A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church, UCC
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public worship of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, North Yarmouth, Maine on March 5, 2017. The primary text was Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30.
In chapter ten of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has given his 12 disciples authority and power to cast out unclean spirits and to cure diseases and sickness. Having given them this authority, he sends them out to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God has come near and as they go they should cure the sick and address the ailments of the day. His teachings continue throughout the tenth chapter and he tells them that whoever welcomes them, welcomes him and the one who sent him.
Matthew tells us that while Jesus was teaching, John the Baptist was in prison and from prison, he heard about what was happening and sent his own disciples to confirm that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the one “who is to come”. AS they left to report back to John, Jesus speaks to the crowds about John and tells them that John is more than a prophet, he is the one who was sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus.
And here we are at today’s reading. Jesus now tells those listening, that they haven’t fully grasped the message – either the one John proclaimed or the one Jesus proclaims. Jesus rebukes them in what I imagine was exasperation saying nothing will make them happy – that they weren’t happy with John who was as straight-laced as they come nor have they listened to the Son of Man who they perceive was a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus then issues a call to discipleship –
“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.”
This is a radical call to discipleship – they don’t dance, they don’t mourn – so, if they are weary of the religion of the day – then come do it his way.
This call is not to a life of ease but to a life of meaningful work for which you will find rest for your souls, it doesn’t say rest for your bodies.
Handel painted this passage as an idyllic pastoral scene of being carried like a lamb in Jesus’ arms.
He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; and He shall gather the lambs
with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are
with young. (Isaiah 40:11)
Come unto Him, all ye that labour, come unto Him that are heavy laden, and
He will give you rest. Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He
is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
What is not included in this well loved music is that, yes, we will find rest for our souls but it does not mean necessarily rest for our bodies. Jesus has asked us yes to share his yoke, to share his work, the work of love and compassion and in doing that we will find rest ourselves. Jesus does not ask us to judge, just the opposite in fact – ‘let you who are without sin cast the first stone’ – no, Jesus calls us to walk with him in love to meet others where they are in life and share their burden and in so doing share God’s love.
Anyone who has been in love, knows that the relationship is not all candlelight and roses – sometimes it is just pure hard work, but work that is well worth it. We work for what is important to us. The life Jesus offers us is not one that will be easy. It will take sacrifices. It may mean financial sacrifices – how can I give more to help the hungry on my budget? Or it may mean doing volunteer work on your day off. It has been my experience that after a full days’ work of doing something like a mission project or working in the soup kitchen or doing any number of other volunteer tasks, we often say ‘I’m exhausted, but it is a good kind of tired.’
When Jesus says, ‘take my yoke upon you’, what does he mean? According to the dictionary, “A yoke is a wooden beam normally used between a pair of oxen or other animals to enable them to pull together on a load when working in pairs”. So if we take Jesus’ yoke upon ourselves what is meant is that we share in Jesus’ work and ministry – it enables us to work together with him. And then in the next breath, Jesus’ says ‘and learn from me’. Share my yoke and learn to help in my work – the work of love set before us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The work of healing the sick, feeding the hungry, visiting the lonely, befriending the friendless, eating with the outcasts, clothing the naked, taking care of the poor – the widows and the orphans, those who are unable to care for themselves.
Jesus is telling us that if we do these things in the name of Jesus, then we share his yoke and our burden will be light. Jesus the human being is no longer alive on this earth. As Christians, we are called to be Christ’s presence in our world. As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to invite others to be yoked with us so that their burden might be lightened.
I know each of you can think of someone who has a burden that needs to be shared. There may be many in our own community who hide the burden they are under.
• The woman who has endured an abusive relationship for too many years
• The adult still traumatized by childhood sexual abuse
• The veteran suffering from PTSD
• The couple with serious financial issues
• The teen trying to understand their sexual identity
• The elderly person suffering abuse
• The mother or father unable to feed their children
• The person afraid to leave their house
• The person with mental illness that goes undiagnosed
• The one who puts forth a brave face and yet cries themselves to sleep each night
• Those suffering from addiction
Living among us are people carrying these burdens and we may be unaware of their suffering. In our mobile, transient society today, we do not always have the opportunity to forge deep relationships with even our next door neighbors. For some of you who have lived here your whole lives, this may not be true but how well do you know the new people among us? And for you new folks, how well do you know the people who have lived here their whole lives? It takes time and effort to really get to know people and their life’s journeys. Are there people in your neighborhood, at work or even here at church who you have been acquainted with for some time and yet you do not really know them well? Consider deepening that relationship. Invite someone over for supper, or a cup of coffee, meet them somewhere for lunch.
The yoke is something that allows sharing of a burden. What one might find too onerous, two can bear more easily. And if we follow Jesus’ mandate, the burden becomes even lighter for Christ shares it with us. Share God’s love, Christ’s yoke, with each other and with those in our community and our world and we will find rest for our souls. Amen.