Take this yoke | October 7    


Text: Matthew 11:25-30

There’s something freeing about admitting you don’t have a clue.

Two of the most significant epiphanies in my life have been not flashes of profound insight but rather flashes of profound ignorance.  The first one happened after my two years at Hesston College.  I was taking a year off school with four friends.  We were living in Atlanta for a year to see how the “real world,” really worked.  My goal for the year was to learn about what I had identified as the four C’s of independent, adult male living, about which I knew next to nothing.  Construction, Cars, Computers, and Cooking.  I got a job at a construction site of town houses.  One day I was taking a lunch break, eating by myself in a house that had been framed, but had not been drywalled.  So all the electrical and plumbing in the walls was visible.  I specifically remember that moment of looking up at this complex network of wood, wire, copper, and plastic, and realizing I didn’t understand anything.

This flash of profound ignorance encompassed not just home construction, but also the entire human constructed environment I was in.  Construction, Cars, Computers, Cooking, and pretty much everything else.  That’s what I get for being a Sociology and Bible major in college.  But in that moment, I finally got it.  I got that I didn’t get it.  I was an alien to my environment, and my environment was alien to me.  That year I took some strides in becoming more familiar with the world we have made for ourselves, although I have to say that among the four C’s Cooking came in last place and hasn’t fared much better since.

That was 1998, and I was 20, half a lifetime ago.

My second flash of ignorance happened ten years later, in 2008, and I only know that for sure because I went back and checked my journals.  I was 30, I was back visiting Mom and Dad, walking down the lane, looking over at Mom’s big garden.  This is what I wrote in my journal: “I had the sudden realization that I don’t know anything.  At least anything important.  I don’t know how the most basic things of life work – how my body works, how to grow plants, how soil relates with sun and seed and water.  I had the feeling that I wasn’t sure I knew anything that really mattered.  This is both a revelation, and slightly discouraging.”

The Atlanta revelation: profound ignorance of the human constructed world.

The Bellefontaine farm and garden revelation: profound ignorance of the natural world.

That pretty much covers it.

I didn’t immediately make the connection between these two experiences, but when I did it felt like rather than just more information, I needed a whole different orientation toward life.

Toward the middle of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has something to say about ignorance and orientation toward life.  Matthew 11:25-26:

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you Abba, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to little children; yes, Abba, for such was your gracious will.

These are unexpected words, especially from the mouth of a teacher like Jesus.  Praising God that those who are supposedly wise and educated aren’t getting his message at all.  We have plenty of educators in our congregation.  Let’s say you pause in the middle of a class and ask for a show of hands for how many students are understanding what you’re talking about.  Seeing none, you blurt out a joyous hallelujah.

To be fair to Jesus, he’s perhaps not so much celebrating that the supposed wise and educated ones, those will degrees in Bible and so on, aren’t getting it, as he is celebrating who does get it: the children and child-like.  Babies.  Those who have nothing to unlearn.  Those wide open to the mysteries and beauty of this world.  Those not locked into particular camps of thought.  Those whose hearts are soft and flexible and know only the language of love.

Not that I would trust my car to a four year old mechanic.  But I’m more than willing to trust their insights and questions into what’s really going on in this world.  About what really matters.

As the years pass we take on certain perspectives, we bind ourselves to certainties that end up hiding more than they reveal.  Or we just get loaded down, burdened by the responsibilities of being responsible adults, charged with holding it all together.  Like the ox with the yoke, dutifully plowing straight ahead on the only path we can see, to do our necessary work.

Which is likely why Jesus follows up with these words:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

These are not words of judgment, but words of invitation.

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

Had those first listeners been paying attention in synagogue from week to week, Jesus’ words would have sounded familiar.  They are the words of Wisdom.

That’s Wisdom with a capital W.

Wisdom traditions existed throughout the Ancient Near East.  Jewish teachers added their own insights and wove them into their own tradition.  Wisdom was often personified as a Woman, who worked right alongside God in the creation and re-creation of the world.

