Gospel Sermon. Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
I wonder how you like your yolk – Sunny side up? Flipped? Anyone for the oil splashed across?
But hold on, are speaking about a Yolk, or a Yoke?! (no yoke jokes please)
A Yoke is a burdensome tool. A way to carry heavy loads or to pull working animals together in order to pull a heavy load.
(In Jewish tradition it’s a grace to have the Torah put upon you as a Yoke, Bar-Mitzvah)
But today i want to ask, is Christianity a burdensome religion?; Is religion a weight to carry?
Often when I tell people I’m a Priest you can see that creeping incredulity in the response, ‘why?’ – ‘why give up so much, why adopt archaic rules to your life? Why put yourself through so much …. hassle.?’
I imagine I’m not alone in this, you may have experienced something very similar. For Christians gathered here this morning the view from ‘the inside’ seems very different to the view that many people have of religion from ‘the outside’ – it’s not for me, all that … religious stuff.
Maybe that’s fair enough. What does the Church look like from the outside? What do we seem to suggest our priorities are? Is there even a remote way those priorities chime with ‘the real world’? Why are we here?
I recently had a conversation with a young person, who simply couldn’t see why Christianity would be relevant to her life, she was a passionate young women; committed to education, family, to global politics, to sport and to music and festivals. The idea of ‘adopting religion’ seemed utterly alien. Like taking on some form of life from another time….
Yet it’s an irony isn’t it.. (I wonder if you might feel the same), watching something like Glastonbury footage, or participating in Amnesty International campaigns, or great art, or the Gay Pride march, and thinking, “that’s where I sense passion and justice and imagination too – and that passion is what connects (this person) to God”
That’s me, my perspective – it’s not universal. Jesus suggests here that it’s different for different people how they understand and respond to God. “God is all these things and none of these things”, (pseudo-Dionysius). God is not contained; God calls cajoles, inspires and invites. There is no right way, there is only Jesus’ way, where rules do not oppress or exclude – a way of passion and love.
Yet Jesus says he has ‘come to bring life – and life in its fullness’, (John 10.10). The life he seemed to suggest, (as far as I can see) is a life of passion and commitment. A commitment to wonder, to awe, to the divine, (who we call God – but others don’t); a commitment to other people, (especially the poor and the oppressed), a commitment to life—to all life—which is so deeply passionate that he was prepared to die for all of life, (and to return it in a surprising way).
But the Church through large parts of its history seems to have taken that life – and made it dull!
The life marked by the avoidance of fun, bad fashion, and cultural malaise? If we want to respond to God by giving things up – that’s fine, but if we feel somehow obliged, or pressured to – then something is wrong.
What does it mean to live as Jesus inspires us too?
Service to the poor, the hungry the oppressed – certainly. To live a ‘good moral life’, possibly. To help others.. well of course.. earlier in Matthew we see where Jesus deepest priorities lie; “blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
Christianity is deeply practical, it is a ‘doing religion’… But before all of the things we might do I believe Jesus is calling us to simply live! To live is the greatest thing we can do!
But how to live? This passage seems to point to two very different responses; “Wedding Music and Funeral Music”
John came before Jesus to point the way to Jesus, but John was wild, harsh, scary; his was a voice from the wilderness, calling, cajoling… but everyone apart form his most determined followers thought it was too hard – too harsh. John’s way was not about the rules of the Pharisees or religious leaders – certainly not. But he was about renunciation of worldly pleasure; his was a wild-eyed, passionate, fervour… he must have a demon!
But then Jesus came in an almost opposite way; food, drinking, enjoying hospitality, hanging out with all kinds of odd people – the wrong kinds of people!
In contrast to John, Jesus seemed almost frivolous… yet of course we do see moments when fervour emerges, the wild-eyed passion is there and usually in confrontational moments with oppressive authority figures. Yet even here, Jesus’ confrontation often takes the form of subversion, parody, mischief and satire.
Jesus’ frustration is that people want neither; – they prefer to complain or stand at a critical distance.
But he is saying something different to us; whichever way we choose to do it – we are to live life fully, ‘The Glory of God is a human being fully alive”, (St.Iraneus)
The Pharisees and scribes gave a heavy burden to people with religious rules, (who was in/out etc.), they shut down life. .… but Jesus simply offers an invite “Follow me”; the ‘rest’ he speaks of is a rest of salvation and liberation from such things. The reign of God to live fully and do—as best you can—the things he talks about; (even those things which are often less than clear!?!); those who are blessed, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are weary, they get it; and maybe in the smallest ways we live that too.
The gospel liberates us because it’s an invitation to life. I am convinced of that. And a different kind of life – based on a different way of seeing the world. “God’s wisdom, however, is shown to be true by its results.” Jesus brought liberation healing and announced the coming reign of God in the everyday. The call is to live; to discover life, to welcome life, to embrace its many sides – the good the bad, the dark the light, and to give thanks. I’m not suggesting self-obsessed individualism though – certainly not – to live fully is also to live together, and so there is a restlessness written into the script; for community, for love, for justice – it becomes political, it becomes social, it becomes exciting!
I just don’t get the caricature that Christianity is a set of alien rules; (well ok!) I find it odd when I see that look in the eye. Of course there are demands and obligations but they are about loving and living together… people are demanding, love is demanding. However, in the end we see that the other brings life as a gift. – coming to church is an obligation – to one another and to attend to wonder to God, but that obligation sets us free! (Kierkegaard and the ducks.)
For me Christianity is about diving more fully into a life with God, the divine, the impossible; diving into questions, thoughts, inspirations and hopes. It’s easy (trans. good, kind) – but also.. most definitely not easy!…. For it means facing more honestly the hard questions of life – not avoiding them. It is about taking the hand of the one who says “follow me”, and doing that tentatively in a way which embraces life as much as he; to dance before a sunset, to sing songs under a starlit sky, to feel that ‘umph’ when you are moved by a painting, play or film; the ecstasy of music; to weep with those who weep, laugh with those who laugh, to mourn with those who mourn. To live sensually, bodily, and with com/passion.
John Witcombe spoke two weeks ago about the Eucharist; saying we bring our lives to this table – gifts, broken and shared. Yet in this breaking there is an intimate exchange with God; we give our lives away and they are given back to us; fuller, richer, deeper; blessed, loved and affirmed.
And that includes our darkness too; we can hide ourselves from God, bringing only ‘the good child’ to the table, but God calls us to be confronted with ourselves; all are welcome – even the shadows; all are welcome, all are transformed.
God Says Yes To Me | Kaylin Haught
I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes
There are many ways to live in response to God. Jesus shows that the ‘task’ we face is really, simply, the task to live – as humanly as possible. The ‘yoke’ is the shared ‘gift and call’ of being human – together; not bordered or hemmed in by religions or ideologies, but liberated by God to break out in a loving exuberant response to life.
Love God, love others. (Love the wonder, love our shared life). I wish there was more I could say… but I think that’s it!