Some of life's crucial turning points are recognizable only in retrospect, when we look back and discover that decisions we made thoughtlessly or casually, actually changed the whole direction of our existence.
Sometimes, we’re keenly aware of the intensity of that struggle, but our difficulty in perception is one of the reasons we need so deeply to seek the guidance of God.
A crucial turning point in the life of Jacob was when he wrestled through the night with God by the Jabbock.
Jacob was basically a con man in the process of moving from being a man who lived by his wits (his name really meant "thief"), to a man of faith whose name would be "Israel," meaning “one who prevails with God".
Jacob grew up in what today we would call a dysfunctional family and he deceived his blind father Isaac into giving him the blessing that Isaac intended to give to Esau, Jacob’s brother.
The heavenly blessing for Jacob came like many of ours do.
He was in trouble and was fleeing from the scene of his actions.
Alone and sleeping on the ground with a rock for a pillow, he had a vision in a dream.
It was of God meeting him in his crisis, showing him his path to glory.
Jacob found out that God is bigger than he had previously thought him to be.
It’s a mark of grace that God brings assurance to this flawed and imperfect man and blesses the world through him.
God didn't wait for the day when Jacob changed his attitudes and made up for his mistakes.
He simply declared his intention to use and bless Jacob's life.
It’s amazing that God, who knows all about our weaknesses, reaches through them to trust us with his purpose.
We don't have to clean up our act, just so we can deserve that.
In fact, we can never do enough to deserve it, because it’s a gift from God and it’s called Grace.
Sometimes, when we get into a real encounter with God, we find that we’re also in a wrestling match, a struggle with the one who made us.In that experience is some probing, contained in God's question,
"What is your name?"
The probing of the essence of who we are.
In Jacob’s case, his answer was, "I am Jacob, a deceiver, a thief, a con man and a manipulator."
But God's answer was NOT ANYMORE, YOU’RE NOT.
You’re more than that and I will name you ISRAEL – a prince who prevails with God.
In wrestling with God, we find him holding up a mirror in front of us - and we must face up to what we are.
This is so that we can experience the conviction of our sins and shortcomings.
It's the essence of the call for us to repent, when we need to feel sorrow over what we are and what we’ve done.
We’re called to turn away from the old life and embrace the new.
Have you ever noticed that in bible stories, wherever food is present, Jesus is also there?
As often as he was praying, he was sharing food.
Without food, we’re often cranky and confused and tend to lose our way, become disoriented, even lose our balance.
When the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, they were given manna to eat.
It wasn’t fancy, just something to fill their tummies.
However, the people became so bored with eating manna day after day that they complained to God.
Yet, when you think about it, they were being fed and it kept them alive.
They didn’t recognise it as a blessing from God.
Today’s gospel story tells another story of food – lots of food - in fact, so much food, that they have heaps left over!
This isn’t a banquet like the wedding of Cana story in John’s gospel, but it’s about food to tide one over, food for a journey, simple food: bread and fish.
The people on that hillside long ago, weren’t friends and family gathered for an occasion.
They were just people who had wandered away from homes, seeking Jesus.
Seeking a blessing from him in the words that he spoke.
We know the story as “The Feeding of the 5,000” and it’s one of the many miracles of Jesus.
Those of us, either enlightened, or listening closely, know that it was actually many more than 5,000 people.
The count was taken of men, but then Matthew adds “besides women and children”.
How many would that be altogether, do you think?
So, did it really happen exactly as Matthew records?
Where did the food come from?
What did they do with the 12 baskets of leftovers?
Questions like these are so often the focus of discussion of this story.
But is this even what the story is really about?
There are many discussions about this story, many theories about it, from the conviction that it was an outright miracle of Jesus producing multiple and more-than-sufficient fishes and loaves, to the idea that the people produced the food from their satchels when prodded to share.
There’s really no way to know, but this may not be the point of the story.
Whichever way it happened, is this really a story about food?
Consider again that the story we have of Jesus says: “Jesus withdrew in a boat to a lonely place apart.”
