Pentecost – Proper 9
Genesis 24: 34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45: 11-18; Romans 7: 15 – 25a; Matthew 11: 16 – 19, 25-30
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
The fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. I say that because I believe that freedom is worth celebrating, but I also love barbeque, and I really love fireworks. On the fourth this year I re-read the Declaration of Independence, and was reminded of the freedom we have from political oppression we so often take for granted. Among many things, all of the barbeques, backyard celebrations, grand fireworks displays, all point to this one thing – freedom.
As a country we should be proud of the freedom we have and thank God for it every day. It is a blessing for which many have given their lives for us to enjoy.
But as much as we focus on the freedom of this great country, as much as we value our independence to honor it, as individuals, many of us struggle personally with freedom. There are many in this country who simply are not free. An obvious example are the incarcerated, but also those thousands of immigrant children crossing the southern border into the United States. And there are plenty of others whose freedom in this country is negligible at best.
But I am not talking about their lack of freedom, obvious, thought it is. I am speaking about you and me. We live in a country that esteems freedom, but despite that, many of us live lives that are indentured or enslaved. While we are politically free, many of us are spiritually or emotionally bound. We are imprisoned, or enslaved to addiction or to the pervasive idea (and sin, in my opinion) that what we have is not enough. We don’t have enough time. We don’t have enough money. We don’t have enough friends. We are imprisoned by our envy of others we deem more successful, or more attractive than ourselves. Are any of us truly free?
Christ comes to each of us everyday, saying “Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest” It is a straightforward invitation, though we often misinterpret it. Jesus is our Redeemer, Savior, and Advocate. But Jesus is not a magician.
The promise of rest does not mean that Jesus will magically dismiss our weariness with a wave of his hand or lighten our burdens by casting all that weighs us down into oblivion. That is what we would like, of course, but it is not what we will get. Jesus offers rest to the soul, freedom of the heart, by sharing our burden with us, not by suddenly lifting it off our shoulders.
The image Jesus uses to demonstrate this sharing of the burden is a yoke. A yoke is a wooden beam normally used between a pair of oxen or other animals that allows them to pull a heavy load when working in pairs. When we draw near to Jesus, when we shoulder his yoke, we do not receive the relief we would like, but we receive something far greater: our freedom.
We may harbor the unrealistic expectation that with Jesus sharing our load, life will be easier, spiritually and in all other ways. Such will probably not be the case. We are yoked to Christ, not so that our burdens magically become lighter, but rather, so that we can all shoulder more, and paradoxically become free. The true paradox of the Christian life is that it is not until we surrender to bear that yoke, to bear that weight with Jesus, that we are truly free. Elsewhere Jesus says the same thing when he teaches that those who lose their life for His sake will truly find it. Jesus is our liberator, the one who truly makes us free.
And if we are yoked together with him, we can also expect the same mixed reception that Jesus himself received: some acceptance mixed with much rejection. But this should not really surprise us. Because the yoke Jesus is talking about is not a beam shouldered across two oxen – it’s the cross. The cross is a stumbling block to common wisdom and intelligence. Nothing about the cross suggests freedom, until you look at it with the eyes of faith.
Only by looking to the Lord of heaven and earth are all contradictions resolved: our intelligence cannot reconcile a yoke giving rest while harnessed for hard labor. But faith knows that the yoke shouldered bestows true independence, freedom, and relief. AMEN.