July 5, 2020 Fifth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30.
Jesus spoke to the crowd saying:] 16 “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
25 At that time Jesus said, “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; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Over the last several weeks, Jesus has been giving his disciples their final instructions, prior to sending them out to proclaim the Gospel message; the Good News of the coming kingdom of God. He has pointed out all that the apostles will be confronted with as they spread Jesus’ message of love, forgiveness, and salvation.
The world they encounter will be judgmental, disapproving, and unwelcoming. They will be persecuted and driven out of the towns they visit because they come in his name. It’s a good bet that before long they will find themselves feeling weary. And this morning Jesus resumes teaching and preaching on his own, in the cities surrounding Galilee. And he must be feeling a bit weary by this time, too. He reminds the people that John the Baptist lived the austere life of the ascetic, easting locusts and honey; no fancy dining, and certainly no drinking of the wine that was ever-present in Jesus’ time. Yet the people disapproved of John’s lifestyle, going so far as to label him a demon. Now Jesus lived in a way that more closely mirrored that of his contemporaries; he sat at table with “undesirables” and was known to partake of the occasional cup of the fruit of the vine. And for living the exact opposite lifestyle to John, his detractors found fault with his behavior also.
He admonishes the people, telling them they are acting like children who can’t decide which game they want to play; tag or Hide-and-Seek. Since they can’t decide which, they wind up sitting around doing nothing. And doing nothing wouldn’t be acceptable. This was the time for God’s people to come together in unity, to overcome the darkness threatening their world. Jesus by now must be growing weary of the bickering, division, and indecisiveness of the Judeans he is attempting to bring to God’s kingdom. It seemed that the perfect storm of Roman occupiers, self-righteous Pharisees, and an arrogant leadership was enough to make the people feel defeated, burdened, and yes, weary.
Jesus struggles to find a historical comparison to the behavior of what he calls ‘this generation’, his current time. And he grows weary of their behavior. And he was referring only to the troubles in the rather small area that comprised ancient Palestine. Now ‘this generation’, our current time, is in the midst of turmoil that make ancient Israel look like a Sunday afternoon picnic. Right now, 30 of the world’s countries are engaged in some sort of open armed conflict, with 274 different groups involved in the fighting. If guerilla wars, terrorist incidents, and territorial incursions are included, the total rises to 69 countries, with 840 warring groups taking part. And there are nearly 80 million displaced persons in ‘this generation’, due to war, flight from famine, or forced expulsion.
This world, “this generation” is growing ever more weary. In the years that comprised the 20th century, upwards of 100 million people lost their lives in wars. And in the last four months, two-and-a-half million Americans have been diagnosed with a never-before-seen virus, with nearly 130,000 lives lost. I am growing weary. Globally, the numbers total 11 million infected and 530,000 dead. I grow even more weary. Since March we have all been dealing with the virus, masks, forced quarantines, social unrest, and political divisiveness. Jesus said, “to what will I compare this generation?”. He was speaking of his time, but what would he say about this current generation?
This is the first time we have gathered together in four months, due to the restrictions in effect; show of hands, who else is weary? Who is carrying a heavy burden? Who needs a rest from the troubles of “this generation”?
Well, this is the invitation Jesus gave to the folks in Galilee 2,000 years ago. He also offers it to us, to “this generation”; “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.” Jesus makes this offer to ease our weariness by sharing our burdens with us, not by completely removing the things that make us weary. The yoke to which Jesus refers was usually made of wood and leather, and was used to link two draft animals together at the shoulder. This way the pair would both be engaged in pulling the plow or wagon to which they were attached. Their lives would still be hard; they were still tasked with pulling heavy loads. But if one grew tired, the other one would shoulder more of the weight and pull harder, giving the tired one a period of rest. And this would also work in reverse; whenever one of the pair was weary the other would pick up the slack.
Now, this pairing by the yoke allowed the weary one some respite while its partner worked harder, to make up for the tired one. Yet, both continued walking forward, for the yoke kept them bound to one another. The tired ox still moved forward, still engaged in the work it was bound to. But the yoking made it possible to share the burden and gain rest from its weariness for a time.