In the book of Sirach, Wisdom says, “Come to me, you who desire me, and eat your fill of my fruits.  For the memory of me is sweeter than honey, and the possession of me sweeter than honeycomb.”

Jesus samples these words from Wisdom, adding his own theme.  He doesn’t seem all that interested in information, which is quite different than Wisdom.  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  This is where Wisdom is found.

It’s like one of those invitations to a party that says the only thing you need to bring is yourself.

You bring yourself, and all your heavy burdens.  All you thought you knew.  You walk towards Wisdom, toward the Christ.  You give these burdens, like an offering, the only gift you have to give.  You unstrap whatever heavy yoke has been around your neck.  They and you are accepted without condition.  You unlearn.  There is no interrogation, no judgment.

You find sweet, necessary, soul-restoring rest.  The Christ claims you. Mother Wisdom holds you near, like a child.

But this does come with a catch, if you want to call it that.

Jesus praises child-like openness to wisdom, then gives the invitation to rest, and then a another invitation.  “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for my yoke is good, and my burden is light.”

The Rabbis spoke often of the yoke of Torah.  Those joyful obligations that one takes upon oneself.   Another frequently referenced yoke was the yoke of foreign oppressors, like the Egyptians and Babylonians, and the Romans, who placed their own demands on the backs of the people.

The catch is that there is no yoke-free way to live.  As we come of age and leave childhood, some of these burdens are forced onto us, not of our own choosing, and some we take up on our own.

The question is what kind of yoke will we bear?  What yokes are we to throw off, and what yokes are we to accept as gifts, as invitations into necessary work?

Or, since even I who grew up on a farm with livestock have no memory of ever having used an actual yoke with cattle, to update the language a bit: To what are we attached?  To what are we bound?  Once we have unloaded our false sense of self, What is it we must carry through this world?

Now it’s 2018, and I’m 40.  I guess I’m due for another epiphany of ignorance.  It makes me wonder how each of us would answer this question at different points in life.  What do you know at 50 that you didn’t know at 40?  What do you unlearn at 70 that you thought you knew at 60?  What yoke are given at 80 that you know you must carry the rest of the way?

It’s World Communion Sunday, so our scope is broad today.  We remember that our lives are bound together with sisters and brothers around the world who also gather around the table of bread and cup.

Take my yoke upon you, says Jesus.

Take this yoke, this joyful burden.

Today here is one yoke it seems we are asked to carry.  And this is it:

We must love this world.  We must love this world – let this be our yoke.  This world of construction, cars, computers, and cooking, this world of bacteria and seeds and gardens.  Even if you’re trying to become as unattached as possible from the need for a car, and even though some of the bacteria can kill you, you must love this world.

You don’t have to intellectually understand it all, but you must love this world.

You don’t have to slip the entirety of this world over your shoulders and carry it as if you were a beast of burden.  You are not a beast of burden.  You are, what shall we say?  A creature of calling.  And so you must take this yoke.  You must love this world.

You must love this world like the young Francis of Assisi, son of a wealthy cloth maker, who slipped out of his family inheritance, exchanging those robes for a life of wandering village to village, tree to tree.  Who came to love the world and all its creatures precisely because he had unburdened himself from “the world” to which he did not conform.

You must love this world so much that you’re able to wear the nice clothes, to live the settled life, to spend much of your days in an office or in your home or at your computer, without becoming attached to any of it, in order to do the work that you must do, for a season, until it’s time to lay down that yoke and accept another.

You must love this world that we are polluting.  You must mourn the death of species and celebrate the discovery of our limitations.

You must love this world enough to rest, to Sabbath, to remember that it keeps spinning without your labor.

You must love this Communion of Christ and Wisdom and World and you and your enemy.

What is the burden you must now lay down and let rest?  What is the yoke you must now carry a little further down the road?