Sharing the Load
Based on Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30
This is the day that the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! We gather on this second Sunday in July, with the booming of fireworks still ringing in our ears. It has been a short work week for many and that is always a blessing – yet one fewer work day, for many of us, did not mean less work to do. E-mails pile up along with the never ending “to do” and “honey do” lists, phone calls need to be answered and voice mails returned, projects have looming deadlines…it is enough to make one really weary and weighed down. It is exactly what our Gospel reading from today is pointing to. Being burdened with life issues like these are not unique to our time, they have been happening at least for 2000 years. Is this the only way to live – or does Jesus offer us something different and better? Before we delve into that, however, I invite you to join me in prayer…
During our time together today I want to speak to you from the subject of “Sharing the Load”. This is an important topic for all Christians because it gets at the heart of the support and relationship that Jesus offers – a relationship which many are reluctant to engage in completely. I mentioned that we are coming off Independence Day, a holiday where we remember the events that led to America becoming an independent nation. No longer desiring to be a puppet government of an established empire, we asserted ourselves and with the timely help of some allies, we won the battle to be free to determine our own destiny. That independent streak continues as part of our national psyche. Pioneers pushed westward from the initial settlements along the Atlantic Ocean. Over time, more people moved west, and their rugged individualism moved with them. Towns were formed, churches like this one were planted, people worked hard to carve a life out of the wilderness and to raise families where civilization was distant or non-existent. They learned to make do or to do without…as my grandmother used to tell me.
It was in the old barn on my grandmother’s farm in southern Minnesota that I first saw a yoke. A large, heavy, wood and metal contraption that baffled me when I saw it as a young boy. My dad explained that back in the day it had been used to bring two horses or mules together to pull the large plow that still stood in the back of the barn. Yoking two animals together resulted in the energy of both working together to get a job done more efficiently. They could pull the same load equally and neither animal would have to bear the entire burden alone. Being yoked together, they also learned from one another how to work as a team. Before the development of the multiple horse-power internal combustion engine, it was the way to leverage more power from the livestock one owned to get the work done without overburdening the animals. Let’s put a place holder there as we move to consider our scripture for today.
We find ourselves in the 11th Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew today. In the scriptures before today’s reading, Jesus has just finished teaching the Disciples about His (and their) mission in the world. Jesus and the Disciples then begin their ministry moving from town to town. As they do so people (including John the Baptist and the Temple leadership) are wondering who is this Jesus of Nazareth? Some people are intrigued enough to follow Him, but many do not because He won’t conform to their ideas of who He should be. Some folks are trying to figure out who Jesus is in relation to John the Baptist and how Jesus’ ministry fits into John’s. Jesus begins our scripture reading today with a cutting assessment of how people are viewing him and John through their own lenses – and how this gives the wrong impression. They have tried to get Jesus and John to do what they want them to do, when they won’t, then the people demonize them (literally in John’s case). Jesus ends this section of teaching with a comment that shows how unwise the people really are.
He picks up in verse 25 with an exposition of how God’s wisdom is not wasted on “…the wise and the intelligent” – yet it is offered to “infants”. God’s wisdom is so counter-cultural that it often cannot be understood by those who understand and live in and by the wisdom of the world. No, it is offered to those who are down-trodden, marginalized, oppressed – those who the world has left behind or forgotten altogether. It is to those persons who Jesus speaks in verse 28, for it is those persons who have already responded to the revealed wisdom of God (that is Jesus).
In my opening today I alluded to the weight of the world that we often attempt to carry all alone. Our individualistic natures have us convinced that we can do it all ourselves. We respond to God’s offer to share our loads in ways that remind me of a two year old when offered much needed help…No, me do it!! Jesus was speaking to those persons in the crowd that really needed help from God because they were being crushed by the taxes of both the Roman government and their own Temple. You see, the vast majority of the Roman world (some estimates have it as high as 80 percent of the population) was impoverished and indebted to someone else. It was the way that the economic system worked back then. In order to get ahead you sought help from a patron, and they looked out for you in times of trouble. The only issue was that it was a huge burden of money and time to keep this person as your guardian.
In contrast to this system of bondage, Jesus speaks about getting relief by yoking ourselves to Him. Jesus says, “…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….” Jesus offers a kingdom and a king who reigns with grace, mercy and compassion and offers abundant life – instead of a toilsome, wearying life that leads only to early death. He offers rest for our souls – a relief from the constant pounding of deadlines and to-do lists, all the busyness and distraction that we allow to burden our lives. Jesus freely offers this to us if we will only yoke our lives to His.
This is where it gets difficult for us, however. We are an independent and often stiff-necked people – no different than the Israelites of the Hebrew bible. When we are in trouble or grieving or otherwise without any resources, we are happy to yoke ourselves to Jesus. Yet, when the storm passes and everything is sunshine and flowers, we throw off that yoke and go our own way. We don’t keep the yoke on to learn from Jesus; we don’t want to give up our independence. We want the rest without the burden – even though Jesus promises that His burden is far lighter than the one that we are already carrying on our own. You see, it is not like we don’t carry a burden anyway – and we allow the world to convince us that if we just work hard enough we alone will be able to carry the load. Right up until it breaks us in two.
You see, it is not that the burden that Jesus offers us – the life of discipleship – is any lighter than the burden we already carry. The difference is that He carries more of the load for us…with us. He teaches us how to lean into Him and to give over our cares and our struggles. When we run out of strength, he will carry us. It reminds me of one of my favorite spiritual stories of a person looking back over her life. As the person looks she sees two sets of footprints in the sand – hers and those of Jesus. Yet, at the times when she was most in need, most burdened, most broken, it was there that she saw only one set of footprints. She asked her Lord and Savior why He had abandoned her at those times. Jesus answered, “My precious, precious child. I did not abandon you in those times, it was then that I carried you!” This is what it means to yoke yourself to Jesus. When you do so, you allow Him to share your load, and when you need Him to, to carry you. The wisdom of the world says be strong and just do it! The wisdom revealed by God in Jesus says be humble and wise and let me share your burdens. Each day we have this choice put before us, the humble yoke of Jesus or the uncaring burden of our worldly cares…I wonder which you will choose today and every day hereafter? Amen!