4th Sunday after Pentecost—Year A—July 6, 2014
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
Yoke—there are two main types of yokes (Y-O-K-E not Y-O-L-K) in the world. They are both used to aid in the completion of manual labor.
The one is a coupling-yoke. This (also) wooden device spans the shoulders of two animals to help them pull a weight together…most often a plow or vehicle (cart, carriage, etc). It helps the two animals to work together, not only by splitting the weight, but also by keeping them going the same direction, so they are truly working together, not pulling against one another and therefore making the job harder than it needs to be. There are slight variations of the coupling-yoke, depending on the animal and where best to apply the pressure that using a yoke causes (shoulders, withers, horns, etc). It is commonly used for farm work on animals including oxen, horses, donkeys, and water buffalo. Sometimes this style is used with only one animals. Which leads us to the second main type…
The second is a solo-yoke, which spans the shoulders of a person (or an animals as I mentioned before) and helps to carry (or pull) something heavy…most often two buckets of water. The wooden piece helps to distribute the weight evenly over the body but also directly over the spine (allowing the person to stand up straight) while also not straining the arms in the process.
Either way, the yoke is a symbol that there is a job to do—a vocation to fulfill—usually with an aspect of subservience. Conquered armies where sometimes made to walk under a “yoke” made with spears and swords after surrender or capture. Married couples sometimes do the same at military weddings to symbolize the fact that they are not yoked together to work in the marriage.
Although many of us will never use an actual yoke do complete a job in our lives, there are plenty of things that are proverbial yokes in our lives. Those things that:
– weigh on us
– drag us down
o wants/stuff/material things
– unbalance us
– pull against where we are trying to
o social pressures
All of these in one form or another are sin…not necessarily evil in and of themselves, but in certain circumstances, function as sin, separating us from God. This is what Paul is talking about when he talks about not understanding his own actions, getting pulled the places he does not want to go, and doing the things we does not want to do. Our brokenness is manifested in the world. I’m sure you could add a lot of other examples to my list. What are you dragging around with your yoke? What are you yoked to that makes things harder, not easier?
But along with those things that hunch over our shoulders, make our bodies ache, slow us down, there is the proverbial tandem yoke that we are also tied into…with a useful partner.
That is the promise that Jesus is making in today’s text. The yoke of the Christian life, of following him and doing his work is “light” because he is there pulling with you.
– The Law (commandments) help to pull you in the right direction (toward life)
– Our forerunners of faith (their witness) pulls along with us, especially when we think that we have to be perfect to pull. We are reminded that the former servants of God weren’t; we pull just like the womanizers, drunkards, stutterers, doubters of the past did. Think about it: society thought John the Baptist was too pious to be a good servant of God to follow, but Jesus wasn’t pious enough.
– In addition to all those big names, we have each other, the body of Christ, with which to work together with. To share the burden, to lighten the weight, to take work a little harder when someone else needs a little break—to pull together, in the same direction, toward the equality, justice, and peace of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Please do not get me wrong. The Christian life, call, vocation is not some run through a field of meadows. It can be more like a pass through a neglected and weed riddled field with a dull plow. Jesus promises an easy yoke and a light burden, but never says that the yoke is gone. We are not dipped and done, baptized and then called to sit back and enjoy. We are called to be the workers in God’s vineyard, but today we can rejoice that we do not do it alone. God provides us the proper tools and partners. Sometimes we make our vocation harder by pulling against those partners or neglecting to use the tools to our advantage, but they are there, that is the promise that God made.
That is the promise that I heard at my ordination as the stole (the proverbial yoke that pastors wear) was placed over my shoulders, but it does not just apply to us “professionals.” It is a promise accompanying call to all of us. Jesus is with us, showing us the way, teaching us what we need to succeed, supporting us when we need, through the good times and the bad. Amen.