July 9th Sermon: Light Burdens, Easy Yokes (Paul Strike)

Text: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

“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.”

 

An easy yoke. A light burden.

These seem like oxymoronic terms, terms that

Contradict each other, right?

What on earth is a “light” burden?

It’s still a burden! End of story.

And I’ll prove my point right now.

We’re going to play a little game of show and tell.

I’m a student at Yale Divinity School,

So my most obvious burden is… (pull out backpack)

A backpack.

Right now, it’s pretty heavy.

I’ll show you what’s inside.

Let’s see… we have a computer—for notes, emails, reports, sermons.

We have books! I sure do need to read for classes.

And, hey, we have a snack! Peanuts, anyone?

What about pencils? Yep. Need to write things down every once in a while.

And… the thing that keeps me on track with

Everything going on in my life:

My planner.

Ok. Well, you can imagine how much this weighs

On my shoulders during the school year.

It’s like an obstinate child getting a piggy-back ride

And never wanting to let go!

Well, all of the stuff is basically out of the backpack.

And, you know, I kinda like all this stuff.

This is a really good book!

I’ve enjoyed my studies and writing my papers—they’ve

Helped me grow as a Christian thinker and pastor.

I even like my planner—especially when I get to check

Something off the list. Maybe you are like that.

Sometimes, these things seem like giant burdens.

But they have also been great joys

And have helped me live out my calling as a Christian.

I see their benefits, and they have lifted me up, helped me grow.

They are, in a way, light burdens,

And the life of a student, stuffed in a backpack, is an “easy yoke.”

 

How can we make sense of the “light burden,” the “light yoke”

Of Jesus in Scripture?

To be honest, the Scripture references

Make Jesus’ words seem way more demanding than student life, at least.

Laughably so.

A yoke, here, is a Jewish term for the task of obeying the Law,

The Torah—the way of life prescribed for Israel by God.

You take on this yoke—this way of life and all of its burdens and joys.

So, what sorts of things does Jesus prescribe for his followers?

Well, Jesus tells them to follow the Law of Israel in Matthew 5:18:
“Until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter,

Not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

Jesus speaks about the greatest commandments of the Law

In Matthew 22:37-40.

He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… and.. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Well, how do these commands to love God and neighbor look in real life?

There are plenty of examples.

“If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (Mt. 5:39),

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (Mt. 5:29),

“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44).

Just to name a few.

These are not easy things to do, Jesus!

What more, Jesus himself says that the road of life with him at the helm is not easy.

In Matthew 7:14, Jesus says, “The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Also, a couple Sundays ago, we heard Jesus say,

“Those who find their life will lose it,

And those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Mt. 10:39)

And yet, Jesus in our passage for today offers rest, light burdens, easy yokes under his care.

At this point, it seems as if Jesus is offering us an empty backpack,

And we are instead given one with lots of pointy, heavy rocks

And are asked to carry a refrigerator at the same time.

What’s the deal, here, Jesus?

 

I think that the reading today points out to us that the degree of the burden here,

The difficulty of the yoke, depends on

Who we take Jesus to be.

Who is Jesus?

This is the initial question that Jesus answers in the Gospel passage today.

In chapter 11, Jesus receives messengers from John the Baptist, who is in prison at the time.

The messengers ask Jesus,

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

They are looking for a Jewish Messiah,

One who has come to save Israel from oppression

And lead them into a new hope-filled future with the Messiah as their head.

This we can sense from the Zechariah reading for today.

Jesus answers this question,

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Jesus is the one they are looking for,

But perhaps not what they were expecting.

He is, after all, an odd figure to figure out for the people around him.

In our passage today, he talks about the disbelief at his and John’s ministries:

“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

We wailed, and you did not mourn.

For John came neither eating nor drinking,

And they say, “He has a demon’; the Son of Man

Came eating and drinking, and they say,

‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’”

These people around him do not seem to get it;

They reject both the joyful ministry of Jesus and the repentant ministry of John.

They scoff at the company Jesus keeps,

And they lump him in as one of these seedy characters.

But, Jesus is not a “glutton and a drunkard.”

He is rather the Messiah, redeeming the lost sheep of Israel.

Jesus is also the Son of the Father, as he claims so often in the gospels.

The Father hands over all things to the Son,

So that Jesus has authority over everything.

Further, this relationship means that the Son knows the Father,

And vice versa.

Jesus, however, can reveal who the Father is to whomever he chooses,

As today’s text says.

As the Son of the Father, Jesus alone has authority over the earth

And has knowledge of the Father,

Revealing God to Israel… and us.

Finally, Jesus is Emmanuel,

“God with us,” as stated in Matthew 1:23.

Jesus, God, is not a God who is far off,

But who is very near,

Who performs miracles of every kind,

And who gives hope.

This is pointed to at the end of Matthew’s Gospel,

Where Jesus, after his glorious resurrection,

Tells his disciples, “Remember, I am with you always,

To the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20)

Jesus is with us, too, to the end of the age.

 

While Jesus has given us a yoke for us that may seem daunting,

We need to recognize who Jesus is: the Messiah, Son of the Father, Emmanuel.

If we have the eyes to see and ears to hear,

To understand who Jesus is and what He has done for us

And continues to do for us,

We are allowed to see this burden as

A joyous task that we undertake to glorify God,

To give God all thanks and praise for our redemption and salvation.

 

Let’s return to the backpack and consider it as the yoke of Jesus.

This (holding book) is loving God and all that that entails.

This (again) is loving the neighbor and all that comes with that.

These are not things to take lightly;

These are central parts of the way of life that Jesus has set for us.

The way does not seem easy.

And, yet, we know that Jesus the Messiah,

Jesus the Son of the Father,

Jesus Emmanuel, God with us,

Is indeed with us in our loving,

And he is most certainly worthy to be praised and honored

Through our commitment to the acts of love to which he calls us.

The easy yoke, the light burden,

Are easy and light only by the grace of Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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