A Thriving Spiritual Community

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Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: “A Life-Giving Yoke”

“A Life-Giving Yoke”

July 9, 2023


This past week, like many of you, I was fortunate to welcome family for the holiday.  My 30 year old son, Pete,  arrived last Sunday and returned to New York on Friday.  Even with the rainy and then hot and humid weather, we were able to go on two walks a day, giving me an opportunity for a variety of conversations with him. (Something this parent and most parents I know cherish.) 

I’d like to share three conversations – two that we actually had and one that I wish I had found the courage to have. 

Like many his age, Pete is not religious.  He’s not particularly spiritual either.  He is kind, grateful, thoughtful, creative, intelligent, hard-working… I could go on!… and deeply good.  Pete is presently employed by one of the big 3 consulting firms, where he works 14 hours a day. He is basically yoked to his employer, just trying to get through each work day.  

Fortunately, in one of our conversations, Pete told me that he knows that this is not a sustainable schedule and he intends to find other employment after completing 2 years.  I responded “As your mother it grieves me to see you work like this; but I’m grateful that you realize that your next job will need to have different hours.” 

Perhaps you or someone you know also has (or had) a similarly relentless way of life. 

In another conversation, on Thursday morning, while we were walking at low tide from Lighthouse Beach to Cambridge Beach, during what was an unusually hot morning, I asked Pete about his feelings related to the climate.  “On a scale of 1-10, 10 being very worried, how do you feel about the climate?”

“Is there a scale that’s over 10?” he asked.  “That’s how I feel. Deeply worried.”

On a day that turned out to be the hottest across the globe in recorded history, I replied, “Me too.”

This led into a discussion about what each of us are doing and could be doing to try and address the climate emergency. 

Since Pete went back to New York,  I realize there is another conversation I wish I’d engaged with him. As I contemplate his present and future life, I wish I had spoken with him about today’s scripture passage. I long to find a way with my less than religious son to speak about the blessing of a life grounded in faith. (Though I trust my example counts for something.)

In our complex, increasingly hot world, what Jesus offers us is an anchor to hold onto; a compass for life’s journey; an invitation to a life of meaning, purpose, peace and hope. I want my son to have those things – and I suspect you want the same for the children in your life.  Through baptism, it is the door that Emily and Joe are opening for their son. 

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from mefor 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.”

Jesus is inviting us, not compelling us, into a life-giving relationship with him and a life-giving way of life. I wish I could have found a way to say this to Pete because I know that at life’s hardest moments having this spiritual relationship with God makes all the difference.  I also know that God needs each and everyone of us to participate in his mission of healing our broken world. And at those critical turning points in life, when we set our intention to serve God and try to make a positive difference in the world, things have a way of falling into place. 

Given the immense complexities and challenges of our world- like unreasonable employers and our climate emergency (the things I talked about with Pete) – we humans need help.  We need more than our own intuition or the latest self-help book.  We certainly need more than we can ever learn from even the best news sources.  We need what Jesus can give – strength, partnership, and wise guidance; the compassion, grace, and hope of God.

Since none of us are cattle farmers, what it means to be yoked to Jesus is not self-evident. So, let’s explore it together. What does it mean to take on Jesus’ yoke?

First, consider that we may be attached to, we may feel burdened by other yokes – unhealthy yokes that weigh us down – like my son with his job; or people who are addicted to alcohol, drugs, or their phones. Jesus is suggesting we trade life-destroying yokes for his life-giving yoke.

Are there certain things you need to let go of? Or things that you need help with? Is it time for you to lay down any regret, guilt, addictions, desire to control outcomes or other people, work that has no boundaries, attachments to money or power or relationships that do not give you life?  Whatever it is that weighs you down, whatever burdens you, any yoke that feels crushing bring it to God in prayer. Lay it down. Surrender it. Then listen for the still small voice within your heart, the voice of God, who will show you the way forward. 

Please take a look at the image below. I don’t know who the artist is – it’s something I found in a Google search. What do you see when you look at it?

Notice that the yoke is resting on both their shoulders. Jesus helps us carry whatever load weighs us down. The message: You have a partner in Christ. 

If you have a difficult mission, like caring for an ailing partner or a problematic child, you need not do this alone. In a life of purpose yoked to God, we are never ultimately overwhelmed or over-matched by the task at hand.  Yoked to Jesus, we do not carry our burdens alone. This image suggests that God is the one who shows up in our time of need, the one who comes alongside us.  God only asks us to do what we are able to do, and then equips us to do it. The yoke of Jesus is a yoke of love.  In the presence of love, even a heavy burden seems lighter.

Another way to look at this image is to recognize that when we are yoked to Jesus  we are offering ourselves in the service of God; to be a partner in God’s mission. Yoked to Christ, we accept God’s agenda as our agenda, not the other way around. Rather than laboring in vain, we use our talents and our effort to work towards God’s vision of a world in peace and harmony, a world where love reigns. We make God’s priorities our priorities.

Yoked to Jesus, we recognize that there is more to life than chasing the almighty dollar or trying to satisfy our own seemingly endless appetites.  We are freed of unnecessary burdens (like meeting the persistent demands of bosses or stakeholders that may never be satisfied) in order to pursue lives of mercy, healing and justice, with love of God and neighbor at the center.

Now take a peek at the image of the double oxen below.


Tom Nelson offers this: “The agrarian metaphor is of a young ox being yoked to a master ox in order to be trained.In the training yoke, side by side, over time, the young ox becomes like the master ox. When we say yes to Jesus’ invitation, we say goodbye to a self-centered way of life, and we enter a new way of life in the master’s yoke of apprenticeship. Yoked to Jesus, we learn to live our lives like Jesus would if he were us.”

What I wish I had said to my son is this insight, also from Tom Nelson: “If we surrender in faith and enter Jesus’ yoke of apprenticeship, we will experience the integral life we truly long to live, the life we have been designed to live. Our apprenticeship with Jesus will inform and transform every nook and cranny of our lives, our relationships, our recreation, and our work. Jesus’ great invitation invites you to find true rest for your soul.”

When I witness my son’s struggles to have any kind of boundaries around his work life and I hear his fears about the climate, I realize what I most deeply want for him, what I most deeply want for little Henry and all of us is that we will have a relationship with God that will enable us navigate the uncertain future with grace. 

Being yoked to Christ in baptism is not about accepting a particular doctrine or tradition. It’s not about being Catholic or Protestant or interdenominational.  It’s about having a living relationship with a God who has yoked himself to us in love. It’s about adopting a way of life with love at the center.  Today Emily and Joe will lay the foundation for their son to take on the yoke of Christ, represented in the stole we will give him. Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to respond to Jesus’ invitation: 

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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.”

How will you answer this invitation?  Amen.