Come to Him (July 5, 2020)
Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30
Come to Him
“Come to me, all 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 heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” I don’t know about you, but I was very confused the first time I heard this passage because when I hear the word “yoke” I think of the little yellow thing in the middle of a chicken egg. And maybe you think of that as well. That is a yoke to me. And I don’t like easy yokes, I like my yoke over hard thank you very much. Sometimes even scrambled. That’s not what Jesus is talking though.
In Jesus' day, a yoke was a very common thing to see. A yoke was a piece, usually of wood, that was placed upon the shoulders of a beast of burden, usually an ox, for the purposes of carrying a load, usually on something like a wagon or a trailer. And the yoke would be placed over the beast of burden in such a way that it would help the beast to carry the load in a similar way to how a backpacking backpack helps you carry a heavier load than you would if you were just using a school backpack. A school backpack just has the shoulder straps, where as a backpacking backpack has the shoulder straps and the chest strap and the hip strap at some points. And that helps to redistribute the weight; and that’s basically what a yoke was doing as well.
Now, in Jesus’ day I suppose it would probably not have been too uncommon for a single oxen to be used, but most times throughout history the burdens that were being placed on these animals weighed more, requiring more than just the one animal. And oftentimes you would see a yoke that would actually be designed for more than one animal to be using it together through the yoke. So if you’ve ever seen depictions of Santa’s sleigh, the reindeer are often lined up in front, you have the four pairs of reindeer and the Rudolph at the front. And there’s actually a leather yoke, and it ties the animals together in such a way that together they can pull Santa sleigh and all the presents for all the good little boys and girls throughout the world. And that’s the basic idea: most times you don’t have nine animals, you have two or four animals that would be doing this with a long piece of wood, and then at the end you would have a shoulder strap to the left, and another to the right, and you would put that over two oxen and together they could pull whatever it was that you were pulling. Yokes are meant to make whatever work you’re doing simpler for both you and the animal.
Now in my first annual conference as a pastor we all gathered in Lincoln Nebraska, and we heard from someone who is working with the chibadza project. Chibadza is a word from the native language of Zimbabwe, and basically what it means is to come alongside and help someone in their work. In that culture if you went out to do work in the field, you were to bring extra tools for the work because someone will come along and offer chibadza to you for an hour for two hours, or whatever time I have. In that culture it was up to you to have the tools available for that person to help you, and if you didn’t have the tools available for that person to help you that would be an insult because you don’t want help from the community. And so people have these extra tools and people will come alongside and offer to help for a time.
And this presentation informed a great deal of my ministry; a great deal of what I envision being a disciple to be because this is what I think we as a church, and we as disciples specifically, are called to do. Our mission statement as a denomination is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” That’s great, and I think it’s about half the truth; because we don’t transform the world, Jesus transforms the world. We are called to offer Jesus chibadza. Jesus is transforming the world, we are merely coming alongside and helping for a time. And I love that image for the work of a church for two main reasons. Number one it’s Jesus who’s doing the work; we are helping Jesus, not Jesus helping us. All actions we take need to be bathed in prayer, specifically so that we’re getting instructions from Jesus as to what we should be doing and shouldn’t be doing. So that’s first off why I love this view so much. But secondly, it reminds us that it’s up to Jesus to supply the materials; it’s not up to us, we are just coming alongside to work for the time being.
Jesus says “take my yoke upon you, my yoke is light, my burden is easy.” Being a Christian is not easy, being a Christian is hard. Being Christian means that there’s going to be sacrifices you have to make, being a Christian means there’s going to be times where people take advantage of you. Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are persecuted for my name sake,” which means there’s a possibility that you’re going to be persecuted. But this is what Jesus calls us to do, and Jesus calls this easy.
