Wednesday, July 06, 2011

"My burden is light," sermon for 3 July 2011

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
3 July 2011

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy burdened, and I shall give you rest.  Take up my yoke, and learn from me.  For I am meek and humble of heart.  And you’ll find rest, for your souls.  Yes my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

For many years, from 4th grade until I was in my 20s, I spent some amazingly rich and soul-filled (and fun and crazy and wildly wonderful) times at Rock Point Summer Conferences in Burlington, Vermont ~ The diocesan retreat center and summer camp.  Alongside the many activities, swimming, sports, crafts, art, cookouts and the rest was an element that was essential for the “holy rhythm” of Rock Point.  At the heart of Rock Point was the holy rhythm of prayer, rest, breaking bread, learning, work, play, and transformation.  To make this all happen was the daily practice of going to chapel four times a day.  Before each meal, and after evening snack, we would follow the daily “offices” of morning prayer, daily Eucharist, evening prayer, and Compline.  The balance of play with work with prayer with rest, and with both together times and times in solitude made Rock Point an extremely special time.  The prayers we would offer can be found in our prayer books ~ we generally used the “Daily Devotions for individuals and Families” alongside an adapted Eucharist and then Compline, which can be found on page 127.

During Compline, we nearly always sang a song that is based on today’s Gospel reading, and over the years, from being a 4th grader – feeling both ecstatic to be away from home, and homesick all at the same time – to being in my mid-20s when I was struggling to figure out what next step to take in my life – these words spoke truth to me.  These words washed over me, and gave me hope, and comfort, and rest – even in the midst of heavy burdens and uncertainty.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I shall give you rest, take up my yoke and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you’ll find rest, for your souls, yes my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

And, isn’t this us, too.  Whether we are in fourth grade, or in our mid-twenties, or at some other step along the journey.  Feeling heavily burdened. Carrying more than we think we are able to carry, being somewhat uncertain about the future.  Isn’t this us, too? 

In these words, Jesus tells us that his “yoke is easy,” which I always found quite strange.  The image of a yoke, of oxen being clamped to one another as they embarked on hard labor in the fields was anything but “easy.” And Jesus’ hearers, too, must have heard some irony or inconsistency in these words.  In addition, we in the church have certainly done a terrible job of expressing the love, grace and compassion of God, as we have expressed how to be a disciple of Christ.   All too often we emphasize the yoke in heavy and restrictive terms, forgetting that Jesus, himself, claimed that the yoke is “easy and the burden is light.”

The burden is light.  We just returned from a quick trip to New England on which we loaded up 5 people, one dog, three doggy crates, 4 bikes, one scooter, 6 or more lacrosse sticks, dozens of books, juice boxes and all the rest.  I loaded up the car and then I drove down to fill up the gas tank before we left and I could hardly drive the hills of Ivy.  Holy moly, the mini-van was packed!  A few hundred miles, and a few hundred dollars in gasoline and we were at our destination.  Upon arrival in Cape Cod, we unpacked our modern wagon, emptying our stuff into our rooms.  The next morning, I got in the car to drive to our favorite donut shop and our car nearly jumped for joy!  The burden was light!  Yee haw!

The burden is light.  But in our lives, it is a bit more difficult than unpacking our suitcases and doggy crates.  The burden is light, Jesus says.  How could this be?  It seems that God has given us much to carry, and though the cliché says that we are not given more than we can handle, it certainly seems that we are.  All you have to do is start asking people questions about their lives to find out that many many of us are carrying quite heavy burdens.  However, it is my own forgetfulness that makes me think that I am carrying it all on my own.  For, after all, God is carrying me in his very arms.  He is holding me in his hands, me, and all my burdens, all my worries, all my cares, dreams, hurts, and wounds.  All of it.  All of it.  God is holding it all for me, and my burden certainly is transformed in the arms of God.

When we yoke ourselves to God. God.  Above all else, above all other allegiances, all other loves, all other minor and human-made entities.  When we yoke ourselves to God, our burden becomes light. 

To what are we yoked?  Have we yoked ourselves to God, or to mammon?  Have we yoked ourselves to God, or to the ways of this world?  To what are you yoked?  Take on the yoke that lead us to a light burden, to a place of rest, beyond our greatest imagination.  Take on the yoke that leads us to a rest for our souls, more restful than we have experienced in our most relaxed moment in our lives.

“For you’ll find rest, for your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


Mary F. C. Pratt said...

Thanks, Peter, for bringing me back to that chapel, and those dear singing voices.

Bernie Capron said...

This great stuff Peter, and well timed for me. I'm at Rock Point sending this comment now, Rob and Kate Guerinna and myself just spent a week here as volunteer staff. We sang the song every night at Compline and it still brings tears to my eyes.