Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
July 9, 2017
“Take my lips, Oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen
Jesus said: 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.” How does this lesson fit for us right now? Last week held the 4th of July, when, if we focus on anything beyond the fun of gathering with family and friends, having a barbeque or watching fire-works, it is on our national holiday and the goodness of living as free people in this country. And, certainly, we are blessed to live in this country. We have freedoms many other people don’t. We are free to make choices based primarily on what’s best for us in terms of where we live or work for instance. In our form of government we are free to vote for the person we choose to hold the power inherent in political office. So Jesus’ talk of taking on a yoke and carrying burdens doesn’t quite fit somehow. But perhaps there are things to be learned here. These readings and this holiday combine to challenge us to think about what it means to be free, and by extension what it means to be saved from sin. We are challenged to come to a fuller understanding of power and what it means to surrender ourselves to God. In many ways, we who live in the US, equate our political freedom with power. And to an extent we are right in that. But these is power beyond that which we possess as free people and power beyond that of this or any other government as well. It’s not always easy though to read the scriptures and find reassurance and hope in God’s word to us, God’s presence with us. Perhaps it all seems just a bit to intangible. Paul’s letter to the Romans strikes a chord, Doesn’t it? Remember? Paul said: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.” It’s true of little things, I want to stick to an exercise program and find myself indulging in a novel instead. And it is true in bigger things as well. I want to live into Jesus’ Great Commandment to love God and to love neighbor but the situation seems to complex and I fall short. Has it happened that way for you? The problem as I see it is not that we are horrible people. The problem is that we live in a creation that has faults, there are storms and earthquakes, and disease. And there is sin. God created us with incredible freedom, the freedom to be
co-creators with God, the freedom to work with God to bring God’s Kingdom into our present reality. And yet we are also free to turn away from God and all to often that is just what we do. So, what about our Gospel lesson? After all, we say as Christian people that Jesus came to bring salvation, to save us from sin because that just isn’t something we can do for ourselves. It’s not our work but Jesus’ that saves us from sin and sets us free. To set the scene we are reading in chapter 11 of the Gospel According to Matthew. Chapter 11 and 12 of this Gospel mark a turning point. The first 10 chapters establish Jesus’ authority in both his words and his actions. They show Jesus extending that authority to his disciples as a powerful gift. Today we hear how, after all that has gone on up to this point, (remember both John the Baptist and Jesus have been rejected by the religious authorities,) Jesus praises God. Jesus offers praise because, in spite of it all, there are those who recognize the spiritual reality that all real power and all real freedom comes from God. And so Jesus says: “come to me…take my yoke upon you”. But now for a footnote. In the First Testament “the yoke” stood for servitude under the king or a foreign conqueror. The yoke was not just a means for bearing a burden it was the burden itself.” So, in a sense Jesus is saying: “come to me and take on my burden.” It’s not just any yoke, any burden, we are to pick up. It is the one Jesus carries. He goes on to say that in taking up his yoke, carrying his burden, we will find rest for our souls. What a strange notion. Except Jesus isn’t telling us that all will be easy or go smoothly when we follow him. He is talking of a greater spiritual reality here. If you recall, John the Baptist lived a life of denial and simplicity as he followed God, even while he was afflicted with a demon. Jesus went to his death, full of trust in the power of his relationship with God after experiencing how even religion can be perverted to reflect our sinfulness more than our love for neighbor and God. No, Jesus doesn’t say that following him is easy. In fact there is considerable cost. We can no longer float through life safe in our assumptions. We are called to leave our selves open to a relationship with God that challenges just as often as it comforts. When we open ourselves fully to a relationship with God, and God’s infinite love, we are likely to find ourselves caught up in that holy love just as passionately as the psalmist or as Paul. Comfort, peace, and joy will come to us in unexpected ways, in unanticipated places. And we will be filled with a sense of the blessing and abundance with which God always surrounds us. This world is not perfect, far from it. There are the natural and unavoidable dangers of creation, storms and disease and death. We are, naturally enough, grateful when we are not affected and our lives go on as smoothly as we anticipate. But look at John the Baptist, look at Paul, most importantly look at Jesus. Those things are natural and eventually inescapable .We can never really be free of them. Jesus said: “come to me, learn from me…you will find rest for your souls.” A meditation I read years ago in Forward Day by Day got it just right I think. Let me quote. “Salvation is not an escape from nature or our bodies. Salvation is relationship with God.” That is what Jesus offers, that is Jesus’ yoke, a powerful relationship with God. And in that we will find true freedom. Amen.