Religion – the Way it Was Intended
based on Matthew 11: 28-30
by Rev. Frank Schaefer
is no doubt in my mind that RULES are part of the reason why organized religion
is shrinking, especially those rules that are rooted in the culture of ages
past—rules that don’t make sense in today’s world.
such rules, often unspoken, include:
formal clothes to Church
isn’t optional, ushers will collect
seats (and offices) are “reserved” for faithful donors
applause during the church service
ago, this list of rules was substantially longer (here are a few):
to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give
you rest,” (Matthew 11:28), he was talking about his idea of spirituality over
and against the spirituality that was preached by the priests and Pharisees of
Being religious in
first-century Judea meant that you had to observe the Purity Laws which included
the 600+ Laws of Moses, as well as hundreds more that were added by the
religious leaders. The Pharisees, especially, would load their followers down
with commandments, rules and expectations to a point where people couldn’t
possibly keep up with them.
Can you imagine how that
would have burdened people’s consciences? They must have lived in a constant
state of guilt.
This idea of religion that
advocates observance of rules as a path to salvation is all too common even to
this very day, and sadly, even prevails in Christianity.
But Jesus advocated for a
very different kind of spirituality, one that wasn’t based on fulfilling the
law, but one that was grounded in God’s love and compassion. That’s why grace,
forgiveness, love and compassion are recurring words in Jesus’ sermons, while
the Pharisees emphasized theological words such as: obedience, duty, sin,
punishment, and condemnation.
Jesus didn’t negate the
validity of the law, however. He just had a different emphasis. He once said
(Mark 2:27): “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the
sabbath” In other words, the law was created for us, to be a benefit,
established so we could be guided to live a good, happy and fulfilled life. We
are NOT supposed to serve and slave under the law in Jesus’ theology.
It is in this context that
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.”
audience was familiar with “spiritual” yokes. The opponents of Jesus had made
wearing their spiritual yoke a heavy, demanding, draining burden. Yes, Jesus’
first audience knew what it meant to wear a “yoke” and it wasn’t an easy task.
would certainly have gotten the people’s attention. What does he mean “my yoke
is easy?” How can a yoke ever be easy?
century Judea, when
farmers brought a team of oxen to the yoke-maker, he would spend a good deal of
time measuring—their height, width, the gap between the two animals, the heights
of their shoulders.
He would go
to work and a week later, he would gently place the yoke over the shoulders of
the oxen, watch for rough places, and carefully smooth the yoke until it fit
perfectly. For the
oxen, the yoke was then “easy.”
the kind of yoke Jesus offers us—one that fits, one that makes the tasks of life
easier. A good fitting yoke is a great tool that can even make heavy burdens
manageable. This kind of yoke is helpful.
idea of religion is that it should be helpful to us, it should be guiding us and
help us take the burden off life, NOT become a burden in addition to the
hardships of life.
enter into the church of Jesus you will be greeted with love, grace, and
forgiveness. In Jesus’ church, you will find rest and inner peace. No need to
carry the heavy burden of guilt around with you; you are accepted, you are
forgiven, you are somebody important in Jesus’ church.
will find guidance for your life, you will find the joy of God’s presence and
experience the love between brothers and sisters. There you will find the higher
purpose that God has placed on your life. And you will be fitted with a yoke
that helps you carry out that calling so that you can make this world a better
place. That’s Jesus’ idea of religion, that’s why his yoke is indeed easy.
inviting us too this morning, saying, “Come! Take my yoke upon you. You’ll find
that it fits you just right!”
Peterson translates Matthew11:28-30 as follows:
tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll
recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work
with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay
anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to
live freely and lightly."