"Take my yoke upon you..."

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style='margin:0cm;margin-bottom:.0001pt'>Let us pray, May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight – Our Lord and our redeemer – Amen 

Today, in our bible lessons we are given three distinct readings and each carry a weight, worthy of greater exploration

The first reading from Genesis tells the account of a trusted servant of Abraham’s household which has been sent to find a suitable wife for Isaac. And he discovers Rebekah.

Then in Romans we have St. Paul wrestling with the gulf we experience between our will and our choice of action

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. (Romans 7:19)

We are given a merciful window into ‘a giant of the faith’ St. Paul, and the revealing struggle of all humanity

The battle of the conscience - between the good we know and the bad that is often our habits

And lastly we have our gospel passage where Jesus expresses very different moods.

He finds the response of people to His way of life frustrating, yet He can not but open Himself to their needs and concludes with one of the most famous messages of God’s grace

Well, we as a church, have been in a bit of upheaval – with the departure of Jeremy as our youth minister - and we are entering a time of transition

So I think that wrestling with good and evil or exploring God’s provision for our spiritual ancestors will need to take a back seat to… Grace…

Grace, as can only be found in our Lord


If you were a fan of day time talk shows or if you were to visit one of the mass chain book stores [not to be confused with Brantford’s quality downtown community book store]

You would hear a message of how to seek happiness or you would see book after book basically offering variations of a formula that will bring happiness and fulfillment

Indeed, to the one who holds the key, who knows the the wise and intelligent, life's oyster opens itself and all manner of treasures awaits

Sounds attractive? Many would agree, as evidenced by the number of such books that follow one another in succession week after week, month after month, on the various bestseller lists.

Turning to the biggest bestseller of all time, however, we find a twist on the usual formula.

In today's Gospel reading, Jesus gives thanks to his heavenly Father, remarking that God "has hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to infants."

These are not the usual sentiments of a holiday weekend.

This is a time of picnics and fireworks, of national pride and family reunions.

Matthew's words disrupt our revelry, tear us back to the realities of Monday morning and the real world that awaits.

Jesus calls us to come with him – to come because of him – to live and serve as we are called,

Which may not be as the folks in the marketplace expect

Jesus, in this mixture of moods revealed to us today, certainly didn't meet the expectations of those in the market; he didn't dance to their tunes, he didn't cry with their grief.

He was and is about something else!

On this holiday weekend, when it's not hard to think of the ‘good life’ – the happy times – where all summer lays before us

We are jarred out of that, with message that seeks to meet us when we are grounded in the every trails of life

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus promises us rest for our souls by coming to him.

He promises us that we can set down our burden and yokes and take up His easy and light ones instead.

By talking about yokes, Jesus is using an illustration common in his time, but not so common in ours, at least in our part of the world, especially hear in Cockshut plough country

A yoke is usually made out of wood. It fits across the shoulders of the animal or person who is using it.

With oxen, a yoke connects animals to each other and also to a plough or something else the animal is pulling.

The purpose of the yoke is to harness the power of the animal to do the work required of it.

Yokes are also used by people to carry water or other things.

Some of you may not know this about me, but in my younger life I did a lot of canoeing

The summer was filled with daily training for canoe and kayak races that took place every Saturday

And when there were breaks in the season we would often look for opportunities to canoe some more – we would go on canoe trips to places like Algonquin park

                        Now canoe trips in the wilderness, generally involve portages

This is where the lakes or rivers end and you need to carry all your equipment overland to the next lake or river

The heaviest of all the equipment is always the canoe – in those days before lightweight Kevlar, our canoes were heavy fibreglass or aluminium

We would carry the canoe with two people awkwardly trying to bend around corners and always dependant on a good working relationship with another.

Or my Dad had devised a system of using the life jackets across the middle thwart to cushion the bar across your shoulders and strapping down the paddles for hand holds – and then carrying the canoe solo

It solved the cornering problem basically and made the carrying independent of another

The problem was that 85 lbs spread over 16 feet of canoe never rested well on strapped down lifejackets

It still hurt your shoulders – it often shifted and would throw the balance completely off – it was generally a really difficult miserable part of the canoe trip

Then one year, my Dad bought a custom made yoke

This carved piece of wood fit your shoulder perfectly, it had a notch out in the very middle for your neck and once installed in the center balance point of the canoe – the canoe rested magically on your shoulders

                        Portages became so much easier – and not the dreaded burden that they once had been…

Now, the canoe wasn’t any lighter, it still weight 85 lbs – but balanced and with the well fitting yoke – the difference was like night and day

Jesus invites us to take a yoke just like this – made exactly for us by someone who understands what it means to bear burdens,

Someone who knows us each by name… knows our gifts and our needs… who does not want us to be wearied or weighed down.

Jesus offers us a yoke, made by his own labour and love, made perfectly for us.

And that’s not all; he offers himself as our partner in the yoke, the one who will help us bear, pull, carry – whatever we are called to do.

29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

Protestant historian Martin Marty made this statement a couple of decades ago, that most Catholics would agree with, when they think about it:

“It’s easy to be Catholic where it’s hard to be Catholic – In Poland.

And it is hard to be a Catholic where it’s easy to be Catholic – In America.”

What Marty was pointing out at that time is that in Poland the Church faced clear oppression.

Civil law attempted to regulate church life, to crush it if possible.

This has only resulted in a stronger, more unified church.