What we’re not told in reading just today’s portion is that he was in that boat, withdrawing, because he’d just learned of the death of John, his cousin - John who had baptized him in the River Jordan.
It wasn’t the best of times for Jesus.
He was just trying to get a moment of peace to talk to God and reflect.
And according to the gospel, when the crowds heard that he was near, that he was drawing apart, they followed him.
As they followed, he didn’t tell them to go away, but instead he blessed them.
He fed them, he talked to them and after they had left, he again went off to be by himself.
He set out to do one thing: to get some space and some time away.
This proved to be difficult for him, as we read in today’s story.
Does this sound familiar to you?
Rest, time apart, a few minutes alone, a break, some space – it’s something that we all seek at the end of a busy day.
Jesus was interrupted and responded graciously - and then went on with what he was doing.
Parents recognize this dynamic, so do people with demanding jobs, family obligations, social responsibilities – this dynamic is very likely familiar to all of us.
Finding time alone in this COVID environment is difficult.
We get involved in what we’re doing, and we don’t want to be interrupted or distracted, and so we ignore what’s nudging us for attention.
Jesus withdrew and was constantly interrupted by people clamouring for attention:
Give us food!
Jesus sought time apart, time for himself, quiet time, but he was interrupted.
Yet, with grace and care, he healed the sick and somehow found food for the hungry.
Through all his interruptions, Jesus was abundant in his distribution of grace.
Yes, the story is about food, but consider that it’s also about blessing,
about God’s abundant grace.
Jesus fed not only their bodies, but also their spirits.
This is the message that I get from our readings today:
God’s grace is available in abundance.
In living the Christian life we’re blessed by him every day and it’s up to us to recognise those blessings and give him thanks in return.
We are blessed to be a blessing…………Pastor Rick
Sometimes, on a long drive, even in an area that we’re not too familiar with, we can get caught in the trap of thinking that it’ll be just the same round the next corner.
Lynne & I have travelled across the Simpson Desert a couple of times and it never ceases to amaze us how much the scenery, vegetation and wildlife changes every few hours.
You might think of a desert as a pretty boring and desolate place, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Just like we can never predict how the Kingdom of God will show up.
Take, for example, the parable of the mustard seed that Jesus tells in today’s gospel reading.
What may not be apparent to us today, but what the early listeners would have understood, is that the mustard plant referred to by Jesus was the black mustard, that grows into a tree and spreads prolifically.
It was not cultivated, but grew wild.
The mustard that we know today is the Indian mustard, which is smaller and easier to cultivate and harvest.
Jesus is comparing the Kingdom of God to a plant that they knew would constantly, and inevitably, keep growing and spreading.
Have you ever seen ivy, growing on an old wall, taking it over completely?
Well, that’s what the Kingdom of God is like.
The point Jesus makes is that the beginnings of the Kingdom are tiny.
The Kingdom of Heaven starts small and can be barely noticeable.
But when the Kingdom comes into its own, it’s seen everywhere, and you can’t miss it.
We are part of that growth, part of that Kingdom, whether anyone recognizes us for what we are, or not.
The most important thing is that God knows.
But, in our gospel reading today, Jesus doesn’t stop there.
He gives even more parables – more stories of ordinary things that possibly have extraordinary meanings.
Parables like these should be wrestled with, delved into, to determine their hidden meanings. So, what else do our parables tell us about the Kingdom of Heaven?It says that it’s like the yeast that a woman mixes with flour to make huge amounts of dough – enough for an entire wedding feast.
In Jesus’ time, leavening was something that people understood in scripture to be unclean or evil.
Unlike the convenient packets of dried yeast that we have today, leavening was done by letting some bread rot, just enough, in order to leaven a new batch of ingredients.
The Kingdom of Heaven is being modelled after something that is seen by some as unusable in everyday life.
And yet, God makes it good. Jesus goes on to tell us, in other verses of Matthew 13, that the Kingdom of Heaven is also like a treasure, hidden in a field, that makes a certain person sell all he has, in order to buy the field where he found that treasure.
It’s also like a pearl of great price, that makes a merchant sell all he has, in order to possess just that one pearl.
