yoke, and learn from me.  I’m gentle and humble.  And you will find rest for yourselves.  My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”[1]

These words from Jesus are good to hear in many circumstances.  Though they are especially good to hear these days.  Jesus instructs his disciples to come to him, all who are struggling and carrying heavy loads.  For Jesus himself will give us rest. 

Jesus also speaks about wisdom, that wisdom is proved to be right by her works.  There’s wisdom in realizing that prayer and going to Jesus are important.  And that God works through other people who can help us when we are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads.  Receiving help from others doesn’t make us any less faithful.  Because that person helping may just be the hands and heart of Christ for us in that moment. 

It’s like the old story goes about a man caught in a flood.  He escaped to the roof of his house and sat there waiting to be rescued.  He started praying, “Please God, save me.  Rescue me from this flood.”  All of a sudden, a neighbor in a canoe floated by and offered to help.  But the man turned the neighbor down, saying, “Not to worry, God will save me.”  Later, with the water rising more, the police came in a boat and offered to help.  He turned them down too, saying, “I’m perfectly fine up here, go rescue others.  God will save me.”  Finally, a helicopter appeared and the pilot announced that she must airlift the man to safety.  The man said, “No thank you!  God will save me.” 

Unfortunately the man drowned.  And the man began ranting and raving to God in heaven, “I’ve been a good Christian, and I was praying all during that flood for you to save me.  And you let me die—why?  Why would you do that?”  God (in exasperation) replied, “Look, I sent your neighbor in a canoe, the police in a boat, and a helicopter crew to airlift you to safety.  What more could I have done to rescue you from that flood?”

God often works through others.  So when Jesus says to come to him (anybody who is struggling and carrying heavy loads and Jesus will give us rest)—that’s true.  Don’t we often feel better after we’ve gone to God in prayer, better rested and that our souls are a little lighter?  And it’s also true that those feelings of unburdening ourselves can come from confiding in those we love.  So Jesus’ words are not an either/or situation here.  It’s a both/and situation where we can come to Jesus with our worries and our burdens and we can speak to someone we love and trust to unburden our hearts.  Perhaps both are holy and God has a way of working through other people to help us on our journeys of life.

We know that there have been a lot of conversations about the impacts of this global pandemic.  The truth is that we are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, some of us more than others.  We’re all in the same storm, but not necessarily in the same boat.  We’ve focused on physical health and making sure that people are staying as safe as possible, particularly people who are vulnerable to deadly cases of this virus.  We’ve heard the experts weigh in on the importance of wearing masks and practicing physical distancing, particular in indoor spaces.  There’s been reports about the economic impacts that this pandemic has had thus far—from people losing their jobs and businesses closing, to essential workers working overtime (and sometimes even lacking necessary equipment) to provide services that we all rely on to live. 

It’s true that the heroes among us are those who work in the medical field and remain on hospital units treating people who have fallen ill from covid-19.  And heroes are people behind the scenes in hospitals running the kitchens or cleaning hospital units, all the people it takes to make sure that medical facilities are open and available should anybody fall sick.  Though what would we do without those who work in grocery stores or mail carriers who deliver our mail or teachers who moved to online learning and so on?  Perhaps part of what we’ve learned is that there were and are many heroes among us who find ways to keep us going in the midst of these days and weeks and now months of uncertainty when we’re all a little weary and carrying heavy loads.

This pandemic also impacts our mental health, and that may not have been on the forefront of our minds in the beginning.  The Mayo Clinic has part of their website devoted to covid-19 and mental health.  The website states, “The COVID-19 pandemic has likely brought many changes to how you live your life, and with it uncertainty, altered daily routines, financial pressures and social isolation. You may worry about getting sick, how long the pandemic will last and what the future will bring. Information overload, rumors and misinformation can make your life feel out of control and make it unclear what to do.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, you may experience stress, anxiety, fear, sadness and loneliness. And mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, can worsen.”[2]

The staff of the Mayo Clinic write about taking care of one’s body, taking care of one’s mind, and connecting with others.  There’s information on recognizing what’s typical and what’s not and advice to get professional help when one needs it through organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  Mental health isn’t something to take lightly.  And it seems as this pandemic continues (though we are doing better than many other states here in Connecticut), we need to contemplate taking care of our mental health as well as our physical health.  Though the truth is that we will always have differences among us about tolerating risk and different ideas about what this will look like moving forward.

For some people, the social isolation may feel so heavy that it’s worth the risk of infection just to get out there and socialize.  Instead of shaming someone who feels that way, we could contemplate how to do that safely.  Keeping in mind that being outdoors is safer than being indoors, wearing a mask is safer than not wearing a mask, and having shorter interactions is safer than being with people for longer periods of time.  Though to completely discount mental health concerns may not be the best part forward if we’re going to work with one another for the long haul.  Because the truth is that people are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads (trust me, I have those days too).  And it’s good to remember the words of Jesus—to come to him for rest, for his yoke is easy to bear and his burden is light.  And it’s good to reach out and be there for one another as we are part of this church family together.  Stay safe and stay well.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Matthew 11:28-30, Common English Bible.

[2] “Covid-19 and your mental health,” The Mayo Clinic, April 2, 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/mental-health-covid-19/art-20482731