July 6, 2008
Scripture: Matthew 11:16-30
Sermon Title: "The Burden of Christ"
For the past few weeks Jenny and I have been in conversation about the Christian Education program for the new school year.
One thing we talked about was offering a three week series on the Psalms of Thanksgiving: the songs in the Bible that give thanks to God for all that he has done and all he has seen us through. And, if all goes as planned, it will be offered when else?, but around Thanksgiving time.
The Psalms of Thanksgiving are exuberant songs that lift up and celebrate God, inviting all to come into the House of God to with song and praise, to say thank you and to glad.
Trouble is, not everyone feels that way when they enter into the House of God, do they?
The truth is, is that sometimes we feel as though we have nothing thankful for. Some have been trying to make a dollar stretch to cover a gallon of gas.
Others are worrying about relationships or our issues concerning our health.
We would gladly offer God our voice in songs of celebration if only our teeth were not clenched from all the stress we have endured from the week before and the burdens we are expecting to face the moment we leave these doors.
To use an analogy, it is as if we are farmers who are standing before an uncultivated field, and all we can see is acres and acres of rocks, and weeds, and all that dirt.
And although our hands contain seeds of new life and possibility, before we can even plant them, we need to plow that daunting field.
But it goes on for far too long, the task is too burdensome, and we are by ourselves.
Field of dreams? Try more like the field of nightmares.
I wonder how many of us can relate to this image today? How many of us have entered into God’s Holy House with hearts full of burdens and your eyes overwhelmed with what you see before you?
And how many others have allowed those very same reasons to prevent them from coming to church today because they feel they have no praise to give, or they are just too exhausted to add one more item to their already-busy schedule?
When coming to church becomes a burden, one knows that their back is already breaking from too much stress.
So we stand before the field that we know as life, with all its rocks and weeds and dirt.
How do we go about breaking up the clusters of rocks, getting rid of the weeds and turning over all that topsoil so we can plant our seeds and have a chance at some new life?
Do we trudge through it alone baring the burden ourselves?
Do we do our best Scarlet O’HARA impersonation and pretend like it does not exist?
Do we do a half-baked job, creating more damage and work along the way?
Or do we give up before we even begin and declare defeat?
Perhaps it is better to forget about the seeds, turn back around and not even try such a task for the burden is too great and there is no rest in sight.
But there is another way, a better way, a way that ensures we are not facing these monumental tasks alone.
Listen to these words from Matthew 11: "Come to me, all of you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in my heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
These are the words of our Savior Jesus Christ, and he is standing beside us, with a yoke that he is ready to share.
Can I get an Amen?
...and suddenly the field doesn’t seem so long, the way does not appear to be so rocky, and the weeds so choking after all...
Now, I ain’t no country boy. I’m from the suburbs. I hear the word yoke and I think you’re talking about that yellow stuff inside of an egg.
But the yoke that Jesus is talking about is something that anyone who grew up around a farm would know plenty about.
A yoke is a tool a farmer uses when he wants to plow the field to get it ready for planting or he has something heavy that needs to be transported.
Back in Jesus’ time the farmers had oxen. Their yoke’s were a two pronged wooden harness that was placed on the animals so they could work as a team in plowing a field or carry a heavy load.
Although a yoke placed limitations on where the oxen could go, it also opened up the possibilities for what they could do together. A task that seemed impossible or a burden that appeared to heavy to be carried, could be accomplished by the two animals working as a team.
And if the farmer was a loving, gentle soul, he made sure of a few things. The first being that the yoke was sturdy and gentle. That it got the work done with the minimum amount of pain to his animals.
He made sure the yoke was designed in such a way so there would be a minimum of chafing, and a minimum of scratching and hurt to the neck and body.
But more then that, a yoke was designed for two beings to share the load, so it did not have to be carried alone.
Together the oxen were able to plow through the field, overturning the dirt, dispelling the rocks and pulling up the weeds that prohibited the growth of good produce.
A yoke did not get rid of the need to work: it made the work more bearable, and it made the burden one carried feel much much lighter.
And that is exactly what Jesus is offering all of us today...
...Are you standing before an unending field where all you see is harsh rocks that will hurt your soles when walked upon?
Are you seeing clusters of weeds that are choking back the goodness you know awaits you?
