(This is the sermon I preached for the funeral of a dear member of our church named Helen who was recently called home to heaven.)
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Helen loved Psalm 23. She could recite it from memory. “The Lord is my shepherd…” So I’d like to tell you a story about a sheep. It’s a true story. I saw it on Facebook! There is a sheep named Shrek who lives in the mountains of Scandinavia. For some reason, a number of years ago, Shrek wandered off from his flock and lived by himself for years. Finally, after six years, his shepherd found him again. Can you guess what Shrek looked like? One big ball of wool. You can see Shrek’s picture in your program. I never would have thought of it, but a sheep living on its own for 6 years grows a lot of wool!
So what did the shepherd do? He wasn’t upset. He gently brought Shrek home. Then he sheered him. He cut off all that extra wool. Do you know how much wool that one sheep was carrying around? 60 pounds of wool. Can you imagine that? Walking around every day with sixty pounds of wool hanging on you, holding you down, covering your eyes… What a burden! Do you know how long it took the shepherd to sheer it all off? 28 minutes. Six years of burdens gone in just 28 minutes. Imagine having that weight lifted off your back. I bet Shrek was one happy sheep!
But why are we talking about Shrek the sheep at a funeral? Because that’s how you look today. Don’t get me wrong, you look great! There’s no problem with your hair. You picked out the right clothes. But I know you are carrying a heavy burden on your hearts. I can see it on your faces. It’s not 60 pounds of wool. It’s worse. Death is a weight. A burden. I bet you’ve walked around a little slower this week. I bet you’ve been crying a little more. I bet you’ve smiled a little less. I bet you can feel it. The death of a loved one is a tremendous weight… a burden…
Because death always comes too soon. Even when someone lives to be 93 years old, death still comes too soon. Did you know that we’re not supposed to die? When God created the world, he created people to live—forever. Adam and Eve were never going to die. So what happened? They sinned. And we’ve sinned too. Over and over again. Our human sin has corrupted God’s perfect world. And sin brings death. I bet Helen’s death has actually reminded you of some of your sins. There’s a little voice that accuses you, “Why didn’t you call her more? Why didn’t you have time to stop by? Why didn’t you tell her you loved her more often?” Regrets… How do they feel? Like walking around with sixty pounds of wool all around you. See what I mean? You look like Shrek. Sin and death make us weary and burdened beyond what we can possibly bear.
But do you know what Jesus says? “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Isn’t that beautiful? Those words are written for you. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” When you’re weary and burdened, Jesus says, “Come to me.” Isn’t that great to hear? When we go to people for help, how often don’t they point us in another direction? “Go to the doctor.” “Go see a specialist.” “Go and talk to…” “Go and get counseling.” “Go…” Not Jesus. What does he say? “Come to me!” If you’re looking for rest, Jesus will never turn you away. Jesus will never send you away. There’s rest in Jesus.
Like a shepherd sheering a sheep, Jesus cuts all of our burdens away. Even that biggest, heaviest burden of death. Do you know God’s promises about death? We read some of them earlier in our service. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Whoever believes in Jesus lives in heaven! That’s Jesus’ promise. We heard, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any powers… will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). It sure seems like death separates, but not from God. Death is the day we finally get to see Jesus face to face. Jesus died to forgive our sins. He rose to give us life. There is rest in Jesus.
The last time I talked with Helen, she had some advice for me about rest. She said, “Pastor, before you go to sleep, you should drink a little beer to help you sleep better.” This was a lady who knew about rest! As her pastor, I could tell she found her real rest in Jesus. Helen had a peace about her that comes from knowing who your Shepherd is. A peace that comes from knowing exactly where you’re going. We talked about Jesus. We talked about heaven. We talked about death, but Helen wasn’t afraid. She was a sheep who had been found and loved by Jesus. And what’s Jesus’ promise? “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die…” If Helen’s death is weighing you down, know this: Helen is at rest with Jesus.
But I know Helen wants you to find rest in Jesus too. She’s home in heaven. You’re not out of the woods yet. She’s in the place where there is “no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” But we’re not. There are so many more troubles you’re going to have to face before you get to join her. Burdens are going to pile up. How much baggage are you carrying around? How many past sins and heartaches weigh you down? If I could take a picture of your insides, would it look a little like Shrek the sheep? Your sins grow like hair. Other people’s sins weigh you down even more. The disappointments of life start to crush. It’s a struggle just to make it through each day.
You know who understands? Jesus does. Look at the words he uses for us: “weary” and “burdened.” Aren’t those perfect words to describe life in this world? Weary from work. Weary from long days and short nights. Burdened with guilt for what we’ve done. Burdened with other people’s expectations that we can never live up too. Burdened with anxiety for all the things we need to do. When Jesus describes us people as “weary” and “burdened,” he hits the nail on the head, doesn’t he? What do you do when you’re loaded down? When you look like that sheep?
The devil’s going to tell you to run. He’s going to tell you to get as far away from God as you can. He’s going to tell you that you’re better off on your own. What a lie! Shrek the sheep knows the truth: It’s so much better with your Shepherd. No matter what you’ve done, no matter where you’ve wandered, no matter how long you’ve been gone, Jesus hasn’t forgotten about you. Jesus loves you. Jesus searches for you each and every day. Here’s your Shepherd’s invitation: “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.”
It’s just that one part of that sounds kind of strange. Jesus invites us to take his yoke upon us. Do you know what a yoke is? It’s the bar that binds two oxen together so they can work. That sounds like the last thing we need—a yoke. More work. What? Except, think of the picture Jesus is painting for us. You and Jesus—yoked together. Instead of us bearing our burdens alone, Jesus yokes himself to us. Who do you think is really going to carry the load? Jesus! Jesus forgives our sins. Jesus calms our fears. Jesus is going to take us to heaven. With Jesus by our side, every burden seems so much lighter! Take Jesus up on his offer. Let him carry your burdens.
Sometimes you hear people say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” That’s not true at all. God gives us way more than we can handle! But God never gives us more than he can handle, and he invites us to let him carry our burdens. To find rest in Jesus. Let’s learn a lesson from Shrek. Maybe better—let’s learn a lesson from Helen. Whenever you mourn you mom, remember, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Whenever you’re alone, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Whenever you’re depressed or broken, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Whenever you face your own death, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” There is rest in Jesus. Helen’s found it. Amen!