‘The faith’ gives hope to people caught up in a drab, oppressive society.

‘The faith’ is what gives them strength to fight the system.

It is counterculture in the true sense – a culture that challenges society at every turn and one that speaks far better than the government for the dreams and needs of the people.

In the West, there is no visible oppressor. We are free to worship or not worship without social stigma or civil penalties.

Society provides enough “bread and amusements” to lead people to kind of rootless contentment.

It is difficult to serve a counterculture when few want the culture countered.

When Jesus put out the invitation to “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden,” he was speaking to the oppressed – like the Polish people of a couple decades ago.

But He was also speaking to the people of the West who are “oppressed” by materialism and technology and permissiveness.

To all… Jesus says: 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

What a beautiful invitation. Jesus longs to give us rest from all the troubles and hardships and burdens we carry.

All we need to do is give up our burdens, turn everything we carry over to Christ, and he will help us… a beautiful, utterly simple invitation.[1]

…So why is it so hard to do? …

If you are like me – why is it that when I really read this passage and let it soak in – I realize that I am in great need of turning over my burdens to the Lord

Each and every time, when I look introspectively I can see burdens that I have been carrying all by myself – Why?

Maybe because we are raised to be strong – self-dependant – for many of us we were told that men don’t cry

Maybe we are taught not to be soft to help us make it in the world

Just last week, when Jackson and I were out for a bike ride – when crossing a busy intersection a lady was pulled half way around the corner and it forced Jackson to swerve and grab his brakes – unfortunately he grabbed the front brake too hard and went flying over the handle bars

I immediately rushed to his aid – but after a moment I felt myself getting mad because he was crying

Instinctively I wanted him to be strong – instinctively I wanted Jackson to be worldly – … but Jesus breaks through all that…

Consider for a moment that a child can so easily come running the moment they are in need

Maybe that is why Jesus says elsewhere in Matthew:

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:13)

Maybe another reason that we don’t turn our burdens over to the Lord is that sometimes we might just forget that He is there…

In Istanbul (historically Constantinople) there is an old temple which they say was once a place of worship for the Christians.

Today it is a huge mosque around which the milling mobs have fought for over 400 years.

It has been a scene of hatred and violence. The crowds are noisy and rough.

Bedlam and unrest prevail. People get hurt, and killed. Life is dangerous there.

But on that mosque you can still read the well-worn inscription of those familiar and beautiful words: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

How strangely out of place those words appear to be. They hardly fit the scene.

You would say that the One who gave that great invitation is being mocked right there by the people who read it every day…

                             And yet, isn’t the ‘peace of God’ like that, in this world of strife

 On every side there is tension and turmoil, fighting and fear, war and wickedness

But right in the middle of it all is that mighty fortress of peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ[2]

Yet another reason we don’t accept the invitation from Christ our Lord is perhaps we think He is too busy for my petty problems

Yet Jesus says 7But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 8“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; (Luke 12:7-8)

This weekend we are celebrating Canada Day and in US they are celebrating Independence Day

In the western world one of the highest ideals of our culture is the notion of the ‘self-made person’

Yet, can you imagine a ‘DEpendence day’

If you are thinking alongside Jesus, you can…!

Maybe that is what we do each and every time we celebrate the Eucharist feast, the Thanksgiving meal – or each and every time we confess our sins

We declare that we are dependent for all our good fortune – for all our faith – for our freedom from our sins - for our very lives… Dependent on God

Looking out of her office window one day, a woman executive was started to see a workman walking along a ten-inch wide plank with no lifeline or support whatsoever.

The ends of the plank were resting on the very top of steel scaffolding that he and two others were erecting. Piece by piece, they were building another level of cage-like steel around them.

This was nine stories above the street.

Impressed by their circus-like performance – hardly the kind of thing most of us do in a day’s work – the woman executive chatted a bit with the workmen when they returned to ground level.

“What’s the secret of walking up there?” she asked.

Seeing her obvious admiration, one man explained simply: “It’s easy; don’t look down. You have to look right where you’re walking, on the plank itself.”

When Jesus told the disciples His way was “easy”, it was in the same sense that those construction workers saw walking the plank nine stories high as “easy”.

It’s easy not in the sense of requiring no effort. Actually, it requires a great deal of mental concentration and discipline.

There are rigors to Christian discipleship. But it is easy in that when the concentration and disciple are applied, the Christian walk is easy. Consistent fidelity makes the way easy.[3]

Brothers and Sisters in Christ - Weariness is the only requirement to receive Christ’s rest.

Having a burden we want to set down is the only requirement for picking up Christ’s light burden.

Being yoked to something we need to let go of is the only requirement for allowing Christ to give us a new yoke, tailor-made for us.

In conclusion I want to share with you this simple story

A little girl listened to the reading: “My yoke is easy…” in her Sunday School class.

The teacher asked, “who can tell me what a yoke is?”

The youngster replied, “Something they put on the necks of animals.”

“And do you know what is the meaning of God’s yoke?” the teacher inquired.

The little girl thought for a moment, and then said, “That’s when God puts His arms around your neck!”[4]

28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

                                    Thanks be to God - Amen



[2] Illustration Sourcebook # 0782 – Peace, War

[3] Illustration Sourcebook # 2983 – Christian Fidelity

[4] Illustration Sourcebook # 2854 – Protection, Children – Rev. A.P. Bailey

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