In the name of the +Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Not all of us are farmers, so the idea of a yoke often makes us think of an egg yolk. When you work or live on a farm, you know the necessity of yoking two animals together. That big piece that goes across the horns or necks of oxen and mules so they can pull together, so they can share the workload.
We use the word yoke literally – of course, but also metaphorically – to mean something that controls you, subjugates you, makes you do the bidding of the one in charge.
Jesus was definitely not speaking literally – when he said ‘take my yoke upon you’ . There are no stories of him hitching people together with a big piece of wood….
But it did happen, sometimes, to prisoners of war, or slaves. The metaphorical idea of people being put into a yoke had its roots in reality – it meant something to the people who were listening to Jesus.
This week, 6 youth and two adults were yoked together by Jesus. When we left Phoenixville, we were unsure of how our hands and hearts would be used. Some of the youth signed themselves up for the trip, but other youth were signed up by their parents.
We learned a lot about yoking. We learned that without the yoke of Jesus, every task will seem difficult. And boring if we had to do it all alone.
We did not know that Jesus would yoke us together in a bond that would be unbreakable. We did not know that we would also yoke with friends from Waynesboro, GA. And we did not realize that this yoke, given by Jesus, would transform our lives.
Here are some things we learned about yokes: 1. We are not yoked together alone. Yokes are used to put two oxen, or sometimes horses, or even humans together – so that TOGETHER they can do work that they cannot accomplish alone. Their shared strength and force, when applied in the same direction, at the same time, under the guidance of the one leading them, will allow them to do the work of pulling a plow through a field.
We are not in this work alone. All the followers of Jesus carry the same yoke. It is easy, because it is not made up of the things humans fear. The yoke of Jesus rested our souls. Invited us to release our insecurities and trust that Jesus would equip us. The yoke of Jesus brought us needed rest from our fears, our doubts, our worries. The yoke of Jesus reminds us that all that we fear is our own doing, human made worries and anxieties. We receive a yoke that is easy to bear, a burden that is light because it is of God.
2. Unlike work animals, we are not forced into a yoke. Jesus invites us to take on a yoke. To take HIS yoke upon us. It is a choice, on offer to us to accept, if we want. Jesus gives us the choice.
When we do take it, he promises, the yoke will be ‘easy’ and the burden light. Following Jesus means we are not alone, that we will always have partners to share that yoke as we follow his lead. We may suffer in our human lives, but with the yoke of Jesus, it is not more than we can bear.
3. When we are yoked together by Jesus, we are able to accomplish much more than we could ever do alone.
As we served in Philadelphia this week, we went to a huge community garden in South Philadelphia to weed. Had it only been our group of 8 people, it would’ve taken forever. But we went with our new friends from Waynesboro, GA and had that garden weeded in no time! We worked side by side with urban farmers, who taught us what was a weed and what was asparagus growing.
Those same urban farmers helped us understand the yoke of Jesus in a new way. Most of them lived in North Philadelphia. They taught us about the lack of grocery stores in their neighborhoods. The inability to access fruits and vegetables affordably. They drew a line from infant to adult, and helped us imagine what happens to the formation of the brain if all it receives for nutrition is Potato Chips and Soda.
Children who don’t eat well don’t receive what they need to think. They do poorly in school. They drop out. Philadelphia’s dropout rate is 25%. ¼ of the children who walk through the doors of a school will quit before graduation.
The farmers are passionate about providing needed nutrients at prices the people living in poverty can afford.
The farmers invited us to take on the yoke of Jesus, as we weeded out what was choking the berries, giving more air to the tomatoes.
We were yoked together with those living in poverty. Our lives were very different. And yet, I am so proud of the ways our youth embraced the yoke of Jesus. They played games with youth living in poverty. They welcomed the stories of those who live in poverty every day. They thought deeply about what it is that God call us to do each day.
3. How is it that “signing up for more work” — willingly putting on Jesus’ yoke – is going to be restful? “Come to me you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens……you will find rest for your soul”
When we put on Jesus’ yoke, we find rest for our soul. And this is the part of our beings that need rest and Sabbath. Our souls. When our souls rest, they can be at peace. In our vulnerability in sharing our lives with others, we will find rest.
Most of us here today probably feel that we are bound, at some level, to Jesus. Or are willing to consider it. We are here in worship on a lovely summer weekend. One way or another, that has something to do with Jesus, and how he binds us together.
But, you may have other things that bind you. Other yokes you have put on yourself, or have allowed others to place on you. Obligations of one kind or another. Choices made years ago, or recently. Careers, family, friends, commitments of all shapes and sizes. Are these yokes – these commitments – in accord with the way of Jesus? Do they help you to follow Jesus – or pull you in other directions?
This week, perhaps we can prayerfully consider the many ways we are bound to others. Are they like Jesus’ yoke – a light and easy burden, that lead you in the direction of God’s work? Or are they pulling you somewhere else, away from God?
The risk of taking on the yoke of Jesus offers great reward. This week, I saw firsthand how that transformed the lives of 6 youth and two adults. I saw what it looked like for them to walk side by side with poverty. I watched the burden become lighter.
The yoke Jesus gave us this week was a confidence that we can do anything with God’s help. When we walk with this knowledge, all the hard work to come rests in Jesus, who carries our burdens. Who lightens our worries and concerns so we can focus on what matters. Loving God and each other.