Homily: Rest as Work

Homily given at Southside Church of Christ on 6.19.13 as a part of a mini-series called “Lead Me to Rest”

“Come to me, all you that are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

We hard-working Americans think this sounds good.  After a life of labor and worry, we get to rest.  But is that what rest means in Scripture?  Doing nothing?

We think we have biblical sources for such thinking.  After-all, on the seventh day God rested from all his work.   At least that is how the NIV reads.  But its interesting – those words from all his work are not actually in there.  We added it as part of the process of dynamic interpretation.  It makes sense to go ahead and say what God rested from.  But the Hebrew text reads more like this.

“On the seventh day God’s creative work was fulfilled and he entered his rest.” 

You see in the ancient world, the word rest had two significant connotations:

(1) Everyone in the ancient understood that when gods “rested” they did it in a temple.  This is a clever and poetic way of saying that all that God’s hands had made was, in a sense, His temple.  All of creation, the heavens and the earth and all that is in it, is now the dwelling place of God.

(2) Rest did not mean “disengagement from activity” or “sleep”.  It meant, “engagement without obstacle”.

So God created the heavens and earth, and made his dwelling place among men and women created in his image and likeness and “rested” – that is he engaged with his creation in continued activity (work) that was free from obstacle.

Now that sounds good.

There is this scene from the movie “The Invention of Lying” where Ricky Gervais’ character is visiting his dying mother in the hospital.  In this movie, no one has ever “told a lie” before, so everyone just presents facts – cold, hard, truth.  So Ricky’s character figures out how to lie.  And as such, religion is born.  And in this scene Ricky comforts his mother at her deathbed with visions of what is in store for her in the next life.

Did you notice the way Ricky Gervais described heaven to his mother?  He talked about dancing, and playing, and meeting loved ones.  It sounded a lot like the New Heavens and the New Earth (minus the mansion talk, which is not actually in John 14 at all).  It had a physicality to it.  It was real.

Even though Ricky is a outspoken atheist, I think he strikes a human chord in this scene.  No one wants a future devoid of physicality or “things to do”.  That, quite frankly, sounds awful.  And the good news is, that idea is not in the bible.  When God created us, he created us, and the world around us as good.  It was always his intention from the very beginning for this to be eternal.  Let me show you what I mean.

In the garden scene in Genesis 1-3, notice a few scriptures:

God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and exercise wise reign over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.'”  (1:28)

Notice that before the fall, before sin enters the world, it is not a world with nothing to do.  Humans, like God, are on the move, doing things.  They have responsibilities, to reflect the wise reign of God to the world.

And to the man he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you not to eat, cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you… by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Notice what the curse is.  Is the curse that humans now have to go from doing nothing to working?  No.  The curse is that their working will be in toil, in pain.  The curse is that it will sometimes bear thorn and thistle rather than good fruit.  That is the curse.

Now fast-forward the Story to Revelation 22.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.  On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  No longer is there a curse.  But the throne of  God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will serve him. 

So beginning of the “new beginning” so to speak.  And the curse of the old age has been removed.  And this does NOT mean that humans do nothing meaningful.  It means that now our working and service is without obstacle – without the curse of thorn and thistle.  We bear fruit in all we do.

I remember as a young child being confused by the imagery of a yoke being easy.  Jesus launches into this brief and beautiful sermon about coming to him and finding rest. And then he takes the dominant image for work to illustrate this – a yoke over the neck of an oxen.  I always found that weird.  Not any more.  Now I know that Jesus had in mind a different sort of rest – biblical rest.  Finding our true identity and purpose in Christ.  When our livelihood is aimed at this vision we find true life – it is easy, it bears fruit, it works in such a way that breaths life and rest into our souls.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do the good works for which he created

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