Scripture for November 19, 2017


“…There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
 have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
 a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
 and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
 as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
 when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
 you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
 the bar across their shoulders,
 the rod of their oppressor.


                           Isaiah 9:1-4


“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.”


                           Matthew 11:28-30



Sermon for Thanksgiving Sunday              Because we live, we give.

November 19, 2017

Anna V. Copeland, Preaching

First Parish Church, York, Maine


My grandfather on my Dad’s side was a farmer, working the fields down on the river bottom in Missouri, near Brookfield, and previously in a tiny spit of a town called Pawnee City, Nebraska. Hanging in my Grandfather’s shed was a yoke, used to attach the oxen to the plow, and to connect them to one another. The yoke connected them by leather leaders to their Master who guided their way, and the carved wooden yoke to which they were both attached across their necks helped them to work together in tandem, to share the burden, and to keep one another moving when the energy of one began to flag.


I inherited my grandfather’s yoke, hanging in a shed. The metal rings that chained the beasts to one another and to him swing loosely now, reminding me of their shared common lot, for better or worse.


Jesus invites us to take on his yoke, a yoke not of burden but light. Jesus said the yoke of the world is heavy, unbearable even. The troubles of our lives and our times may sometimes seem too much to carry. We want to walk away, but this is our life and this world is our story.

Jesus said, “I get it that you’re carrying heavy burdens. You sometimes feel as if you’re chained to trouble and you can’t seem to escape it.” And then this Jesus says something perplexing: “Take my yoke upon you, an learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, an you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


“OK, great Jesus,” we think, “but what is this yoke that you’re talking about? What makes the burdens I’m carrying around light?” Great question. In case you weren’t in church a few weeks ago when we talked about this, let’s back up for a minute. In Jesus’ time, Rabbi’s recruited students that they thought had it in them to learn their teaching and to do what they did. To have a student carry on your line was your legacy. The students who the Rabbi believed would grow up to do what they did and to teach what they taught were picked when they were really young. This practice was not unlike champion athletes selected as youth, and sent to championship training camps to achieve excellence in their field.

The best Rabbi’s picked the best of the best of the best students, because they weren’t looking for casual learners or dropouts. Their legacy as a Rabbi would become the words and actions of their disciples who followed them. This body of learning, this way of being in the world that led to imitating the words and actions of the Rabbi was called the Rabbi’s yoke. The yoke or body of teaching of some of the Rabbi’s was really, really heavy, like having to go to a university that requires six languages and eight years of undergraduate school, when a second language and four years will do.


Jesus understood the yoke part about farming, the part about oxen tied to one another and to their master. And Jesus understood the yoke part about religion, the part about students being tied to the yoke of their teachers, disciples to their Rabbi’s. Everybody listening to Jesus understood both these meanings too. The hearers of Jesus’ message knew that the yoke of the oxen and the yoke of some of the Rabbis, with their attachment to the letter of the law had grown oppressive. The yoke that was meant to free the oxen by giving them a partner to share the burden in a trusting relationship with the Master behind the plow now had become oppressive, too much to bear. Furthermore, the Rabbis began to act like they were the Master behind the plow. They demanded the impossible from their disciples who were chained to weight of their teaching and to one another.


And then came Jesus. “No”, Jesus said, “We’re the ones yoked together. You are my disciples and my yoke; my teaching will set you free. My teaching is light. When you’re yoked to my yoke, and we’re both yoked to the Master, to God behind the plow, anything is possible.”


“Yes,” Jesus said, “God is come into the world, a light in the darkness, the oppressive yoke of the world has been broken. When you’re yoked to me, you’re free.”


“When you’re yoked to me,” Jesus said, “Your burden, however great you may previously have thought it was, is so light. Yoke up to me, learn from me. You’ll see, my yoke is easy.”


Thanksgiving is upon us. In less than an hour we’ll be sitting at long harvest tables beautifully decorated by our church school children. Our plates will be laden with fragrant turkey and gravy and dressing and mashed potatoes and homemade pie. Thank goodness Fellowship Hall is across the driveway. If the smells were wafting up from a basement kitchen as in some churches, Jesus’ invitation to take up his yoke wouldn’t have a prayer.


Hang with me just a little longer until this story is fully cooked. That dinner will wait. You see we each have a decision to make don’t we? Who shares our yoke? After World War II, the freed survivors of Hitler’s concentration camps tended to respond to their immeasurable suffering in one of two ways. Some survivors lived out their days carefully and measured. They got jobs, and homes, and kept the furniture covered in plastic and the shades drawn in the event that they would have to flee. They held tightly to their newly found but fragile-feeling freedom, lest it be taken from them at any moment. They were yoked to a decision not to die. We can certainly understand that.


Other survivors upon being set free flung open the blinds and threw up the sash. They built communities and fed each other’s kids. They created art and made love and laughed with abandon. They were yoked not to merely a decision not to die. They were yoked to a decision to live.


Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the light.” “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Following the way of Jesus is being yoked to his legacy of love, living generously with utter joy and abandon. All that we have received we carry lightly and share generously, knowing that the source of life is bountiful and endless.


When we’re yoked to Jesus it will be evident in how we live. St. Paul called this the fruits of our faith. However, being yoked to Jesus is out of fashion these days. In our increasingly secular world, people who know us and love us may think we’re superstitious, or quaint or old fashioned. They may not get it.

Nevertheless, we follow the way of Jesus. We can’t not. We are eternally yoked to the one who sets us free, guided ever so firmly and gently by the master’s hand. Shoulder to plow; we carry our yoke lightly because the one who never grows weary shares it. When even our lightest of burdens seem too great to bear, the one to whom we are yoked carries us until we can walk. When we regain our footing, we follow this Jesus into a life of generosity and mercy, grace and peace.


“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.”


                           Matthew 11:28-30