July 9, 2017

Preached by Rev. George Yando on July 9, 2017.

Zechariah 9: 9-12
Psalm 145: 8-16
Romans 7: 15-25
Matthew 11: 25-30

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Take a Load Off

“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.”

These are well loved words – perhaps the best known of the promises of Jesus.  I want to look at them with you today – in two parts.

The first part is the words, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”

What don’t we here today know about burdens!  Who here hasn’t had to carry some mighty heavy loads?

“Come to me”, Jesus said, “and I will give you rest.”

There was news this week of Volvo’s commitment to phase out internal combustion engines in their vehicles over the next few years in favour of electric motors; the news prompted discussions of the need to ramp up construction of a network of supercharger stations that will facilitate rapid recharging of automobile batteries in order to extend the range of travel for these electric-powered vehicles.

One pundit commented how in the early days of automobiles, it was common for restaurants and gas stations to be built at the top of long hills and went on to explain the reasons why.  It led me to recall how years ago on my first visit to Vancouver Island, I drove with friends along what was known as the Old Island Highway between Victoria and Nanaimo.  There is a gas station and restaurant call the Malahat Chalet, still located at the top of the longest grade on the road between Victoria and Nanaimo.  The paper placemats they used in the restaurant at the time told a little bit about some of the local attractions but also the history of the restaurant.  According to the little historical piece, it had been built there not just for the view – which was breath-taking – but like lots of other similar places throughout the mountainous areas of North America, the location was chosen as a convenience for people who needed to stop and let their overheated car radiators cool down.  People would stop to let their engines cool down, and at the same time, have a rest and take some refreshment for themselves before continuing on their journey.

I thought that bit of information was kind of interesting and I mention it this morning because it seems to me that that is one of the functions of worship for many of us: a time out for rest and refreshment, before resuming the journey of our lives and our Christian walk.

That too is one of the functions of prayer and of Christian fellowship – whether alone in some quiet spot where we come before God each day in personal devotion, or when we gather in our homes, or in the homes of our friends and neighbours, or here at the church – to share in a time of rest and refreshment, the kind of refreshment and rest that we all need so much.

There is nothing quite like coming to God and setting aside our burdens for a while, nothing quite like having our batteries recharged, our radiators cooled down and our spirits lifted.

All of us here, from the youngest to the oldest, know about burdens, the physical, emotional and spiritual burdens we carry with us through the living of our days.   But I pray you all know as well about the rest that is ours when we come before God and refocus on what it is that is truly important in life, the rest the comes when we take a break, when we take time, to reconnect with the One who is our Creator and divine Caregiver.

When Jesus spoke of burdens and of our coming unto Him, He was most certainly talking about those very kinds of burdens, the burdens of care and of anxiety and of labour with which we are all familiar.

But Jesus was also talking about the burdens of religion that some people carry, the burdens that are laid on our backs – sometimes by ourselves and sometimes by others who are like the Pharisees and Scribes – those who insist that “proper” religion involves shouldering the burdens of endless rules and regulations about what we can and cannot do, whether we’re talking about work or life at home or at church.

You know from your reading of the gospels how Jesus broke radically with the religious patterns that had been established by the God-fearing religious authorities of His day.  He ate and drank while others fasted.  He plucked grain and fed His disciples, and even healed the sick and lame on the Sabbath – while others looked on in disapproval.  He rejoiced in God while others prayed solemnly with long faces.  He called God ‘Father’ while others dared not even speak the name of the Lord.

Jesus came to us to lift the heavy burdens of life and of religion from our backs.  He reminds us that the Sabbath is made for us, not we for the Sabbath.  He urges us to know that faith is a thing that is meant to set us free, to set us free to worship God honestly and sincerely and to serve God with real joy and love in our hearts, not just on the Sabbath, but on each and every day in between.

Jesus promises rest from the burdens that we carry, rest from the burdens of legalism and judgment, relief from the weight of anxiety and worry, release from the yoke of unrewarding and endless labour for that which cannot satisfy.

