I assume you all believe worship is important because you are here. You may not be able to articulate why you think it is important, but you are here nonetheless. Frederick Maurice, a 19th century English theologian, said,
“Men (and women) must worship something; if they do not worship an unseen Being who loves and cares for them, they will worship the works of their own hands; they will secretly bow down to the things that they see, and hear, and taste, and smell; these will be their lords and masters, these will be their cruel tyrants.”
People who engage in worship must benefit from it in some way or they wouldn’t be here. Actually there are at least three benefits of worship, which I will name: 1) spiritual rest, 2) spiritual connection, and 3) spiritual support.
I think we can all agree about #’s 2 and 3. During the week, we might feel disconnected from God and one another, but when we come to worship we reconnect to God and one another. We also find support for one’s spiritual journey with fellow travelers. We instinctively know that coming to worship is a way to find spiritual connection and spiritual support.
But what about spiritual rest? Speaking to a bunch of weary peasants, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” We may or may not be as overburdened as first century peasants, and yet we can still get overwhelmed and weary in life.
Worship may not be able to provide adequate physical rest for our weary bodies, but it can provide spiritual rest. This one hour experience gives us something we desperately need.
Our daughter in California has three young girls, two of which are toddlers. Her situation reminds me of the following thank you note from another young mother of three: “Many thanks for the pack ‘n play/play pen (as we know it). It is being used every day. From 2 to 3 p.m. I get in it to read, and the children can’t get near me.”
I suspect that for many of us, this one hour worship experience is the time we get to climb into the pack ‘n play/play pen we call church to get a little rest from an overwhelming world. Although people say there is no rest for the weary, the worship hour at church IS a place of “rest for the weary.”
It is the place and time where and when Jesus’ words become a reality: “Take my yoke upon you,” he says, “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.”
This is a great use of irony on the part of Jesus. A yoked animal or slave is not supposed to have an easy task, but a burdensome task. And in the context in which this is written, we can assume that Jesus is talking about the burdens of the religious institution of his place and time. Jesus is talking about rest for the weary outside of institutional religion.
So here we are in the context of a religious institution, and we hear Jesus ask, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Then come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Jesus’ words were spoken in contrast to the experience of first century Judaism. Because of its demands for animal sacrifice, an oppressive tithe on the poor, and the obedience of strict purity laws that no one could follow, Jesus' contemporaries often found their religion to be as intolerable as a yoke around a slave or an animal’s neck.
Ironically, the rabbis of that day argued that the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, WAS rest for the weary. But it was Jesus who offered a truly liberating message. He promises in his own person to do what the Torah could not do: give people rest from their yokes and heavy burdens.
Although we have produced yet another religious institution, at its best the church of Jesus Christ has developed the practice of worship with this very purpose in mind: to give people a sacred rest.
As you consider this wonderful benefit of worship, let me close with these words:
People come to worship carrying many burdens. Some worry about a family member serving in the military. Some face financial struggles that tear at the fabric of family life. Some sense a lack of fulfillment in their careers. Some fear health challenges.
Some feel deeply affected by a distant tragedy. Some face tough personal decisions. Some must constantly moderate intense conflict at home. Some are overwhelmed with gratitude, humbled by feelings of love and joy. Some are trying to be as charitable as possible.
Every congregation, large and small, is a beautiful tapestry of hope and hurt, a collage of experience and anticipation, a patchwork quilt of gifts, needs, fears, and aspirations. People come to worship to connect to God and one another as well as to feel restored, reminded, remembered, and refreshed.
I hope you are enjoying your restful time today in the comfort of this sanctuary. Amen.