The Yoke of Grace – Sermon for 3rd Sunday in Pentecost 2011

Sermon – The Yoke of Grace

the Reverend Michael Shaw

Third Sunday after Pentecost

July 3, 2011

 

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 
Psalm 145:8-14 
Romans 7:15-25a 
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 

 

 

Gracious, Loving LORD of Heaven and Earth,

 

Your yoke is easy, your burden light.

You are the bread of life.

You are the light of the world.

You are the gate for the sheep.

You are the Good Shepherd.

You are the way, the truth, and the life.

You are the resurrection and the life.

Forgive us when we forget who you are for us and what you have been, and are now, and will ever and always be able to do in, with, and for us to bring rest for our souls.

Bring these gifts of yours back to mind and heart and emblazon their imprints upon our lives. Enable us through the power of Your Holy Spirit to shine forth brightly into the dark world. And grant us the rest of your Holy presence, we pray; AMEN.

 

Brothers and sisters of Epiphany Celebration Church, I bring you, from the parish and clergy of Trinity Church in Winter Park, warm greetings and the shared hope of grace and peace in our LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Newton’s First Law of Motion states that a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it, and a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force.

 

In our world in the second decade of the 21st century the vast majority of us are bodies in motion at a seemingly unending velocity. What does your to-do list look like for the coming day?

 

–Make bed(s)

–Check your calendar (to-do list)

–Make breakfast

–Prepare for work

–Take out trash

–Fix doorknob that inexplicably came off the front screen door for the thousandth time this week

–Check your car’s oil level (you were supposed to do that day before yesterday)

–Fight traffic

–Work

–Fight traffic

–Clean up the mess that the dog made when she knocked over a vase when exuberantly greeting you upon your return from the day’s work

–Get dinner

–Clean up after dinner

–Take out trash

–Take trash out to the road

–Sweep floors

–Check mail

–Update your checkbook

–Take time for spouse and children (individually and collectively)

–Prepare for the night’s rest

–Sleep

 

That’s a sort of typical day, isn’t it? Doesn’t take into account the myriad unexpected interruptions that occur at the most inopportune times.

 

We’re in motion at a constant velocity until the outside forces of the day finally wear us to a frazzled lump, exhausted. We find ourselves in a nearly continual DO mode. DO this, DO that, DO this and that and this and that, and by the way, when Doing all this and that DO these and those, too!

 

On our to-do lists is there a regular entry that reads

 

Take time to BE with the LORD ?

 

While studying our Gospel passage for today I once again, as is most often the case, found that there is so much here that it could well be the source for a veritable series of sermons. In the interest of time we’ll restrict ourselves to verses 28, 29, and 30.

 

28Come tome, all who labor and areheavy laden, and I will give you rest.29Take my yoke upon you, andlearn from me, for I amgentle and lowly in heart, andyou will find rest for your souls.30Formy yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

We’ll look at several of the key words in this passage. Originally, I had wanted to start with the word come, but the word yoke kept getting attention ahead of the others, so let’s start with yoke. In farming, of course, a yoke is a restraining device placed upon the necks and shoulders of animals so they can pull together with the objective of working together as one. Knowledgeable farmers will, upon introducing a new ox to a team, pair it with an experienced elder one. As the new ox tends to pull in just about every direction that attracts his attention, the elder tends only toward the next furrow to be plowed. This has the effect of making the inexperienced ox focus on the one necessary thing.

 

Now, let’s move on to the other key words. COME. This is a bidding. A grace-filled invitation. It does not present itself as an onerous, slavish command. It is essentially a gentle word. It encourages thoughtful, decisive action on the part of the person being sought. Can you picture Jesus…during every part of your day by the way…eyes ablaze with eternity, holiness, and loving-kindness…arm extended…hand outstretched…and saying to you, “Come to Me”? Can you picture Him in that way? Take a moment to do so now, if you will… And may I challenge you to take a moment at least at the beginning of every day this week?

 

Of course, after the word come is “to ME”. There is the Savior doing the asking. The winsome Redeemer of the lost. The Good Shepherd of the sheep. True grace of God personified. Always present. Remember Jesus address just before His ascension at Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He always stands ready to give us His rest.

 

Now, we’ll review the next few words as a whole. ALL who LABOR and ARE HEAVY LADEN. This phrase here can be seen to accommodate several types of people. Remember, the yoke? In Judaism, yoke is a common metaphor for the law. Jesus took upon Himself the yoke of the law and fulfilled it. Moreover, He took upon Himself the oppressive yoke of our sins and forgives them (as we confess and repent). ALL who are heavy laden by these yokes ought to come to Him. We need to realize our sin – what we say and do and don’t say and don’t do which willfully separate us from God and from one another – is a substantial, burdensome, wooden, iron bar, an obstacle to to rest in the LORD. Another group is contained in this substantial phrase, ALL who LABOR. Remember the never-ending to-do lists? Recall the days of excessive must-dos? Burdened by all you need to tend to? Come to Christ Jesus! Acknowledge the ultimate reality of His wonderful presence. And He will give you rest.

