Saturday, July 2, 2011
The Yoke of Christ: a sermon on Proper 9A
I am now quite certain that Fr. Jim is taking his vacation during this month because the readings are fairly lackluster. The reading from Genesis has to do with the marriage of Isaac to Rebekah. I could preach on marriage—but after the vote in NY last week, I don’t think that that would be politic. But I would point out that if you think that today’s values regarding marriage can be found in the lives of the patriarchs, I would suggest you re read this passage. Over the next 4 weeks we are going to hear some of the stories related to this Abrahamic family. If you plan to model your lives after them, I would suggest you get into family counseling now. Because there is nothing more dysfunctional than what we see in the line of that will produce David and then will produce Jesus. These are the stories of the line of Jesse. This is our family history—the kind of stories that are told whenever the family gathers.
I learned the stories of my forbearers—the stories of the great grandfather who fought in the Civil War or the grandfather who was so seasick on the passage over that he did not go on to Australia as he had planned. That is what is portrayed in today’s readings reading from Hebrew Scripture. They are important stories to our family and the stories of the Patriarchs are important to our Faith Families.
The reading from the epistle is Paul agonizing about what is law and what is grace. He knows his own propensity for sin and temptation. But he also knows that before he can even ask, his forgiveness is already accomplished in the love that Christ has for him.
But it is in the Gospel that we hear those words we all want to hear:
“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."
If there were any more ‘comfortable words’ in Scripture, I don’t know them.
Most of us are not aware of what a yoke is. Carrying water is not something we have to do. But when I was working in Mexico when I was in my youth, we would see children carrying 2 buckets of water suspended by a rod that was carried across the shoulders. This is a yoke and one that made it easier to carry than using just one’s arms. Also the word is used for that apparatus that harnesses oxen together so that they can utilize the strength of both animals. This was a common enterprise in the Middle East during Jesus’ day.
It was so common that by the 3rd century before Christ, the yoke was already an analogy for Torah—the teaching of God found in Hebrew Scripture today. Jesus is using that analogy in today’s passage. “Take my yoke upon you.” Jesus was preaching to the people who followed him to embrace the teaching of God. Take the Torah and yoke with it—use the teachings of God to give you strength to face life.
When I was in college, I did not know the joy of the law of love. It was only when I was able to surrender to the love of Christ that I was able to really know what it meant to be loved unconditionally. I had always envisioned the do’s and don’ts that seemed to articulate faith in the 1950’s and 60’s as foolish and bothersome. At that time we had ‘blue laws’ in TX. Our schools and social lives were much constrained by the Baptist lobby. There was no liqueur by the drink in TX. And I didn’t think I wanted to connect myself with ‘church’ or ‘faith’ that would demand adherence to such laws. So I avoided God and church until I no longer had answers how to live my life that made sense. I didn’t want to submit to the ‘yoke’ of the laws.
Jesus invited his followers to ‘learn from him’. He invites US also to learn from him. He invites us not to a ‘heavenly rest’, but a willingness to rest in him—to study our faith—to center our lives on him to live lives that are transformed by that unconditional love that God has for us.
Friday I got a knock on the door and it was a couple of Jehovah Witnesses who had come to the door. Now, I don’t know much about the Witnesses, I have always groaned when they came to the door with their tracks. But this time I invited them in. I was up front with the women who were there that I wasn’t about to become a Jehovah’s Witness but I did respect the denomination because my neighbors were Witnesses and I saw how they lived their lives. They were good neighbors.
What I met was a woman whose life had been transformed by faith. She wanted to talk about what it meant. I love to talk about faith too. We don’t share the same constructs to our faith, but we did share a common experience that faith had changed our lives—that yoke had become easy—the burden was light because we had submitted to the yoke of God and found that our lives had become much easier because of it. She is coming back next Friday and we are going to share Scripture.