By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
3 Pentecost – July 3, 2011
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Jesus challenges us, this Independence Day weekend, to wonder about how free we are. Despite the national freedoms that we celebrate, he reminds us that we are often bound by commitments and dysfunctions that keep us from responding to him, to Jesus. Do we have the freedom and daring to reach for the good yoke that he holds out to us?
I remember being told once that “Teen-agers are like small children in a candy store; they don’t know what they want, but they know what they like.” And that’s not a rap on teen-agers, because I have discovered that adults are exactly the same. Think about it. We pick our way through life, in restaurants, in furniture stores, on car lots, and even among churches, not sure what we’re looking for, but certain that we will know it when we see it.
So it should not surprise us that, in today’s gospel, Jesus compares his fickle, fussy first-century hearers to spoiled little children who are never quite satisfied with what they have. “With what shall I compare this generation?” Jesus asks, rhetorically. “You are like spoiled children who are never happy with what is set before you. When I am serious, you say I don’t dance. When I am joyful, you say I am not serious. John the Baptist would not eat and drink with you and you called him ‘demon-possessed.’ I freely eat and drink with sinners, but you call me a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of tax collectors.”
The people of Israel didn’t know what they wanted, but they knew what they liked; and they didn’t like John very much, and they didn’t like Jesus at all. It’s because John and Jesus called the people to a life of discipleship. Jesus called them, not to follow a list of 612 picky rules about how to dress, and what to eat, and how to wash their hands, and when to pray. Rather, Jesus called them to a life of loving God and serving people. And when he said “The journey won’t be easy, and the lifestyle won’t always be comfortable,” people distanced themselves from Jesus – they preferred their rules to God’s roadmap.
And, if you listened closely to the reading of the Gospel, I wonder if you raised your eyebrows at this statement of Jesus’? “I praise you Father, that you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to children.” Isn’t that curious? What things? And if something is so important, why would God hide it from anyone?
Do you remember the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes? The Emperor was led to believe that he was wearing these beautiful new garments, when in reality he was naked. And the people went along with it. It was the children who saw what was right in front of them – a naked Emperor.
Remember that the Jews were looking for something or someone who would fulfill their need for a Messiah. They thought it would be a mighty king, or a powerful warrior, or a deeply religious person who observed every law in the rabbinical code. In truth, they were too pompous, and too proud to recognize that the Savior was right in their midst. He was essentially hidden from self-righteous eyes. He was too common, too simple, and certainly not religious enough to be THEIR messiah.
Paul Tillich was one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, the “father of existential theology”. And yet, when he was asked to define what a Christian is, he said “Oh, that’s easy; a Christian is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.”
Today, let’s see ourselves as beggars. With empty hands, we come forward to this altar and confess to God that we’re not righteous and proud, we are sinful and messed up. And the gift we are handed here is proof that God hears the simple prayers of the sinful, and he gives us a second chance. It’s not a secret anymore; it’s the truth. Jesus provides rest for our weary souls, eases our burdens when we ask to share his yoke. And what is a yoke?
A yoke is a bar of wood constructed to join two animals. This enables them to work in the fields, drawing loads, pulling instruments used for farming. The bible references the yoke many times using is symbolically in God’s efforts to free us from the many trials that beset us. A literal yoke is used as a guide for the animals; allowing the farmer to direct them with a tug. The yoke also divides the weight of the work – making the burden easier for both. When we yoke ourselves to the Lord, we allow the Lord to guide our lives and when we lay our burdens upon him, they become lighter. Many times a farmer will yoke a stronger, more experienced animal with a younger one to train it. The older animal will shoulder most of the load until the younger one learns. A yoke can be a very positive thing.
Little Alex was out helping his Dad with the yard work. Dad asked Alex to pick up rocks in a certain area of the yard. Dad looked up from his own labors once, and saw Alex struggling to pull up a huge rock buried in the dirt. The boy kept struggling, and Dad kept watching. Finally, Alex gave up. “I can’t do it!” he whined. Dad asked, “Did you use all of your strength?” Alex looked hurt, and replied, “Yes, Dad, I used every ounce of my strength.” Dad smiled, and said, “No you didn’t. You didn’t ask me to help.” And, together, Dad and Alex easily pulled that big rock out of the dirt.
When Jesus offers us a yoke, he’s offering us his strength. Unlike all those other things to which we might be yoked, Jesus doesn’t expect us to get through with our strength alone! Remember: a yoke, at least in Jesus’ day, was made for two—for you and the Lord. With Jesus walking beside us, our strength will be just phenomenal. That’s when the burden will be “easy” and “light”. Jesus, after all, is strong enough to conquer sin and death—so, certainly, he is strong enough to ease our burdens—those burdens that seem impossible to bear.
Jesus offers us a yoke that fits. Amen.
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