July 5, 2020, Trusting The Spirit: The Yoke, Pastor David Tatgenhorst
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 “But 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, Abba God, 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, Abba God, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Abba God; and no one knows the Son except Abba God, and no one knows Abba God 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.”
We take a moment to meditate now on the burdens of our lives, the tasks our country faces, hearing this scripture as a comfort and a promise that those burdens, those tasks are surmountable with God’s help.
July 5, 2020 Trusting the Spirit: The Yoke St. Luke
Didn’t you love those Independence Day parades when you were a kid - where the local school band would do their level best to play patriotic songs, and floats would go by honoring local officials and heroes? My youngest brother used decorate his bicycle with crepe paper. He had put a new frame on the bike so that he sat way up in the air on it. He looked pretty cool. Then there would be a picnic with watermelon and chocolate chip cookies, and barbecue.
Actually the parades at my parents’ summer place, where I spent some of those celebrations were so small they often didn’t even have a float. My brother’s bike was one of the prime attractions. When I think about what I love about the 4th of July, I think about the effort that goes into those small community celebrations in thousands of towns all across this amazing country. It’s something to think about.
I am confident that most of us have some wonderful memories of these important rituals in our country. I have fond memories of where I grew up. I love Philadelphia and West Philadelphia. I have hope for my beloved homeland, my country still trying to live up to the visionary ideas on which it was founded. And I am working hard to make these places that I love be places of promise for all those who call them home.
At the close of the of the constitutional convention, Ben Franklin was asked "What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" His famous reply "A republic, if you can keep it," a reply that underscores the ongoing vigilance required to keep a democracy secure and democratic. (What the founders had created was hardly a full democracy, with the exclusion of women and enslaved people. Franklin did eventually become an abolitionist, though.)
What I’m saying is almost a truism, something all of us know on some level - that caring about our country requires something of us, caring for anything requires something of us. We work to make what we love healthy and growing and true to their promise. When I used to hear folks yell, “love it or leave it” to those of us who opposed the Vietnam War, it really didn’t make sense to me. I felt like I was loving my country by trying to make it better.
The more I learn, the more work I see we have to do. There’s still some basic work to do, but it’s exciting to face that work and join with determined people of faith in the conviction that we want to do it, and we want to do it together because of our love for each other and our love for our country and its ideals.
In our assigned passage for this morning, Jesus sounds like he was kind of discouraged with the people he was counting on to do the work of growth and change. Let me tell you again what he says, this time from the Message translation, “How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, ‘We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy.’ John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riffraff. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
But then all of a sudden he breaks into prayer, and reminds himself and his followers of how close the Spirit is, like a Father and Son, they are, and Jesus promises that anyone can feel that closeness, and have that relationship revealed to them. And in the most famous part of this passage, he says, (and here we’re back to NRSV): “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.”
Oh, how we need this message right now don’t we? Because this virus is making us weary for sure! And so many of us are carrying heavy burdens - worried, scared, … tired, wishing everything was easier. Just as Jesus has us feeling reassured and like we’re going to get a break, he says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” Well, a yoke does not sound like rest to me. Taking on a yoke doesn’t sound like a rest.
This is really important though - we do have work to do, and Jesus is inviting us to it in a beautiful way. So is the Declaration of Independence, inviting us to help in the creation of a more perfect union, where all people are recognized as created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights. Here’s the point: If we are going to do the work of making our community and our country what we want them to be, we have to take care of ourselves. The Message translation has another beautiful phrase in this passage, giving Jesus these words at this point in the passage. “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
That is just beautiful. Because when Jesus invites us to the work, when Jesus invites us to take on the yoke, notice what that looks like. I hadn’t thought about it much before, but look at the yoke? Have you ever seen a yoke that only had room for one? A yoke always has room for two. And who is with us in the yoke?
It is who is with us that makes the burden light, not how hard a plow it is. It is who is with us that makes it possible for us to take on the task and still get the rest we need. This image is what gave me the idea for my sermon series for this summer: “Trusting the Spirit.” In my preaching and in our Bible study for the next couple of months, we are going to look at the powerful, iconic stories in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.
They are all about trusting the Spirit, knowing the Spirit is with us in the yoke, in the hard times of our lives, feeling the Spirit guide us as we make our world, our country, our communities the place we want them to be, as we fulfill God’s calling to work toward a more perfect union, creating an equitable and safe future for all our children, knowing it will be really hard work - made easy by who is with us in the yoke.
This is God’s good news.
We bring this good news with us as we come to the table of God’s love. This meal is a symbol of the presence of the Spirit with us during this difficult time. I don’t know if you are able from a distance, in your own homes to feel the power of the ritual of communion, to allow it to claim your heart, and feel the Spirit with you, giving you rest even as you take up the yoke.
We must keep eating and drinking the Mystery, until one day it dawns on us, in an undefended moment, “My God, I really am what I eat! I also am the Body of Christ.” Then we can trust and allow what has been true since the first moment of our existence. We have dignity and power flowing through us in our bare and naked existence—and everybody else does too, even though most do not know it. A body awareness of this sort is enough to steer and empower our entire faith life, while merely assenting to or saying the words will never give us the jolt we need to absorb the divine desire for us.