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The Light Yoke (sermon)

July 17, 2011

Zechariah 9:9-12       Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

“To what can I compare this generation”. Jesus says, of his time and culture, of his generation…. They don’t understand John the Baptist. They don’t understand me… No one gets it! God alone knows what this is all about. In Jesus words in Matthew, “No one knows the Son except the Father”. And in turn – “No one knows the Father”, no one knows what God is up to here, “except the Son”.

It’s the voice of a man who is misunderstood….

Misunderstood, because something new (dramatically new) is at work here and it is problematic to the old order. Everything depends on the fact that with Jesus we have something new… That’s why the gospel can be called ‘good news’. And if this kingdom that Jesus talks about is truly something new, then its not surprising that it’s misunderstood or even a threat to our world.

Just a few verses earlier than today’s passage (v12) Jesus says: “From the days of John the Baptist till now, the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force”…In other words, not only are John and Jesus misunderstood… they are in constant danger.

Jesus says, ‘To what will I compare this generation?’

Is it just a problem to a particular people and time? Is Jesus a threat to his generation but not necessarily to other generations? Or is there something generated in Jesus time which is also generated in our time. (the greek word can be read this way also, as a ‘generative process’) Does Jesus come up against a ‘generative process’  which is happening now also – something deeply a part of human society? To put it another way… when Jesus comes with something new, is it merely something new in Jesus time, or is it going to be new for all times because it comes from somewhere else altogether, something outside of the way humans generate their life together?

Is the good news still new… even 2000 years after it was first new… is it still new?

The Christian answer has been from the beginning: Yes. Inasmuch as God is different from human ‘generation’ so Jesus is also. Jesus brings the God-difference not just to his own historical context but, as the risen one, to all historical contexts. Jesus interrupts.

Look at the example Jesus offers: the children playing in the playground. Actually they are pretending to be grown-ups, as children do. In Jesus’ society ritual dancing is a man’s role and ritual mourning is a woman’s role. So the girls are chiding the boys for not dancing and the boys are chiding the girls for not mourning. This is the battle of the sexes in miniature. Each gender blames the others for not playing their role right and for the game not working. Genders operating like tribes at war. What Jesus sees in children’s play is indicative of the adult world played out in a kind of structured war of one tribe against another. People are grouping together against others.

It’s interesting that the OT reading for today from Zechariah speaks of Israel’s hope for a King who rides on a donkey rather than a warhorse and who brings peace to the nations.

To return to the playground and to the Battle of the Sexes: Just as one group scapegoats the other, so they scapegoat any outsiders… John and Jesus may be chalk and cheese, the one (John) living in the desert in complete austerity and self-discipline, and the other (Jesus) indulging in both wine and food, partying big time with people of disrepute. For Jesus purposes the differences between them don’t matter – both Jesus and John interrupt the social unity and call for repentance. Both Jesus and John hold out a new way of living and being in the world… both in their own way call the world to repentance… and not merely by what they say but by how they live.

And that’s the point they both represent a new order … Jesus says

“I thank you Father… because you have hidden things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to infants.”

It’s a new order that is least likely to be understood by those who are successful in the old order… the wise and the intelligent, who are skilled in the old order are in fact most likely to have a blind spot for the new order.

In the same way the newness that Jesus brings is liberation and joy to those bowed down by the old order

What might it mean for us? Think about the battle of the sexes and the need to keep up one’s side, in the battle – the battle exists because of a perceived threat, a need to survive. Keeping up one’s side can be a heavy weight.

Think of the last time you dealt with bureaucracy, tried to enroll at a university tried to get an approval through the city council. Remember the process of going from one office to the next or waiting on answerphones forever, only to be told we can’t help you, we don’t have authority, it’s just the rules… and on you go to the next place.

Systems need rules or they won’t survive – death threatens the system. So the person behind the desk and you in front both feel powerless, bearing the heavy weight of it. The fear of death pervades all these systems. The yoke is heavy on all who are part of it.

Think about the last time you had to do a public speech and all the fears that went through your head… the sneaking thought that ‘you’re only as good as your last performance’. There’s the heavy weight on your shoulders… and in the back of your head the possibility of your own demise, slipping back down the ladder of success.

Come to me all you that are weary and 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.

Come to me all you who are weighed down with performance anxiety in the old order of things… weight on the shoulders of the winners to succeed as the system sees success, weight of failure and resentment on the shoulders of those who lose as the system defines loss, and possible end up being poor as a result. This is the world Jesus comes to. We don’t think about death, but it weighs on our shoulders and on our systems and institutions. The world can be a battle for survival.

Jesus addresses us with a new world… as the divine revolutionary – he was the one who deliberately went against the grain, hanging out with losers, abandoning his social status, choosing death rather than fighting back.

He offers a new yoke, something quite different from the old system/game… a world that only comes as a result of the resurrection… in fact a world that only comes as a result of the resurrection of this man who went into death itself rather than join our death-dealing ways of living.

Notice it’s not no yoke… it’s not the lightness of being of those who don’t care and live in a bubble of their own devices…

It’s the yoke of those who die and rise with Jesus and are yoked to him, the light yoke of those who have nothing left to lose, they’ve lost their life already… so in this sense the world is not on their shoulders, they are free to love the bureaucrats, or the complainers who arrive in their office, or to love the audience they once feared, or the gender they were once prejudiced against.

Jesus offers us nothing short of a new world, and the chance to practice it together, in the community of his Spirit, and to live it in our workplaces and our homes.

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