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This Week's Sermon !

July 5, 2020 - -5th After Pentecost -

Romans 7: 15-25a
Psalm 45
Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30

An Easy Yoke?

One of my favourite cartoons is “Family Circus”. Keeping in mind that this is just a cartoon, there are four real children in this family: Billy, Dolly, Jeffy and baby PJ! There are also two “ghost children” who are often responsible for many of the naughty things that happen. If the mom, for example, discovers a broken knick-knack, she may ask. “Who did this?” and the inevitable reply is either, “Ida Know” or, “Not Me.” They actually appear as transparent outlines in the strip! I’m sure that Ida Know and Not Me have even been visitors in many homes here in Saskatchewan!

Part of growing up involves learning to take responsibility for one’s actions and, of course, learning not to do some of those things in the first place! Children often see adulthood as a state of perfect freedom and when those children arrive at adulthood they usually discover just how much responsibility comes with this so-called freedom! One day when I was somewhere in elementary school, I was not feeling well and my mom let me stay home. I remember telling the salesman who was visiting the house that I wished “I was in Grade 10!” He made some comment or other in reply, I don’t really remember! I don’t know why I picked that age, but as a child, I must have thought those who were in GRADE TEN, had a perfect life! Of course, Grade 10 had more homework, and more responsibility than the elusive freedoms for which I was looking!

For generations, the people of Israel looked forward to the coming of the Messiah as a glorious age in which they would once again be a great and powerful nation. It would be like the great King David was on the throne once again. When that happened everything would be perfect!

Yet, in their journey of faith they frequently forgot that God called them to service and responsibility and God called prophets to show them the way of faithfulness. Inevitably, they turned against the prophets who were raised up to show them the faithful way. This went on for generations and did not stop with John and with Jesus!

In this passage Jesus refers to his cousin John saying that the people were upset that he did not drink and lived the life of a desert aesthetic. He, on the other hand, did enjoy a drink and nice food and the people were upset with him as well. Jesus even compares them to two groups group of children who are never happy with the games the others want to play.

On Canada Day we celebrated our great country, and yesterday our neighbours to the south, celebrated theirs. In the time of Covid-19 our celebration was much more muted than usual, with many activities cancelled, because of social distancing protocols. I suspect that at least some Americans celebrated as if everything was “normal”. ((I may have more insight on this by the time I preach on Sunday))

On Canada day we usually wear our pride on our sleeve, our flag on our houses and our cars and feel smug that we are so great! Generally speaking, we see, being Canadian these days is seen as a light yoke to bear.

One of my young colleagues from the Maritimes, a student in her final year of preparation for Ordained ministry, posted more sombre thoughts on her Facebook page on Wednesday. She reminded her followers that our farmers are allowed to house migrant workers in deplorable conditions and that our mining industry is dividing communities and destroying the local environment in foreign countries with practices we would not tolerate at home. She reminded us that, we are the beneficiaries of many atrocities committed by our ancestors with respect to our First Nations and the ways in which we still do not practice the equality we proclaim.

Some might dismiss her post as the rant of a naive young idealist, but I would say that it’s the idealists, of many ages, who make change happen. It is their heavier yoke that has driven change in the world and will drive it in the future.

In 2020 we can easily forget that there was a time without medicare, or when voting was a privilege extended only to some, namely white men who owned real estate. Many farmers did not own their own land. I don’t know about Saskatchewan but in the Maritimes the fight for “responsible government” itself was a long struggle. We may take pride that Canada was the location for the discovery of insulin and the invention of the light bulb and the telephone but if we want to take the pats on the back we should also be prepared to acknowledge the other, less favourable, parts of our history! We still have a ways to go in terms of living up to some of our own bragging points. When we start to become smug about our noble heritage, we need to take a hard look at some of our less than noble actions.

VERY EARLY on Thursday morning I began a book study with colleagues from the three easternmost Regional Councils of our church, looking at a book on racism, titled White Fragility.

This book calls us to be aware that white privilege is something on which we have been raised and that it is deeply embedded in our culture. The author asserts that even the most well meaning of us operate out of a racist world-view.

As I contemplated this book and it’s implications I thought of the words of Paul in the Epistle read earlier in the service. The good we want to do - is often just beyond us as we fall into the trap of doing the things we should not. We can easily understand this in terms of breaking bad habits, or going on a diet, for example. In the context of racism we fall back on our white privilege again and again when we could do otherwise.

Jesus’ words have become an oft quoted phrase, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. I have been reflecting on this phrase and trying to make sense of it in terms of my own experience and the experience of those who struggle with changing their actions or promoting change in our wider society. This is not an easy task, If it was, we would be living in a perfect world and we know that we certainly don’t.

However, we sometimes forget what a yoke is. The picture on the front of the bulletin shows Jesus yoked with a woman. She may be an indigenous woman seeking justice for her community in a Mayan village in Guatemala or she may be a community leader from a nearby First Nation seeking to tackle the problem of addictions and overcrowding. She may be one of the many grammas forced to look after their grandchildren in countries devastated by war and disease. Or she may be you, seeking to do the best you can in a situation which seems overwhelming. If you do an internet search on the word yoke you are not likely to find any that are designed to be used by just one animal. There are other types of harness for that! I did see one image of a sort of yoke designed to help someone carry two heavy buckets at once, by spreading the weight across the shoulders. And that is what a yoke is designed to do - to spread out and share the work. Ideally, the two animals yoked together are of similar size and ability (unless one is being trained) and oxen are nothing more than cattle, steers usually, trained as beasts of burden. In many ways, I think oxen are like the tortoise in the fable: their motto being, slow and steady wins the race! This isn’t one of those heavy horse pulls where the instant the metal clanks the horses take off, but it is a long haul, it is a long term commitment, it is a life long journey,

It seems to me that what these words of Jesus are telling us is hat when we yoke ourselves to Christ, or to others of Christ’s people, the burden is lighter and the task easier. We are not promised success without effort and without disappointments along the way. Like Paul we may be frustrated with our own failures to live up to our best intentions.

The vision of Jesus for the world is far encompassing; we are told that God so loved the world that Jesus was sent. The world is a pretty big place! We are not told that God’s love was limited to a certain group, or to those who live in a certain country, or even to human beings, but to the whole world. (Even mosquitoes and termites, I suppose)

We are called to embrace the vision of Jesus of goodness for all the world and then we are called to work together - to yoke ourselves together in this shared venture for the good of all. Amen!

1995- 2020 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

For some good stuff go to:
journeywithjesus.net-a weekly webzine for the global church

The United Church has a great online bookstore and here is the link. If you live in Canada they will even send you a book display for your event and people who dont get to see that many books at once can have a ball!

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