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a sermon based on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
by Rev. Rick Thompson

     Do you know what happened to me a few years ago?

     My shoes got smaller!  I would buy the same size shoes I’d worn for years and years, and they would pinch my feet.  “Why are they making them smaller?” I wondered.

     Perhaps you women can appreciate this; I heard somewhere recently that the average woman’s shoe is ˝” narrower than the average woman’s foot.

     Finally, when I went to buy shoes one time, I actually measured my feet.  And, to my surprise, guess what I discovered?  Instead of my shoes being smaller, my feet had gotten bigger!

     So, one by one, I’ve been replacing those too-small shoes.  But I still have a couple pair I wear from time to time.  And, when I do, after a few hours my feet start to hurt.  The shoes pinch, and I complain, and I might even take them off for a while to give my feet some relief—and, boy, does that feel good!

     Do you know what it’s like wearing shoes that don’t fit?

     It’s important to have shoes and clothes that fit and feel comfortable!

     But, even more that that, it’s important to have a life that fits us, that gives us peace and satisfaction.

     So, let me pose a question: Does your life “fit”?  Do you feel free and alive?  Or do you feel burdened and drained of energy?  Do the convictions you hold, the choices you make, and the goals you set provide you with purpose and satisfaction?  Or does your life feel as if you are wearing a pair of shoes that’s too small—pinched and painful, needing relief?

     That’s what Jesus is talking about today.

     That’s what Jesus is talking about when he invites us, “Take my yoke upon you.” That’s what Jesus promises when he says, “…my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

     You see, we all are yoked to someone or something.  We all take upon ourselves the yoke of some cause, or some purpose, or some faith, or some passion that drives and motivates us.  That yoke may be one that enslaves and burdens us.  Or, we may be yoked to something that gives us energy and life.

     Jesus is hoping we will make the second choice—the choice for energy and life.  That’s why we invites and promises: “Come to me…for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

     Now, the Jews in his audience were familiar with talk about wearing a “yoke”.  In their faith, commitment to following God’s instruction and seeking to live one’s life under God’s wisdom was referred to as wearing a “yoke”.  And the opponents of Jesus—those infamous Pharisees—had made wearing that yoke a heavy, demanding, draining burden for their followers to carry.  Yes, Jesus’ first audience knew what it meant to wear a “yoke”.

     Until Jesus used the term, in a new way.  He described his “yoke” as “light” and “easy”.  Now, we know, if we’ve tried it for long, that following Jesus can be hard and demanding.  So, perhaps, it would be better to talk about the yoke of Jesus as a yoke that fits.  That is, after all, one of the meanings of the Greek word translated “easy”.  It fits.  The yoke of Jesus “fits”.   

     There’s an old legend about that.  According to the story, before he began his public ministry, Jesus was a master yoke-maker in Nazareth.  His work was widely known, and people came great distances to have Jesus of Nazareth carve a yoke for their oxen.

     When customers brought a team of oxen to Jesus, he would spend a good deal of time measuring the great beasts carefully—their height, their width, the gap between the two animals, the heights of their shoulders.  Jesus would go to work, and a week later, the customer would bring the oxen back for the fitting.  Jesus would gently place the yoke over their shoulders, watch for rough places, and carefully smooth the yoke until it fit perfectly.

     For the oxen, the yoke was then “easy”.[1]

     And that’s the kind of yoke Jesus offers us—one that fits.  A yoke that gives us energy and life.  A yoke that doesn’t feel like a burden but, instead, is a joy to wear!

     Would you like a yoke like that?  Wouldn’t you like to wear the yoke of Jesus?

     Jesus is inviting you today, “Come!  Take my yoke upon you.  You’ll find that it fits you just right!”

     How can that be?

     In contrast to the yoke of the Pharisees, the yoke of Jesus is light.  The Pharisees would typically load their followers down with commandments and expectations, and then say, “You’re on your own!”

     There are other yokes like that inviting us today to take them upon ourselves.  Think of all the ways we’re told: “Life is what you make it.  You’re on your own!”

     We’re invited to buy into the cultural myth that having lots of money and owning lots of stuff will make life full and meaningful.  And then, when that path leaves us empty, we’re told: “Sorry!  You’re on your own.”  And the same goes for other would-be yokes as well.  Power.  Sex. Drugs. Alcohol. Popularity.  The latest “new” spiritual path.  (Most of those, by the way, aren’t new at all, but rather are revivals of ancient heresies condemned by the church.)  All of them invite us, “Take me on!” and when we do, they’re interesting for a while, but they all fail us.  And when they fail, who or what will be there to pick us up and help us go on?  Nobody.

     Nobody except Jesus.  Nobody, except the one who offers us an eternal yoke, a forgiving yoke, a yoke that promises guidance and direction that leads to abundant life.  The yoke of Jesus comes with love and peace and strength to bear our burdens. 

     Little Alex was out helping his Dad with the yard work.  Dad asked Alex to pick up rocks in a certain area of the yard.  Dad looked up from his own labors once, and saw Alex struggling to pull up a huge rock buried in the dirt.  The boy kept struggling, and Dad kept watching.  Finally, Alex gave up.  “I can’t do it!” he whined.  Dad asked, “Did you use all of your strength?”  Alex looked hurt, and replied, “Yes, Dad, I used every ounce of my strength.”  Dad smiled, and said, “No you didn’t.  You didn’t ask me to help.”  And, together, Dad and Alex easily pulled that big rock out of the dirt.[2]

     When Jesus offers us a yoke, he’s offering us his strength.  Unlike all those other things to which we might be yoked, Jesus doesn’t expect us to get through with our strength alone!  Remember: a yoke, at least in Jesus’ day, was made for two—for you and the Lord.  With Jesus walking beside us, our strength will be just phenomenal!  That’s when the burden will be “easy” and “light”.  Jesus, after all, is strong enough to

conquer sin and death—so, certainly, he is strong enough to ease our burdens—those burdens that seem impossible to bear.

     Jesus offers us a yoke that fits.

     In the early days of the civil rights movement in the southern United States, African-Americans were boycotting the busses in Montgomery, Alabama.  Leaders of the boycott discovered that an old black woman, known affectionately as “Mother” Pollard, was supporting the boycott.  Each day, she walked many miles rather than ride the bus.  Because she was old, leaders encouraged her to ride the bus rather than walk to save her strength.  She refused.  “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested,” Mother Pollard insisted.[3]

     That’s the kind of yoke, too, that Jesus offers—one that fits, one that promises strength and rest.

     Jesus invites us today to wear that yoke—the one he offers.

     It’s a yoke that promises strength.  It’s a yoke that promises rest.  It’s a yoke that promises life. 

     Jesus offers us a yoke that fits.  And, when we wear it, he promises to walk beside us every step of the way.


[1].Source unknown.

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[3].Source unknown.