Jesus spends the first part of this chapter in Matthew describing to the crowds what matters to God- and it’s basically the opposite of self-righteous “good deeds,” doing things for show rather than with humble spirits. If you’ve been following the stories of Jesus for a while now, this might not surprise you…but it’s totally foreign in a world intent on making us feel as if we need to earn God’s favor. Sometimes this mentality occurs within our church communities. Listen to what Jesus says next:
25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. 27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.”
This is radical talk. Jesus chooses to reveal himself to those who choose rest, like babies and kids. More directly, Jesus says, my spirit will come to those who admit they cannot do it all on their own. But oh how we cling so tightly to the idea that we’ve got it all under control- if only we work hard enough.
In preparation for my sabbatical, I heard something odd from quite a few of my pastoral colleagues (both before and during sabbatical-even the final weekend of). It came in the form of a rhetorical question. Something like, “SURELY you will complete some extensive continuing education or write a book, maybe both! What will you produce during sabbatical!!”
Knowing the sheer mental and emotional fatigue most (if not all) of my pastor friends experience, I found this type of question surprising- especially from them. It was like sabbath wasn’t the important part of sabbatical, because it couldn’t be measured.
But this refrain isn’t really foreign to you, to any of us. Make your time really COUNT. Produce something of value, or YOU are not of any worth to this world.
In truth, I struggled with this feeling some too, a preoccupation with “producing” something of value this summer, even though deep in my soul, I recognized an even deeper need to practice true sabbath- to find Jesus in rest. It’s within us all, a pull between what we know is necessary for our health and what we hear the world say makes us worthy. And that voice is loud- and it never calls us to rest.
You, church, are wonderful. You offered your pastor the exceptional gift of sabbatical. Time to refresh relationships with my family, renew my connection with God, and invest more fully in my creative spirit. I am pleased to inform you that Pastor Emily has rested. Now you, wise as you are, didn’t ask me to produce anything of substance during my sabbatical…and I cannot affirm enough how much that matters.
I also read more books than I’ve had time for since seminary. Nourishing reads, like Brene Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection.” In the next three sermons, I will highlight spiritual truths inspired by her work that aligns with Gospel good news for us all. She says, “Whole-hearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It’s about cultivating the gifts of imperfection: courage, compassion, and connection. It’s about waking up in the morning and thinking- no matter what gets done, and how much is left undone, I’m enough. It’s going to bed at night and thinking yes- I’m imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I’m also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
Seriously, the perfect final book to read on sabbatical. Embracing the gifts of our imperfections SO THAT we no longer tie our sense of worthiness to our net worth or how clean our house is or how many beloved church members we make contact with immediately following sabbatical! I long to be connected with each of you, and I thank you for your patience as I settle into a healthy rhythm- one I’ve learned this summer.
I really rested. I played with my kids. I read books and journaled prayers, I traveled to see friends and family. I met strangers and saw new lands. I refinished the dresser my dad used as a child. I swam in the ocean and walked the pastures of our ranch. I lived a whole-hearted life, and STILL I have to actively fight the voices in my own head (and those of well-intentioned colleagues) that tell me I should have produced more.
Here's the voice that counts most. Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.
A connection emerged for me this week that I’d never made before. Jesus says this about rest RIGHT after saying to his Father, “you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” Wanna know who’s BEST at not believing their worth is tied to productivity? Kids. One of Brene Brown’s essential guideposts for whole-hearted living is this: “Cultivating play and rest: letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.”
Why? Because rest and play ARE the moments of true connection. A spirit of rest is essential if we desire meaningful relationships with God, within our own spirits, and with those who deserve our whole hearts.
Sabbatical was not magical, I still struggle to release my need for productivity. But I am inspired to keep trying, because my kids deserve a more focused and present mom. That I did learn deeply this sabbatical.
Who in your life deserves a well-rested you? Maybe you do.
Last week I had several furniture projects I wanted to finish before sabbatical was over (the allure of productivity was strong). Briggs and Daddy were at soccer, so Blaire and I began the evening playing in the backyard. Blaire had to use the bathroom, so what did I do with that minute? I snuck into the garage to work on furniture. I’m not proud of myself. Three months into sabbatical and I STILL couldn’t let go of that need to get just one more thing done. Blaire found me in the garage, paintbrush in hand, and said in a matter-of-fact way, “Mom, I’ve set up a restaurant here, and you’ll be my customer.” “Blaire, I’m just going to finish this last drawer.” But she knows how fixated I get on my projects, so she boldly announced, “The store will be closing to all customers in three seconds! Three! Two! If you want dessert, you better get in here! One!”
What I did next does not come easily to me. I threw down my paintbrush, ran into the kitchen and said, “Okay ma’am, I’d LOVE some dessert.” And she served me the most delightful fig newtons, root beer, and flat watermelon flavored water. Recognizing how easily I could have NOT made that memory with my daughter (choosing my paintbrush instead)- I looked her in the eyes and told her exactly how much I loved spending my sabbatical summer playing with her. And her sweet hug, an affirmation of our spirits connected, revealed why rest & play are essential- more so than our productivity.
Maybe you will hold me accountable to this truth in my life.
I don’t know who’s voice told you that you were only worthy of love if you proved it with your helpfulness or net worth or productivity, but it’s a lie. Your worth is not what you do. Not in this church, not for your pastor, and especially not in the eyes of your Creator. Until we each come to believe that we are worthy of love and belonging regardless of what we do…we will continue to give into the allure of productivity until it consumes us, spirits and all.
Child of the living God, hear this voice of truth, even as I speak it to my own soul: “Come to me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.”
A final note of humor. Briggs came down this morning as I was finalizing my sermon. He took one look at my word document and said, “you really have to say all THAT?”
No, I didn’t. Not to be loved by you or by God. But being away for 3 months is a long time…and I just can’t help sharing this good news. As I pray, I invite you to offer up whatever is keeping you from embracing your full worth- just as you are- beloved in the eyes of God, accepted and loved in this faith community. Let’s pray.
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.