Posts Tagged ‘Matthew 11:16-19 25-30’

Why Is Everything So Heavy 7-9-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, I explore what appears to be a somewhat irritated Jesus making a familiar statement “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I’ve talked about hiking before…and how it’s a pretty normal thing that I do when we are out in the mountains of Colorado. One could argue that I do a little bit around here too, although its probably safer to just call that walking.

But if there’s one thing in common about the various hikes that I’ve done over the years, they’ve all been short enough to do in less than a day…and even on some of the longer ones…hikes that last long enough that I need to bring along a few supplies in a backpack, its pretty well been limited to a jacket and raingear, and a sack lunch and water bottle…nothing too drastic.

But there’s a lot of hikers out there who are way more extreme than I will ever hope to be…and they’ll go on hikes that will last for days, or weeks…and in the case of some truly amazing people…even hikes that will last for months…and for these people…they need to bring along everything that they’ll need to sustain themselves…tents, sleeping bags, days-worth of food and water, cooking supplies, first aid kits, and the list goes on and on…and honestly, when I even think about I get tired…because you’ve got to cram all of that stuff in a pack…and you’ve got to lug it along over every single step that you take. I can only imagine just how that load must feel. Because when you combine it all, it has got to be so heavy.

The strength and the endurance of these extreme hikers amazes me…and I think it would be safe to use that old expression that they are strong as an ox. (pause) That’s an interesting saying isn’t it…one that, if we think about it…is pretty dated isn’t it? Oxen were the tractors or the heavy duty trucks of the past weren’t they…stocky, strong…able to move heavy burdens for extended periods of time…as they were latched into a yoke that was attached to a heavy wagon or to drag a plow through the field.

It’s an image of a by-gone era to think about a pair of oxen yoked together isn’t it? But its an image that, perhaps comes to mind today as we consider an odd little batch of teaching from Jesus…teachings that include what I imagine to be a pretty familiar bit of scripture to many of you…come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest…and then the kicker…take my yoke upon you…for my yoke is easy and my burden light. (pause)
Now I don’t know about you…but when I hear the word yoke…I don’t think of anything easy or light…maybe it’s the farm kid that lives in my brain, but to hear yoke is to envision those oxen straining against the old wooden yoke for hours on end…and so to consider Jesus’ odd little teaching here at the end of this passage about squabbling children, and  his thinly veiled irritation at the fickle ways that many in his audience have criticized the ministry of both Jesus and John before him…maybe, this whole thing mixed in together just comes across as confusing. (pause)

And so as we think about all this stuff today, its important to back up and think about just why Jesus says what he says today…and in the larger narrative around this passage, we hear about the opposition that Jesus is finding in his ongoing ministry…and the ways that he is criticized for his approach…and how it mirrors the criticism that John faced before him, even though John’s ministry was drastically different. But yet…there was a common thread between the two…the kingdom of heaven has come near…and if that’s the message, then I find myself wondering just what their opponents really took issue with…That the kingdom would come near to us…that God would willingly near to us? Or that the behavior of both of them fails to match up to the Pharisees perceived notion of what a faithful life looks like…or how to get there. (pause)
But before we start jumping on the Pharisees case, we should stop and realize that its human nature to think that we have to do something, or maybe that we have to do a lot of things in order for the kingdom of heaven to come around to the point where we can access it.

Think of the common questions that we face…what must I do? How do I achieve that…isn’t it up to me? I don’t know why it is, but it seems to be deeply rooted within us to think that we’ve got to earn it…whether by works of the law…or by being sorry enough for the bad things we do…or by praying enough…or by reading our Bible enough, or by giving enough offering…or any other achievement that our fickle minds might come up with…and while we might start to get down on ourselves when we think this way…its nothing new.

If we look way back in history…and the human perception of the divine…its that gods were distant and cruel…and they were in control of everything…and if you wanted to live and prosper you needed to stay on the good side of the gods…and you accomplished that by living a certain way and by making offerings…but the thing was that you never really knew how you stood with them…unless things went really badly and then you realized that the gods were mad at you just before you starved to death because your crops didn’t grow…but if on the other hand things were going pretty well you had to do all these other things to show the gods just how thankful you were and you never knew if you had done enough to stay on their good side. Crazy huh?  Do you see how futile…how frustrating that must be…to never know where you really stood? (pause) Think of how heavy of a burden that would be to carry around with you every single day…of never knowing if you’ve done enough to keep the powers that be happy with you. (pause)

But what if that wasn’t the case?  What if, our God…one that has made all of this out delight and joy…including us…what if that God takes joy…takes pleasure in revealing the truth to his beloved children that they are good enough…that they are loved and accepted as they are…and that no amount of sacrifice or duty or obligation is ever required in order to gain his favor…that the divine comes near to us simply because of God’s delight in us…because when John or when Jesus says the kingdom of heaven has come near…maybe that’s what they’re talking about. (pause)
But on the other hand…if you’ve been taught your entire life that you are only acceptable to the divine if you follow the rules and make all the right sacrifices and pray all the right prayers…and then you find some random person attracting a following by throwing that old notion out the window…I can see why they would try to find something to criticize…something to discredit the message of this guy…because your rules and regulations are safe…and if you follow them out of obligation and fear of what will happen if you don’t.

That’s the yoke of the Pharisees…that’s the yoke of a bunch of rules listed out that with the tagline of do this and your good, don’t and you’ll burn. (pause) Can you see how much of a burden that would be? To never know if you’ve covered the bases…to never know where you stand?

But Jesus says it is finished…there is no checklist…there is no minimum level of achievement because God has already claimed you…and when Jesus says his yoke is easy…I think this is what he’s talking about…and that is something that we can rest easy in…because in the end its not about what we do or say or think…its about what God has already said about us…and God looks at you and says you are mine….its not up to you…and its certainly not up to anyone else to make that judgement call where you are concerned. (pause)
Now I say all this…and yet I know that life is heavy…and we are really good and filling up our proverbial backpack with all kinds of burdens and we tell ourselves I’ve got to carry this. I won’t even try to tell you what your burdens are…but you know.  Life is hard, and I believe that God knows that, because through Christ, the God that takes delight in us, has experienced life as one of us, with all the burdens that come with it.

But yet, when Jesus says my yoke is easy and my burden light, I believe that he is assuring us that the one thing we don’t have to carry…the one thing we don’t have to stress ourselves out about…the one thing that we don’t have to worry about is whether or not we are good enough for God….because in Jesus Christ he has already come near to you…not because of anything that you have done, not because of anything that you strive to be…but simply because our God takes delight in you. (pause)
May we hear this news with joy…and find peace and solace in the promise that we have each been claimed by God, and that God delights in us as we are, right here, right now.  We may be burdened, and in fact its probably safe to say that we are…but the question of where you stand with God is not something to weigh yourself down with. (pause)
Why is everything so heavy? I don’t know. I really don’t…but this is one burden that you don’t have to carry. Amen.


(This sermon’s title and background is credited to Linkin Park and their song “Heavy.” You can see the video for this song here: