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    Jul 16, 2017

    Proper 9A, July 8-9; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

    Preacher: The Rev. Joan Mason, Rector

    Series: Rector

    Category: Weekly Sermon


    “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls; for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen


    “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls; for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen


         In our 2nd reading today, Paul raises a very human issue. Sin! He says we cannot control our own sin. It’s impossible to do. We may have good intentions and we may wish that we would do what we know we should, but we don’t. Just like Paul and just like every other human being. We don’t do it. We sin and can’t escape it. If we find one day that we are able to conquer the sin of gluttony, then unchasity seems to spring up. If lust is overcome, ambition takes its place. If ambition is despised, then anger is provoked, or pride puffs up, drunkenness takes the offensive, hatred breaks the bonds of unity, or jealousy breaks up friendship. Put one down and another takes its place. No human initiative, no matter how good or how forceful, is able to overcome the power of sin on its own. So what are we supposed to do?

         God desires to set us free from this life of oppression and weightiness called sin. And we get the answer in our Gospel today. Ironically, the image that is given to us for reaching this freedom is the image of the ox with its yoke. Jesus tells us to put on his yoke. Frankly, that seems like more work, not freedom. And yet Jesus is saying the yoke will be easy and the load he’ll put on us is light.

         The image of a yoke was a common image in Matthew’s time. But I’m wondering if there may be some of us who may not even know what one looks like. A yoke is a restraint that is placed on the neck of an ox, or other beast of burden, so that it can do its work. The yoke must fit the animal well, so that when the animal moves forward, the yoke will give little or no discomfort. If the ox pulls or moves in an uncooperative manner, the yoke will rub, become uncomfortable and even irritate. After this description, the idea of actually putting a yoke on us sounds a little confining, restrictive, maybe even a little insulting – like putting us on a dog’s lease. It goes against our human sensibilities to imagine ourselves as yoked oxen trodding through the dirt being led by straps the way we should go. Yet . . . . what seems harsh is actually a blessing. Let me explain.

         Imagine the ox without the yoke. The ox goes his own way, moving impulsively, distracted by what occurs around him, not accomplishing much work, and destroying acres of land as he pulls in jagged, irregular patterns and confusing directions. This then affects not only the ox but also the community of people and animals who count on the harvest of that land. With the yoke in place, though, the ox is able to do the work he needs to do. 

         And so it is with us. We are God’s hands on this earth. There is work for each of us to do. Left to our own, as Paul recounts, as much as we desire to do what is right, we are not able. We create disaster; not only of our own lives, but also of those around us. We can’t remedy this problem simply by resolving to do better.

         It is a bigger battle than that. There is a war between the cosmic powers being carried on within each of us. The law of God pitted against the law of sin, the devil doing his work. But God has already won this war. God has already won our rescue from sin by sending Jesus Christ to earth. The rescue operation is set up and ready to go. And Jesus reminds us today how to break out of the life of sin to this new life in Him.

         He says, “Come unto me all ye that travail.” Hear that imperative! “Come!” This is a change of direction that is needed. It is a request to come close to Jesus and it’s a choice we make every day. Jesus continues, “Come unto me all ye that travail and are heavy laden and I will give you rest”. You can stop and unload the heavy burdens. They do not need to be carried any longer. Instead put on the yoke. The load given you will be easier to carry. “Take my yoke,” Jesus says, “put it on and learn from me, and you will find rest.” Twice Jesus promises we will find rest. We will be given the refreshment needed to continue the journey.                          

         “I heard the voice of Jesus say,
         Come unto me and rest;
         Lay down your burdens weary one,
         Lay your head upon my breast.
         I came to Jesus as I was,
         Weary and worn and sad.
         I found in Him a resting place,
         And He has made me glad.”