Sermon 2017 July 9th




Listen here:

“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.” Matthew 11:28-30


In the midst of a crowded Underground this week, I heard my name shouted out. It was a former Army colleague. Until some years ago, there used to be a course run at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst called Rowallan Company. It was something of a byword for blood, sweat and tears. It was an extended selection course for candidates who had not received a pass onto the yearlong officer training course – but had shown potential, that needed to be tested! Rowallan Company offered several weeks of considerable physical and mental testing. Those who came through experienced a camaraderie and sense of achievementthat few other experiences could match.

One event on the training area involved a run, carrying old ammunition tins, filled with sand – nothing very subtle. Two tins for each candidate. The tins were painted a gaudy yellow – as my colleague reminded me – referred to as the yellow handbags. Before the route of the run was explained, each candidate was handed two “handbags” then asked a question by the Company Commander: “Does anyone want to swap your “handbag” for my “handbag.?” 

“What do you think – heavier or lighter? Care to gamble?


In reality, all the tins weighed exactly the same – the exercise was really about seeing which candidates had the spark to make a decision or be bold in the unfamiliar circumstances. After that, it would be the off. And a hard-breathing couple of circuits of sand dunes run together. It was the former Company Commander who hailed me in Westminster tube this week. With a smile, I told him that this week’s gospel is: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”


Yellow handbags may not be our burden, but you may well know weariness or burdens of other kind. It may be pressures of work, or anxiety about the future of loved ones, Or the confusions and malevolencies of the contemporary world – or something quite different.


I received a message from one of my brothers this week. His dog had died.“Never felt such intense grief. For two days couldn’t put a sentence together.” But being my brother he finished: “Wonder if I could feel that for my brothers? Probably not.”


The lady in a London hospice nearing the end of a long hard road, admitting: “I just want to sleep away.” Or a grieving parent voicing: “It doesn’t get any easier.” Burdens are many and various, seen and unseen.


“Come to me, all you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


It is a wonderful invitation, a comforting promise: But consider a momenthow this lovely verse fits into its surrounding landscape. Why did Jesus offer these words at that moment? Who was he speaking to? Who lifted their faces to its blessing and who turned away scowling?


Jesus had just finished preaching to the Galilean lakeside towns and it had gone badly. Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum – each compared unfavourably to the foreign places of Tyre and Sidon, where, though they were not his own folk, people had been open to him. Locally, the response had been like children in the village market place. When asked to dance, they wouldn’t join the fun. When asked to mourn, they wouldn’t share the sorrow. Whatever he did, they rejected him; just as they had rejected John the Baptist..


That is the point at which Jesus says: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,  because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent  and have revealed them to infants…”


Infants – not necessarily the very young, but the little people. It is an address to the ones who are open to him, the wounded hearted and the seekers, the not too proud, those who know they have reached their limits; the burden carriers.


The day of the tube encounter with yellow-handbags-man, I was actually on the way to the West London mosque in Regent’s Park, invited to attend  a meeting of the Borough’s – Prevent Advisory Group (the national Government initiative to counter extremism.) Those gathered were primarily mosque and community leaders. The Grenfell Tower fire and its aftermath was the primary area of discussion.


The leader of the Al-Manaar mosque described how his community had thrown open its doors – so similarly, to the parish of St Clement’s and St James. He spoke of the long term trauma anticipated – and also the amazing solidarity, the coming of help and volunteers from many places. The role of community – that so seldom appears on accountants’ balance sheets. “Not everything that counts can be counted.”


But those round the table also spoke of death threats received by several mosques the day before. Sobering to sit with religious leaders under threat – reminder that when we talk of extremism – there are manifestations of it in many forms – we cannot/must not equate extremism with the word Islamic, if we wish to describe accurately our own country.


There was anger too at the sense of many in that community round the Grenfell Tower – of not being listened to for so long. Talk of the lack of diversity in leadership and representation. That is a challenge to us at St Columba’s – predominantly white, many in the professions – collectively dealt so many of life’s trump cards; given so many possibilities.


“Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden…” To those who are weary or weighed down, to the poor and overlooked and silenced, Jesus promises rest and kindness, encouragement and love; he who is humble and gentle. To the communities of this city that feel overlooked; to the places of our one world burdened by war or poverty; to the homes and hospitals of our friends and families where struggles are equally real – but of a different kind; let us hear and let us make real the words:


As the Anglican Book of Common Prayer puts it sonorously: “Hear what comfortable words our saviour Christ saith unto all that truly turn to him:

“Come unto me all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”