How valuable is the Kingdom of God to you and what would you give up to possess it?Would its possession be worth the sacrifice?
You know, what we see as valuable in God’s Kingdom, others may see as worthless.Sometimes we can try to contain the Kingdom and only pull it out when we think is valuable.
How often do we buy into the attitude that we carry Jesus in our pocket and take him out for a while on Sundays, only to put him back in as soon as we leave the church?
We get settled back in our neat little daily lives during the rest of the week and forget whom it is we follow.
We might think, “Oh I’m just part of a little church. We can’t do much, so why should I bother?”
Lou F. McNeil, an American writer once said,
“When one’s thinking begins with the parish and its members, rather than the gospel itself, it is likely that ministry and planning will not progress beyond the parish and its membership.” So, I ask again, why should we bother?
Well, for one thing, we know that God bothers.
In fact, God actually asks us to bother more than we usually want to. Jesus refers to the Kingdom starting out small like a tiny black mustard seed and yet it grows into a tree that shelters birds and the like.
When that small mustard seed starts growing, it has an advantage, because it can grow in and around the landscape, sheltering those beneath it and giving a place to perch for those above it.
This is how the gospel spreads into neighbourhoods where churches discern which leaf they should unfurl.
A little branch here, a little branch there, and suddenly the place is alive with people in the neighbourhood being nurtured by the spread of the gospel.
God’s gifts are unexpected, but they are so vast that they require a response.
So, should we give up our self-centred attitudes and everything else for the task of spreading the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
That’s a question that may take a lifetime to answer - and is easier said than done.
Sometimes we don’t know what to do with the part of God’s Kingdom that we’ve been given.
Even right now, we’re in flux – we don’t know what the future holds for our church.
But even in that unknowing, we have an advocate – the Holy Spirit – that helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.
As Paul says in today’s reading from his letter to the Romans,
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
It might not look like what we think it should look like, but God knows better.
We must trust God.
The God that uses what others think is unusable.
The God that calls us to love others with reckless abandon.
The God that sees in us what others cannot see.
By living this way, we become a part of what the Kingdom of Heaven is made up from.
But we can’t just rest comfortably in our little patch of Kingdom, under the protective branches of the mustard tree.
No - we’ve been tasked by Jesus to go far and wide to spread more seeds, so that others, who haven’t yet heard about him and his love for all of us, can also enjoy the fruits of living in the Kingdom.
Therefore, as congregations and as individuals, we need to make sure that we don’t become too introspective, or inward-looking, only thinking of ourselves and our lovely service of worship.
Instead, we need to continue with projects that look outside of the church walls and see what we can do to help grow the Kingdom of God, right here on earth.
Maybe our tiny mustard seed, yeast, treasure, or pearl will become mighty in the Kingdom.
But only if we share our love with those who are out there searching for it.
If you go into any gym and search out the section where people are lifting weights, you’ll hear a lot of grunting and groaning.
Weightlifters often groan as they strain to push weights off their chests, or lift them over their heads, or pull them off the floor.
A straining car engine also groans.
If you strap a heavy trailer to a car or ute and point it uphill, you’ll hear the engine groan.
Gears push against gears, the engine revs, and the vehicle groans as it strains to move forward.
Groaning is also the sound of creation.
As Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans,
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now.” This is a pretty vivid image.
Perhaps it isn’t such a fantastic metaphor for women who have actually experienced labour pains, but it reminds us of the difficult work of creation.
That sort of work can be hard and it can be groan-inducing.
Groaning happens in a gap – the gap between what we’re trying to do and what we hope to do.
Groaning reminds us that time spent in the gap between what is, and what could be, is a place of hard work. This week’s readings from Matthew and Romans are about living in this gap.
We hear about the gap between creation, as God intends and wills it, and where we are now.
Paul describes how to, somehow, live in optimism and hope in a world that so often doesn’t fulfil what God has promised to us. He calls this “life in the Spirit”.
Paul’s whole ministry, in a way, was driven to close this gap.
