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When I study the Biblical texts that are prescribed each week, I like to provoke them. Meaning: I like to dig at them, question what’s going on, argue with Jesus. I don’t really consider myself an antagonist, but I do appreciate a good debate and I think that the only way new ideas come to light is through questioning. Mostly, I think we’ve domesticated the Bible – we’ve trained the texts to speak what we want them to say. Maybe this doesn’t happen to you as much as it does to me, but sometimes I can start reading a passage from the Bible and immediately my intellect subconsciously responds, “Oh yeah. This passage. I know this one.” And then my brain sort-of turns off. Provoking the Bible is my way of countering this intuitive response.
Now, I imagine with that set-up you are probably bracing yourself for some brilliant theological insight and a jarring new perspective. I’m about to disappoint you. This week I didn’t have it in me. No fervor for the unknown, no fight left to debate, no creative juices flowing. Mostly I feel like I’ve been engaged non-stop in discussions on how to cope with all the various things that are turning our lives upside down. There are so many things about our present reality bringing us severe stress. I just didn’t have the energy for it. Can I just confess that to you?
I really wanted to stand up here and just reiterate Jesus’ beckoning, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heaving burdens, and I will give you rest.” What I really want is for Jesus to just wrap us all up in a big fluffy blanket.
And so, I have little provocation. I can only deeply yearn for that soft place to land that Jesus seems to be promising. Jesus seems to be saying that God wants us to make things easier for ourselves, not harder. In light of that, and in light of the heavy burdens we are all carrying, I thought about that… Am I making things harder on myself than necessary?
This answer seems to be unequivocally, “Yes.”
Now, my truth may not be your truth, but I am a person who is drawn to complication, which I basically demonstrated through my whole need to argue with the Bible and provoke everything introduction. I mean, I long for simple; I’ve looked for Easy Street my whole life. But, I often tilt towards difficulty. My soul needs to have something to push against, something to forge and form it.
In my own defense, I think there is value in pushing and forging. There are specific points in my life – holy disruptions – that I can point to that have deepened me and shaped me into my present self. But, this week, because of all the hard, I am especially reminded that there’s a difference between the complexities which shape the soul, and those that drain it.
Again, I may only be preaching to myself, but there are times when I make things more difficult for myself by taking on more than I can possibly do, procrastinating conversations or projects, focusing my energy on things that don’t need me to attend to them, recreating the wheel, thinking I need to be all things to all people, making small things big and big things small. I mean… I could go on. But, basically, I’m an expert at manufacturing, or at least contributing to, my own life complications, my own burdens.
Mostly by not asking for help when I really need it.
Mostly by cutting Jesus out of the picture and proclaiming myself God. At least through my actions – as demonstrated by my unwillingness to trust that Jesus has any power to lighten my burdens.
Since I already confessed to you that I didn’t have the energy to write a super creative sermon this week, I’m going to carrying on that theme and also confess to you that trusting Jesus to lighten my burdens is also a stretch for me. I know, I know. I am a pastor. It is my job to trust Jesus…
And I do. It’s just sometimes I trust myself more. There are so many people, carrying so many heavy burdens, who are being crushed under the weight of life. I guess my confession to you is: the yoke of Jesus doesn’t always seem to make it lighter.
Last confession: That’s my arrogance talking.
What I have learned is I can’t actually carry it all alone.
I think I can. I try to. But the longer I go it alone, the heavier it becomes:
I feel my feet sink further into the ground; my shoulders begin to droop; the very weight of my head is seems disproportionate to my body weight; even my eyelids are heavy.
But, what I notice the most, is not the weight on my shoulders, but rather the vacancy in my heart.
Jesus knows that life requires us to carry loads heavier than any of us would’ve imagined possible or necessary. Jesus also knows that life is a shared endeavor. I guess that’s why this whole reading actually turns on the word “Come.”
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you,” he continues, “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 light.”
The lightening of burdens is offered to those who recognize they just can’t make it on their own, no matter how hard they try.
Which is me.
We can’t do this thing called life on our own.
And so, Jesus says, “Come.”
Lean on me. Hook to me. Bind yourself to me.
Ok. I do have one last confession: I also don’t like the image of yoke. A yoke in and of itself feels oppressive; one of bondage, servitude, no freedom.
But, when Jesus says come and yoke to him, I believe he’s thinking about us working in tandem with him. Jesus uses the word ‘yoke’ as a tool for connection, a way of being in relationship with him that will make our work easier, not more difficult.
As I think about this and my tendency to make life more difficult than necessary, I’m reminded that it is my connection to Jesus that makes it possible to go into the complicated realm our souls sometimes need to traverse. And it is this relationship with Jesus that helps us choose between the complexities that deepen us and the complexities that weigh us down and deaden us.
In the midst of all this ‘is’ right now, when I go to Jesus, when I listen to his, “Come here, dear child,” the best image that comes to mind is Jesus putting his arm around my shoulders, as I lean my head onto his chest.
That looks like ‘yoking’ to me.
And it feels like ‘rest’ to me.
And so, as your pastor and friend, I say, “Go. Go lean on Jesus.”
And hopefully in my urging you to ‘go,’ you hear Jesus’ call to ‘come.’