Are you seeing acres and acres of dirt that will leave you muddied and soiled for the worst?
Do you feel as if you are holding seeds of possibilities, but if only those rocks and weeds were lessened and the dirt could be turned to let in some fresh sun and nutrients?
If you do, then Jesus is standing there, with a yoke in his hand, ready to say: "Let me place this on you. And together we’ll face this field, and together I will help you find rest."
Notice Jesus is not offering a hammock for you to lay in and sip lemonade while he does all the work. And notice he is not wrestling you to the ground to force the yoke upon your neck.
But he is standing there, saying "Come to me, and together we will both bear the burdens you face.
Together we will push apart the rocks, together we will minimize the weeds, together we will stir the earth so new life and new beginnings can come your way."
This is not lazy, victim theology that says "I am so helpless that I can’t do a single thing and Jesus will do everything for me." That kind of theology usually leaves one feeling even more helpless and creates new acres of land to be cleared.
No, this is a sweat of the brow, victor theology. It doesn’t say that there will be no more problems, it doesn’t promise the way will be free from large boulders. It doesn’t say Jesus will solve all of life’s problems with a simple stirring of the earth.
This is not about Jesus taking the burden’s weight and changing what the scale reads; it’s about Jesus working bedside you to make the burden not feel so heavy anymore.
You have financial problems? This isn’t Jesus saying here, put on this yoke with me and they will go away.
This is Jesus saying we’ll get through this together but first you are going to need to cut coupons, cancel your cable and stop drinking $4 machiatos.
This isn’t Jesus saying all of your medical ailments are going to just disappear.
This is Jesus saying let’s surround you with the best doctors and nurses, put you on some good medication, alter your eating habits. And if that does not work, know that I am still right beside you, and I will be there when you take your last breathe, just as I was when you took our first.
This is not Jesus saying I will change your past so all the bad things that happened and all the bad that you done will magically be gone for ever.
He is saying follow and learn how to see your past with a new set of eyes, a new heart of understanding, and a healing sense of forgiveness you can bestow upon those who have hurt you, and the ability to forgive yourself for the hurt you have caused.
This isn’t Jesus saying "Presto, chango! All of your relationship woes are taken care of", but together we can find you the right books, the rights counselors, the right words so you can work this out, and if that’s not possible, at least you can leave the situation as friends.
In other words, this is Jesus not saying "Viola! The field is clear, now plant your seeds."
This is Jesus saying, "Put on this yoke and together we can dislodge these rocks that have been hurting your soul so.
Put on this yoke so together we can loosen up these weeds that are choking you and holding you back so from becoming all that you are.
Put on this yoke so together we can stir up the dirt so we can let in some fresh air and warm sun."
And after we have accepted that yoke, and made our way through the field, we can stop and look back and be amazed how much we have done and how far we have grown.
And those seeds that we have been holding in our hands. We can let go them go so they can find root and they can grow and carry us into the future.
And the next field we encounter will not seem so treacherous. The rocks and the weeds won’t seem so great.
And all of that soil will be seen for what it truly is: fresh opportunities for new growth and fresh beginnings.
Finally, you may be wondering this sounds great. You’re ready for Jesus to place his yoke around you. But how is it done?
Because each field is unique and each farmer is their own person, each will have to find their own way.
Sometimes the best and most effective way, is to simply bow your head before the Lord and say "My burdens have become too great and my shoulders have hurt me so. Come and place your yoke upon me and invite me to work alongside you."
(I myself had to do this earlier this week literally getting down on one knee.)
Sometimes, that humble submission is all it takes, and sometimes that is all Jesus is waiting for.
And eventually we may learn how to do so on a regular basis before the burdens become too worrisome and before our back is an inch from breaking beyond repair.
So, in conclusion, when we stand before our field of nightmares, may we find the humility and the strength to invite Jesus to place his yoke upon us.
Because in Jesus we not only find rest, but we find ourselves before the presence of God, and once in Gods presence we can’t help but to walk in his ways and enter his house with thanksgiving in our hearts.
And when we do, may our hearts be filled with all the fresh flowers and produce that Christ himself has helped us sow.
All praise and honor be to God, the original farmer, the Spirit that refreshes our fields with cool breezes and loving rain and the Son that invites us to share his yoke,
Amen and amen.