We are invited to take Jesus’ yoke upon us, to link ourselves to the One who is gentle and humble, who will provide the rest we need to ease our weariness. But like the pair of oxen the yoke that Jesus shares with us, though light, is still a shared one. In our weariness we will find rest, but the things that wear us down may yet remain. Jesus doesn’t promise to remove the troubles of this life from us, but he does offer to walk with us as we confront them. We are invited to share our burdens and our weariness with Jesus, and we are reassured that he hears us. After all, we are linked with him through the presence of the Holy Spirit sent to be our Advocate, our Comforter. And this truth can be no more evident that it is here in this place. After all, we have named our church Emanuel; we proclaim, “God is with us”!
The invitation to share in the yoke of Christ to ease our burdens, comes with it, responsibility. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me”. This part of the invitation to be yoked is often overlooked. It serves, yet again as an invitation to discipleship. Jesus wants us to come to him with our burdens and our weary, worn-out souls. But at the same time, he wants us to know that there are things he wants us to teach us. “Take my yoke..and learn from me”. Learn all that he has taught; understand what his mission, his ministry, his entire earthly life was all about.
We are to slip his yoke over our shoulders, walk with him, sharing all that makes us weary and he will take our burdens upon his divine shoulders. And at the same time, during this linked walk, we are to try our best to live our lives as he lived his. “Learn from me”, Jesus tells us. And even as we make the attempt to live as Christ commands us, we will stumble. We will grow weary. And it’s a good thing that we remain yoked to Christ, for again he will ‘take up the slack’ for us in our weariness; and in our weakness and sin. In Paul’s letter to the Romans this morning we find his example of the difficulty of learning from Jesus; and the joy to be had in knowing that Christ’s yoke serves as the tie that binds us.
Allow me to paraphrase Paul, “I do those things that I know I shouldn’t do and I don’t do the things I should do”. “I know I’m wrong but I can’t help myself, I’m such a lowly sinner”. It sounds like Paul was feeling pretty weary, too.
But at the end, Paul recognizes and is thankful for the main lesson he has learned from Jesus, that Christ’s yoke has saved Paul from his sin. No matter how weary Paul grows, he is ever thankful that he is yoked to Jesus. He knows Jesus will share his burdens, and give him rest to enable him to continue in spite of his weariness.
And just as Paul pressed on to the spread the Gospel message, in spite of the weariness he felt, we are tasked to continue as disciples of this same Jesus who invites us into burden-sharing with him. The virus isn’t yet eradicated, our cities are beset with continuing unrest, and on this day as we celebrate the birth of our country, we seem to be ever more divided. As we move forward, we don’t yet know what the “new normal” will look like. How long will we need to wear masks in church? When will we again be able to lift our voices in songs of worship and praise? Will the Sharing of the Peace return to handshakes and hugs? When will our burdens be eased? Will we ever cease to be weary?
“Learn from me”, Jesus tells us. And this is what we must do. Learn as Paul did, that our yoking with Christ provides us with easing of our burdens and the rest from our weariness. When we weaken in our resolve, when our optimism fades, when we are tempted to do what we shouldn’t, when we don’t do what we should. It precisely at these times that we need to call on Jesus to share our burdens and to renew our will to live as he did. We might still feel weary, but we’re not going it alone. Our sisters and brothers in Christ may be separated from us by six feet, and we aren’t able to see their smiling faces from behind their mask. But our yoke with Jesus extends to our siblings as well. Those who are yoked with Christ are linked to each other in the same way. “Learn from me”, Jesus admonishes us. Learn that we are meant to share one another’s burdens as Jesus shares ours. Learn that we are called to be strong when another among us falters in their weariness.
Jesus knows we can’t live fully abundant lives, filled with grace, unless we acknowledge that we must be yoked with Jesus in order to attain this blessing. And if we expand our yoking, our linking to those we walk this life alongside, and we share their burdens and ease their weariness, it may be said that we have “learned” from Jesus.
We will emerge from this rather dark time and we will do so with the gentle and humble Jesus sharing our burdens and easing our weariness. But we will come through things in much better shape if we are willing to put our “learning” from Jesus into practice. Let us assure one another that we are here for them as Jesus is for us; for our yoke is easy, and our burden is light. And we are willing to share these with all God’s children.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, help us to trust that “this generation” will rise from the darkness we find ourselves in, to emerge into the dawn of the abundant life you desire for your people. Yoke us to Jesus and to one another, that we might share in the easing and lightening of the burdens and weariness we face on the way to the light of a “new generation”. One that “learns” the ways of Christ.
And we pray these things the name of Jesus Christ, to whom we are yoked, and who shares our burdens and gives us rest from our weariness. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.