Gospel: Matthew 11:25-30 (Pentecost 6: Series A)

Reading Time: 4 mins

We cannot use Jesus to defeat our problems, but as Jesus embraces us, we discover (almost incidentally) we have been relieved of our burdens.

I send a lot of GIFs... to my wife, to my coworkers, and to my friends. I am always up for new material, but not hesitant about resending some of my favorites. One of my most sent GIFs features the actor Michael Cera, as George Michael Bluth, from the show Arrested Development. If you search “collapse GIF” it will likely be one of the top results.[1] A young man enters a room, lays down his backpack, and collapses face-first onto the floor. He tucks his arms in along his sides and appears to be resigned to the fact that this is now his state. He is tired. He is resigned. He cannot go on. It is all just too much. He is done.

And the GIF loops, over and over again. He just keeps setting down the backpack. He just keeps collapsing. He just keeps laying down. He just keeps giving up. It is an unending looping of, “I cannot go on.” Perhaps you can see why I send this GIF as often as I do. Perhaps you can relate. My guess is the people in your pews can relate. The standard answer used to be “good” or “fine,” but when I ask people how they are doing these days, one of the most frequent responses I get is, “Busy.”

I do not live in an especially agricultural or industrial area. The young people in my congregation are not laying pavers or moving yards of dirt in a landscaping business. But you do not have to do manual labor to feel tired. You do not have to lift heavy things to end up heavy laden.

We are laden with guilt. We are laden with shame. We are laden with pressure to achieve and earn. We are laden with the burden to perform and produce. We are laden by our desire to look a certain way, be accepted by a certain group, rise to a certain status, acquire more stuff, and hold it all together long enough to convince ourselves and everyone else that we have actually got it all together.

Contrast this with the painting “Come Unto Me,” by J. Kirk Richards.[2] You might consider printing, projecting, or painting a picture with your own words so your congregation can see the image. What follows are some reflections on this painting as I suggest some ways you can guide your people to reflect on the promises of Jesus in Matthew 11 through this painting.

Consider the physical painting itself. This piece was created for the 2021 Business Card Art Show. As the name of the event suggests, it is tiny! It is 3 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide. It is the size of a business card. You could tuck it in your wallet or the book you are reading. It is not an imposing wall-sized 30x25 foot mural. It is a humble business card. Jesus says, “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” To carry this promise with you and to receive the promises Jesus offers you is no burden whatsoever.

To carry this promise with you and to receive the promises Jesus offers you is no burden whatsoever.

Besides the size, consider the texture. The painting is oil on panel. You can see the brush strokes. There is a topographical physicality to it. Even though the scene is free of clutter, it still seems to celebrate the physical. Many of our homes are burdened by clutter, which we often pay people to hide away for us when we put our homes on the market. The process of staging our homes removes all the stuff we have been accumulating, because a less cluttered home creates a sense of peace and freedom. If you can convince a prospective buyer that your home is a place of peace and freedom, it will be worth more. How ironic it is that once we are in our new place, we re-burden ourselves with all the clutter we had to hide away to create a sense of peace. Our painting shows us a peaceful, uncluttered scene, while still celebrating the goodness of the physical.

The background colors reinforce the invitation to rest and peace. The yellow is bright and hopeful. The bottom of the painting invites you into the joy, and then the joy keeps extending backwards. There are no looming clouds in the distance. The sky is clear and hopeful. Even the halo around Jesus seems to suggest a rising sun and the dawn of a new day. Jesus’ invitation offers the same.

Look at Jesus’ hands. What do they suggest to you? Perhaps they suggest the words of Jesus to Thomas after Easter. Maybe they are offered as evidence that Jesus is alive, that He has kept all His promises, that He is able to keep all His promises. And, like Thomas, we can respond with the acclamation of faith which allows us to lay down our burdens and set our very selves before the mercy of this man: “My Lord, and my God.”

Or maybe Jesus’ hands invite us to consider the father in Luke 15. He sees his beloved wayward child off in the distance (because he has been watching). But rather than look at his watch or wag a judging finger, he invites an embrace. Some of our burdens have been imposed upon us from the fallen world around us, but many of them are our own doing. We have chosen to carry things God never intended for us to carry, and it can be so hard to lay them down. In fact, we often do not have the capacity to lay them down. But consider Jesus’ hands. He is not pointing at our baggage. He is not pointing at the ground where we should drop them (as if the baggage is the point). He is offering an embrace.

The Law says, “You should not have picked that up. Now put that down. Put it there. Here is what you need to do with it.” The Gospel says, “Come unto Me.” And as we flee (or collapse) into the loving embrace of Jesus, we find our burdens have been left behind. Receiving Christ is the main thing, not the setting aside of our burdens. We cannot use Jesus to defeat our problems, but as Jesus embraces us, we discover (almost incidentally) we have been relieved of our burdens. And sometimes the burdens remain, but we bear them under the cross and in the power of the embrace of Jesus, whose grace is sufficient even and especially in our weakness.

Lastly, consider the face. Maybe it is just because of the physical limitations of the scale of the composition, but I love how it is a bit vague, or shadowy, and out of focus. You cannot quite make out the features. It is almost like you need to lean in, step closer, and draw even nearer. In fact, this is the offer here in Matthew 11. It is not just an encouragement to engage in conversion. It is an invitation for all whom God calls to Himself through Jesus to draw ever nearer and to find rest and peace in Jesus.

Come unto me


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Matthew 11:25-30.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 11:25-30.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 11:25-30

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Jeffrey Pulse of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 11:25-30.


[1] This GIF can be found at: https://tenor.com/view/tired-floor-collapse-sleepy-at-home-gif-5455822

[2] This image can be found at either: https://assets.artworkarchive.com/image/upload/t_jpg_large/v1/user_56998/2010comeuntome_fukdm0 or https://www.artworkarchive.com/profile/j-kirk-richards/artwork/come-unto-me-j-kirk-richards)