He felt that he had seen the fulfilment of creation in Jesus and he knew that it was within reach.
He also knew that the communities he had preached to, still lived with injustice, war, poverty and suffering.
So, he knew both the glory that is to come and the sufferings of the present time.
Paul also suffered personally, but he exhorted the Christians living in Rome to live in the Spirit, because he saw the glory that’s just beyond the gap.
A life in the Spirit is a life characterised by the confidence that, through Christ, we’ve been freed from all the things that can increase our suffering.
It’s a life lived free of hatred and violence - and instead filled with joy and reconciliation.
It’s a way to live in the gap between what is, and what shall be - in joyful exertion, not in desperation. The gospel parable also speaks to life in the gap.
The Kingdom of Heaven – a reign that Jesus preached, was here and now – and it is described as glorious.
Jesus compares it to a grain field.
A field of grain can be the source of not just one loaf of bread, but an abundance of bread.
This is an image of an abundance of what was, and for many still is, the basic food, the basic source of life.
Yet, in the midst of this vision of an abundant life, there are weeds.
The weeds gum up the works.
They can’t be removed easily.
The parable today is about having to wait in the gap – in a world of both abundance and weeds.
It’s there to comfort those who live in the gap, with the assurance that at the end, the weeds will not ruin the harvest.
I guess that most of us find it extremely difficult to live in a gap.
It’s difficult to see the glory beyond the horizon and still live in a place that’s not yet fully glorified.
The first Christians must have also felt this very strongly.
Those who actually knew Jesus, had known in their minds and felt in their souls, the goodness and love of God in creation would have struggled in that time between his departure and the second coming they waited expectantly for.
Paul, too, had seen the glory of the risen Christ, and so his conviction, faith and excitement must have filled the minds and souls of the people in the churches that he planted.
Yet, just outside the door of each house church, every time the communion meal ended, and people returned to their lives, they were confronted by the realities of a world that did not meet that vision. The parables Jesus told about the end of time, the words Paul gave to his communities were written to help those communities understand and overcome the gap between what is and what ought to be.
They had an expectation that the time would be very short, but, with each passing day, week, month and year, their time in the gap became a little bit more stressful. The parables are also words written for today, because Christians are still living in the gap.
Many know the feeling of God’s love and have experienced it in their lives.
Many have seen it in grand acts of compassion and small daily acts of kindness.
Christians rejoice when justice triumphs and celebrate when sickness turns to health.
These are signs of the Kingdom of God come near.
Yet, people everywhere also wake daily to news of war and rumours of war, of violence in homes and communities, of soul-crushing poverty in every country, of injustice, and all the many ways the dignity inherent in every person is neglected.
How do we reconcile the loss of lives during the Black Lives Matter riots and the COVID-19 pandemic?
Many will question whether the Kingdom seems any nearer, after hearing news reports of these items. However, as Paul reminded the Christians in Rome and Christians are reminded today, we don’t hope based on what we see.
Christian hope is based on the confidence and assurance that the risen Christ is present in the world, bringing all things to what they are meant to be and closing the gap.
God’s focus is on closing the gap between what is and what ought to be.
This is the work of God from the beginning of creation.
To be Christian, is to join in this work.
For all of us are children of God - part of that creation which is coming into being.The way to join in this work is to live a life in the Spirit.
This isn’t a life that tries to ignore the gap, but one that can stride confidently into the gap – angered at injustice, grieving at suffering, striving and straining and groaning. Groaning is the soundtrack of creation. It’s the sound of the gap closing, of the Spirit overcoming resistance.
Life in the Spirit strains and groans to close the gap.
It’s a good, honest groaning, the soundtrack of what will be coming into being.Life in the Spirit is a life that closes the gap between the weight on the chest and the weight lifted high and triumphantly overhead.
Life in the Spirit closes the gap between the engine straining against the gears and finally reaching full speed, running like a well-oiled machine. Christians are made to be gap closers.
Christians are to see the distance between what should be and what is, and strain, and heave, and work, and lift to close that gap.
It may be necessary to groan, but the groans sing the soundtrack of creation.
