Christ Chose You
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
When the boys were a little younger they loved Thomas the Tank Engine. If you're not familiar, Thomas is a small steam railroad engine who is part of a railway operation on the mythical island of Sodor. Each engine has a name and a distinctive character trait. Thomas prides himself on the praise of the railway superintendent who has declared Thomas to be "a very useful engine." And he is useful, able to do a variety of jobs and pull or push a whole array of loads, without usually complaining or questioning why.
What you realize very quickly, though, as you watch the Thomas series on television is that the Thomas stories are very much moral allegories about the challenge of living out our vocations as part of society. It is a way of teaching the importance of common virtues such as duty, integrity and hard work. But if you tend to the series over time you will also discover that there's an existential anxiety that afflicts all of the steam engines on this seemingly utopian island. The steam engines are an old technology ... and they know it. They fear that one day they will be shunted off for scrap and be replaced by a more efficient, stronger diesel locomotive.
So, as important as it may be for all the engines to be obedient, virtuous, and hard working, what we know from our perspective is that these engines stay in service because of the good grace and affection of a railway superintendent who seems to love them like family, even though he may become cross from time to time with the cheeky little engines.
So we may think that Thomas' value is his utility -- after all he is a very useful engine -- but in truth, Thomas is loved first and his usefulness is just one of ways that we delight in Thomas. In fact, our love for Thomas encourages Thomas to venture out into more and more adventures. Thomas as a character, however, doesn't fully realize or appreciate that simple equation -- love leads to delight in a job well done -- any more than we do, so he is constantly surprised by the kindness, grace and love he finds extended to him by the superintendent or by his friends.
I hope you can see how Thomas is like us in so many ways. We think that God's love, God's grace and favor come because we are obedient, virtuous and hardworking little engines. And, when we realize that we have failed to obey God, acted mean or arragant or rude, and have neglected to what we ought but instead did what has been forbidden, we think that God is ready to shunt us away as scrap. What a burden our work becomes then! What a bore we make out of religion when try to impress or gain favor with God! What a depressing and anxious prospect prayer or worship or Bible study becomes for us when we imagine that we must do this or that or else!
If there is a passage to sink deeply into our memory, it is the conclusion of today's Gospel. Here we hear Jesus' invitation to come to him and learn from him. He promises that the burden he will place upon us will be light, bearable. But it is his love for us and his humility that make for an easy load and light burden. He offers an exchange. Leave off the burden you are carrying, and hear the gracious words of your new master.
What burdens you now ... guilt, grief, fear, despair. You don't have to bear that burden alone. You can let go of your guilt and put on the forgiveness of sin that Christ has given through his death and resurrection for you. This community can help you get through grief with faith and hope in the resurrection to eternal life. The fear that grips us from time to time, need not control us or our lives, though. We can take off that fear and place it on Jesus in faith and confidence, knowing that Christ has promised us everything, including eternal life. Even in our darkest time, we have a living hope. And what that promise means for us is that God in fact has come to us to love and save and make us his own people. So we can take up the easy yoke and gentle burden of serving our neighbors.
And that is the wonderful and blessed exchange that Jesus is promising here. All our burdens, all our griefs, everything that weighs us down we can give to the Lord, and take up the free gift of God’s grace and salvation in Jesus Christ, and the wonderful, fulfilling and meaningful life that comes from being a disciple of Jesus. Imagine the delight of living life well, whole and with a purpose … following the way of Jesus and making people’s lives better. That’s the surprising truth about living and abiding in God’s Word and law. When it follows the promise of the free gift of salvation in Christ, it becomes delightful to do our duty, according to God’s way.
It may seem like a life of service, a life of obedience, a life faithful dutiful living would be a bore, but in truth it is true freedom, the gift of real, authentic and meaningful life. In much the same way that playing a game well within the confines of the rules unlocks the true joy of the game. What’s more, playing a game well and according to the rules, all the while keeping it in perspective … that is something we do not who we are … helps us endure tough times.
The boys have given up Thomas the Tank Engine. They play baseball now. Their coaches, the parents and their teammates expect them to play flawlessly in the field and to hit for average and power at the plate. They are expected to follow the rules, be obedient to their coaches, work hard and be productive.
But you can also see when the preoccupation with perfect play and production have taken the joy out of the game, it becomes a burden instead of a delight; a source of suffering instead of delight and growth. What they are beginning to realize is that the game itself sits inside and is enveloped by everyone’s love for them, simply as children. They are loved and embraced as our children first.
Within that love, one of the ways we delight in them is by enjoying them enjoying a game they love and playing it flawlessly ... at least in glimpses.
That is the joy that comes from living and dwelling in God’s grace. The good we ought to do becomes the way we love and delight in God and God favors us. So, take this opportunity, this invitation today to let go of the burden you are carrying, and instead take up the joy of living in God’s love and grace. In that grace, you will discover, God promises, that you are a very useful and productive member of God’s family.
See, the truth and secret of life is that Christ has already chosen you, called you and made you his own. All you have to do is live it out.
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