But notice that that’s not what Jesus said. He says the burden is light. The burden is light not because the actual thing that we’re doing, the transforming the world, is light but because on the other side of the yoke is Jesus, and surrounding us along the yoke are billions of other souls who have been doing the work for thousands of years. Jesus says to lay down your burden that you were carrying right now, and take up his. For the individual weight is light, and the burden is easy.
But oftentimes it is far more difficult to lay down our own burden and pick up Jesus’ then we would like to admit. The first part of this reading talks about the way in which John the Baptist and Jesus were accepted, or not accepted more to the point, by the Pharisees and the religious leadership of the day. And Jesus is really taking them to task here. He says John came and John was penitent over here, he wore nothing but sackcloth and loincloth, he was eating locusts in the desert, he was crying out for you to repent, to get back to the way that you used to be in terms of your spirit and soul, to follow the heart of the law which is the love of God and love of neighbor. And the Pharisees responded by saying “he must be possessed by a demon!” Today we’d say he’s crazy. So Jesus comes a few months later and Jesus is eating, and drinking, and being merry, and his disciples are out eating the grain from the field on the Sabbath, and Jesus is it is living life. And they responded by saying “look, a drunkard, a sinner, and a glutton!”
And Jesus calls them out it. He says, “look, you can’t have it both ways. If you really had a problem with the activities that we were doing, then one of the two of these would have been OK to you. But since neither one is OK, then the only conclusion anyone can really come to is that it’s not the activity it’s the message.” And maybe even the messenger; both John and Jesus were uneducated workers from the backwaters, and they were calling for a change of the societal structure that held the Pharisees up at the top. Jesus is saying that it’s clear they were rejecting the concept of changing who they were, they were rejecting the concept of working on themselves and looking at what they could be. They were rejecting the message; they were rejecting the yoke of Christ.
Later in the passage, Jesus praises and thanks God that God has hidden the information from the wise and intelligent, instead revealing it to the infants. It seems to be Jesus saying the Pharisees believe themselves to be wise and intelligent, and therefore will never give up their burden. They don’t even recognize their carrying a burden, so therefore they cannot receive the message and they cannot take on the yoke of Christ. But the tax collectors and the sinners are those who recognize that they’re not perfect, those who recognize that they are sinners and are carrying a burden, and can therefore make the conscious decision to change the burden out; to put down the one they’re carrying and take on a new one. Jesus calls them infants, a word that Paul would later use calling new converts spiritual infants. Jesus also calls them humble; and he calls them to be humble like he is. Humble means never believing they’re the ones who are the stars, never believing that they have it all figured out, always recognizing that they are following; they are offering chibadza until it’s time to hand it off to the next one.
So hopefully I’ve convinced you that you’re carrying a burden, and convinced you to set that burden down and to pick up the yoke of Christ. If so, how do you do it? This week I came upon a list of suggestions from Dale Fletcher, and I can’t do better than this so here they are: “How do we “Come to Jesus?” We pray. We listen to inspirational music. We sit or walk quietly and listen for His voice. We cry out to Him in desperation. We read His Word, the Bible. We get on our knees and pour out our heart to Him.”
I want to emphasize that last point, when you pray don’t sit here and pray platitudes and clichés and pray what you think God wants to hear. It never does well to hide something from God. Let God know everything, pour out your heart to him. Pray praise prayers, yes; pray prayers of thanksgiving, pray prayers of supplication, prayers you desperately wanting God to do something for you. But also just simply pray prayers of lament, “God why is this happening? What is going on?” Pray whatever is on your heart. Whatever it is. What’s on your mind? Poor yourself out to him. That’s how you take your burden and lay it down. A cliché phrase that we pastors like to say, “lay your burdens down at the feet of Jesus,” but it’s still a good goal. And that’s how you do it: you pour your heart out Jesus, no matter what is in it. And all those others: music, quiet walks, meditation, reading the Scriptures; all of those are how we put on Jesus’ yoke and go about the work of Jesus, which is the transformation of the world. Go, church, and do that this week. Amen.