“Can’t Take a Yoke”

This sermon was preached at Our Savior’s first outdoor service in 2020. If you are a Pioneer Valley resident, consider joining us for our outdoor services, currently being held every Sunday at 10:15am. Masks and social distancing are required. Screen Shot 2020-07-05 at 2.11.57 PM
OSLC’s generous and beautiful outdoor worship space. 

Welcome home, everyone. Whether you’re sitting here on our lawn together or whether you have to join us online for now, I’m glad you’re here. 

I’m so happy to see you. 

Now, in the interest of keeping you alive and not overheated, I’m going to get used to preaching short sermons because it may get hot this summer. So here we go. 

Disclaimer: this sermon was largely the result of a conversation that I had with my good friend and pastor, Joseph Graumann of St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Marlborough. If you have any friends there, you’ll likely hear that their pastor is telling many of the same bad jokes as I am, to similar groans. We came up with them together. We are as ashamed as we are proud.

So here we go.

This Gospel text is a classic text, right out of the Greatest Hits of the Gospels, and “Sayings of Jesus Most Likely to be Embroidered on a Pillow”: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

You know, [beat] some people just can’t take a yoke. 

Yesterday was July 4, you know, and that plus coronavirus got me thinking about how our greatest accomplishments as a nation have come when Americans have worked together. And here, in the midst of this pandemic, we’re still honoring that American tradition. We’re all in masks, and distant, protecting one another from disease. It’s not a case that was very hard to make here at Our Savior’s, where your love for one another continues to amaze and inspire me. 

Did I mention I missed you?

But in other places, and in other communities, it’s not that easy. Americans also have a sense of rugged individualism which isn’t always bad, but sometimes has unintended consequences, such as the now many videos of people embarrassingly freaking out in public because they refuse to wear masks indoors in public in places where it’s required. 

And that’s what I mean when I say that some people just can’t take a yoke. Because the yoke Jesus speaks of is typically for oxen, or other livestock, usually pulling something together.

But we all fall victim to the individualist mentality sometimes. And like I said — sometimes, it can even be good. I’ve certainly had times when I’ve had to boss up and create my own lane, and get things done myself. We all have. 

But for every time I’ve had to do that, there are ten times when I’ve done it when I should’ve asked for help. 

I’m learning, though. On that note, shout out to Cathy for mowing the lawn this week, even though it was my turn. 

Jesus doesn’t promise no burden, or no yoke — the promise is that we will never bear our burdens alone.

And Jesus said, “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.”

A rabbi’s “yoke,” you may know already, was the rabbi’s teaching. And the image still applies to religious communities, and communities and teachers of all kinds, today. What kind of yoke do we offer? 

We humans have a tendency to give heavy burdens to one another. Namely, the cultural obligation to be seen as “good,” or worthwhile. We want to be seen as good parents, and good at our jobs, and good citizens. None of those things is bad, of course — it’s good, even, to want to be good, and for a community to encourage that — but the problem comes when we derive our worth from how close to perfect we can get. 

Because, as your blooper reminded you at the end of online worship last week, as I forgot the name of an entire book of the Bible right at the end of my first attempt at recording my sermon — mistakes are normal. 

Sports teach us this, and that’s one reason why I love athletics so much. The best hitters in baseball only succeed in getting a hit about 30% of the time. If they succeed 35% of the time, they’re all stars. To be clear, that means that they fail to get a hit 65% of the time. Sports are here to remind all of us that failure is normal, and that perfection is an illusion. The game, of course, is in the striving to get better.

Even that metaphor is imperfect: our true worth as human beings doesn’t come from anything we do.

Jesus knew that fulfilling all of the rules, all of the time, was putting a heavy burden on God’s people. And so he called them to take on his yoke and pull together. 

And that is what we do here. 

The Gospel today is the same that it was before, and during our first quarantine period: ultimately, our worth doesn’t come from anything that we do, or any great burden that we lift alone. 

Your worth is your birthright. You are beloved by God just because you breathe. And because we already know that we are beloved, and that the burdens are lifted, we are freed in Christ to do so much more, and to truly pull together in the best of ways, for the good of one another and the world.

In the end, Christ has taken our entire burden of being perfect and told us over and over again that we are beloved children of God, period, full stop, no strings attached. 

As I love to say, God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. 

And that, my friends, is no yoke. Amen.

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