Sermon for Proper 9, Year A, July 5, 2020

Zechariah 9:9-12, Psalm 145:8-15, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

          A week ago, I walked into the Narthex and saw that the bulletins from our last in-person service were still sitting out.  It was dated March 8th.  The very next week we cancelled our services and the week after that we began broadcasting our services over the internet.  Sixteen weeks later, the red doors are again open.  But in order to come in, you must have your temperature checked, wear a mask, and sit six feet apart. 

          On top of all the precautions we are taking, we may not be able to continuing opening our doors, if the current trends continue here in Arkansas and in Independence County.  Once we made the decision to reopen, Arkansas experienced a new high for the number of new positive cases reported on a single day.  Regardless, we will continue to do what we have been doing throughout this pandemic.  We will continue to gather, whether it be online only, or as we are today – a combination of in-person and online.   

          Worshiping during this pandemic has been challenging and is a work in progress.  We have persisted, however, because we need our faith to help us weather this storm – to remain hopeful when people we love are being hurt by this virus and its impact on jobs and our economy.  We’ve been living with the pandemic for more than three months and I am just now hearing from members who have tested positive or been quarantined because they have been exposed to the virus.

          There are many more reasons to stay at home than there are to come to church.  But not everyone has reliable internet and for many, this feels like home.  When we are here, we feel safe and this enables us to let down our guard and feel God’s presence. 

          When we could not meet in person, I chose to broadcast our services from in front of the altar.  I did so because it is such an important symbol of our faith and this altar is where we come together – whether or not we agree politically or theologically.  We gather in this sacred space to acknowledge that we are all children of God. 

          In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  This is where we come to be in communion with Christ.  It is where we can unburden ourselves through prayer and worship. The pandemic interrupted this for us, so many have had to find new ways and places to unburden our souls and find rest.. 

          Worshiping, for many of us, is akin to what I was taught in school about studying.  It is best to have a time and place designated for study so that when you sit down, you are mentally prepared to work.  It should be a time when you are rested and a place where there are few distractions.  

          If you are like me, you have more than one place where you like to study, or pray, but many of these places are filled with distractions.  St. Paul’s is, without a doubt, a special place for worship.  Many have found; however, that home can be as well.  Being unable to worship here together, many of you have established new routines for worship at home.  And as we are creatures of habit, I imagine most of you have designated a place in your home for this.  Some of you may have even light a candle before the service.  From this experience, I pray that we will set aside other times, throughout our week, for prayer and worship.  

          Our experience over the past several months has been exhausting.  We have been burdened by all the limitations it has placed upon us and we have worried about the well being of others.  We may have even been living in fear.

          In the gospel, Jesus offers us rest in him, then says, “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.”  This seems curious as a yoke is worn to carry, or pull a great load – but Jesus says his yoke is easy and his burden is light.  We know the burden his has carried, and it does not seem easy or light.  What then, can we learn from what he says?

          First, we need to understand that following the Jewish law was a burden for people of faith.  Even the Rabbi’s understood this.  Theologian William Barclay wrote about this, commenting that the Jews, themselves, made references to the “yoke of the law.”   Jesus summarized the law in such a way that it was not a burden – love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. 

          It also helps to know that an actual yoke was made of wood and it was custom made.  A well fitted yoke made the work easier.  So, another way of translating this passage is to refer to yoke of Jesus as well fitted, not as easy. 

          This makes a great deal more sense to me.  When we take on the yoke of Christ and learn from him, we find ourselves at living the life God intends for us to live.  Filled with the love of Christ, our hearts are at peace and we are capable of facing even the most difficult challenges that come before us in this life.  

          I believe this is why our faith is so important for us today.  It is why we are gathered here and why we gather online when we can’t be together at church.  Our burden is lighter when we are a part of a community of faith and we pray and worship together.  Our prayers may not change the circumstance, but it can certainly change our perspective and help us to see that caring about and for others is not a burden.  When we put on the yoke of Christ, we do what we do out of love.   

Let us pray.           Lord Christ, help this community to put on your yoke and share the burden of others.  Help us to learn from you how to live a life of love, caring for others as you care for us.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen