I think it has dawn on me with this most recent move that our family owns a small library of books. At the same time, I think most of our boxes were nothing but books, whether they were Abbi’s, Noah’s, or my own. Each box had its own collection within them. Books from various fiction authors. Books about the presidents. Books about books in the Bible. Books about Curious George. Books that, to be honest, I don’t think we have even started reading.
Each of these books were placed into boxes of various sizes. The worst of these boxes were these egg crate boxes that were two boxes merged into one. At first, I thought this was a great concept. I could fit more books into the boxes and reduce the number of boxes we would need. I thought this until I had to pick up a filled box. These egg crate boxes were among the heaviest we had, because they were overloaded with books that made it difficult to carry.
Carrying these boxes around the house for a brief period of time was enough for me. Now, I could not imagine if I had to carry them every day or all the time. The task would just be too exhausting. If we were being honest with ourselves, though, we would admit that we all carry a heavy box every day. This box is a box of burdens and expectations that we believe we have to meet in order to be considered a “good” and “faithful” follower of Jesus.
Much of what we place in our boxes prevents us from experiencing the fullness of a life in Christ. Yet, we believe we have to full the expectations of these burdens to feel good about ourselves. What ends up happening is that we carry these boxes around to the point where the weight of carrying our burdens and expectations exhausts us on our journey of faith in Christ.
None of us have to carry these boxes. In fact, Jesus never asks us to carry these boxes of unbearable expectations in order to be known as a “good and faithful” follower. Jesus wants us to do something different with these boxes. What Jesus asks of us is to lay these burdened-filled boxes at his feet and to take on the life he desires for us and our communities of faith. To be defined by the hope of a grace-filled life instead of the burdens of guilt-filled life.
We see this in Jesus’ words in our passage from Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, especially the second half of the passage. In the first part of the passage, Jesus talks with the gathered crowd after responding to questions from John’s disciples. They asked if Jesus is truly the long-awaited Messiah. John the Baptist was among the first to recognize who Jesus is, but had concerns because he had not seen the expected revolution. Jesus responded by saying for them to look at how the “deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” These were the marks of God’s kingdom being present in Jesus.
After saying this Jesus talks with the crowd about how both he and John have been rejected by those who had different expectations of what it means to follow God. Jesus is specifically focussing on the religious leaders of the time who believed they knew the right way to the Father. Because of this they refused to hear John’s call to repent and accept the Good News of God’s kingdom. They also did not hear Jesus’ desire to live with hope and joy. What they accepted, instead, was their own interpretation and application of Scripture and faith.
It was an interpretation and application of faith where the religious leaders, who Jesus refers to as the “wise and learned,” placed additional and unbearable expectations upon the people. The religious leaders desired for no one to violate the Law or Torah believing perfect obedience to the law would usher in God’s kingdom. This is admirable, but it is how they went about it that was wrong. They placed something like a wall around the law with the intent of keeping people of breaking it. The imposed rules and expectations became as sacred to them as Scripture, and those who violated these commands were met with the harsh reaction of the religious leaders. It produced a system that was defined by unbearable demands and a guilt-ridden faith.
Jesus speaks directly to this guilt-filled way of living. He comes as the true Word of Life who offers the law’s true interpretation. Jesus came not to abandon the law, but to show us what the law means and how we are to live it out through ways not defined by guilt, but instead defined by gentleness, hope, and humility. These marks define how Jesus desires us to interact with the law are the same characteristics that describes Jesus and how he relates with us. Jesus’ interpretation of the law is like himself and is filled with hope, humility, and grace for all people.
What Jesus says is that he has come not to overburden us with unreasonable expectations that no one could fill, but to invite us on a journey of discipleship defined by grace and hope. He looks at the people who are burdened by heavy expectations of what it means to be on this journey, those who carry the heavy boxes of life, and says he will give us rest. This is not a rest where we are not accountable to Jesus’ teaching or desires. It is a rest where we can take on the difficult teachings of Jesus by allowing the Lord’s love, hope, and grace to define our faith and relationship with the Lord, our relationship with ourselves, and each other. Jesus invites us to let go of our our burdened-filled and guilt-ridden boxes that define our lives and to allow the grace-filled presence of Christ to define all aspects of our lives.
Think about what this means for us. All of us have these metaphorical boxes we carry with us. I think there are three boxes we are carrying today and brought with us as we gathered for worship. We each have our own personal burden boxes that are filled with the things we place into them. These could be the expectations we believe Jesus asks of us, the unmet desires of our past, the dreams of our future, or the things we have failed to offer forgiveness to ourselves and others. This box weighs us down and prevents us from living a grace-filled life.
Second, there are the boxes we fill with expectations for our church. This is a box of burdens and expectations we believe both the local and global church should be defined by. What we place in this box are things like what we expect the church to look like, to do, or to be about. We all place things into this box and what ends up happening is that we define our churches and the global church by the expectations we have placed in this box.
Finally, there is the box of expectations we believe others should carry. These are the unrealistic expectations we ask of others in order for us to see value or worth in them. It could be the unwritten rules we expect others to live by. When thinking about our outreach to a growing unchurched population, this box could include the things we expect someone to do before we will allow them to be a part of our communities. When we define our relationships with others by unrealistic expectations what we find is that our relationships are often filled by unmet desires and frustrations.
Instead of our interactions with ourselves, our churches, and others to be defined by these boxes, Jesus invites us to allow our lives to be filled with the things of Christ and the Lord’s grace and not the things of our burdened-filled and guilt-ridden boxes. Jesus invites us to stop filling up these boxes with expectations and desires no one can meet and to lay them at his feet. To let go of the guilt and to take on the grace Jesus offers when taking on the life he desires for us. The life of Christ is difficult enough without us adding guilt and unbearable expectations upon it.
Imagine what it would be like if we let go of our boxes and to take on the life of Jesus defined by grace and hope. To lay down our boxes of measuring ourselves by unrealistic expectations or to limit our lives by the pains of our lives and instead to take on the grace Jesus offers us. To lay down our boxes of measuring the fruitfulness of our churches by our own standards and agendas, but to instead to hear God’s voice speaking to us about what the Lord desires for us in being a witness of hope in our communities and across the world. To lay down our boxes of measuring others by expectations that we would never ask of ourselves and instead to share the same humility and grace with others that Jesus shares with us. Laying down our boxes frees us to live by grace and to experience the fullness of the life Christ desires for us.
There is no better time than today than to let go of our boxes and to take on the humility of Christ offered to us as we seek to follow his ways. In a moment, we will share in a time of communion with one another. It is the meal where we are reminded of the grace Jesus offers to us unconditionally based simply on his love for us. The grace of Christ is always with us and enables us to live this life out and to be the people he desires us to be.
Indeed, there is freedom that comes in letting go of our burdened-filled and guilt-ridden boxes and taking on the loving, hopeful, and grace-filled life of Christ. May we let go of our burdens, expectations, and the things that hold us back from experiencing all that Jesus desires for us, and take on the things of life, love, and grace Jesus desires us to experience each day.