Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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. -Matthew 11:28-30 Read the whole chapter.
Well, is anybody tired, weary, feeling burdened? The truth is we probably, at just about any time in life could say yes to that. Whether it's that monotony of the day-to-day grind of getting up, going to work, paying the bills, driving the kids from here to there, going to get the groceries or doctor's appointments, and all of those things. Sometimes just life itself kind of wears on us. Then there are the times when the unexpected, the exceptional, and even the out of the blue come crashing down upon us: a sickness, an illness, the loss of a loved one. We feel the weight and the burden of those. So prior to 2020 most of us probably had our bags loaded up and were carrying a decent burden of our own. And then 2020 comes. I know that a lot of people looked upon this year with that hopefulness, that 2020 is that perfect vision that you have when you go and get your eyes checked. They thought 2020 is gonna be a good year. And we found that there are some other things going on in the world that kind of pull us away from that notion of it being a good year. We've experienced a global pandemic like this Earth hasn't seen in a hundred years. We've got a recession unlike anything that we've experienced going back to the Great Depression, thankfully, things seem to be rebounding from that. We've got civil unrest like we haven't seen in decades. And why not throw in a Saharan dust storm that we haven't seen in 50 or 60 years that blows all the way across the Atlantic and drops that sand across our country as well. We just have to think: what next? Honestly, sometimes we get to that point in life where we say: can I get a break? Just give me a break.
So we come to a text like this mornings. We think: oh wow, did you hear what Jesus just said? "Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest." Hey, sign me up for that. Jesus, I could use a rest right now. A rest from all this stuff going on in the world. A rest from all of these things that I've had to change and adjust to and experience right now. I could use that rest. So all those heavy bags, all those burdens, all those things we're carrying around, we want to be able to think that we can just throw those off on Jesus to say, alright you can go put those in my room or store them away in a closet I'm done with them for now. But unfortunately, that's not where Jesus finishes. Jesus' idea of offering us rest isn't that he's going to be the bag boy or the porter that takes care of all of those things. We don't get to go put our feet up and sip on a cold drink by the pool or beach and just relax and take life easy. Because life just keeps happening. So Jesus says, "Come to me you who are weary you who are heavy burdened and I'll give you rest." And we think wait a minute, where's the rest? Because I've still got all this stuff in my hands, in my lap following me around. So we have to follow a little further and see what else Jesus has to say here.
He says, "Take my yoke upon you." Wait a minute, Jesus you just said something about rest and a yoke, sounds an awful lot like work, what are you signing me up for here? "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." This word burden gets used one other time in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is saying "Come to me all of you who are weary and heavy burdened. I will give you rest." Well, Jesus also uses this later in Matthew's Gospel in chapter 23 where he's talking about the burden that the religious officials were putting upon people by all of the minutia and all of the rules that they were giving them. Moses went up a mountain and came back with Ten Commandments and somehow those Ten Commandments became a list of 611 rules that people had to live by. 240 of them were thou shall rules (positive ones) and 365 of them were thou shalt not rules. One other pastor I saw comment on this, 365 thou shalt nots: that's one for each day of the year. The burden that the people were experiencing under the weight of this religious system that had been placed upon them was crushing. People struggled to draw close to God and yet they continued to fall short. The burden was more than they could handle.
Well, Jesus is offering a different way, a different possibility, a new way of living when he says come and bring your burdens here, learn from me, and let me share that burden with you. My first appointment out of seminary we were in Lafayette at a church that I was serving as the associate pastor. We had a gentleman in the congregation who had a team of oxen. He told me about these oxen were a lack of a better word, big pets. He would take them around to country fairs, festivals, and farmer type events. He had a yoke that he would put on them. We had a church picnic in that first summer that we were there. These oxen were brought out and he would give kids rides on them. Now I grew up on the edge of my grandparent's farm. I'd been around the cattle that my grandfather kept down in the pasture. You know cows are not small but these oxen were enormous. I mean the shoulder at the top of the oxen back was above my head. These massive creatures that were pretty docile and gentle had this yoke. These enormous powerful beasts together could move immense loads. He would take them and do demonstrations of them hauling logs and wagon loads of stuff just to show how much these oxen were capable of. But the thing about a yoke, particularly this one that Jesus invites us to, is that it's built for two. One animal cannot pull that load by itself.
If you hung the yoke on only one, it would just drop to the ground. You needed that equal pressure from both of them because it was designed to do one task, two animals. One yoke, one task. Whatever was attached to be pulled or drawn behind it was attached to the center of the yoke between the two animals. As I said if it was only on one, it would get cockeyed and not be effective. My understanding after learning and hearing more about the oxen as well is that often when a younger animal is being trained or broken to learn how to pull that load, they're often paired with an animal that's experienced. One that has been doing this for a while and understands how it works. It helps calm the other one down. But even though the yoke is shared often the experienced animal ends up doing a little bit more of the work so that the other can learn and kinds of come alongside.
I think the yoke that Jesus is inviting us to is much like that. That we're by no means partners or equals with Jesus. But rather when it comes to the stuff of life, the baggage, the burden, the worries, the cares, the things that weigh us down: Jesus invites us into a rest in which he offers to participate in helping us to carry that load. I think that's the thing, sometimes we forget that we bring our worries to Jesus. We cast our cares upon him, we think that we just get to unload it and walk away, leave it all behind us. But the thing is: the kids still need dinner that night, the bills still need to be paid, you still have to go pick up the prescription at the pharmacy and take the medication, and the list goes on and on. But Jesus is saying those things in life, you don't have to face them alone. You don't have to be that strong independent person that does it yourself. You don't have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. You need to come to me and allow me to work with you to help you to see you through. Because all of that stuff, all of that baggage doesn't just magically vanish. It's there, but Jesus offers us a way, a strength, and the means to be able to get through those things, even when it's tough, even when it's challenging. Jesus says come to me, take my yoke upon you, let me share that load and learn from me, I am gentle and humble in heart. My plan isn't to weigh you down. My plan isn't to beat you up and make you feel bad about all those things you can't do on your own. But rather to give you the strength to stand, to walk, to push forward, and to continue in this life that I'm calling you to. And if you do that, these weary souls, you'll find some rest in me. My yoke is easy, my burden is light.
It seems that we're at a time in our world more than ever where we need to be reminded of this. That we're all carrying burdens. We don't know what tomorrow will bring, but we don't face it alone. The wonderful thing about not facing it alone is that it's not just Jesus that invites us to take his yoke and allow Him to help us on this road. The thing that I know many of you have missed about gathering for worship here together, in your Sunday schools, your Bible Studies, small groups is one another. Because when we enter into this relationship with Jesus, when we become a part of this community, the body of Christ, the faces that you see sitting around you are a part of that crew that helped to carry your load as well. You've been there for one another giving people rides to appointments, bringing a meal by when someone's not feeling well, sending a card, picking up the phone and calling. You've done that for one another and you've had it done for you. Those are the blessings and the joy that we find as a part of the body of Christ. Jesus continues to invite us. You need a break? Jesus says come to me friends, you who have burdens and worries and hurts and cares that are more than you can handle. Let's take care of this together. So the break that we are offered is that we never have to face these things alone and the one who overcame death and sin, well he can handle our cares and worries as well.