Matthew 11:16–19, 25–30
Thank you for being at worship today. I hope you are enjoying your Independence Day weekend. We Americans love our freedom – and the freedom to worship God as we choose is just one of the many freedoms we Americans enjoy. And it is good to talk about freedom – especially as disciples of Jesus Christ. Because – on the one hand – as Americans – our freedom as Americans – comes with a price. For way more than 200 years men and women in our armed forces have fought – and some have died – to secure the freedoms that we Americans treasure.
AND as disciples of Jesus Christ – as citizens of the Kingdom of God – we need to remember the freedom that Christ gives us – through his life, death and resurrection – setting us free from slavery to sin, death, and the power of the devil. Because of Jesus – we are set free from these things in order to grab hold of the life that is truly life – new life in Jesus Christ.
So today – this weekend – as we celebrate the freedoms that are ours by virtue of our citizenship of the good old U.S of A., I want you to give thanks to God for the freedoms that are ours won for us by Jesus Christ who gives us citizenship in the Kingdom of God. By the way – this is what Martin Luther referred to as the “Two Kingdoms.” We are citizens of two kingdoms – the kingdom of this world [or in our case, citizens of the United States of America] and citizens of the Kingdom of God. Just thought I’d throw that in – because it will be on the test.
Now – today’s reading form the Gospel of Matthew just happens to be a great text for this three-day weekend. For most of us, it is a time to maybe get away – and I think we can see that many of our folks have done just that this weekend. And this doesn’t surprise me – because whenever the 4th falls on the weekend, or on the Friday before or Monday after – people go away for the weekend. Hopefully for all of us it is a time to rest and relax.
Because Jesus lets us know that taking time to rest is important for us physically, mentally and spritiually. “Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
It reminds me of a woman who opened her refrigerator one day and saw a rabbit sitting on one of the shelves. “What are you doing in there?” she asked.
And the rabbit – the rabbit replied: “This refrigerator is a Westinghouse, isn’t it?”
The woman replied, “Yes.”
“Well,” said the rabbit, “I’m westing.”
O come on! You love my bad jokes, don’t you? Who knows! Maybe that bad joke will help you to remember.
Listen, I want to talk to you today about what Jesus means when he says, “Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” And in order to do that we need to read the rest of his statement which says, “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.”
To understand the rest that Jesus is talking about – we need to understand the yoke that he is talking about. We usually think of a yoke as something made of wood, that allows two oxen for instance to be yoked together to pull a plow. The yoke that Jesus is talking about is something else. Those of you who remember Pastor Steve when he was with us was the first to point out what I am about to say – and he got this information from a guy named Rob Bell.
You see, in Jesus’ day, there were rabbis – in other words – teachers and interpreters of the Jewish Law, otherwise known as the Torah. Each rabbi’s teaching was called a yoke – a set of rules and lists, which was really that rabbi's interpretation of how to live the Torah.
Now remember that Jesus was a rabbi. 13 times in the New Testament Jesus is called a rabbi. 41 times He is called a teacher. By the way – only one time is he called a carpenter (Mark 6:3) And unlike the other rabbis of his day, Jesus tells us that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.
Now here’s the thing. Jewish boys from the age of five to ten were taught in the synagogue by the local rabbi. They memorized the Torah – in other words – the first 5 books of the Bible. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. I mean – can you imagine that? Hey, it gets better. By the age of fourteen, some boys would go further. The best would go on to memorize – memorize! – the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures – what we call the Old Testament. After age 14, a boy might continue on under the teaching of a particular rabbi. These were the best of the best. And they had to meet the approval of the particular rabbi that they wanted to learn from.
If the rabbi accepted someone who was the best of the best, he would say, “Come, follow me. Take my yoke upon you and become my disciple.” Again, the teaching of that rabbi was called that rabbi’s yoke. But if the rabbi did not accept someone to be his disciple, he would tell that boy, “Go, home to your village. Go home and learn the family business - fishing, farming, carpentry. You cannot be my disciple.”
Do those words sound familiar? Those are the words Jesus uses. And who does he call to be his followers – his disciples? The best of the best? No. He’s calling Peter and Andrew and James and John. Fishermen. Obviously they are not the best of the best. If they had been – they would have been following some other rabbi somewhere else – and not plying the fisherman’s trade.
So this brings us back to Rabbi Jesus’ yoke. What does he say about his yoke? He says, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” You see, all those other rabbis? They gave their own thoughts and interpretations of the Jewish Laws. Do this, don’t do that. Do this this way. Here’s what this law means and the way that law must be observed.
Ai yai yai yai yai! It was a heavy burden. So is it any wonder that when Rabbi Jesus comes along – he reduces all these laws – all these rules and regulations – and he boils them down to just two. OK – you already know what they are, (say it with a rap beat) “Love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor – love your neighbor as yourself. Love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor – love your neighbor as yourself.” I’ll bet you didn’t know that Jesus was a rapper!
And just to get an idea of how heavy the yokes – in other words – the teachings of these other rabbis were, we need only to turn to the New Testament book of Acts. If you remember, the Apostle Paul is a missionary to the Gentiles. And what we find in the book of Acts, is that Paul is arguing with certain leaders of the church in Jerusalem who believed that in order to become a Christian, the gentiles first had to become Jews and submit to the rules and regulations of Judaism. And Paul counters their arguments by asking, “…why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke” – see, there’s that word yoke again – “that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts15:10.) By the way, Paul won the argument.
I am so glad we have Jesus who says, “My yoke is easy! My burden is light!” I mean – how easy can it get! At least in terms of remembering what Jesus asks of us, his disciples, to remember. Now – I know – putting those two love commandments into practice is quite another story. That loving part is not always easy. But there it is.
Hey! One other thing about what was said about the rabbis of Jesus’ day. And I know you’ve heard this before – but I really think this is so cool!
As a rabbi walked along – he taught as he walked. And his disciples would follow closely behind him. And the roads were dusty. So these disciples who closely followed their rabbis would get covered with the dust of their rabbi. Therefore, it was a common saying for disciples of any given rabbi, “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.”
Jesus calls to himself – to be his disciples – anyone who is willing to follow and to learn. He called to himself Peter and Andrew and James and John – Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha – and all the rest. Were they best of the best? No. Did Jesus think that they could cut it as his disciples? Well, yeah.
Do you think that Jesus thinks you can do it? You don’t have to be the best of the best. You don’t even have to be the best. You just have to be willing. Jesus is looking for willing disciples.
And what you get is freedom. Freedom and rest. Freedom and rest from having to work to make God love you. Freedom and rest from thinking that there are all these rules and regulations that church says you have to follow. Freedom and rest from the guilt of sin. Freedom and rest from fear. Freedom and rest from the penalty of sin – which is eternal separation from God.
And you ARE free – free to be the son – free to be the daughter – free to be the disciple that Rabbi Jesus is calling you – calling me – to be today. Free to take the yoke of rabbi Jesus – who simply wants us to love God, and love our neighbor, because nothing else matters.
My yoke is easy and my burden is light. “So come! You come follow me,” says Jesus. What will your answer be?
My friends – we’re all in this together – walking together with Jesus.
Therefore – “May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi Jesus.” Amen