Boosts from the Bible #6 (Matthew 11:28-30)

Welcome to the 6th edition of “Boosts from the Bible,” our devotion dedicated to delving into the depths of God’s wisdom at a time like this, the time of the COVID virus.

I want to begin by challenging you to imagine a meme sent to me Monday. There was a picture of a big, smiling guy with a Viking helmet on. He’s a Viking and he’s shaking his finger at us as we read, “To say, ‘I can’t go out because of the virus’ sounds weak, whiny and boring. Try this instead: ‘I’ve sworn an oath of solitude until the pestilence is purged from the lands!’ That sounds more valiant and heroic; people may even imagine you’re carrying a sword.”

Many of us want to sound valiant and not afraid during this coronavirus time. Certain words out there have, traditionally, not been seen as valiant – words like meek, humble, mild-mannered, and gentle. And yet I think this virus time is a perfect time to practice the spiritual discipline of GENTLENESS. Just think: here we are, most of us, spending inordinate amounts of time in our homes, often with people we’ve never spent so much time with before, even though we live with them, and we’re SO not used to it, and getting out and doing SOME things has its perilous qualities to it even though, like going to the grocery story, what we actually DO with our bodies is just walking around, picking things off shelves, passing them through a checkout lane, and walking back with the stuff to the vehicle. Keeping six feet away from people at the grocery store requires a certain kind of gentleness we’ve never had to show before.

This whole thing has been a bit exasperating, and at first was quite unnerving. In any case even before the virus life was sometimes very hard to get through – which is why we introduce the following as our Boost from the Bible this week. Matthew 11:28-30 – Jesus urges you and me, “Come to Me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”

Now to the Fire and Brimstone Preachers that you might have bumped into, this is a cockamamie set of verses. For them, being a Christian is something only a few people can pull off, and, in their eyes, it probably isn’t you.

Now we know that when Jesus here talks about “carrying heavy burdens,” He’s not talking about physical burdens. He’s not talking about many jobs which are blue-collar jobs filled with back-breaking labor. No, Christ is talking about the other kind of heavy burdens – the heavy burdens that plague our minds, that sap our souls, that depress our spirits. We know that isolation can be a hard burden to bear for many, and especially bouts of isolation that sneak up on us like this COVID-19 one.

But notice this. One reason why Jesus calls Himself “gentle” is that He BELIEVES you when you say your have heavy burdens, or when you say that you are weary. Jesus doesn’t say, “Well, I can help you with your weariness by convincing you that you are not weary.” No, he doesn’t say that at all. Like I said last week, Jesus is the Son of God AND someone who has lived a human life; He knows what it’s like to be isolated, to be burdened, to be weary. But that begs the question: okay, Lord Jesus: just HOW does carrying Your “yoke” help us with our problems? Just how IS Your yoke easy, and Your burden “light”?

Well, you see, the Christian faith is not a religion, so – and  you may not realize this, but – doing good is not up to you. See? Sounds easy, right? Right. But, you say, “I thought Christians were supposed to do more good than other people.” And I say, “Yeah, I agree. But we do that when the Spirit of Jesus is working through us, not when we try to do good on our own.” The Apostle Paul tells us to pray continually – keep our ears open for God – and so we should pray continually for the Holy Spirit to guide us every minute of every day. That’s it. That’s “easy” – or at least easier than carrying the heavy burden of trying to decide things for ourselves. And the “yoke” we bear, Christ’s yoke? It’s, He says, to “learn from” Him. The Spirit, given to all believers, helps us do just that!

One of the end results of the Spirit working in us is that we become more “gentle” ourselves. It’s one of the “fruit” – or end results – listed by Paul in Galatians 5:22 and 23. But what does it mean to be gentle? Is it to be “Casper Milquetoast,” and back down all the time? No, it’s not that. One can be gentle AND firm. One can be gently firm and not force others to have to endure one’s big ego, or one’s blustering, or one’s bullying, or also one’s temper. Those kinds of things disappear when the Gentle Spirit is working in you.

Later in that same letter to the Galatians Paul tells them, “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore that one in a spirit of gentleness.” (Gal. 6:1) So you see that we can still be doing ministry, being leaders and being on God’s mission, and still be gentle – rejecting the thought that being gentle means being a wallflower.

And gentleness is a great quality to have in the midst of a controversy. As Paul informed his assistant, Timothy, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.” Paul adds why gentleness in these situations are helpful: “God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth.” It’s important, Paul is saying, not to burn bridges, but be gentle. That opponent is someone we are called to love, for we are to “love our neighbor as our self.”

Being gentle on yourself helps you get through the hard times. The gift of the Spirit’s gentleness helps us be more accepting of any hardships that come along, like COVID. As I recently read from, “Gentleness is an inward grace that easily submits our own strength of will to God’s lordship.”

So, please, be gentle with others and with yourself. And may you find a particular benefit that comes from this virus time – losing control of your life – to God. As Richard Rohr has written, “For many of us, this may be the first time in our [adult]lives that we have felt so little control…[that it] feels like a loss, a humiliation….However,” he points out, “[this time can be] a universal starting point for a serious spiritual walk towards wisdom and truth.”

I leave you with a song that speaks of gentleness. It goes like this:

Spirit, Spirit of gentleness…blow through the wilderness calling and free; Spirit, Spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness, wind…wind on the sea.

     You call from tomorrow, you break ancient schemes…from the bondage of sorrow all the captives dream dreams…our women see visions, our men clear their eyes…with bold new decisions Your people arise.

     Spirit, Spirit of gentleness…blow through the wilderness calling and free; Spirit, Spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness, wind…wind on the sea.

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