(given on July 1, 2008)
Have you had enough fireworks, hamburgers, hot dogs, and American pie this weekend? For our family, the Fourth is more than an American holiday, it is also a couple of anniversaries and even a birthday. This is one holiday with special significance for us. Why Bruce’s son is even in the Air Force so that adds a little extra patriotic pride for us!
Throughout the weekend we have heard and seen the fireworks. There have been the special events which remind us of how our country has struggled to maintain its identity. One of the primary symbols is the Statue of Liberty. Even though that statue is located in the harbor of New York City on Ellis Island, it is on stamps, incorporated in patriotic designs, and some businesses even capitalize on its image. For me, though, the words inscribed on it mean so much:
“…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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
These words were taken from a poem entitled “The New Colossus” or “Mother of Exiles” by Emma Lazarus written in 1883, after she witnessed the refugees arriving at Ellis Island.
As I read through today’s scripture from Matthew, those words “Come to me” just rang loud and clear in my ears once again. When Jesus was trying to prepare his disciples, he wanted them to understand just who he wanted to reach and what he could offer them:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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. “ (NIV)
How interesting! These two quotes are so similar, yet they were written centuries apart. Both quotes seem to echo what I hear in my head each time the students begin arriving at school. As you know, I teach at the alternative school in Warrensburg. We serve students from Holden, Crestridge, Chilhowee, Knob Noster, and Warrensburg. These students are the ones who just do not succeed in the regular high school but who still have that drive to graduate with a high school diploma. These same words echo through my mind each year we begin: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened…”
God told us to love one another. When I watch the students walk into the classroom and they are so obviously drained from the world beating them down, I just know I have to love them. Just like Emma Lazarus said in her poem, these students are “tired…poor, yearning to breathe free. (They are the) “wretched refuse, homeless, and tempest-tost.”
My service for the past thirteen years has been to open my classroom doors and welcome these young people in. I want my classroom to be a safe haven for them. I know that they need hope in order to begin building their own success. Teaching these students is my life’s purpose.
There is only one problem: I cannot offer them the ultimate answer for their lives—God. Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” My mission now is to speak openly, to serve openly, to help others in the ultimate mission of making disciples for Christ.
I can use all the usual methods to accomplish this goal. We can work to create excellent worship experiences. We will open the doors and welcome friends, family, neighbors, and even strangers into God’s house. We can study together to learn more of Jesus and how to reach and to serve others. We can use any means, well any legal means, we can to spread God’s love.
At school, I do not always use traditional teaching methods. I have a tendency to think a little differently, as the saying goes, I think outside of the box. Here, in your community, I hope we can continue your work and think “outside of the box” for ways to serve others. We want to make sure that those who “are weary and burdened” know that Christ died for us, creating a new covenant that will make their lives easier.
Loving God and following the simple rules that Christ taught us in the New Testament are the only ways to truly manage this hectic life we are in and to lighten our load. In The Message, the same two verses say it just a bit differently—remember, I like to think a little differently, too: (Repeat the words with me.)
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Those words make so much sense. Jesus taught the disciples this before he was persecuted. We have the words in our Holy Scriptures. We must do our best to follow the teachings. When we do, our burden will be lighter. We will provide hope to the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free..the homelses, tempest-tost.” What better way to fulfill our American responsibilities, too. We are to love our neighbor as ourself. We are to reach out to those in need.
By working together, we can find those who are so beaten down that they have lost hope. By working together, we can find just the right way to open up the church doors and make sure everyone is welcomed home. By working together, we can do anything—we can live the American and, more importantly, the Christian dream. By working together, we will be in Christian fellowship to reach and to serve others.
I ask each of you to join me in this challenge. Join us as we learn and grow in speaking out to others about how Jesus can simplify our lives. Join us as we look for ways to reach those who are worn down, imprisoned by poverty or circumstances. Join use as we work to make the load lighter for all those who have lost hope. Join us as we work to share God’s word. Join us as we look for ways to serve others so that they may know the grace of God.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I thank you for helping us step out of our safe little worlds and seek ways to share the grace, the wonder, the joy, and the love you have granted us. Help these words reach into the hearts and hands of these new friends as we join together to open the way for others to join in God’s family.