The Easy Yoke and the Light Burden

Below the fold is a written version of my (John’s) sermon on Matthew 11:28-30 from Sunday, July 9, 2017. If you’re looking for the sermon where I talked about the corn kerneler this is it.

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 11:28-30 (NRSV)

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

SERMON

I need to begin the sermon with a question, and that question is, does anyone have one of these? (A picture of an elaborate corn kerneler is shown on the screens.) I found this by going to Google.com and typing in “ridiculous timesaving gadgets.” This is what came up. At first, I hesitated to use this as an example because I thought maybe one of you might have one and I thought I might even know who it was. But the more I looked at this gadget, the more I began to think that I would like to have one of these.

I grew up with braces and retainers, so we always had to cut the corn off the cob. You know what that is like: you take the corn, put it on the plate, put the little skewer thing in the top, get out the knife, try to cut it off evenly, and only about half of the corn falls on the plate. Some of the rest falls on the counter, and you can still eat that. But then the rest of the rest falls on the floor. And, notwithstanding the five-second rule, you can’t eat that. So I was looking at this picture, remembering my past experiences trying to cut corn off the cob and I thinking about how this device would make my life easier.

I was thinking about how this would make my life better and how much more I could enjoy my corn on the cob with this not ridiculous, but rather amazing labor-saving device.

But then I thought a little more, and I remembered all the other time-saving devices I’ve already purchased that are gathering dust in the kitchen all of which make it impossible to find room for this labor-saving device. And then I thought about how hard it would be to clean this device and the fact that I would probably spend more time cleaning it than I would save using it.

So I said no to this device, but I still like labor-saving devices, and I think that you probably do as well.  Most of us like labor-saving devices. We’re all looking for ways to make our life easier because at some point we have all felt weary and weighed down under heavy burdens. Maybe you feel that way most of the time, maybe you feel that way all the time, but I know that all of us feel that way at least some of the time.

And so the first time we encounter Jesus, the first time we hear that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, we get excited because we have a lot to carry, and so we take up Jesus’s yoke, we put it on, and we toss his burden up on top of the pile that we are already carrying and we head out down the path of life and for a little while we’re excited about our newfound faith. And indeed it does feel like we’re under less of a burden. It does feel like we aren’t carrying quite so much. But very quickly we get a little way down that path, and that yoke starts to feel hard, and that burden becomes heavy when piled on top of everything else, and we wonder how we might take a little bit of that burden off.

It starts out easy and light. But before very long it’s it begins to feel like just like all the other things we have taken up in our lives. All the other labor-saving devices we are carrying around.

And then we hear Jesus talk about loving our neighbor, loving our enemy, praying for those who persecute us, forgiving not seven times but seventy times seven. These are not easy things, and they’re not necessarily the worst of it, for the Jesus who said that his yoke was easy and his burden was light is the same Jesus who said that those who want to follow him must take up their cross and follow him.

Take up your cross. When he spoke those words, he was indeed speaking metaphorically. But there was also a way that he was speaking quite literally. The literal meaning was a real possibility for the early Christians who first heard him say take up your cross and follow me.

So how do we reconcile the two? How can we hold that Jesus is faithful, true, and reliable in light of this apparent evidence that he contradicted himself? How can we hold that his yoke is easy and his burden is light while also acknowledging the call to take up our cross and follow him?  

I’ll get that in a minute. But first, I need to clear something else up.  When we first decide that we’re going to follow Jesus, we often have a mistaken idea that we’re supposed to add Jesus’s yoke to our other yokes and his burden to our other burdens.

We take Jesus’s burden, and we throw it on top of the pile of things we are already carrying, and then we continue to try to live as normal, ordinary middle-class people in Abilene, Kansas. Our plan is to simply to add Christianity to all the stuff we’re already doing. We’re going to keep striving after the things we have been striving for. We’re going to keep searching for the things we have been searching for. We’re going to keep carrying the things we have been carrying. We’re just going to add discipleship, Christian discipleship, to our to-do list. And so, after the initial excitement, we find that Jesus’s burden is actually weighing us down more and that his yoke has become hard. This is inevitable as long as we’re proceeding in this manner.

But you’ll note Jesus never said take up my yoke and take up my burden and add them to what you’re already doing. Jesus meant for us to take off our other yokes and to put down our other burdens.

He didn’t mean for us to add to what we were already carrying, but rather to exchange our old yoke and our old burdens for his. He meant for us to put down or other strivings and longings and pick up our faith and single-minded discipleship. It’s not easy, but it’s far easier than trying to do both at the same time.

Now for the answer I said I would come back to. Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light, and then he said that we must take up our cross and follow him. How do we reconcile those two things?

Jesus’ yoke isn’t easy because it is flimsy. His burden isn’t light because it is insubstantial. Rather his yoke is easy and his burden is light because when we take up his yoke and we pick up up his burden we find purpose for our lives, peace for our hearts and the power of God’s grace working within us.

In that way and we’re empowered to follow Jesus in our ordinary everyday lives. The early Methodists were known for combining a level of devotion and dedication previously reserved for those who had removed themselves from the world. They sought this same level of devotion and dedication while remaining engaged with the world. They lived as Christians not by withdrawing from the world, but rather by living out their faith in the world.

We don’t have to abandon the world, but we must infuse the life of God into it. As we do this, we find that Christ’s yoke is easier than anything the world has to offer because it is not a yoke we bear alone. We’re dual yoked with Jesus and Jesus is doing most of the pulling, Jesus is doing most of the heavy lifting.

Discipleship goes against the grain of our culture and our fallen inclinations. Discipleship runs counter to those things, but it goes with God. When we put down the burdens we have chosen and take on Christ we find that we are no longer working at cross-purposes to God. We’re no longer swimming upstream against the flow of the universe. Rather we are opening ourselves up to the lives God created us to live.

There will be challenges and difficulties as we follow down the path Christ has made for us but we will be going with God, and that makes all the difference. Compared to what we are doing now, his burden is easy, his yoke is light.

Amen.