Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 9 July 2017, Proper 9
Year A RCL: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45:11-18; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Jesus says: “my yoke is easy & my burden is light.” The Greek word for “easy” can mean “well-fitted”.1
My convertible fits me well – usually. The gear stick stuck last week as I ran errands. My burden wasn’t light: the car weighs over 3,700 pounds2.
Using amazing skill & equipment [some of which I saw smoking under the strain], the tow truck rescuer wrestled with the odd angle the car took rolling backward after I parked it. There is no way I could have handled this problem alone. I thank God for the abundance of skillful people in our lives who help lighten our load, however briefly we are yoked together.
You may recall the ballad about the long road which “leads us to who knows where, who knows when.” The refrain of “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother,” teaches us about today's scriptures.
[Lyrics of the 1969 ballad by Bobby Scott & Bob Russell are inspired by an earlier story noted in a Bible commentary3.]
My brother, my sister “ain’t heavy” because he/she is a gift to me from God yoked to me with God’s well-fitted yoke. “The burden...given in love & carried in love is always light.”4
Bible commentator William Barclay says,5 in Jesus’ day, wooden yokes for oxen were custom-made after the ox had been measured to make the yoke fit well. It makes sense to do this so your expensive ox can work well & with less injury. [A legend6 says when Jesus worked as a carpenter, the shop had a sign over the door: “My yokes fit well.”]
Think about when you have worked with a heavy, ill-fitting yoke. In our lesson from Romans, Paul tell us his experience living with the burden, the yoke of sin, which can make us lose sight of God who is Love, whose burden is light, whose yoke is easy.
When we lose sight of God’s love, we can fall into the grip of fear, that treacherous bend in the road which leads us to inaction & a sense of being alone. Fear tells us we are at a dead end. Fear lies.
The road we travel with Jesus has no dead end. It has blind curves through which the Holy Spirit will guide us safely. The Holy Spirit may extend the hand of a Brother or Sister in Christ to lead you through the fear, past the blind curve & on to the next stretch on the road of life.
Paul tells us clearly: Jesus is our rescuer. Our human nature is to stay mired in fear & sin & do the wrong we don’t want to do & not do the good we want to do. Paul asks: “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” He declares Jesus is the answer.
With Jesus & the Holy Spirit's guidance, we can move forward & live trusting God.
Like Paul, we tend to start with what’s wrong with us instead of noticing God’s love & acceptance Jesus shows us.7 We don’t earn God’s love by good behavior, as a North Carolina priest says in today’s sermon.8 We are already loved by God.
Accepting our status as God’s beloved, we can “make the radical turn” to love others unconditionally9 & like Paul we can say “Yes” to God.
Notice the amazing story we hear in Genesis of a person saying yes, accepting a new yoke. Rebekah says “Yes” to the call she receives as God guides Abraham’s servant. Rebekah responds, trusting God like her future father-in-law trusts God.
Notice the burden Rebekah takes on: She takes on work when she encounters Abe's servant at the spring. She not only gives him water but also lowers her water jar into that spring & hauls it up many times to water those 10 camels with the servant & his assistants.
Rebekah's hospitality is like Abe's hospitality when the 3 strangers stop where he lives.10 Rebekah puts forth extra effort to carry that heavy load of water. She knows:
“He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”
– my fellow human.
She goes the extra mile literally, agreeing to leave home to journey to a new beginning, trusting God.
We have to trust God to get on with life or we will get worn down, bearing all its pressures alone. Then we lose imagination & joy. Then we are like children who refuse to play, who refuse to be in relationship with others, to work together, play together, to live in the fullness of life God intends for us.
God makes us for relationships, for unity. God makes us in God’s image: the Holy Trinity, which loves us, loves you!
Rebekah values relationships. Her name can mean tied together11 like a team of horses12 or oxen that work together. Yoked together, the team works in unity. Working together, oxen & horses show us the yoke is easy, the burden light.
You/we are smarter
than any horse or ox!
Through the Grace of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, you know he ain’t heavy, he’s your brother, she’s your sister & all of us know:
You ain't heavy,
you're our brother,
you're our sister.
As the ballad says, & I paraphrase in parts:
The road is long, with many a winding turn. It leads us to who knows where, who knows when.
But you're/we're strong, strong enough to carry. So on we go, gaining strength for this journey.
If I'm laden at all, I'm laden with sadness, that everyone's heart isn't filled with the gladness of love for one another.13
Beloved Brothers & Sisters, I am thankful you do say yes to lightening each other’s load. We do have work to do to fill empty hearts with the gladness of love for one another.
Jesus knows we have burdens in life.
His starting point is love & acceptance, not our faults
& what we lack.14
When we embrace our status as beloved, we can do as Jesus does:
“we can make the radical turn” & love our brothers & sisters without conditions.15
Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. 2. Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1975.
Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press. 1984.
Bowron, Joshua. [Rector, St. Martin’s Episcopal, Charlotte, NC] “Taking on Jesus’ Yoke, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (A) – July 9, 2017”. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2017/06/19/taking-on-jesus-yoke-fifth-sunday-after-pentecost-a-july-9-2017 Accessed: 4 July 2017.
Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. 2nd Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2001.
Davidson, Baruch S. http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/651535/jewish/What-Does-the-Name Rebecca-Mean.htm. Accessed 4 July 2017.
Dios Habla Hoy: La Biblia. New York: American Bible Society. 1983.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/all-women-bible/Rebekah-Rebecca. Accessed: 4 July 2017.
http://www.oldielyrics.com/lyrics/the_hollies/he_aint_heavy_hes_my_brother.html. Accessed: 4 July 2017.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
1 Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. 2. Revised Ed. P. 17.
3 Ibid. P. 18.
6 Ibid. P. 17.
10 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. P. 49.
11 https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/all-women-bible/Rebekah-Rebecca. Accessed: 4 July 2017.
12 Davidson, Baruch S. “What Does the Name Rebecca Mean?” Accessed: 4 July 2017. http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/651535/jewish/What-Does-the-Name-Rebecca-Mean.html
13 http://www.oldielyrics.com/lyrics/the_hollies/he_aint_heavy_hes_my_brother.html. Accessed: 4 July 2017.
14 Ibid. Bowron.