Summit Presbyterian Church July 6, 2008
Delivered by Jim Eby THE WELL-FITTED YOKE Matthew 11: 25-30
How fortunate we are to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave! Many of our ancestors came to this country from countries where freedom was not their birthright. Where liberty was not their heritage. Where freedom of speech was not protected for everyone, including those with whom we violently disagree. Where yokes of bondage chaffed their lives.
A number of years ago, our 4th of July celebration was a reunion with a friend who came to this country from
"Sarah is breaking up my swing, and I told her to stop. She said she wouldn't, because this is a free country, and nobody can make her do anything she doesn't want to do. This is not a free country."
The young daughter was right, wasn't she? This is not a country where we are free to break up other peoples' swings. This is not a country where we are free to take whatever we want because we are bigger and stronger.
But we do want to be free, don't we? The
It seems to me that we have difficulty accepting the free gifts God would give us. We seem to be so hesitant to accept the role God created us to fulfill in the cosmos. We lack the wisdom of the childlike who know how to receive a gift gratefully. There was a bishop who participated in a confirmation service in a local Episcopal parish. The customary practice was to examine the confirmands before the Service of Confirmation. The pastor told the bishop that one of the students was not very bright and that he would know the answers to only a few of the usual questions. After the examination, the bishop wanted to give a gift to one of the confirmands. So he began to offer it to one and then another of them. Each one of them refused the gift, saying, "I really don't deserve the gift. I could have done better in my answers." Finally the bishop offered the gift to the child who had been described as "simple". That child reached out, took it, and said, "Thank you." That child's response is close to the secret of the
But we're not sure we want a yoke, when we're brutally honest with ourselves. We work to break the yoke of oppression, don't we? We work to break the yoke of poverty and illness and despair. And that's good. We should. That's the task God has given us to do in Jesus who also came to break those yokes. Our problem arises when we fail to understand that we are free to choose the yoke that fits, the one that Jesus has fashioned for us.
There is a legend that Jesus made the best ox-yokes in all Galilee and that the people came to his carpenter shop from all over the country to buy the best yokes that skill could make. The yokes were made of wood; the ox was brought to the carpenter's shop, and the measurements were carefully taken. Then the yoke was roughed out and the ox was brought back to have the yoke carefully adjusted so it would fit well and not bite into the neck. The yoke was tailor-made to fit the individual animal. In those days, as now, shops had signs above the door, and it has been suggested that the sign over the carpenter's shop in Nazareth may have read: "My yokes fit well.”
That is still true today. Jesus says to us, "The life of discipleship to which I invite you is not a burden. Your task, your life, is made to measure to fit you." Whatever God sends for us to do is made to fit our needs and our abilities. God has work for every one of us, which is made to measure for us.
Many people carry unbearable loads because they have picked up loads which were not intended for them. Some of us even pick up the loads, the work, that is meant for tomorrow. In doing that, we cause anxieties to come that swamp us, that overwhelm us with loads that God never intended us to carry today. How tragic it is when we become bogged down in a swamp of worry when God intends for us to live only this day -- not to live the future that has not yet arrived. One writer expressed it this way: "No one ever sank under the burden of the day. It is when tomorrow's burden is added to the burden of today that the weight is more than a person can bear. Never load yourself so. If you find yourself so loaded, at least remember this: It is your own doing, not God's. God begs you to leave the future to God, and mind the present.
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me..."
The deliverance Jesus offers is not deliverance from responsibility or accountability. Jesus knows full well that the issue in life is not if we shall be burdened, but rather which burdens shall we bear.
Life's greatest burden is not in having too much to do, for some of the happiest folks are those who are the busiest. Life's greatest burden is in having nothing worthwhile to do. Energy is a renewable resource. People burn out not because they have too much to do but because they become exhausted by constant engagement with the trivial and the inconsequential.
So, the issue before us cannot be if we shall be burdened, but with what shall we be burdened? Not if we shall be yoked, but to whom?
Jesus does not come to unburden us so we can be free, or liberated, or filled with self-esteem or any of the other infatuations which are themselves burdens. Jesus lifts the burdens off our backs so he can place another, removes the harness we forge for ourselves, so he can place around our necks his own yoke.
Jesus’ idea of a break with the past is not a vacation, a getting away from it all, but giving us something significant to do, namely participation with him in his ministry to the world.
How does your yoke fit? Is there joy in your work and in your play and in your worship? If not, there's every reason to suspect that you need to accept the offer and take the well-fitted yoke that Christ has shaped for you. That will enable you to carry the burden of life and give wings to your soul. Hold out your hands and like that young confirmand whom many called "simple", accept the gift Christ offers, and say, "Thank you."
Come to the table and be fed, and then, yoked together with a yoke that fits, let us be at work in the world as Christ leads us.
Our Father, help us to put off the yokes that chaff and help us accept the well-fitting yoke Christ has for us. Help us to live out the joy and peace that you intend for us as we work at the work you have for us to do. In the name of our risen Lord we ask this. Amen.