Yokes of Justice, Love and Mercy

The Holy Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Sermon, Preached at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church
Sunday July 9, 2017


When my husband was teaching kindergarten at a Reggio Amelia school, a school focused on art and creativity, he would often find himself working with children on art in their lessons.

One day he was assisting in a kindergarten classroom during an art lesson when, one of the students, a little girl came up to him and showed him her work.

“Look at my art”, she said proudly.

Isaac bent down and admired the work with her, “Wow, that’s beautiful. You did a great job.” He said. “Do you like making art?” She nodded her head vigorously, yes.

Then he asked, “Do you want to be an artist when you grow up?” She paused, frowned at him slightly, then said with a touch of sass, “I am an artist.”

It’s a funny question, when you think about it- “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It assumes that the person being asked this question is not yet fully who they are. It assumes they are still becoming, still waiting on something to happen.

And while we all hope to be growing and changing for the better throughout our lives, looking into the future for who we are is not helpful to what’s happening in the present moment.

This little girl taught Isaac and myself, when Isaac relayed the story to me later, that she was who she was supposed to be. Her life was happening in that moment. She is an artist, she isn’t waiting to become one.

We ask this question of our children all the time, and we mean so offense. But in the questioning we assume somewhat that children are not yet fully who they are- as if they are not fully human, not yet. And while they still have a lot of growing to do of course, we forget that we do too.

Just because we entered adulthood, got married, got a job, had kids, just because we became that paid artist, teacher, lawyer, accountant, priest doesn’t mean we are done growing up.

In fact, we get so wrapped up in these identities that we can lose touch with what it means to truly be who we are created to be.

Those things we have been taught to believe are milestones to becoming most fully ourselves, can leave us feeling empty, unsatisfied and alone. I mean, does anyone really feel like they have it all figured out yet? I don’t.

What’s funny about this question, “What do you want to be when you grow up”, is that it focuses us on the future, instead of the present……and it assumes that the Truth of who we are lies in what we do for work, or what society tells us should make us feel accomplished and full.

And I don’t know about ya’ll but carrying around this heavy load of expectations, this load of “should’s” and “supposed to’s” has me feelin’ exhausted. And always looking to the future to figure out life, has made the precious years of my life speed by too fast and it has left me feeling weary.

This is what Jesus is talking about in our lesson this morning. It’s what his presence on this earth was meant to remind us of.

Remember, Jesus is here on God’s behalf carrying messages from our Creator down to us; God got inside the flesh in Jesus in order to get our attention and say things like:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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.”

Jesus, like he does, is turning the system upside down. Not only is he speaking to the political system, to the Pharisees and naysayers of the elite, he’s speaking to the wider culture everyone is complicit in.

He is expressing frustration with a system that puts weight into following laws and customs alone. He seeks to dismantle a society that puts the yoke of rules onto the necks of the lowly and the marginalized.

He is criticizing a system that is focused on power, that puts others down in order to keep a few at the top and in control. He seeks to dismantle a system where the rich and powerful succeed at the expense of others.

And he is speaking to all the souls, with or without power, who are wandering around looking, searching, longing, for meaning in this life, searching for value in their existence.

You see, the system, the culture, society, the pharisees and naysayers of the world around us, want us to believe that in order to become who we truly are we have to pay for it, and dearly, at our own expense.

This system wants us to believe that in order to achieve the idea of perfection, in order to have value, in order to be true followers of Jesus we have to follow the rules, follow the status quo, and adhere to the norms set by the world around us.

And Jesus is saying “No.” In fact, Jesus isn’t just saying “No.” He’s saying “Stop it!”

“You already are who you were Created to be.” He says, “You are Created by God. Holy and precious. Come and rest in God,” he pleads, “God, who loves you unconditionally.”

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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.

Our truth lies, not in wearing the yoke of cultural expectations, but in the yoke of God. This yoke of God is made light and easy by Justice, Love and Mercy.

Wearing God’s yoke means we are already loved, already perfect, already valuable, wherever we are, however we are; no matter how much money we do or don’t make, whether we are gay or straight, men or women, republicans or democrats, doctors or janitors, adults or children.  

Jesus wants us to quit searching for ourselves out there, out there in that messy world that wants to sell us a concept of happiness and success that will leave us empty and wanting. He wants us to stop taking on the yokes society is so eager to hand out.

He wants us to stop, rest in God and be who we already are: one of God’s Holy beloved precious Creations.

Did you become what you were going to be when you grew up? Are you still waiting to become something?

What yokes do you wear that burden you? What yokes are rubbing your skin raw and straining your neck? Someone else’s expectations of you? Ideas of what you should look like, act like, be like? Your own self doubt?

Are you wearing a yoke that says you are not enough? Who put it there? Who put that heavy load around your neck? What would it take to remove it?

Jesus is asking us to remove those heavy burdens and lay them down on the ground. Let them go and walk away.

Jesus is saying “Leave those big ol heavy loads and come… come to me, and I will lay the Truths of Justice, Love and Mercy around your neck.”  Yokes of justice love and mercy

“Come to me and I will lay around your neck a soft cloth woven for you, of colorful and vibrant fabric, that says: I am already perfect right now. I am God’s beloved.  

At the peace today, our kiddos will come in wearing the yokes of God. They are in that room right now practicing what it means to take on the yoke of Christ, to lean on God, to be held by God, to be loved by God.

They are learning that they are already precious and perfect, already who they are Created to be.

They are taking heavy stones and writing the burdens of their lives and placing them in buckets. They are handing over their worries, stress and fears, their yokes to Jesus and taking on the yoke of Justice, Love and Mercy.

This work Jesus is asking us to do, may seem like hard work. It’s deeply spiritual work. It’s work that starts at the core and center of our souls and it can be a deep deep dive that many do not want to take.

 But friends, we are already doing it. At Good Samaritan, we practice handing out the yokes of Christ, the yokes of Justice, Love and Mercy to homeless families, to refugees, to the marginalized of this community, to those in need.

At Good Samaritan we know that discipleship means we work to show this community they are already loved, already perfect, no matter who they are or what they do.

We are handing out yokes of love to our friends and neighbors and marching in parades carrying banners that say “God loves you, no exceptions.”

No exceptions

If we can rest in God, wearing the yoke of Christ, the yoke of Justice, Love and Mercy then we will be free. Free of all those other yokes that cost too much, that are just bringing us down. We know this and we believe this and we spend a majority of our time at Good Samaritan convincing the community around us of this truth.  

I guess then, the question is, do we believe it for ourselves? Not just for those who are asking for our help, not just those who we want to help, but for us, do we believe it for our individual selves? Are we letting the years slip by, waiting for ourselves to become something? Are we all done growing into the Truth that God loves us?

I hope not. I hope we all have ears to hear what Jesus is saying to us this morning. I hope when we are helping others in the food pantry, or at Family promise, or at any of the many outreach events we partake in, I hope we are not just saying “God loves you.” but “God loves us, all of us.”  

I hope that when you come to this table, to receive this bread and wine, symbols of God’s ultimate love for us, you know you are truly beloved.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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.”

Amen.

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