Preached from the pulpit of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church on July 3, 2014 by The Rev. Ellen L. Ekstrom:
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
When we do not understand our actions, and when we do not do the good we want, but just the opposite – ending up doing something less than good, or, as Paul puts it bluntly, evil, we are fortunate to have someone beside us when we are weary and carry heavy burdens. Christ is there. He is gentle and humble in heart. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Let’s hear again what Jesus said.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”
These are comforting words. But what is this yoke?
We know it is a tool – that wooden collar that goes over the neck and shoulders of two beasts of burden, such as oxen, used to attach a plow or wagon so that the tool or vehicle can be pulled along.
This is what the followers of Jesus would have known.
They would have seen the oxen pulling the plow in the fields. Slaves and laborers wore the yoke, too. Jesus is offering to share that yoke.
To the early church, the burden would have been daily life, to be sure, and the dangers and challenges of being a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. The author of the Gospel of Matthew this morning explains to his audience that it is a burden that Jesus will help them carry. In the context of this morning’s Gospel scripture, the invitation Jesus extends comes from his teaching. He has explained the importance of John the Baptist’s ministry, for example. John was the herald, the opening act, if you will, for Jesus of Nazareth. John baptized and proclaimed that there was one mightier than he and some people didn’t listen. They failed to recognize God living in their world and change their lives. In fact, it’s a no-win situation: to some, John was a prophet who didn’t deliver; Jesus was a drunkard and a glutton because he dined with the wrong people. Jesus ridicules his critics by comparing them to children who refuse to play nice. He also stresses the need to have childlike trust which we all have before we grow up and enter the adult world and its responsibilities, its skepticism and lack of trust, and yes, lack of faith. What we have heard is that we need to recognize the importance of belief, we need to trust in Jesus and his promise. In other words, we need to strap on that yoke.
And why not?
We take upon ourselves other burdens – each of us, I’m sure, has a long list – so why not sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to what he has been teaching for two millennia? It is, I believe, the perfect solution for what’s wrong in the world today.
Ah, how wonderful it would be if those who wield the power and make the decisions that govern our lives would listen, or even better, strap on that yoke! Yes, I’m talking about you, leaders who believe that corporations are people and allow and condone an avowal of religious belief to discriminate and oppress. Do you understand your actions? Is this the good you want?
For those of you who were buried in World Cup action or actually worked during the U.S. v. Belgium match, the Supreme Court ruled that employers may withhold certain types of medical coverage on the basis of their religious beliefs.
The coverage is for contraception.
I wasn’t surprised by the decision and who handed it down, nor was I surprised by the dissent, or the public’s outcry. It is good and right that Christians who listen to Jesus’ true message of unconditional love and equality are speaking up, saying not so fast. They are saying, “We’re Christian, but we don’t use the faith given to us by Christ to discriminate, to practice bigotry or sexism. Not all Christians are sexually-repressed, judgmental, nor are they hypocritical. But the secular public, at least a percentage, see us like that. Most of all, we don’t beat people over the head with the Bible and force our employees to espouse our faith, or try to get the Supreme Court to do it for us. We strive every day to live what Christ taught and share that message.”
Christ says we should love our enemies. I do. I pray for those who seek to do me harm as a Christian and as a woman, as an individual, and I look for Christ in them, see glimmerings of understanding, and love. But it’s a lot easier to love them than like them.
This Independence Day Weekend, I’m hoping a new pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness borne of the outcry rising from the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell versus Hobby Lobby takes hold. Perhaps this momentum starting to spread and grow will finally result in giving equal rights to women and let us have the final say over what we do with our bodies, allow our choices to be those which will benefit our health, our lives and economies and those of our communities. Then it will be an independence day finally, finally, after two hundred and thirty years that represents all Americans. You see, this is the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus proclaims, the place where there are no barriers, no discrimination, where all are invited to the Table and to sit at Christ’s hand, left or right, sit before God and with God, and it begins by shouldering the yoke that is offered to us. We shall not be alone as we learn and labor together, nor shall we go quietly into the night because we will understand our actions and know that they are for the good of all.