His Yoke IS Easy:  Sermon for July 5, 2020 Based on Matthew 11: 16 – 19, 25-30

We continue on this week with the theme of discipleship, as we read further along in what’s sometimes know as the “Missionary Discourse” from Matthew’s gospel.

Three weeks ago when we first starting looking at discipleship, we defined a disciple as one who follows Jesus’ teachings.  We discovered that discipleship is, in fact, practicing Christianity. Discipleship is how we practise our Christian faith.   Jesus trained his disciples before he sent them out to minister in his name; they had to learn Jesus’ ways before they could implement them.  I shared with you some of the learnings from our recent book study on Marcus Borg’s book “Living The Heart of Christianity”.  Borg wrote that our practises, how we live out our faith in Jesus, are the ways, “the means that we live the Christian life.”[1]  “Practise is about paying attention to God.”[2]  Paying attention to God deepens our relationship with God, just like paying attention to our spouses, our families, our best friends—being together with a loved one deepens our relationship with them.  All this paying attention requires time, and that means disciplining ourselves to intentionally set aside time for those relationships, including spending time with God.  I discovered that that the difference between the two words disciple and discipline was just two letters—an ‘i’ and an ‘n’ — the words are very closely connected in more than one way!

Last week we took this discussion another step further and talked about how the word disciple actually means ‘learner’.  We read a series of Jesus’ teachings last week where he uses hyperbole, exaggeration to make his points—much like we often use in our speech.  Hyperbole emphasizes the main point, giving emphasis to the message we’re trying to get across.  Jesus spoke about choosing our priorities, that love of God in Christ is the first priority for his disciples, saying:  “If you love your father or mother or even your sons and daughters more than me, you are not fit to be my disciples” (Mt 10.37 NLT) Following Jesus may well cause challenges for us; possibly even cause division within a family.   He re-emphasizes the point, saying  If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.” (Mt 10.38 NLT)  Those can be tough words to hear!  This means Jesus comes first!  What do you put first in your life?  Is it to follow Jesus?  To take up your cross I daresay it means to follow Jesus’ example.  To do as Jesus did—to listen for God’s call for our lives and to follow that call, embracing all the challenges.  Some will be more difficult than others and thanks be to God that for most of us that call is not death on a cross; but whatever we, as disciples are called to do in Jesus’ name; Jesus very clearly said, we do not go it alone.  God is with us.

So this week the discourse continues, making some interesting observations on the fickleness of people! It seems even back then people were difficult to please!  Jesus compares his style to that of his cousin, John the Baptist.  Folks criticized John’s asceticism, his stern and strict ways. He was a desert dwelling, locust eating fire and brimstone preacher, in a hair shirt. One could say John’s style was most definitely on the conservative side.  Jesus, on the other hand was undeniably more social, he ate and drank with everyone including those considered sinners! In fact he even turned water into wine for a wedding celebration!  Jesus’ liberal open-minded ways were just as harshly criticized as John’s acetic ways.  Jesus, in effect, calls the critics out on their childish and immature behaviour, comparing it to the silliness, the foolishness of children who, no matter what you try to do for them, are never pleased either! But both men were men of God, each with their own style, their own way; but each with the same message, calling us to repent of our self-serving lifestyles, and to return to God; calling us to become God’s holy people, by following God’s ways and putting that first in our lives.  I suspect the criticism that the people were directing to both John and Jesus was likely in response to the not so popular message they were preaching, and criticising the two preachers personally but a symptom of that dislike.  Here’s is how one commentator I read this week puts it:

God’s ways can be both too little and too much for us. …  Both of these messages are a threat to our hard won                 autonomy.  We long to maintain a happy medium between John’s stifling demands and Jesus’ frightening                 inclusiveness.  So we keep changing our tune, insisting on the moderation (or is it the mediocrity?) that we can                 secure for ourselves, not the extraordinary future that God dreams for us and the world.[3]

Jesus, in response to their childlike behaviour says:  “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”  (v19)  Wisdom is the opposite of foolishness.  True wisdom is confirmed, is proven in the deeds, in the works of those who are truly wise—those wise enough to realize that the message of both John and Jesus are the life changing words of eternal life.

Then our lectionary has us skip a few verses of text, whereby Jesus denounces the people in the towns where he had done so many miracles and the people there just didn’t make the connection between Jesus and the miracles.   They just could not or would not see it — verse 20 “because they hadn’t repented of their sins and turned to God”.  Jesus warned the people of the self-destruction their behaviours bring upon them.

And then Jesus prays what at first look seems a strange prayer:   “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” (v 25).  You know, it almost sounds a bit tongue in cheek to me, a wee bit sarcastic.   The people of the towns that rejected Jesus and his message of repentance to turn their lives around to follow God’s ways, obviously believed themselves not in need of it—they felt they knew better, in their own infinite wisdom.  We all know people who don’t believe in God, and have all kinds of reasons for why they do so; some of them offering up very wise and profound sounding arguments as to why they don’t need God, or why God just doesn’t exist.  It is the second part of the prayer that provides us with the crux of the issue.  These things are revealed to infants.  I had to think that one through. Why infants?  Well, infants are totally and completely dependent upon their parents for their every need.  And a good parent gives their infant everything they need out of loving dedication and care.   And what does the infant do?  They trust that their needs will be met, and accept the gift of love and nurture given them by their parent, and give their complete love back to the parent. The infant has no ego, in fact an infant doesn’t understand it’s separation from the parent until it’s a toddler, and by of course, then it’s no longer an infant!  We are to be as accepting of God’s love and nurture as an infant is in total acceptance and dependence on their parent, in other words, without our own egos getting in the way.  This is so very profound.

Next Jesus reassures his listeners that he is God’s son, and all that God has and is, is entrusted to him.  And he provides that wonderful line of welcoming love:   “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”(vs 28)  Yes while we are to be as trusting of God in Christ as an infant is to their parent, Jesus knows that our lives are full of adult responsibilities!  And they can be burdensome and wearying. As that old hymn says; “Take it to the Lord in prayer.”  A heavy load shared is a burden lightened.

Jesus says; Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (vv. 29-30)

A yoke is a wooden frame that joins two animals together.  Their combined strength makes pulling the load lighter for each of them.  There is another meaning for yoke, which I just discovered this week. “(T)he term was often used in rabbinic literature to refer to the task of obedience to the Torah.”[4]  So to be yoked to Jesus carries a double meaning. I love this image, being yoked to Jesus to share our burdensome and wearying loads and in being paired up with him we learn from him, we grow deeper in knowledge and faith and therefore in discipleship.  It’s a win, win, win scenario!

So, let us try to take Jesus up on his offer.  Let go of our egos, our need for control, and be with God, as an infant with a loving parent.  Because to be yoked with Jesus is not difficult, the weight when pulled together with him, is not nearly so heavy.   To be yoked with Jesus is to be yoked with a great partner, as Jesus is gentle and humble in heart, and we will find rest for our souls.  Amen.

Rev’d JoAnn Todd, Rector

The Regional Ministry of Hope

 

[1] Ibid p.187

[2] Ibid p. 185

[3] Lance Pape in Homiletical Perspective for Matthew 11: 16-19, 25 – 30. Feasting on the Word, Year A Vol. 3 (eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press,2011)  p. 215

[4] Jennifer T. Kallund.  Commentary for Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4502  accessed July 7.20.  For the reference re: yoke, she quotes  Dennis C. Duling, “Matthew” in The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books (eds. Harold W. Attridge, et al.; New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 1687.