 

We will be given rest, simply by being attentive and responsive to His humble and gentle request to Come to Him. What is this rest? It is the peace which passes all understanding. It is the depthless, endless river of living water.

 

See John 7:37-39

Rivers of Living Water

37On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out,“If anyone thirsts, let himcome to me and drink.38Whoever believes in me,asthe Scripture has said,‘Out of his heart will flow rivers ofliving water.'”39Nowthis he said about the Spirit,whom those who believed in him were to receive,for as yet the Spirit had not beengiven,because Jesus was not yet glorified.

 

Rest. We can have rest due to the presence of the Spirit of Christ. The Holy Spirit, given to us at baptism. Living here. And there. And there. And there…

 

In the next phrase, Jesus states, “LEARN FROM ME.” Here’s one of the finest to-dos of all time. I think we know how to do this – we are His disciples after all – but let’s see. Jesus is known as the Word Incarnate. We have the word written to dwell upon, to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, so that we can come to know Him.

 

Hebrews 4:12

English Standard Version (ESV)

12Forthe word of God is living andactive,sharper than anytwo-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, anddiscerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

 

 

In the Holy Eucharist we observe the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Christ is abundantly present here. Those participating in the service, lay and clergy, compose the body of Christ. We most certainly learn amongst each other.

 

Now, let’s change course for just a bit. We’ll engage in a contrasting scenario. The world has a yoke for us, too. There is sweetness, intrigue, happiness, fun, enticement, plenteous stuff, pleasure, affirmation… But just underneath are bitterness, envy, impurity, jealousy, selfish ambition, and any one of a number of yokes that when they accumulate on our backs and shoulders make up a diabolically massive yoke.

 

See John 15:19

John 15:19

English Standard Version (ESV)

19If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but becauseyou are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

 

Now, Jesus gently and humbly stands beside us in the forefront of His yoke, always ready to guide AND lead. And the world? Well…it yells, begs, borrows, steals our attention, cajoles, lures, ensnares, flatters, beguiles, and induces us. It piles on an ultimately unbearable yoke.

 

The payoff phrase, if you will, is next:

 

AND YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.

 

Jesus’s rest – and I think we’re discovering what it truly is – sings a beautiful song to our souls. Have you heard the songs? The soul is the very essence of what makes me me. You you. Us us.

A seminary professor of mine regularly greeted just about every single person at least once every semester by saying, “How is it with your soul?” He wanted to know if we were regularly coming to Jesus.

 

Ultimately, we have to choose – practically every day – the yoke we’re going to take on; the yoke of mercilessness (the world’s yoke) OR the yoke of grace (Jesus’ yoke).

 

Did you notice a word or phrase missing from the subject passage of today’s Gospel? Oh, come on, you may be saying. Nobody’s supposed to add or subtract from God’s Holy Word. We are to come to Jesus for rest. There it is. Pure and simple. But notice, there are no restrictions on when we are to do this.

Revelation 3:20

English Standard Version (ESV)

20Behold, I stand at the door andknock.If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Jesus is always at the door knocking. He is always bidding us come to Him for rest. We can take advantage of the yoke of His grace at any time. We may be in the middle of to-do list item number 63, and we can come to Him then and there. We may be momentarily idle (I’m told this does happen once in a while), and we can come to Him then and there. At the summit of joy. In the pit of peril. In the slough of despond. He bids us come to Him for rest.

 

Grace upon grace! Unsurpassing peace!

 

Chris Rice is an American songwriter who works in the contemporary Christian music, contemporary folk, and adult contemporary genres. On the subject of coming to Jesus for rest may I leave you with the words of his song:

 

Chris Rice – Untitled Hymn (Come To Jesus) Lyrics

Weak and wounded sinner
Lost and left to die
O, raise your head, for love is passing by
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus and live!

Now your burden’s lifted
And carried far away
And precious blood has washed away the stain, so
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus and live!


And like a newborn baby
Don’t be afraid to crawl
And remember when you walk
Sometimes we fall…so
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus and live!

Sometimes the way is lonely
And steep and filled with pain
So if your sky is dark and pours the rain, then
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus and live!

O, and when the love spills over
And music fills the night
And when you can’t contain your joy inside, then
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus and live!

And with your final heartbeat
Kiss the world goodbye
Then go in peace, and laugh on Glory’s side, and
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live!

 

AMEN.

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