I pray that we may stay true in the struggle, groaning if need be and laughing at our groaning when we can.
The gap is closing, so let us hear the soundtrack of creation as we raise our voices in work and strain and joy.
Are you willing to groan for God?
It’s not a question you hear every day, either in church or out in the street, but it epitomises the struggles that we must commit to in our Christian walk.I encourage you to re-read the passages above and strengthen your hearts for the courage to bear the weight, striving towards life God has prepared for us on the other side of the gap – the Kingdom of God.
The parable of the sower is found in all three Synoptic Gospels. Mark wrote his first and it’s likely that Matthew and Luke had access to this when they wrote their own versions of the story.
The way we hear these parables in today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, tells us how receptive we really are to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus uses this first parable to set us up for the seven parables that will follow.
They will be all about the Kingdom of God.
This one is about the character of God, and how God reveals that character to those who recognise it.
It’s a perfect example of a story that reads us, because it shows how parables reflect back to us our ability to understand them. Throughout this 13th chapter of Matthew, Jesus keeps saying,
“those who have ears, let them hear; anyone with ears, listen!”
In other words, these stories will find the ones who can understand them.
As you listen to the story, it will “read” you, and identify which kind of recipient you are by the way you hear it.
The depth of our understanding depends on our willingness to be changed by what we hear. Yes, you can take the story at face value: seeds get sown, and where they land determines how well they will grow.
Or, you can try to assign meaning to the parts of the parable, treating it strictly as an allegory. The Sower is God, the Word is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the soil is our hearts. Using this interpretation, and the explanation Jesus gives of this story, we might think the point is to do everything we can to become good soil.
However, there’s a problem with this approach: we can’t change the kind of soil we are – only God can do that.
The bigger problem with this kind of interpretation is that it makes the story be about us, about the soil. But the story is not about you (be good dirt); the story is for you. This parable, like all scripture, is really about God and God’s extravagant generosity.
God is the Sower, scattering seed liberally, even wastefully, everywhere. It’s what
God does and keeps on doing. God keeps throwing seeds, regardless of where the seed might land. God is love, and love is generous, lavish, abundant, eager to share what is good. God will not withhold the Word from anyone. God will not deny anyone access to the Good News.
This parable tells of a sower who is ridiculously generous with the amount of seed he scatters, throwing it not only on the good soil but on soil that even non-farmers can recognise wasn’t a good bet: on thorny soil, rocks and even a beaten path.
God doesn’t use a GPS-driven tractor to plot out perfectly spaced rows, carefully inserting each seed at the exact depth of carefully prepared soil for optimum germination. God scatters the Good News of the Kingdom liberally, even in places where it’s not likely to grow or bear fruit.God sows everywhere.
Wherever it’s sown, the Good News cannot be contained. God doesn’t discriminate between good soil and bad soil.
God throws the seed of the Kingdom everywhere! It goes out into all the world, to transform any who will accept it.
You see, seed can only become fruitful when it stops being a seed.
Seed must die to become a plant. It breaks open, just as God has broken into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. As it grows, it becomes something that is not a seed anymore – it becomes a plant - and that bears more seed!The parables read us – where the seed lands, how we understand the Word and absorb it into our lives, how well our ears are tuned to listen to it, determine the extent to which it can change us, transforming us into fruitful plants that bear abundantly.
As we listen to the parables of Jesus over the next few weeks, how will they read us? How will our ears hear them?
How will we be changed, as we find ourselves drawn into God’s story, as God invites us to become part of it?
How willing are we to be transformed by that story, becoming something we’ve not been before?
Each week, preachers cast the gospel as broadly as possible, with no guarantee where it will land.
Preachers know that people listen to the word for all kinds of reasons.·
But every preacher knows that no matter how carefully crafted the sermon may be, no matter how much prayer and study have been poured into sharing the Word of the Lord, the chances of something taking root doesn’t depend on the sower. Yet that’s what we’ve all been called to do.
To sow the seed and to bear the heartache and frustration when it falls on rocky, weed-infested ground.
And, chances are that you’ve been there!
