The call to come to Jesus and take up his yoke is not easy, but it is good and will bring joy because he is with us and is what we and the world most deeply need.
Vicar Emily Beckering; Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 14 A; text: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30.
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me;
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 
These are the last words of Emma Lazarus’ poem engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. On this holiday weekend, we celebrate Lady Liberty’s words as though this is what America is all about: offering a world-wide welcome to the exiles, the poor, the hungry, the down-trodden and then melting them all together for success and freedom. In actuality, that is the exact opposite of our nation’s history. Each wave of immigrants in every part of the country and anyone who looks or thinks differently is often met with suspicion and resistance, sometimes even to the point of violence. This poem sings a golden depiction of our nation that is as shiny as it is fabricated. Despite best intentions, Americans have proven these words false time and time again and offered empty promises for hundreds of years.
Jesus’ words today are not unlike those of Lady Liberty’s when he says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” but unlike our engraved image, Jesus exposes our true reality. We are like the crowds who heard Jesus and John the Baptist, but refused to listen.
Today, Jesus promises that he will provide rest for our souls and that the yoke—the way of life into which he invites us—is life-giving.
Sometimes, we may look at the condition of the world around us and at our own lives and reject Jesus’ words because all that we can see is death. When all that you can see is death, then only a funeral seems to carry the weight of the loss that we experience in this life. Only a funeral allows us to name pain, hurt, and disappointment:
Those whom we love still get sick. Our children, our spouses, our friends and those most dear to us still die.
We continue to struggle with our relationships and with ourselves; we still carry the burden of what we have done and what we have left undone, or as Paul says, we continue to be unable to do the good that we want, but do the very things we hate.
When we are weighed down by all of this, we may find ourselves protesting Jesus: we do not want to be comforted with words that deny the depth of our pain or the brokenness of this world.
When we feel like calling Jesus’ promise into question and dismissing his words as cheerful, pie-in-the-sky optimistic fluff that doesn’t hold enough weight for the real cares and worries of this world, then we are like the children in Jesus’ parable who want to play funeral, accusing Jesus, “we wailed and you did not mourn,” as if he doesn’t understand what life is really like, what it really feels like to suffer.
And yet, there are also times when we yearn for Jesus’ words to mean that if we just surrender to him enough, believe in him enough, then he will protect us from anything unpleasant or painful, that we will no longer hurt people or be hurt by them, that once we are his, everything really will be rose-colored.
Sometimes, it really would just be nice to escape everything, to not have to deal with it all.
Wouldn’t it be relaxing to live without a yoke, to be free of any responsibilities, any work?
We may even resent Jesus’ call to discipleship as too demanding. Instead, we long for safety, rescue, and relief: to cherish in our hearts the good news that Jesus loves us and forgives us, and let that be the end of it.
I will confess to you that this is where I was this past week and this is what I wanted to preach today, so much so that I even asked Cha before she printed the service folder for today, if on the cover art she could white-out the cross in Jesus’ hand. Then we could just have an open-armed Jesus without any call to the cross. Cha was a little uneasy with that and offered some objections. And indeed she was right.
When we find ourselves feeling this way, then we are like the children in Jesus’ parable who only want to play wedding, complaining, “Play the flute. We just want to dance!” In other words, “Lighten up, Jesus! We hear enough gloom and doom on the six o’clock news. Give us some good news to celebrate!”
The truth is that we can’t separate one from the other because Jesus’ call to him is always a call to the cross.
We have been hearing this summer of what our Lord requires of us. It is the cross, and it is anything but easy:
Two weeks ago we heard, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth, I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother.” (Matt. 10:34-35)
And earlier this spring we heard, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)
And we will soon hear again: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:24-25)
If we hear these words and feel overwhelmed, then it is because even God’s good gifts and call for our lives can be distorted into a burden from which we also long for relief.
Jesus himself raised the question: “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” (Matt. 26:39) Yet, that cup—the call to love the world to such an extent that he would lay down his life for all—that cup could not pass from him because that kind of love is God’s way.
The cross is always at the center and always held out in Jesus’ hand because the world is what it is: broken, and Jesus is who he is for that world. The self-giving love shown on the cross is the very nature of God, for the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Grace, compassion, forgiveness, and persistent, unwavering love: that is what the Triune God bestows on us.
This is the yoke that Jesus invites us to place on our shoulders: grace, compassion, forgiveness, and relentless love.
A more helpful translation of the word, “easy” is, in fact, “good, loving, kind, pleasing.” With the promise of this life, Jesus neither brushes our cares aside nor offers us empty words to pacify us.
He does not say to us, “Pretend that everything is right in this world,” and we don’t hear, “Take everything on and try to fix it yourselves,” but instead, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”
This is the invitation that we are given because this is what we and the world most deeply need.
As Jesus laments over Jerusalem, so he also yearns to gather us and the entire world under his wings: he invites us into relationship once again, to know his love and care, and then to go out refreshed in order to offer that same love and comfort to all people by living in such a way that people know what it’s like to rest and be comforted when we are with them.
Jesus not only invites us, however, he actually makes this life possible by promising to be with us always, to help us do what he asks of us, and to bind us together in love as two oxen are bound in one yoke so that we can share the load together. What we cannot do by our own understanding or effort, the Holy Spirit can work through us.
We know this from our life together here at Mount Olive. When we pray for each other, call each other, take the time to listen intently to one another’s joys, struggles, and fears, wrap one another in prayer shawls, fill each other’s weekends with laughter, feed the hungry, and forgive when it hurts the most, then we bear one another’s burdens and the load really does feel lighter. We really do experience joy and fulfillment even in the most unexpected places.
God’s love is no longer something that we just talk about; it becomes a love that we hear from one another’s lips, feel when we are together, miss when we are apart, and see in the eyes of everyone who walks in those doors or is waiting on the other side of them.
When Christ makes this yoke—this way of life—evident in us, then he brings the Kingdom of God among us. Living in this way is not easy, but it is good, kind, loving, pleasing, and it will lead to joy because it is this for which we have been created. There is a cost to following Jesus, but it is far less than the cost of not following him. We are, as we prayed in the prayer of the day, restless until we rest in our God.
Whereas centuries of our ancestors and we ourselves have failed to protect the weak, to welcome the poor and the hungry, and to live as God intended, Jesus has never and will never fail those who need him. In him, there are no empty promises, no false notions of what this life is all about, and no offers to escape reality. Instead he offers an invitation to face ourselves, one another, and this creation for what we really are: broken, then to enter into that brokenness with him and with our sisters and brothers tied to us on every side, and watch how the greatest love ever known will flow from him through us to heal it. So come here to the table all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens where we find the One—the only one—who can give rest and joy.
 Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus,” 1883. http://www.statueofliberty.org/Statue_of_Liberty.html