“Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Dale didn’t know this wisdom saying from Jesus, but none-the-less, it was the core of his story. Dale was a jovial upbeat person on the outside. He was well liked in the community. But he also carried significant burdens. As an only child, he was now the primary care giver for his mother, a demanding woman who was homebound, in her HUD-housing apartment. He made it his duty to check in on her daily: he did most of her shopping, and transporting her to doctor’s appointments and to all the extended family gatherings, Christmas and Easter, birthdays and anniversaries. Dale never knew his father, who died when he was an infant. Some years later he shocked the community when he announced he was getting a divorce. In a community where everyone knew everyone else’s business, no one for a second, ever saw that coming. Though it was amicable, there was enough hurt and confusion to burden Dale, his wife and children, and the whole community.
Through it all Dale matured in his faith. Being unchurched, we baptized Dale on the day of his sons Confirmation, later he became a Council member and even President. He was a member of the volunteer fire department. Around town, Dale was known as the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back.
At first, I addressed Dale’s questions by teaching him the Lutheran basics. ‘You can’t barter your good works for a better life either here, or for a free pass to heaven,’ I counseled him as wisely and directly as possible. But, God blesses us everyday. Everything we have comes from God: our lives, our families, our opportunities, the blue sky and the rain, a bowl of cherries or a bowl of lemons. It’s what we do with those gifts, or opportunities, that matters. It’s how we respond with thanksgiving in service to God’s world, that forms us into followers of Jesus. Our lives are in the shape of the cross. The vertical line is God’s grace given to us, and the horizontal line is our life in, with, and for our neighbor in the world – both, our yoke of Christ.
Even after Dale realized there was no quid pro quo in Jesus’ promise of salvation, because we’re saved by grace alone through faith, he never totally gave up his questioning. Thank God for that! Our lives are also in the shape of a question, seeking an answer in religion. Yet Jesus does not come to make things just a little bit easier, just a little better for us personally, like some “trickle-down” theory of religion. Jesus would not, and cannot spare us from the grief we feel when a loved one dies, or from the twisting fate of tornado’s, or the endings and loss of once meaningful relationships. But Jesus does come to invite us to the celebration of God’s banquet – “Come to me,” Jesus says, speaking as a personification of Lady Wisdom – he-she bids us to come and enter a new life, even amidst our weariness, because, the realm of God has broken in, through the death and resurrection of the Son, and is alive fully in that ‘trust fund’ we call baptism, the continuation, now and forever, of our Trinitarian relationship already begun at the font, and nourished at the table.
Indeed, this is all of our stories. We are all Dale, our lives in the shape of a question, looking to Jesus for rest, a place where we can let go of our heavy burdens, a way to feel good about who we are, and what we do. Could Jesus’ invitation, "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me…. for my yoke is easy and my burden is light," be the answer we’re looking for? That great Lutheran teacher Paul Tillich said of this verse: “This does not indicate a quantitative difference, a little easier, a little lighter. It indicates a contradiction!” In Jesus, Lady Wisdom bids us to enter the school of discipleship. The contradiction, or paradox is: this release from our burdens does not equal freedom, as we have come to know it, but taking on Jesus’ yoke, brings freedom.
Along with Dale, as our lives take on the shape of the cross, as we become disciples, we learn that it is not the church that saves us or transforms us, but through the church, it’s our response to the free gift of grace, to the call and invitation of Jesus. “Jesus is not the creator of another religion, but the victor over religion; He is not the maker of another law, but the conqueror of law. [“Come to me…” is a call] to the New Being,” to use Tillich’s terminology again, “Forget all Christian doctrines; forget your own certainties and your own doubts, when you hear the call of Jesus. Forget all Christian morals, your achievements and your failures, when you come to Him. Nothing is demanded of you, no idea of God, and no goodness in yourselves, not your being religious, not your being Christian, not your being wise, and not your being moral. But what is demanded is only your being open and willing to accept what is given to you, the New Being [in Jesus], the being of love and justice and truth, as it is manifest in Him Whose yoke is easy and Whose burden is light.”. [Tillich sermon, “The Yoke of Religion,” from “Shaking the Foundations”]
“Are you willing to leave behind your expectations of who God is, of what it means to be a disciple, of what it means to be church and to allow your eyes to be opened again and glimpse the promises that are already coming true?” The contradiction, the gospel message of subversion calling to us, is that, the yoke of Jesus, is a gift of freedom, allowing us to “join in the celebration. The King is in the camp! Wisdom is vindicated! The Spirit moves among us! Get on board, little children! Open your eyes. Open your hearts. The New Age is now. The promised land is wherever you are. Turn, grasp, embrace, serve — live differently — and the Holy [banqueting host,] Jesus of Nazareth will meet you … at the table, at the [O.N.E. housing] protest, in the [All American Nursing Home], in the board room, [and] in the halls of Congress — anywhere that justice is being done, bonds are being loosed, strangers are being embraced and the hungry are being fed. And, when we acquiesce to take on this yoke, the yoke of this gentle Savior, where we expect a burden, we find an easy load.” [Scot Haldeman, “Out in Scripture” -professor CTS]
I suspect that Dale is still questioning, having learned his life of faith well. Our questions arise because we are all caught up in “this generation,” and the temptation to call out names at those we don’t agree with in the marketplace of politics, which continues to perplex and divide us. Jesus invites us to a new reality, right here in the very midst of our heavy burdens and politics, to receive the yoke of Christ, a surprisingly light burden, and a refreshingly transformed heart. It’s the beginning of freedom, and the way of peace and justice, for us, and the world God calls, very good.