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2023-07-09 Pentecost 6

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

Last Sunday we talked about the cost of following Jesus. We know that the free gift of salvation is just that - a free gift by God’s grace through the life, death and resurrection of Christ our Lord. And yet to pick up our own cross and follow our Savior often comes with a big cost. When we bow the knee to Christ alone, the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh will often put up resistance. And this is where we feel the sword of division that our allegiance to Christ creates. But at the same time, our Lord brings us help and comfort. Today we have these words: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (MT 11:28-30).

Growing up here in the enormous metropolis of Moose Jaw, I never encountered much in the way of modern Farm Machinery. There were a few John Deeres kicking around, hither and thither but I didn’t really run into all that many farm implements of yesteryear such as yokes. The only yokes I knew about where the yellow ones inside of an egg! But then when I moved to Oxbow, I got a world class education in yokes. Lots of our members in the parish still had them up on the walls in the barn. For the uninitiate, farming yokes were wooden devices used to link two animals together, usually Oxen, to help pull a plow or a wagon or something of that nature. In fact, that is where the fine Saskatchewan community of Oxbow got its name! The Souris River valley where the town is bends in the yokey shape of an Oxbow.

Jesus used this illustration to point out a problem that the people were having during His earthly ministry. The problem was that the Pharisees and teachers of God’s Law – the people who were supposed to be the shepherds of God’s flock – were not doing their jobs. They were supposed to care about God’s people and look after them. Instead, they were burdening them with the long list of God’s Law.

If you remember what it was like when you first learned how to drive or when you took driver training class, the instructors insisted that you did everything perfectly. You needed to keep every traffic law during your road test or else you would fail and face the scorn and shame of not getting your license on the first try. In fact, some of us took not one, not two but maybe three tries to get it! And that’s OK. It reminds us that God is the Holy Trinity! But I remember taking my road tests like they were yesterday. I was so tense, white knuckled, even. I was trying so hard not to make a mistake. I was worried that I was going to mess up. I was stressed out to the max. I was sweating more than Mike Tyson at a spelling bee! All the while the Driver’s Ed instructor was staring at me with that fierce glare, judging my driving skill and looking for any infraction, any imperfection to deduct on my score sheet! It was truly a nerve wracking experience!

All of that stress was what God’s people were under twenty four hours a day, seven days a week! They were living under the crushing burden of the Law, trying to live it perfectly. It was a white knuckled grip on the steering wheel of life. But that’s what the Law demands. It demands perfection. It demands absolute adherence. Any deviation and failure results. The Pharisees were teaching the people of God that in order to be accepted and loved by Him, they needed to follow His law perfectly. They needed to work their way into His good books. They needed to earn God’s love and acceptance. What a burden! This practice turned their faith into a big long list of scary rules. It was totally devoid of joy and life! Paranoia and a heavy conscience took the place of peace and freedom that faith in God should create.

This is what Jesus’ words this morning are all about. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus, the Good Shepherd, our Lord and Savior came to right our wrongs. He came to cancel the power of sin. And that’s what He has done for us and for all people by His bloody cross and His triumphant resurrection from the dead. He has given faith, joy and peace back to the people of God. He has taken the burden of the Law and sin upon Himself. He has worn the hard yoke of judgment for you on the cross and has exchanged it for the easy yoke of faith. He has made our spiritual burdens light.

Jesus points out clearly that our worth as people does not come from our own effort or our own understanding! He actually makes fun of the “wise” guys – the Pharisees - both ancient and modern alike – as people who God has hidden His mysteries from. It is the simple babies and people with child-like faith who can receive the promises of God. Education, money, status, wealth and good looks are things that people value and give places of prominence. God, on the other hand, doesn’t. Rather, He finds value in His creatures because we are lovingly made and have been forgiven all of our sins in the gift of Christ our Savior.

Jesus teaches us too that not only do we have eternal salvation from our sins and relief from the burden of the Law, we also have life with Him. We are yoked to Christ. The yoke bound two animals together. Likewise, we are bound, united and linked to Christ in our Baptism. This is what Jesus means when He says “learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” It was like when two Oxen were yoked together, a more experienced animal could teach a younger inexperienced one. Jesus teaches us about Himself and about God’s will. God’s will for people is to be in a relationship with us – to be in communion with us. This is the “rest” that Jesus gives to those who by repentance and faith come to know God and live with Him in communion. This new yoke of Christ is a continual relief from the heavy burdens of life and the heavy burden of trying to measure up to God’s perfection.

As life gets faster and faster all around us, we certainly can feel devoid of rest. The rat race continually bombards us all the more, all the time. Life can seem like it is passing us by at an incredible rate! I can’t believe how the time flies the older one gets. We’re already passed the middle of 2023 already! It is unbelievable. Where does the time go?! In the midst of our commitments of time and financial burdens, in the center of our stress and grief, in the middle of our chaotic lives, we have this wonderful invitation from our loving God. “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This is such good news for us. It is an invitation for everyone to come to Jesus so that He can give to us His goodness, His forgiveness and His rest. It is our invitation, for all who carry the burdens of life: conflict and wars, cancer and strokes, divorce and unemployment. Jesus gives us an invitation to come to Him and lay our burdens on His cross, knowing that we are yoked to His goodness and love.

Our Christian faith in Christ our Lord should not be a burden to us. Instead, it is to be a joy! It is a joyous trust in knowing, believing and firmly holding that Christ has risen from the dead. He has conquered all of our burdens and broken our yoke to sin and death and instead has yoked Himself to us, that we can receive our rest from Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. His yoke is easy and His burden is light and thanks be to God for that! Amen.

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