Last year at this time, Maggie and I were new to Waco. We were pumped to celebrate the fourth of July in our new city. There was a big spread and an article in the Waco Tribune-Herald about all that was going on in Waco over the holiday weekend. Maggie I pored over it with growing excitement for fireworks. Being new to town, this was the vital information that we needed to make sure that we knew how to get downtown to see the fireworks show. So we opened up the paper to find printed: “Street closings are the same as those for last year’s show.”
Maggie and I were mystified; were we the only people that have moved to Waco over the entire year? Was there some big secret that everybody else knew? Was it some big joke that the Trib was playing on us?
Fortunately, with a little bit of help from our new friends, Maggie and I were initiated into the secret. We got the information we needed, and we got to see the fireworks. And now we know which streets will be closed this year.
I know that many of you have had similar experiences. And sadly, those experiences may have happened at an Episcopal Church. You know, Episcopalians are a funny people. And I mean funny, because we would be great jugglers in a circus. We manage to juggle a Prayer Book, a hymnal, a worship leaflet, and a scripture insert. Then, with our fifth hand we pass along the offertory plate while with our sixth and seventh hands we take communion.
But of course, not everybody who walks into these church doors has learned our ways. So if you see somebody that is just learning to juggle, please, lend them a hand. And if you are just learning to juggle, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Even though it may be awkward to navigate all of these materials in your first worship service at an Episcopal Church, don’t think that there is some big secret. You see, in the Church of God, there is no secret knowledge or hidden code. There is not some vital piece of information, some great secret, that only I get to know as a priest. The Church of God is not a Ponzi scheme, where the higher one works up the ladder, the more and more you get to know and have. That’s not how it works.
Now, there are things that I, as a priest, have to hold in confidence. Things that people tell me or have to get off their chest. But that’s different. Those aren’t secrets; those are conversations held in confidence. Secrets are bits of information that only some people get to know, while others are intentionally left in the dark.
And that’s not how this Church functions. We are a public institution, a public gathering of followers of Jesus. Our initiation is baptism, and that is done in front of the whole church. Our worship is eating and drinking bread and wine, and that is performed publicly. Whatever little I know about God and the Christian life I share openly with you. For heaven’s sake, we have a Bible study in a bar. How public can you get? There are no secret passwords, no hidden meanings, nothing that requires that you were here last year to get the scoop.
The Church is a public institution because our Lord Jesus had a very public ministry. Without shame, before the great crowds following him, Jesus proclaimed: “Come to me, all that you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest!” Jesus’ desire for us to follow him, to lay our burdens, our troubles, at his feet, is no secret. When we talk about Jesus Christ being good news, it is exactly that. It is news that has been published and broadcast across the centuries; the good news has never been kept quiet. It is no secret that God loves us, that Jesus wants us to take up his yoke and to learn from him. For that yoke, that obedience and companionship with Jesus, is easier than thinking we can sort through our issues alone.
So here’s the other piece of information that is no secret. Following Jesus is not for those who have perfect lives. The Church of God is not composed of perfect people; it’s composed of broken people who are bringing their heavy burdens to Jesus.
During my first year of seminary, two of my best college buddies from UT came to visit me. They made that long drive from Austin to Washington, D.C. to see this crazy thing that I was doing with my life. And to tell you the truth, they were a little scared about visiting me at the seminary, because neither one had much experience in the Church. My buddies were afraid that everybody there would be self-righteous, perfect people who had their lives together. My non-church going buddies were afraid they would be judged. And were there in for a surprise.
Even seminarians, those people who had been called to the priesthood, had their baggage. They came from broken families, they had broken bodies, they had broken hearts. Even those seminarians were not perfect people, they were broken people who were bringing their burdens to Jesus. As my friends returned to Texas, they came away from my seminary with a whole different view of the Church. They discovered that the Church of God, people like you and me, are people who have messed up in life, and have had terrible things happen. We are not flawless people who look down on the world. We are broken people, just like everybody else. We follow Jesus not because we have our life together, but because Jesus is the only way that our lives can hold together.
It is no secret – Jesus gives rest to those who come to him.
As followers of Jesus, the first and foremost place that we must lay our burdens is at the altar. This table, and this meal that we share is the hospital for sinners; it is strength for the weak; encouragement for the cowardly. At this meal you can leave whatever burden you are carrying, no matter how heavy, how serious, how debilitating. As Christians, we can get consumed with what Jesus meant when he said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” We can start thinking that it must have been some secret code. But it’s not. Think beyond that. What really matters is that taking communion, having the Eucharist, is good for us. It is medicine for the soul. It is our chance to lay our burdens at the feet of Jesus, and to find rest.
The secret is out. Jesus Christ is present with us, right here and right now. We no longer have to suffer under our own burdens of sin and despair. Jesus invites us, no, commands us to come to him, to come to this table, and take our rest. For his yoke is the bread of heaven, and his burden is the cup of salvation.