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July 6, 2014 Kim Marceau, St. James’ Cathedral

There are many stories we read in the Bible that I really wish I was there to see and hear firsthand. Like how cool would it be to have seen the parting of the Red Sea, or David beating Goliath, or Jesus feeding the five thousand? And to hear the Sermon on the Mount, and the Great Commission, and Peter preaching on Pentecost. I just think that would be amazing.

Today’s Gospel reading is perhaps a little less dramatic or famous, but I still think I would have liked to be there to see Jesus calling out the crowds. “John fasts and you say he has a demon. I eat and drink and you call be a drunk and a glutton. There’s just no pleasing you. You won’t be happy with anything.” I can see myself there, saying, “You go Jesus! You tell ‘em!” Then he would look at me, so loving and peaceful, and say,” Come to me, all you that are weary, and I will give you rest.” Then I would be wrapped up in his arms snug & smug. A perfect picture. But then I really think about it, and I get the distinct feeling that Jesus would be talking to me when he said “to what will I compare this generation?” I would be included in those who Jesus is exasperated with, those who are impossible to please, and it would just be too convicting – in these words Jesus is calling me out too.

When you asked me to speak you didn’t do what I told you to do. When I stayed silent you begged me to speak.

When your life was hard you didn’t trust me and you panicked. When your life was easy you forgot about me and did your own thing.

We are ridiculously fickle and hard to please, and it is only God with His infinite patience who is equipped to deal with us. I am confronted with my need to change, and the fact that it is only with Jesus that this change can be true and lasting.

In the reading from Romans, Paul seems to be talking out loud about his good intentions and inevitable screw-ups.  Here again I would have loved to be there to say, yes, Paul, I totally agree, I get it! I want to do what is right too, but I keep messing it up. I feel better knowing Paul had the same problem. Paul grew up totally entrenched in the Law, knowing what was right and what was wrong. Now he is grappling with the knowledge that Jesus supersedes the Law, now when Paul sins he doesn’t just need to bring a goat or a bird to the Temple, he needs to go to Jesus and confess his sin and ask for forgiveness.  This is right and this is good but what? Paul sins again! He doesn’t want to, he wants to do good but he does the very thing that he hates. He is trying to do what is right, struggling to do what is good. But sin always seems to win out. It’s the same for all of us. We plan to do the right thing. We usually have good intentions. But the fact is we are human. Sinful. Fallen. Broken. But what does Paul finally say after airing his frustrations, frustrations we share? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. The answer is Jesus. This is what Jesus meant about his yoke bring easy.

 

We are fairly removed from this illustration, but imagine one wooden yoke built to fit over the back of two oxen side-by-side. The idea is that the inexperienced young ox will be yoked next to the fully trained mature ox. The bigger ox guides where the yoke will take the young ox. If the young ox is trying to rush up ahead or slow down, or just stop, he is naturally kept to the steady rhythm of the older ox. If he gets distracted by something off to the left or to the right the yoke will keep him to his required path. So when I am yoked to Jesus I travel through life at His pace and on His path. When I am tempted to race ahead, He keeps me at the stride He has planned for me. When I get frustrated and want to quit, He gently urges me on and I don’t have to feel like I am carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, because the burden is mostly handled by His broader and stronger shoulders. When I veer off course by my actions in life, Jesus gently steers me back into His will because I have said, yes, Jesus – you are my King and my Guide and I choose to abide in You. My roots grow deep because I am grounded in You and the fruit that I produce is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. I stop all my striving and thrashing around, I admit my weakness and I offer myself to You.

Isaac’s servant is an example of someone who let go of the reins and let God be in control. He wasn’t scheming and striving to find a wife for Isaac. He prayed for God to lead him to a suitable wife and set out on his journey. He didn’t stress about it - he left it in God’s hands. He yoked himself with God, and God led Him to where He wanted Him to go and revealed the wife He had chosen for Isaac.

 What I take from this is… Stop fighting a fight you can’t win on your own. Something that I struggle with is impatience. I can get up in the morning and resolve to be patient…Okay that’s it! I’m sick of being so frustrating, I WILL be patient. I will not get angry! Well as the day unfolds I am still hoping to be patient but life happens… my internet is slow, and the kids are fighting, and someone cuts me off in traffic and the line in the grocery store is so slow, and I am gritting my teeth and biting my tongue and even if I don’t actually blow up I am a ticking time bomb with no peace. But what if I stop struggling with my sin and accept God’s grace. What if I start my day offering myself to God, ground myself in prayer, and pray that through the Holy Spirit I will grow in peace and patience?  This doesn’t mean things will be easy – it takes time and energy - but it ceases to be a solo struggle of willpower because with Jesus and through the Holy Spirit we can develop the fruit of the Spirit – including self control. And it is the fruit of self-control, not the resolve of willpower, that is the power of God working in us to rise above our sin and addiction and failure. Jesus didn’t overcome the world for us to have to overcome sin on our own. Jesus says follow me. Yoke yourself with me. The ground may still be rocky and steep and winding but when we are yoked to Jesus we are carrying the weight He knows we can carry and walking on the path He has chosen specifically and lovingly for us.  Even if the way is unclear or dark, we are safe stepping out with Jesus. N.T. Wright says, “…what matters is character… the sort Jesus was urging and modelling – the character of patience, humility, and above all generous, self-giving love… You don’t get that character just by trying. You get it by following Jesus.” If we yoke ourselves with Jesus we can’t help but be transformed.

 

Listen to what the Jesus says in the Message says: Matthew 11.28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”