Isaiah 11:6-10, Matthew 5:9 & Matthew 11:28-30
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 4, 2016
The effort to make peace can require a lot out of us. Just ask Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela. Just ask some of us who tried to create peace at the Thanksgiving table when some members of the family view other members as moral monsters for their political opinions. Just ask those of us who keep trying to reconcile people who have held long and bitter grudges against each other. Just ask those of us who reach out to people who have been hurt by a church in the past and thus remain hostile to all churches to this day.
Peacemaking can both exhaust and dishearten! So why would Jesus call peacemakers blessed?
Because the very difficulties of “waging” peace drive us close to the Prince of Peace who wants our company and collaboration in accomplishing His peace mission.
Jesus invites those who “are weary and carrying heavy loads” to “come to” Him, with the promise that He will give them rest. Yet, He gives it, He says, not by sparing them from the burdens of effort, but by sharing with them His burdens. He tells those who are looking for rest that they’ll find it if they “take my yoke upon you.”
In Jesus’ world, first-century Palestine, a yoke was a horizontal beam of wood that was placed on the shoulders of a pair of oxen, and secured to each of their upper torsos by a U-shaped piece that looped around their upper chests, and then was locked into the beam. A yoke kept two oxen conjoined to team up in the work of pulling a wagon or a plow.
The Bible in one place depicts Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the whole world. In another place, it depicts Him as the Lion of the tribe of Judah who brings about God’s rule on earth. Here Jesus depicts Himself as an Ox who seeks partners in His labors of love, justice and peacemaking. Here He compares the friendship we might have with Him to the union of purpose and shared work two oxen, yoked together, have.
Jesus has a burden on His heart to bring peace to individuals and to the world at large. He says here we can find personal peace and rest, not by freeing us from all burdens of responsibility, but by shouldering the right burdens: His burdens.
There are burdens that wear us down and ultimately defeat us: such as the burden of earning and maintaining status, of trying to stay number one forever in some field of endeavor, of reaching unrealistic financial goals in a difficult economy, of holding on to our best physical appearance as the years march on, or of impressing God by our good deeds and virtuous character. But there are other burdens, the burdens Jesus wants to share with us, which don’t wear us down, but build us up. For they fit us and play to our strengths. These are burdens that bring us fulfillment, satisfaction and serenity. These are burdens such as the burden of heart to accomplish our purpose in life, to serve God, to be Jesus’ friend, and to make the world a little better than we found it.
In the same way, there are would-be work partners who wear us down, folks such as those who use us up in their cause without consideration for our welfare, and whose demands push us too far and drive us into the ground. But there is also a would-be work partner named Jesus – who is “gentle and humble in heart”, who cares more about us than the work to which we contribute, who is sensitive to our limitations and asks of us only what fulfills us, who teaches us how to do the job in a way that is both effective and a joy to our heart, whose “yoke is easy” and whose “burden is light”.
We may work hard in pursuing peace as we follow the lead of the Prince of Peace, and it may require our applying all that we have to the task; but by such labor in collaboration with Him we find “rest for [our] souls” and develop peace in our hearts.
We will then be like that elderly maid who, during the 1956 Montgomery bus strike for racial equality, refused to avail of the city’s public transportation and instead used her feet to take the long walk across town to the house that employed her. One day, as she trudged down the dusty road under a hot sun, laboring with heavy steps in the suffocating humidity, a pastor drove by, noticed her, took pity on her, and pulled over to offer her a ride. She waved him on, saying, “Save the seat for someone else. For, though my legs have never been so weary, my soul has never been so at rest.”
Though physically pressed, she was not at all stressed, because she was walking with the Prince of Peace and experiencing peace of heart in joining forces with Him. In doing her part to bring God’s peace to this sin-sick, unsettled, unjust and troubled world, she found meaning, fulfillment and serenity of soul.
To be yoked with Jesus is to share His labors and to fall into step with the One who is both God’s Son and God’s Ox, and who keeps moving forward in the rhythm of heaven’s Gospel love song. And just as we can get a good workout at the gym with little feeling of exertion by becoming caught up in the rhythm of good workout music, we can pursue peace with a sense of its being an easy yoke and a light burden by being caught up in the rhythm of the Good News song of Jesus and following His lead in the dance of grace.
So let us, in this frenetic, harried season of the year, make sure we stay yoked to Jesus by keeping to our daily devotions and our weekly worship. For then we can both pursue peace for the world and have peace within ourselves. Let us pray.