MARY LEE TALBOT – STAFF WRITER
“Many of us serve as clergy who are wounded or hurt,” said the Rev. Frank A. Thomas. “We dress up and come out and serve the people. Sometimes God wants to speak through our vulnerability.”
Thomas preached at the 9 a.m. Wednesday, July 27 worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “Try Easy.” The Scripture reading was Matthew 11: 28-30.
Thomas shared his own vulnerability, using his back pain as an example. All week he has had to sit as he preaches.
He went to an orthopedist who gave him the news that drugs, injections and surgery would not help his condition; there was no quick fix.
“She said to me that she was concerned about the effect of the tension, the emotional toll, the worry, fear and catastrophic thinking in my life. I was unconsciously holding the tension,” he said. “Actually, she did not say that — but she did say my body is keeping score, and I need less stress, more rest, change my thinking, be easy. The only way to heal was to ‘try easy.’ ”
Thomas continued, “I got it — ‘try easy.’ So I strained to relax. How can you do ‘easy’ if you are straining to relax? I was adding more stress.”
One night, in the middle of the night, Thomas could not sleep so he picked up his Bible and started to read. He came to Matthew 11:28-30. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are 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.”
Thomas said, “Jesus was saying that his yoke is easy and burden is light. What do you mean, Jesus? I am straining for it, but you are offering it. You are saying ‘try easy.’ Try the state, the place, the street called ‘easy.’ ”
Thomas explored the text. “Jesus said, ‘Come unto me,’ I got comfort just from him saying this. I massaged myself, prayed for myself, anointed myself with oil. I was looking for comfort, to continue to do what I was doing and not deliverance from what I always did.”
Jesus invited “all those who are weary and carry heavy burdens” to come to him for rest. Older translations use the word “labor” to describe the wearisome, unending burdens that laborers feel.
“How many of you have said to God, ‘Today I gave everything’? ” Thomas asked the congregation. “Jesus said, ‘I will give you rest, relax, pause, a breather, have a Sabbath, take a vacation or a staycation.’ ”
Thomas went to a retreat center to get away from all the business in his life. “They gave me an old German nun as my spiritual director. I asked if I could have someone with whom I could talk better but eventually I just spilled everything out. She listened intently and then said, ‘You need a nap. Go upstairs and sleep as long as you like.’ When was the last time someone told you to sleep as long as you like?”
To take the yoke is to study Torah, Thomas said. A student would be yoked to a rabbi and study with the rabbi. “Jesus was saying he would not burden his followers with legalism or ritualism, he would not put a load on them. Jesus was not pompous or arrogant, not legalistic. His followers would find him gentle, humble, and they would find rest for their souls.”
Jesus did not take away the burdens of his followers. “The word ‘easy’ in Greek is ‘chrēstos,’ meaning no strain, no effort. It is a delight to work with the Lord,” Thomas said to the congregation. “Jesus will give you rest for the journey, but he will not take away your burden. You will be able to conclude your journey and carry the burden without strain. You can take a staycation or break and come back to what you are called to carry.”
He asked the congregation, “Why haven’t you taken up Jesus on this offer for rest? Few of us, including me, are ever as devoted to our own care as we should be. We know it in our head but not our heart. We treat our car better than ourselves. We won’t let one speck of dirt get on our car but we will not go in for a colonoscopy, a prostate exam or a yearly physical.”
He compared our culture’s obsession with outward appearances to the “players” in the neighborhood who look good on the outside, but use women and drugs to resolve internal issues.
“People are willing to pay money for concert tickets, new cars, sports events, but ask them to tithe to the church, they look at you like you are crazy. A nice ride is more important than your soul,” Thomas said. “Jesus is giving, but we won’t receive.”
He continued, “We don’t know how to take care of ourselves. We want unconditional love, but do we offer it to ourselves? Have you accepted you, unconditionally? You want a best friend? You can be your own best friend if you have compassion for your own struggle.”
With Jesus, you have the doctor you have been waiting for, Thomas told the congregation. “I give thanks to God who says come, ‘Try easy because I offer easy.’ I give thanks to God who does not make me stay in the pulpit until I die with my boots on, but allows me to take a break. There are many people to help do the work so we can take turns and get a break.”
Thomas said, “If this was my own church, I would have an altar call and invite all of you who want Jesus’ help to come forward and say, ‘I want to receive.’ ” He closed by reading Matthew 11:28-30 and saying, “In Jesus’ name, try easy.”
The Rev. Paul Womack presided. Bruce Johnson, an elder at House of Hope Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, read the Scripture. For the prelude and postlude, Joshua Stafford, who holds the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and is director of sacred music, played “Adagio” and “Allegro” from the Concerto in A minor, by Antonio Vivaldi, transposed by J.S. Bach. Members of the Motet Choir sang “The Tree of Life,” with music by K. Lee Scott and words by Kiràly Imre von Pécselyi, paraphrased by Eric Routley. The Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree Jr. Chaplaincy Fund and the John William Tyrrell Endowment for Religion provide support for this week’s services and chaplain.