Each of you have probably experienced the hard truths of this parable on some level
The parable also reminds us where to keep our focus.
As a church, we invest time, energy, and hope in trying to coax growth among people.
We shouldn’t despair when the seeds we sow do not take root.
The sower doesn’t do that.
He accepts the reality that a good chunk of seed will fall on bad soil.
Yet the sower keeps sowing.
Jesus wants us to keep spreading the word. Jesus calls us to something even more in this parable.
He calls us to hope.
Jesus challenges us to believe in God’s abundance.
This story could have ended with a normal harvest from good soil.
But this story is filled with the promise of lavish abundance, even in the face of rejection and the hard realities of living in this world.God doesn’t hold back, because he has enough seed and grace and love.
God wants our hearts to be good soil, but nevertheless he hurls huge amounts of seed even on dry, thorny, or beaten soil.
You get the feeling this God would probably scatter seed-love-mercy-grace on a parking lot!
Why, because there’s enough to go around and wants he everyone to hear the good news!
The story isn’t about what the dirt is like.
The story’s about God, and the way God breaks into our lives in the person of Jesus Christ, to change us, and offers us his extravagant love.
The story’s about God’s abundant generosity, and God’s desire to draw us into the kind of transformation that bears abundantly more than a “normal” crop could possibly bear.
Hear God’s love for you and be broken like the shell of a seed, to become something new, as part of God’s story.
Let the Word of God grow in you and produce an abundance in you!
Let these parables read you and change you.
All who have ears, listen!
Let us go into the world to be people of generosity, who, with great abandon, throw and sow seeds of goodwill, kindness and peace wherever we travel.
May the seeds we sow grow and multiply to become flourishing fields of generous communities who bring hope, peace and joy to the world.
Let us dwell in the abundant love of God, the generous grace of Christ and the rich purpose of the Holy Spirit.
This reading from Matthew’s gospel is quite a contrast to what Jesus has been saying in the earlier verses.
He has previously been talking about the cost of discipleship – the certainty of persecution, conflict, suffering and painful division for those who choose to follow him.
Things like “Leave it all behind, pick up your cross and give up your life for my sake.”
Now his tone changes.
Jesus is sounding all sweetness and light – rest and comfort, light burdens and easy yokes.“
This is more like it”, we’re thinking.
Gentle masters are much more to our liking – if we must have masters at all.
However, as we’ve come to understand, the words of Jesus are usually a little more complex than they first seem.
By saying “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,” or an older translation, “who labour and are heavy laden,” Jesus doesn’t primarily mean people with ordinary problems – such as too many bills to pay, or being unemployed, or sick, or having ungrateful kids, etc.
Jesus has lots to say about things like that, but it’s not what he’s talking about in this passage.
Here, Jesus is talking quite specifically to, and about, those who are on a religious quest – those who are seeking God, wanting a relationship with him.
He’s calling the spiritually-exhausted to come to him – those who’ve tried all of the usual ways of finding some peace with the divine and have achieved only frustration.
The real clue to this is the fact that a yoke was not only a device for harnessing beasts of burden, but in early Jewish times, was also the common symbol for the Laws of Abraham and Moses.
It was used especially for the details of the law and the minute, ever-expanding demands of the legalism of the Pharisees.
In fact, there were about 613 of these laws!
We also need to remember that Matthew is presenting an exaggerated picture of the Pharisees – most of them were not nearly this strict - many were not bad at all.
But there were enough of them who were, to justify this caricature.
This is why Jesus says that the wise and intelligent – i.e. the religious leaders – have missed the point.
He then adds that only the Son (himself) – not those leaders, and not you, or me, or anyone else, but only the Son – knows the Father - and that we can only come to the Father through him.
The yoke of the Pharisees, their demands that we have to do this and this and this; exactly in the right order, to matter to God; in order to be a decent person; in order to be loved or counted significant.
That yoke Jesus rejects, even though it was the yoke of the “wise and intelligent”.
