July 5. (Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30) This weekend our country celebrated its 244th birthday, a birth that began with a declaration of independence stating “all men are created equal” a birth that began with protests about taxation without representation- a protest about who has power over who, which led to a revolution – a turning over of power from the hands of the king of England, to the same people living in this land.
The words they wrote, “all men are created equal” from my faith perspective, I would edit to just say “all are created equal” that is what the creation story of Genesis affirms, the diversity of humankind bearing the image of God as well as the message of Jesus in the Gospels and other New testament writings such as Paul saying, now there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female, all are one in Christ Jesus. Our unity and our equality are affirmed by Scripture. Those are words to represent values of God’s kingdom that Jesus was preaching and teaching. The value of equality has been written also into our nation’s constitution. Now I know that at the time they did really just mean men and they really did only mean white men, the same value was not extended to Native or African descent peoples or women. But as our nation has grown and matured in wisdom that sense of equality really being for all people has been made clear through legislation and Supreme Court rulings.
As I was driving one day this week I heard news coverage about the conflict going on in our nation over the destruction of some statues. A government official said, “Clearly they hate this nation.” He was speaking about protesters who have toppled and defaced confederate and other statues recently. I was drawn into reflection on his broad assessment. It is trying to prove a point for a political argument but not based on research or deep consideration. In hearing the protestors themselves speak or reading what some of my friends write, I see not hate but a deep love of country, a deep love that will not let hurtful behavior persist. A statue of a person who stood against the value of true equality does harm because it lifts up that person who considered his worth- and yes they are I think exclusively men- to be more than that of others. To honor that mindset in the public square is to perpetuate inequality, and in a loose sense, against the constitution. So those seeking to remove those monuments of inequality do so from a place of caring enough to not let it go on. To make things better, towards how they would be if we truly embraced those words of all being equal, with our actions.
And that is similar to what Jesus is getting at when he speaks of wisdom being vindicated by her deeds. Another biblical way to put it is “you know the tree by its fruit” a non-biblical way, “the proof is in the pudding.” See, Jesus saw how people preferred to complain and make excuses when it came to living out their faith with deeds. The people had John the Baptist come to them with his ways of fasting, eating strange things, low on the food chain and strict observances putting him at odds with most of society, and they said he was too extreme- and of Jesus the same people say, he eats with sinners, he’s a glutton and a drunk! They took the surface actions and complained about both John and Jesus, and did not look at the real outcomes: John was preparing the way for Jesus baptizing people for repentance, and Jesus was doing real healing and infusing people with true life, wherever he went. Jesus is not very nice in these verses but he is speaking the truth- you can know what is truly wise, by the outcomes. Not just what’s on the surface. The proof is in the pudding.
In this time of pandemic, some wisdom is pretty simple to see. Places over the globe who have done the best at sheltering in place, staying physically distant and wearing masks when out and about, and doing contact tracing and quarantining those exposed, have seen their cases come down. The outcomes show what is wise to do, even as we still don’t know everything there is to know about this virus. And while Jesus was not talking about global pandemics, he was always on the side of life, life to the full, and healing. That is what he was about and what he showed his followers to continue on.
A group that Jesus is also railing against are the Pharisees, that group of religious leaders who were often at odds with what Jesus said and did. in verses28-30 he draws further comparison, saying that his way of teaching or yoke, is kind, or good, and not too much of a burden.
Maybe some of you have experience with yokes, but lately it’s machines and not beasts of burdens that do the plowing. Just to get an idea, we’re talking about a large piece of wood fitted over the necks of two animals, usually oxen, so that they work together, pull in the same direction, and share the load. It would be common to put a more experienced animal with a younger one, who would teach it how to work. In other bible passages, this yoke illustrates what it means to follow God’s law. to take something external upon yourself as your guide to go in the right direction.
now a yoke sounds cumbersome and heavy. yet Jesus says his yoke is easy or in some translations, good or kind; his burden light. while many religious leaders concentrated on enforcing certain interpretations of the law, maybe even confusing some people, Jesus’ way to follow, is simple. Love. And we can even understand, that Jesus is there with us under that yoke, helping us to carry the load, teaching us the way to go. working beside us in God’s new way.
Jesus does mention rest, but it is not a rest where everything stays the same. It is I think the constant renewal that comes with that yoke of love, knowing that Jesus is under the yoke with you, and do the work of love. It isn’t, just rest, there’s no burden at all, never do anything… But the light and easy burden, of loving alongside Jesus. And following the wisdom that Scripture reveals to us that produces good things- people who care for one another and feel cared for, work for justice and liberation and equality that is real and true for all people.
In this time of pandemic and civil unrest, it can be hard to know what is best to grab onto and it is easy for many to insist we hold on to the past and try to get back to how things were before. But being yoked to Jesus and trying to live according to God’s wisdom will lead us a different direction. The Wesleyan concept of sanctifying grace calls us to continually examine ourselves and see where God is calling us to live out holy love more fully. There is plenty to consider these days, of how to live differently. It can seem overwhelming even.
Yet under Jesus’ yoke, we know we are loved deeper than any hurt can destroy, we are of immeasurable worth, we are cherished and surrounded by love. We can rest from all kinds of burdens that would hold us back. I sometimes try to do everything myself, and then fail and judge myself. It can be difficult to let go of these burdens, but once we are under Jesus’ yoke of love, we find it is an easy yoke. God reminds me that I am on a way of Grace, so it was never about me trying to do everything perfectly on my own. so we learn as we go, with Jesus beside us, to share that great love, in action. We imitate our teacher Jesus in bringing healing, in bringing hope, in sharing good news.
Yes we might even imitate our Jesus as we have conversations and actions in our country that lead to greater equality, a more perfect union, better live up to the ideals of our constitution. The proof will be in the pudding, what leads to the good fruit of doing what is truly wise.
Some of the easiest things to do are still to complain and make excuses, say politically weighted things that scratch at the surface without looking deeper, just like the generation that Jesus called out in his time. yet we are invited to act, in accepting the yoke Jesus offers, and join in the restful work of God’s new way. We are called to love deeply, to act in ways that lead to healing, transformation, justice, equality, and fullness of life. It is a yoke of overflowing love- received from Jesus, passed on to others- whether they are on our same end of the political spectrum or not. May we all remember that we can lay all kinds of burdens down, and take up the light and easy yoke of Jesus, working together with him in the way of love and abundant life. Amen.