“Come unto me,” said Jesus, all you who are tired, all you who are feeling drained, all you who are feeling empty, all you who are weighed down by disappointment, all you who are weary of the struggles of life and weighed down by your sense of duty and of what is right and wrong, “come unto me, and I will give you rest.”   In other words, the promise of Jesus is this: “I will lift your burden from you, I will cleanse you, I will fill you with real joy and I will establish you in a relationship with God that will give you new life, here and in the world to come.”

That is the first part of what Jesus had to say, of what Jesus promised.  The second part is this: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”

Now that sounds like a contradiction, Jesus promising rest from our burdens in one breath and turning around and speaking of taking up another burden and another yoke in the next.  What we need – we think – is a break, a rest, not simply a replacement of one kind of labour for another.  At least, that’s what worldly logic would dictate.  After all a burden is still a burden, a yoke is still a yoke.

What Jesus was driving at however is that there is no such thing as a burden-free life.  Life will always have burdens, but it seems that there may be some options, some choices, some alternatives when it comes to the question of what kind of burden we will carry.  As a minister, I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the years offering comfort to people struggling with their particular burdens in life: trying to provide for their families, trying to raise their children and guide them so that they grow up healthy and able to walk in a good way, trying to throw off their enslavement to addictions.  I’ve dealt with those who lives were overwhelmed with constant activity and conflict, provided counsel to those weighed down heavily by the burden of dealing with their personal activities and also the activities and the hassles they have with others – their spouses, their children, their parents and their extended families, their bosses and their coworkers, and sometimes even the people they know from church.

One thing I have learned in this is that life’s greatest burden is not always – and indeed, not often – having too much to do and too much to care about.  Some of the happiest folk I know are the busiest and most caring.  Rather the greatest burden we most often have is our constant engagement with the trivial and the unimportant, with the temporary and the passing, with the ultimately uncontrollable and unpredictable.

The issue in life is not if we shall be burdened, but rather with what shall we be burdened.  It is not if we shall be yoked, but to what and with whom we shall be yoked.

Jesus has no interest in freeing us to live life with no challenge and no purpose.  Rather, Jesus is interested in lifting the burdens off our backs that drain us of life, that suck the life out of us, so that He can place another on them that is better suited to us, one that is worth carrying, one that merits our time and energy.  He is interested in removing the harness that we make for ourselves, or that the world makes for us with its constant demands and pressures, so that He can place around our necks His own yoke, His own harness, the yoke, the harness, the burden that brings to us new life, new energy, new joy.  To us, and to others through us.  The promise and the reality is that the burden that Christ has for us, the yoke He offers to us when we come to Him and learn from Him, is an easy burden, one suited to us, one tailored for us.  The promise and the reality is that in wearing His yoke and learning from Him, we will find rest.

A number of years ago, shortly after we moved to Saskatchewan, our family paid a visit to the Western Development Museum here in Saskatoon.  Among the displays showing what life was like for the early European settlers who came here, were some of the tools and utensils commonly used in life on the farm and around the homes of that day.  One interesting item I remember seeing was a yoke – not one worn by a pair of oxen – but a yoke designed for a person to use.  It was carved and shaped in such a way to fit about the shoulders and around the back of the neck.  The tour guide let visitors try it on for size, so to speak, and it was interesting to see how it might fit one person really well, and the next person would find it really uncomfortable.  Those kinds of yokes were apparently designed for carrying buckets of water.  When I tried it on, it was actually quite comfortable; I felt that I could have carried two buckets full of water very easily for a very long distance without a problem.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that the yoke that Jesus puts upon us is an easy one, meaning, one designed for us, individually and personally, so that it doesn’t drag us down, chafe or bind or weary us in the effort of carrying a load to the point of exhaustion.  It is well fitted for us.

Jesus’ promise is not that we shall find an escape from our burdens and labours and efforts and challenges, not that we will be able to get away from it all, but rather that He will refresh our souls when we come into His presence, He will give us renewed strength for the journey, so that when we venture forth with Him into the world again, He will replace the burdens that destroy and exhaust us with a burden and a yoke that will be life affirming and easier to carry.  His promise is that when we come unto Him, when we learn from Him and offer ourselves to Him, He will minister to us and through us, and that He will give strength and hope and joy and peace, and patience and love, that He will give us new life, here and now and in the world to come.

“Come to me” said Jesus, “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.” Amen.