Sunday, July 9, 2023
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
My Burden is Light
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77450
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
This passage from Matthew is one that many people are familiar with especially the last few verses. There are at least three different points to focus on in this passage and I am going to look at the last section, the famous my yoke is easy and my burden is light. This is one of the passages in the service of Compline which is said at the end of the day. What does this mean and what does a life yoked together with Jesus promise for you?
Being yoked with Jesus has many forms but all of them start with prayer. The Jesuits have a long history of work with prayer. St. Ignatius the founder of the Jesuits has excellent prayer exercises. Ignatian prayer has many forms but the one I feel most comfortable is the one where you place yourself in the story but there are several others. I will be going on an Ignatian 8-day silent retreat in a couple weeks and much of my prayer time will be doing meditations like this. I’ve done this a couple times in sermons where I ask you to meditate on the story as if you were there with Jesus or whomever is in the passage. Now sometimes this meditation will lead to another image coming to mind and that happened this week.
As I placed myself in this scripture passage early this week, an image from a trip came to my mind. I was in Constance Germany traveling as a parent of a child in the Cleveland Youth Wind Symphony way back in 1998. Wendy and I had walked into the large Roman Catholic cathedral in the center of town. As I looked at the stained glass windows and statues I was drawn to a niche in the back. In it was this incredible wooden statue of Jesus seated on a rock or a stump, the crown of thorns on his head. Yet he seemed to be saying to me, you look burdened, let me help you with that.
As we continue to move out of the pandemic it is easy to be overwhelmed with all that we are called to do and how to react to our challenging world. As I said last week the world and God sometimes give us challenges and it can seem too much.
The problem is that quite often we all carry more than we need to carry. One day I was hiking with my brother in law Ron. Ron is a geologist who lies n Austin and let me tell you walking in the Texas hill country with a geologist is dangerous. “Oh look at this rock,” and it goes in the backpack. Now none of the rocks he was tossing in my backpack by themselves was very heavy but after a couple hours I had a lot of rocks in my backpack and it weighed a ton! “Ron” I said, “you’ve got to stop I cant’ take anymore.” We sat down and sorted through the rocks and sure enough there were a bunch that while interesting were not worth carrying back. We also balanced out the two packs so that each of carried the same load. We shared the burden. We didn’t add any more rocks without at least considering tossing others away.
Jesus in that statue offered to share the burden to help me carry what I needed to and in fact allowed me to give some of it to him just as I did with Ron.
This is the challenge of life and of ministry. But the invitation is more than just dump some of your burden although that can be a very good idea. There is also the statement that my yoke is easy. Now this is a key piece. First of all Jesus is saying to his audience in that time that he does not lay heavy burdens on people like the Pharisees or the Sadducees. They would burden the people with almost impossible laws and restrictions on how to live. Jesus is saying his burden is different. The concept of the yoke being easy is something that people of his time would understand.
One of the joys of living in Virginia Beach was the fact that Williamsburg was an easy 1 hour drive away. Wendy and I bought annual passes so we could go at any time. While at Williamsburg one day there was a pair of oxen yoked together in the green in front of the Governor’s Palace. Their handler was demonstrating how well they worked together, completely in sync. He said this took years of practice but the fact of the matter is that two oxen yoked together produce far more power than that of just two not yoked. He said it was something like 50% more. This led me to think that the invitation here was that to be yoked to Jesus is to work with Jesus. Ignatius writes that we are called to work to minister with Jesus, not for him. We are called to work with Jesus to allow him to share the work. We are not called to do this alone. Now just as with the oxen this takes practice and we often think it is easier to do this by ourselves, but remember Jesus never sent anyone out to minister alone, they always went in pairs. That is what the entire previous chapter in Matthew that we read in June was about.
Now let me throw out one other wrinkle here and think about the statement that my burden is light. Now the Greek means light as in weight but I had someone ask once what if we looked at that statement as his burden is light as in the light of Christ. What if what Jesus is asking us to carry is his light out into the world?
We all carry that light within us even when we are not aware of it. Sometimes our burdens make that light hard to see. Sometimes our burdens make us wonder if we really are loved by God, but that is exactly the time when God is most loving and caring of us. That is when Jesus is standing there ready to help us carry the load. Yet we oftendo not seem to realize that.
Earlier in the sermon I mentioned that I was going to show you an Ignatian prayer technique so here we go. Now this is another of the Ignatian techniques one that I know I will use several times while on retreat. This one makes some people a little nervous at first because as we move through it, I will ask you to have a conversation with Jesus and yes you can talk to Jesus.
I want you to imagine a scene and then invite you into what Ignatius calls a colloquy, a discussion with someone in the story in this case Jesus. I will walk you through a meditation but you really need a full 20 minutes or so to do this properly. I will have this sermon posted on the church website this week You can download the sermon and use it as a guide if you want to do the full meditation.
So close your eyes and imagine that your are somewhere with a group of people and Jesus is there saying those words we have in our gospel. They are not the disciples, because they have been sent off in pairs to spread the gospel. You are in a group of ordinary people. Place yourself in the story, imagine where are you standing. Is it in a village, in a field, under a tree where are you? Be aware if it is day or night, warm or cold. What are you wearing, what do the people around you look like? What smells come to mind?
Jesus has been talking about John the Baptist who is in prison. He ends his teaching with by saying, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
As he finishes, Jesus walks up to you and asks, “Is there a burden you can put down, that you no longer need to carry. Give it to me and I will carry it. Or is there a burden you must carry, but you need my help.”
What is your answer to Jesus?
Now thank Jesus for this conversation and say whatever else you need to say.
To be yoked with Jesus invites all of us into ongoing and regular conversation with him. This type of prayer is a conversation which means we listen as much or more than we speak. How do I listen to God you may ask? Well this technique is one way to do that. Let the Spirit guide your imagination, you will not be disappointed. If you do this and want to have a chat with me about what you experience just call and make an appointment. I’ll be happy to talk with you.