The Son’s Invitation
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ! It is good to be home. We were gone for 17 days, spent 2 weeks in Russia, and while I certainly have a special place for the people we met, the new friends we made, while the beauty of the cathedrals and churches is inspiring, it is good to be home.
I believe that one of the things that has struck me most about the trip to Russia is the contrasts. Contrasts in architecture, in the society, in what was and what is; the contrast struck between what could have been a Constitution Monarchy under Tsar Alexander II, The Tsar Liberator, and what grew out of his assassination at the hands of the terrorists of the “People’s Will” movement in 1884.
But one of the strongest contrasts was struck as I stood in the middle of Red Square, in front of Lenin’s tomb. There I was, a child of the Cold War, a child who had learned that hiding under your school desk would give you adequate protection should the Big Bad Soviets drop an atomic bomb on us; there I was standing where Stalin and Khrushchev and Brezhnev reviewed the May Day parades; there we were freely walking the paths and the passages of the Kremlin, the heart of power of the former U.S.S.R., not as enemies but as their guests.
This leisurely four-day, Fourth of July Weekend has struck another contrast as well. Just last week we were living in the remnants of a totalitarian communist regime, this week we celebrate the freedom and liberty which is ours as Americans. One of the cable stations aired a holiday special on the Statue of Liberty. The poem by Emma Lazarus is inscribed upon the base, it had been awhile since I had heard it.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
America has been scorned and derided for just such an invitation, an invitation that gives safe haven for anyone who, tired of oppression and strife wants to live in the freedom that is ours in America. We have been warred against and terrorized for our insistence that freedom is a right and that a freely elected government is the best means by which to protect and promote our freedom and rights. Yet Liberty’s torch still stands—the Mother of Exiles still invites the world to behold the golden door: the lessons of American freedom—these are not secret, they are not necessarily exclusive—the invitation of America is to the entire world to embrace freedom and justice, to stand for liberty.
Today’s text contains an even greater invitation…greater, because of the One who invites. Jesus says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth.” Now every son is the same nature as his father; I am a human, and therefore so is my son and so is my grandson. But Jesus’ father is “Lord of heaven and earth”—the God who made all things. So Jesus, too, is God–the true and only Son of his true and only Father.
But Jesus speaks these words in a prayer. Prayer belongs to human beings; so he shows himself also to be truly man, one of us. He knows from the inside what it’s like to be human. He is no stranger to our weakness, our grief, and our death. He was tempted in every way as we are, and though he never sinned he carried all our sin in himself.
Let the wise stumble; let common sense fall silent. God hides himself from the wise, and shows himself to the simple. He reveals himself to those who take him at his word–to those who have the simple trust of babies.
And those who would know the Father must come to know him through the Son, for all things have been given over to him. The only Son made flesh is the only way to the Father. You can trust him with all your heart and soul and life.
The invitation of Jesus is greater because of who is invited. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden.” Lady Liberty invites those who struggle in poverty and bondage of body. But the Lord Jesus Christ invites the poor in spirit, those who are burdened with sin, and guilt, and shame. What a scandal this is! Jesus praises God that those who are masterful, intelligent and worldly are frustrated by their mastery, intelligence and worldliness, yet he who is devoid of understanding, who is a child-like, and whoever is unfortunate, he will receive the kingdom of God.
It is a scandal, and not just among the enemies of Christ. How many of us walk around with burdens of guilt and shame! We smile on the outside, but inwardly our hearts ache under the load. We want to call Christ our Savior, but we find it hard to admit the depth of our sin. We play at Christianity the way little ones play house. “I’m a little bit bad, so I need a bit of forgiveness. I’ll carry the heavy end of the load, if you, Lord, could just pick up the lighter end.” We’re afraid to make a heartfelt confession, because we think God might refuse us.
Does that describe you? Then listen again to Christ’s invitation: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden.” He invites, not those who have it all together, but those who labor and are heavy laden. He invites all, so he invites you. He promises you, “The one who comes to me I will not cast out.” He receives not sham sinners but real sinners, big sinners. He received the woman caught in the act of adultery. He received the dying thief. He received doubting Thomas, denying Peter, persecuting Paul.He has received countless millions since the beginning of time. He will not refuse you, but will embrace you.
It is the Father’s good pleasure that man by his own reason and wisdom cannot discover what God reveals. It is the Son’s choice to whom he reveals the things of the Father. It is the Father’s pleasure and the Son’s choice that you, a sinner, a weak and burdened sinner, receive this great invitation and are brought into fellowship with the Father through the Son
“Come to me, and I will give you rest.” What does Jesus mean by rest?
He means that he will take off the burden of our weak and sinful life. The book of Hebrews says, “There remains a Sabbath rest for God’s people. For the one who has entered God’s rest has ceased from his works, as God did from his.” When I come to Christ, I stop taking refuge in what I do.
David says, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away. For day and night your hand was heavy on me, Lord, my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not hide my iniquity. I said, I will confess my sin to the Lord, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
It would have been useless for us if He had assumed our burden and conquered death only for Himself. But as matters stand, He who took our life with all its sins and burdens on the cross and presents us with His victory, conquering sin and death in our behalf, so that we, who were held captive by the evil spirit and lived in sin and death without any God and Lord, we would have our own Lord and God, who reigns over us in such a manner that through Him we were saved and escaped death. What more fervent wish does mankind entertain than deliverance from death? And now our God has become just such a Lord and God, who satisfies this ardent longing of all men for escape from death and for salvation. With Paul we learn to say, “I have been crucified with Christ; nevertheless, I live–yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
It is the Father’s pleasure and the Son’s choice that you, a sinner, receive this great invitation and by it are brought into fellowship with the Father through the Son in Hoy Baptism. Come to him in confession, give him your burden of sin and take the easy yoke He offers in return. Come to him as He comes to you in his Supper offering rest. Trust him with your heart –with child-like faith and learn from him, for He is gentle and humble in heart. Take him at his word and find rest for your soul. He will receive you, He will refresh you, He will forgive your sins and heal your broken heart, He will daily lift you up and carry you on eagle’s wings (Ex 19:4).