Sumter Pastor Clay Smith: Come to me ...


I was on vacation last week at the beach. I am not really a beach person, but I love to walk on the beach, and I love to feel the afternoon sea breeze. We did not watch the news or a read a newspaper. Instead, we played putt-putt golf, saw "Top Gun: Maverick" twice (Does Tom Cruise have a deal with the devil to stay looking so young?) and ate seafood. I took a couple of two-hour naps. It was wonderful.
As we packed up to leave, I said to my wife, "Can we just stay on vacation?" Our bank account is not sized to be on a permanent break. Work waited, and the grass in the yard was almost tall enough to bale for hay. I came back to an extensive list of chores and projects that needed to be knocked out.
I also came back to the news. In the county next to ours, one woman was killed and seven others shot (including several children) while attending a graduation party. The authorities say it was gang-related, a drive-by shooting. I heard excruciating testimony from those present during the Uvalde school shooting. An armed man was stalking a Supreme Court justice. It looks like former President Trump will be forced to testify about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The survivors of sexual abuse perpetrated by Dr. Larry Nassar have filed a $1 billion lawsuit against the FBI. I think I hear the beach calling my name.
Even in my own little world, my ministerial colleagues are hurling invective toward each other about theological issues no one cares about. Twitter has become the dueling ground of the 21st century. I was having breakfast with a friend, and he shared how discouraged he is about our country. "I feel like our country is on the edge of a civil war," he said. "Not like before, North against South, but almost a guerilla warfare that has no end." I told him I had read the writing on Twitter with my own eyes.
Some people's solution to this is to not watch the news, not engage on social media, to hope the world will get better on its own. I don't see that happening. Very few things get better on their own. Still, the emotional overload of the news can pull you down.
I think about the world Jesus inhabited. Sure, the news traveled slower back then, but the threats were larger. Hunger was real. Every family had to measure their grain against the days until the next harvest. Would they have enough?
Taxes were ruinous. It is hard to pin down the exact percentage of income people paid in taxes, but most scholars agree the tax collection rate was regressive, falling heaviest on those who had the least. People paid a poll tax, a temple tax, an overage to the tax collectors, a customs tax and just about any other tax the government could think up. Some scholars estimate the total tax burden was over 50 percent. No deductions allowed.
During Jesus' lifetime, the local government was capricious. Citizens were at the mercy of either a regional king (who was a vassal of Rome) or a Roman governor, who was more interested in keeping Rome happy than keeping peace. Capital punishment was common and swift; no appeals court existed unless you were a Roman citizen. A Jew could be compelled to carry a Roman soldier's backpack up to a mile out of town. If he refused, he could be jailed or killed on the spot.
Banditry was common; travel was hazardous. You might remember Jesus' story about the Good Samaritan. The story connected to the audience because it was based in truth; everyone knew the dangers of traveling alone.
There were also bands of guerillas, with quixotic notions of overthrowing Rome. They operated in the shadows, using tools of sabotage and intimidation to pursue their goals. They were always looking for fellow insurrectionists but feared infiltration. Oddly, Jesus invited one of these, Simon the Zealot, into his circle of 12.
In the midst of all this chaos, Jesus dared to proclaim, "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The invitation of Jesus to everyone who finds themselves living in chaos is still the same. Come to him. No matter what is going on in the world, no matter how bad the news is, the same Savior who offered rest to troubled souls in his time offers rest to you.
What does the rest of Jesus look like? It is a trust that Jesus is aware of the troubles of this world. He knows the burdens we carry. He gently reminds us that those troubles and burdens actually belong to him. If we trust him, if we surrender to him, we will not receive a trouble-free life, but we will have a deep abiding peace that God is at work. He may not be in the headlines, but God is at work. He will bring justice. He will bring peace. He will use us and other unlikely people as instruments of his will.
Somehow, putting my troubles and burden at Jesus' feet makes me feel a peace that not even a week at the beach can bring.
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at