Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
My Yoke is Easy, and My Burden is Light
FAQ – Faithfully Asked Questions, a summer sermon series on questions asked by the children and adults of the church, week 2 of 7
Preached June 20, 2021 for the 9:30am Worship
It’s week 2 of our FAQ series, Faithfully Asked Questions. Last week Caitlan answered one of your questions about who is Jesus really? Really God? Really human? If you missed it, its up on our YouTube channel.
Today, here’s a question one of you submitted…
“Matthew 11:30… (my yoke is easy, and my burden is light) ummm… really, Jesus? How is it easy to follow Jesus in a world that’s so oriented towards success, money, consumption, and competition? And if it’s so easy to follow Jesus, why aren’t more people doing it?”
Lets listen for what Jesus was trying to say before he said “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” This is Jesus speaking…
Scripture Matthew 11:12-30
“12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been forcing itself,[f] and the forceful have claimed it for themselves. 13 That’s what all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, John is Elijah who is (promised) to come. 15 Let anyone who hears, believe!
16 “But to what shall I compare this generation?
It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
17 ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance;
We cried, but you did not mourn.’
18 See John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
Yet wisdom has been vindicated by her deeds.”[h]
20 Then Jesus began to criticize the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not (change).
21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre or Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 So I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you.
23 And you, Capernaum, will you be “exalted to heaven?” No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, Sodom would still be a city today. 24 So I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the city of Sodom than for you.”
25 At that time Jesus said, “Thank you, Abba, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden some things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son like the Father, and no one knows the Father like the Son or anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal God.
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your spirit. 30 See (for yourself) how easy my yoke is, and how light my burden is.”
The word of God for the people of God… Thanks be to God.
America’s founding included the principle which we remember with the shorthand phrase, “separation of church and state.” That phrase is not clear enough to express all the founders were trying to say. For example, it obviously doesn’t only mean church. It means all religions, all faiths.
That phrase doesn’t make it clear the founders’ intention was to protect religions from state, to keep state out of mandating or preferring any type, form, or style of religion. The phrase “separation of church and state” sometimes leads folk to think separate state from church AND separate church from state, meaning church, be neutral or at least quiet on all matters of state. But many of our founders expressed their faith as a reason for how and why they were designing this whole democratic republic way of doing community together. The founders fully expected and encouraged and practiced faith and religion pushing the state to be more just and more holy.
I’ve often wondered how we could phrase it more accurately… perhaps “protection of faith from state?” Would that clearly keep state from interfering or preferring any faith and leave room for every faith to hold state accountable?
If we mishear that phrase, as if church is supposed to be separated from state, quiet or neutral on state issues, then church is only left with the personal, the individual, not the communal. I think that’s why some American churches prioritize personal belief in Jesus, personal relationship with Jesus, and work to compel individuals to change their beliefs and actions. Some might call it saving souls.
Jesus definitely cares for individuals. When any individual in trouble, in need crossed Jesus’ path, he paused everything to give that individual his time and attention, his wisdom, and often his healing power.
But as we read the gospels over and over again, we begin to notice Jesus’ interactions with individuals are individual examples of his greater communal purpose. Jesus was always trying to change the whole community, the whole city, the whole country, the whole religion, the whole politics. The way he paused and interacted with individuals was a model of how he hoped the system, the city, the country, the religions and the politics would treat that same individual if Jesus wasn’t here but if God’s kingdom was here, now. Jesus’ interactions and invitations to individuals were to join him and begin practicing his way of doing community together.
At the end of this chapter in Matthew, when we hear Jesus say “my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” he’s saying that to those who, like him, grieve that their communities, their religion, their politics are not changing to look more like God’s kingdom.
Jesus reminds them, every prophet from the beginning to John the Baptist has been trying to teach people how to be a community of peace, justice, and love. The prophets often spoke of God’s vision of holy community, very forcefully. But throughout time, the forceful, those in power, political power, economic power, religious power keep silencing the prophets and forcefully grabbed the blessings of community for themselves.
To what does Jesus compare the people of his time? To children in a marketplace. Some say, “We played music, but y’all wouldn’t dance.” In other words, “Everything is great. Our way of doing community is amazing. Look at the blessings we enjoy, the safety, the economy, the freedom. Stop complaining and hating on our country so much and be thankful for the blessings of our nation!” Meanwhile, others say, “We were crying, and y’all didn’t care.” In other words, “We are hurting over here. You say our nation is great. For you, maybe. But for us, we are running in circles and never getting anywhere, working our fingers to the bone, and for what? So y’all can have bigger houses and bigger parties? We keep telling you how hard, how unfair this nation is on us, and you won’t listen.”
Jesus remembers how John went out to the desert and took upon himself stringent monk-like spiritual disciplines and preached about a better way to be community. When he did, simple everyday people loved it and were baptized by him. But the so-called wise, those in power, called him a weirdo, a rebel, and eventually killed him. When Jesus, the son of man, walked into towns, and went to parties, and hung out in the temples and the bars, everyday folk loved it and believed him and followed him. But the so-called intelligent, those in power, called him dangerous, a terrorist, and, eventually, would kill him too.
Jesus paused and looked upon the cities and wept. The Greek word for city is POLIS, the same word we use for politics. He went into those communities showed them himself what a God-willed, fair, just, loving, merciful community looks like. And they said, “Nah, no thanks, we’re good.”
Tyre and Sidon never worshipped the God of Israel. They always worshipped other Gods. But in the end, Jesus says it would be better for those who worshipped other Gods than for those who claim this God but don’t do politics and religion like Jesus has shown us.
Sodom was supposedly the city of promiscuity. We get the word Sodomy from it. But Jesus says, in the end, it would be better for those who are wild and different than for those who claim this God but don’t change their politics and religion to look more like God’s kingdom.
That’s when he turns to the gathering of individuals around him, that little band wanting a new way to be possible, and we hear him invite them into a new community together.
If we make the mistake and assume it’s an individual invitation for individual benefit, we know the high personal price Jesus the individual paid. Then you and I might begin to think of the high personal price we would pay if each of us really talked and acted like he did. If each of us really changed the way we respond together as a community to the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the immigrant, the children, the enemy, and expected all our religious and political leaders to do the same, the forceful would stop us just like they did him, and the blessings would remain with just the powerful, not flow to all the people.
But if we all did it together, God’s holy community would come real, here, now, among us. Jesus sees how tired, weary, we are of arguing and fighting for our ways, for enough, for more. Jesus sees the heavy burdens we carry to produce, progress, succeed. He promises a way of doing community where we can all rest and enjoy. He promises the works of holy community are so much lighter on us than the works of success, money, consumption, and competition. In God’s kingdom, in Jesus’ community, our leader is gentle, not harsh, and is humble, not arrogant.
That’s the invitation. Sure, it's personal, but it's not individual. It’s an invitation into a new way of doing community together so that everyone has enough, is safe, is respected and included, and is loved. May we, God’s church, forever seek to grow that community here and beyond because that way of living is easy and light.