I saw an interesting and nostalgic photo on Face Book this week. It was a scene from the 1960’s Andy Griffith show in fictional Mayberry. Andy, Aunt Bea, Opie and Gomer Pyle are sitting on the front porch, not talking, not doing anything--just looking very serene and at ease.
Clearly, they are at rest and enjoying doing absolutely nothing. They seem not to have a care or worry. The Good old days. I wonder if it’s not a lost art: to do nothing but be at rest. To be fair and completely honest, humanity has never been stress-free or without worry and even overwhelming challenges.
The good news we hear today is the invitation that God in Jesus extends to all of us: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens.”
I can’t imagine that anyone would want to be fastened into a yoke. Yokes are rigid and entrapping. Yet, you wouldn’t want to plow a field without one—if you lived in the first century. The yoke then drove farming equipment, such as a plow, necessary to prepare, sow, and harvest the fields for food. Although oxen were strong and hearty, the yoke gave them direction and allowed the farmer to harness their strength for the purpose of farming.
We move through life with its twists and turns, its ups and downs and in our journey we all carry a kind of figurative yoke. Our yoke represents all of the physical, emotional, and spiritual baggage that accompanies us on our way: worry, stress, challenges, needs, responsibilities, and conflicts—all things in our personal baggage. While our yoke can keep us focused and driven, it can also weigh us down, tire us, and even cause us to feel hopeless, especially when it gets too heavy for our shoulders and our hearts to bear. Yokes are rigid and entrapping.
Jesus calls to us in our weariness and in our heaviness and offers us his yoke to ease the weight of the burdens we carry. He doesn’t tell us he will take away the heavy loads we carry but that he will replace them with the lighter load of the life he wants to offer us—that is the peace of God.
Those who responded to the invitation of Jesus when he first spoke these words of invitation were the poor and downtrodden —not the educated or the sophisticated, but those who simply wanted to change “yokes” and lay their burdens down.
They were the “day laborers” of their time, those burdened by the system of economic and religious oppression imposed on them from those on the top of the socioeconomic scale and high up on the ladder of the Temple’s hierarchy. They were the unclean and disenfranchised—the tax collectors, shepherds, lepers, and prostitutes.
We may not be cut from that cloth and are, by the grace of God, more educated, free, refined, and—by comparison—wealthy. Yet we are no less burdened and, in some ways just as poor—for there is a place deep inside each of us that longs for peace and refreshment. We are all yoked with some baggage.
God’s invitation to us to “Come to me” is given today—not just two thousand years ago—and to you and to me—not only to our ancestors in the faith—because God knows how desperately we need to hear it.
“Come to me…”
The invitation is to everyone, without exception. We all come bearing something: a sadness, a worry, an ache. Sometimes it’s obvious to others. Sometimes we are pretty good at hiding it. But all of us are yoked in some way which makes us who we are. Our yoke makes us human something we share with Jesus.
Today he invites us to come to God with all of it—every piece of baggage, everything and anything that weighs us down and becomes too heavy for our shoulders and hearts to bear. We may do that in the privacy of our home or in our car or while sitting here in worship or as we seek prayer and God’s grace through healing. “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens.”
There is a great line from Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick: “Heaven have mercy on us all—Presbyterians and Pagans alike—for we are all somewhat dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.”
I believe this also applies to Episcopalians.