Meg Peery McLaughlin
Matthew 11: 28-30
July 19, 2020
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
Are you tired?
Of interacting on screens?
Of being alone in your home,
washing the same coffee mug and lunch plate over and over and over?Of the way your glasses fog up when you breathe behind the mask?
Are you weary?
Of the partisan rift in our nation?
Of the rate of infections rising higher and higher?
Of the schools having to be the safety net,
of police having to be the social workers,
of the systemically oppressed having to be the ones to wake us up to justice?
Are you weighed down?
By the heaviness and complexity of what needs reform, reparations, reconciliation, repentance.
I still can’t believe that a full third of the sermons I have preached to you friends have been recorded on my iphone. This week, I had a neighbor text me, asking how I was coping with decisions about school and I responded to her with, well more than she was probably bargaining for. I apologized and she said
No I’m glad to hear that there are other people waking up with a brick on their chest
because all of that is true,
I’m grateful for Jesus’ words.
These words tucked in chapter 11 of Matthew’s gospel;
they are a balm, a salve, a cool breeze, a deep breath.
Come to me, all you that are weary
Come to me, all you that are carrying heavy burdens
Come to me, I will give you rest
Yes, thank you, Jesus. That is exactly the promise I need. Rest. Repose. Reprieve.
So, tell me, Jesus, why would you immediately wreck such a promise?
For barely have we closed our eyes
and settled our bones, and you have started talking about yokes. Yokes, really?
A huge clamp to lay on my shoulder and make me haul.
A binding controlling device. A work tool.
Why would a person who is weary and burdened volunteer to take on a yoke? Even if it’s yours?
Some scholars will resolve the dilemma by stating that oxen work in teams,
and Jesus shares the other side of the yoke.
But there is no hint of that explanation in the Bible passage.
I have been much helped by the perspective of a British physician named Paul Brand.[i] Dr. Brand studied and treated Leprosy in India for most of his career. Leprosy is a disease of the nerves, and its victims do not feel pain. Bland found that hundreds of his patients had damaged their feet by wearing shoes that had a tiny rough spot protruding. Step after step that rough spot ground against the skin, yet these patients defective pain cells did not warn of danger. To his surprise, he learned that most of the damage came from small, repetitive stresses like this, not more obvious stresses like cuts or burns.
This principle applies directly to the stress caused by a yoke on the neck of an ox. In the hospital carpentry shop in India, Dr. Bland helped fashion such yokes. Because of his patients, he knew that if he put a flat, uncarved piece of wood on an ox’s neck and use it to pull a cart, very quickly pressure sores would break out on that animal’s neck, and the animal would be useless. A good yoke must be formed to the shape of an ox’s neck. It should cover a large area of skin to distribute the stresses widely. It should be polished with no sharp edges, so that no one point will endure unduly high stress. A good yoke, an easy yoke, fits snugly around the ox’s neck and cause him no discomfort. He can haul heavy loads every day for years and his skin will remain perfectly healthy.
I wonder, dear weary ones,
I wonder if the same is true for us and the easy yoke Jesus invites us to take.
I wonder if it’s an invitation to trade in
the burdens that are full of all manner of protruding rough spots,
perhaps not destroying our flesh, but surely our souls.
Trade those in, to take a yoke that is made specifically for me.
A yoke that fits perfectly, smoothly, easily.
A number of weeks ago, I was asked by someone if they could take on the yoke of Christ.
If I would help them do that.
Of course, that’s not how the question was posed.
I was on the phone with someone who wanted to be baptized.
Often in the liturgy of baptism you’ll hear echoes of the Apostle Paul when he says,
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
And I don’t know about you, but clothes work best, look best, feel best when they fit.
This person was saying that the way of Christ fit him
it was the way he wanted to live.
I was in the middle of a pandemic—
and in every baptism I’ve ever administered I’ve said the words:
Baptism is not a private act for the Christian life cannot be lived in isolation,
faith is always nurtured within a community.
But I said yes, of course.
Yes, because the sacrament of baptism proclaims that
that no matter what we belong to God
in life and in death,
in virus and in lockdown,
Yes, because baptism proclaims our connectedness not only to God but to God’s family—
so it is in fact a protest to any who would say that we are alone. No, we are never alone.
Yes, because right now the way forward isn’t clear for our nation,
and baptism is a chance to say loud and clear
the way we choose is the way of love
the way of justice
the way of neighborliness
the way of forgiveness
the way of generosity
the way of CHRIST.
And Baptism dunks us head to toe into that way.
So your session approved the baptisms of Miller Lee Roessler, Charlie and Jack Porter and Brian Sugg.
And we called elders and confirmation sponsors
and we drug the font outside and we put on masks
and we remembered,
as I hope you do too,
that yes, we are weary and tired and burdened,
but we have a way,
a yoke that fits.
It fits so snugly and so smoothly that, friends,
we can do the work of love,
the labor of justice,
putting one foot in front of the other
in the Jesus way.
All day. Every day.
Thanks be to God.
Christianity Today/Leadership Journal 1983
[i] The Easy Yoke, Dr. Paul Brand with Philip Yancey