That yoke, the yoke of seeking God by keeping the rules; by doing what somebody, or anybody, or everybody else says is the thing to do; by trying to get it right all the time and so living constantly in fear of getting it wrong; that yoke leads those who wear it to “labour and be heavy laden.”
It leads to a religion and a life of fearful obedience to a multitude of petty dictates where the spirit is deadened, and where some measure of success is more likely to lead you into self-righteousness than into the heart of God.
To say to your child, a friend, your spouse, or anyone else, “I’ll only love you if you do everything right,” is to ensure a sick and twisted relationship that hurts everybody involved.
To teach that this is what God says, is not only terrible theology, but it can also be devastating when we try to live it out in our lives.
Yet the yoke of the Law, at its worst, did just that.
Those who, like Paul, struggled under such a yoke, discovered that; it didn’t fit; it didn’t bring them closer to God; it didn’t enrich their lives.
Yokes like that never do.
To go scurrying about with the notion that if we could only figure out the right thing to do – the right way to act, the right words to say, the right way to do the rituals, is to skate on the edge of magic, as if we could conjure up God’s acceptance. In the end, it’ll only ensure frustration and exhaustion.
God’s presence with us and God’s love for us are never the results of our actions.
He’s in charge; we’re not.
Even the Apostle Paul, when writing to the Jews in Rome, struggled with this.
If he tried to keep to the Jewish laws, he felt that he was sinning, because he was only doing them because he felt he had to.
Instead, Paul remembered the call of Jesus, who says, “Come to me.”
Not to a new law, not to a new teaching, not to a secret interpretation, or a hidden loophole, not to a book, not to a list; but “to me.” Come to Jesus himself.
In essence, Jesus is saying, “If you seek God; if you seek his love; if you seek a life that makes some sense; if you want a way of understanding the world that allows you to deal honestly with what happens and not be destroyed; if you want to be who you are created to be – if you want this, then come to me.”
It’s a call to relationship – to relationship with Jesus and to relationship with the community that continues Jesus’ life and ministry – that is, the church.
The alternatives, then and now, will fail, but Jesus will not.
We’re reminded that God has taught us that all the commandments can be summed up by loving God and our loving our neighbour.
Such is the yoke of Christ.
In many translations, Jesus calls his yoke “easy”, but that’s an unfortunate translation into English, as it makes it sound like everything’s a doddle and that very little effort or energy is required to do it.
As anyone who’s tried to live the life of Jesus knows, that’s just not true.
A better translation is, “My yoke is good to bear.”
The point is not that this yoke, the Lord’s call to relationship, makes no difference, or asks nothing of us – quite the contrary.
The point is that it fits - it’s the right size, so it works – it leads us to God, and it brings with it wholeness and a peace that can’t be found anywhere else.
To come to him is to discover that, what can seem a frantic and desperate task – life with God – is, in fact, not an earned reward, but a free gift.
To come to him is to discover, as Paul discovered, that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
To come to him is to discover that the task of getting it all correct is replaced by the absolute gift of God’s grace, and our grateful response to that gift. All the strong stuff from earlier verses regarding the cost of discipleship, is still very much there.
But the yoke is good to bear.
It leads to life.
To put it on is to be embraced by God’s mercy – to carry it is to fulfil both God’s will and our own humanity.
We’re called to this new yoke, not to a law, a set of rules, but to a person and a community built around that person.
And in this, the religious quest – the greatest journey of human existence – can find its richest fulfilment, and its deepest satisfaction.
Jesus said, “Come to me if you seek God, if you seek life, I will give you rest.”
The following poem by Margaret Powers, called “Footprints in the Sand”, beautifully conveys the message to us:
“One night I dreamed a dream.
I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to me and one to my Lord.
When the last scene of my life shot before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
There was only one set of footprints.
I realised that this was at the lowest and saddest times of my life.
This always bothered me and I questioned the Lord about my dilemma.
“Lord, you told me when I decided to follow you, you would walk and talk with me all the way.
But I’m aware that during the most troublesome times of my life there is only one set of footprints.
I just don’t understand why, when I need you most, you leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you, never, ever.
During your trials and testings, when you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”