The Yoke That Is Easy. The Burden That Is Light.


Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30     Lectionary 14     Pentecost 5     July 9, 2017

 

When has your work been a burden?  When your work is a burden, does God call you to continue doing it?

These are a couple of questions that occur to me, from the passage in Matthew this morning.  I’m thinking, particularly, of these words as from Jesus: “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.”

When has your work been a burden?  When your work is a burden, does God call you to continue doing it?  By the way: these questions pertain to those of you who no longer work for pay!  Sometime I’ll tell you about being President of the Performing Arts Boosters at my kids’ high school, in Wilmington, Delaware.  I was President for three years – which was one year too long.  I shouldn’t have said, “yes” to a third year.  That last year was a burden, and I realized that I was no longer called to do the work.

Here’s one of the prayers that we say at noontime prayer: “God our creator, we give you thanks for our work.  Grant that our work may be for us an offering rather than a burden; and for those we serve, may it be the help that they need; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

So, here’s another question.  What is the work that God calls you to do?  We gave a book by Parker Palmer to our high school graduates, entitled, Let Your Life Speak.  It’s a slim book.  But it’s not a book to be read quickly, because it is so thought and prayer-provoking.  “What work is God calling you to do?  Listen to your life!”  Haven’t you needed to discern that at various times in your lives – not only when you’re leaving high school behind, but when you’re graduating from college, and when you’re finishing graduate school, and when you’re discerning whether it’s time to look for a new job (or to change careers!), and when you’re listening for the work God is calling you to do in retirement?  Perhaps you’re in the midst of that discernment now.  What is the work that God calls you to do?

“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 have come to pay attention to the little word, “my,” in these words from Jesus.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  I think this is key to discerning the work God calls you to do.

Let me be quick to clarify: I don’t mean that the work God calls you to do is without stress; that every day is like one of those yellow smiley faces.  The work may well be difficult.  It may be work that you don’t even enjoy!  But here’s the thing: it’s work that you feel called to do.  You wake up in the morning and you want to spend another day doing it.

I’ll tell you about a decade in my own professional career, during the 1990s, when I was pastor of my home congregation in Wilmington, Delaware, St. Stephen’s (with an apostrophe-s – unlike St. Stephen, Williamsburg!).  When I arrived, there were some particularly unhealthy leaders, including one on the staff.  The congregation had been in conflict.  It was a real challenge.  And I felt strongly called to leave a very comfortable situation to move to it.  (Since my wife did not leave me when we made this move, I’m thinking she never will!)  I seldom really enjoyed being pastor there.  The work was often difficult.  But the work was important, and I have a deep love for the people in my home congregation.  After 10 years, the congregation was healthy, stabilized, a strong center for ministry.  But there came a time when I realized I was no longer called to do the work there.  I discerned that it was time to move to something very different.  (That’s why, now, you’re having to put up with me!)

Have any of you been called from a comfortable situation to new work that is difficult?

“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.”

Here’s something that’s remarkable to me.  At this point in Matthew’s story, Jesus is a failure!  People have not been responding to him!  People had not responded to John the Baptizer either.  Do you remember Jesus’ first words this morning?  “But to what will I compare this generation?  It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,  ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'”

The people didn’t respond to John the Baptizer because he was too ascetic, Jesus declares.  The people said, “He has a demon.”  The people aren’t responding to Jesus, either, even though he’s as different from John as can be.  Jesus enjoys life, eating and drinking, and the only people he’s attracting are the “wrong” kind of people!  The “right” people say: “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

As Martin Luther would say, this experience breaks Jesus down.  And Jesus responds with humility.  Jesus does not understand why the Father has been withholding understanding from the “right” people.  But, in humility, he’s thankful for the situation the Father has placed him in!  Do you remember what we read?  At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.  Think of this!  Those who are “wise and intelligent” are not able to catch on to what God is doing!  All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  It’s all very mystical.  It all has to do with revelation, with knowing God as Father and Son – and, of course, this “knowing” goes far beyond intellectual understanding of God as a concept.  It has everything to do with knowing God in relationship, with coming to trust God, as we say in the liturgy for Holy Baptism.[1]

Jesus is in a posture of humility.  He is dependent upon what the Father is choosing to reveal.  Jesus is working with what he is receiving.

So, too, for you and me.  Humility is essential for us to discern what work God is calling us to do.  “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.”          /  The work we are called to do may be difficult.  But it is “easy” and “light” because, when we wake up in the morning, we want to spend another day doing it!  It is work that is fulfilling.  (It may not be work that you are doing for pay!  In that case, you need to discern the work that God is calling you to do, for which you give your time as a ministry.)

When you are weary and carrying heavy burdens, what is that revealing?

Think of when you are burdened by boredom.  What is God up to?  How is that breaking you down, causing you to be open to God’s good news of grace in Jesus Christ?

Think of when you are weary because you are trying to force things, to achieve results.  How do you remember that you are not responsible for results?  Instead, here’s the way it works.  (You know this!)  We do the work God gives us to do.  We receive any results.  They are gifts from God.

What about when you’re carrying heavy burdens because you’re trying to do too much on your own?  One of the advantages of a yoke is that the work becomes shared by more than one beast.  (Not that I’m calling any of us beasts!  It’s a metaphor!  It’s a metaphor!)

It’s discernment.  It’s listening, most effectively in community with others who are listening with you.

It’s discerning the yoke that is easy, the burden that is light, because it is work that God is calling you to do; work God is calling us to do, yoked together, in community.

“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.”

In the name of God, who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Pastor Andy Ballentine

[1] Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 228.  See the list of responsibilities that parents and sponsors promise to take on.


About Pastor Andy Ballentine

Pastor Andy Ballentine loves being a parish pastor! Pastor Ballentine took his BA degree from the University of Virginia (with a major in sociology) and earned the Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He earned the Master of Sacred Theology degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with the thesis topic of: "How Benedictine Monastic Spirituality Nourishes Parish Ministry." He has completed the program of Spiritual Direction from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Ballentine has served as Dean of the Peninsula Conference and as chaplain to the candidates in the Virginia Synod’s Candidacy process (those on the way to being approved for ordained and professional ministries in the church). He has staffed many, many Virginia Synod youth events!