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When our kids were infants we did our best to sleep-train them. We put them on a schedule and did our best to stick to it for both nap and bedtimes. We had darkening shades and white noise machines. We swaddled them and kept a consistent bedtime routine. Our reason for being on top of sleep training was two fold: 1. We needed them to be good sleepers as soon as possible because we both worked full time and I had limited maternity leave. 2. Well rested babies are happier babies. Many of you know that cranky babies plus cranky parents is a recipe for disaster. While that can’t always be avoided, we found it best to do all we could to prevent that scenario from happening. Let’s be honest: It’s important for people of all ages to get good sleep in order to be well rested. Jesus is fully aware that those in the crowds he taught and spent time with were tired and desperately in need of rest. It wasn’t because they weren’t getting enough sleep. If only it were that simple. They were tired because of the burdens they carried. There was the burden of living under the Roman Empire who unjustly overtaxed them, robbing them of much of their well earned money. Jews were looked down upon for being culturally inferior to the Romans. While the Jews believed in only one God, the Romans believed in many. There was also the burden placed upon them by their own people. The Scribes and Pharisees were Israelites viewed as the experts in the Law, who taught such a strict and intensified observance of the Law that the Law became less about God’s love and protection for them, which was the original intention of the Law, and more about precisely following the Law. Since the Law became more about procedure and practice than about the love of God, as with all ideas and ways of living that don’t have God at the center, the Law became a burden instead of pointing to God’s freedom for God’s people. Israel’s government and their religious leaders, two entities who in theory were committed to the well being of all, were communicating messages that slowly tore away at their self worth. From Rome it was constantly conveyed to them that they were inferior to true Roman citizens. From their religious leaders they were constantly told “you’re not good enough” in your devotion to God. Both messages caused mental, emotional, and at times physical exhaustion for the Israelites. And both messages were devoid of any hope. So when Jesus says “Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens” they can’t help but listen. Finally here is someone who isn’t looking down on them, but who instead speaks with kindness, gentleness and compassion. Someone who sees them for who they truly are, not who they’ve failed to be, and who acknowledges their exhaustion and need for rest. In Jesus they finally hear a message of hope. There are two ways to understand the “yoke” as a metaphor. The yoke in Jewish tradition is a metaphor for the law and how the law keeps one connected to God. The yoke is also used as an analogy for oppression in the Old Testament. Jesus has both meanings in mind. Following the Law has become a burden, not because the Law itself is bad, but because of how the scribes and the Pharisees taught what following the law should look like. In addition there was the burden of living as oppressed people under the Roman Empire. I think it’s pretty safe to say that the majority of us haven’t engaged in any intense farming lately so it would be helpful to review what exactly is a yoke. It could be (as in this slide) a curved beam laid across the back of the neck and shoulders of a person with suspension ropes on both sides that helps with carrying anything heavy. A yoke can also be placed on one or two animals such as oxen and that yoke connects them to something heavy such as a plow. Whether it’s a person, one animal or two, a yoke is helpful in carrying anything heavy by balancing the weight of whatever it is that’s being carried. It seems odd that Jesus would say “come to me all who are tired” and “take my yoke” upon you. It’s as if he’s saying to the people: “Here is something else to add to your burdens of living under an oppressive regime and trying to conform to a strict interpretation of the law that you already carry.” Why is a yoke necessary at all? A yoke is necessary because we still need something or in this case someone, to help us remain connected to God. The Law was supposed to do that, but because of the teachings of the scribes and the pharisees people have lost sight of the original intention of the Law. Jesus does what the Law couldn’t do. With Jesus we are now connected to God in a way that was not possible before his arrival. What Jesus is offering here is a new way of living in a covenant relationship with God. A new way of being connected to God. A covenant relationship that now involves Jesus himself. For “no one knows the Father except the Son.” To be yoked with Jesus Christ means to be connected with God in a way that was not possible before Jesus Christ. He also says his yoke is “easy” and his “burden” light. The yoke of Jesus Christ does not involve anything that is too heavy or too burdensome to carry. Moreover, Jesus carries the yoke with us so a better picture of a yoke that Jesus refers to is one that’s made for two. To be yoked with Christ means we don’t carry anything by ourselves. We are never alone for Christ is always with us. And what Christ gives us to carry is not a burden. For Christ is “gentle and humble in heart,” his “yoke is easy,” and his “burden” is light. What Jesus has done here is he’s taken the metaphor of a “yoke” that was widely understood to represent oppression and redefined it to represent freedom. Freedom that is only found in Jesus Christ. Freedom not in the sense that we can now do whatever we want, but in Christ we are now free from the burdens that have kept us from being who God has called us to be and therefore we are now free to do what God has called us to do. What God calls us to do we were never meant to do alone. Christ is always with us helping us to fulfill that call. Christ has also given us one another for support and encouragement as we work alongside one another in fulfilling God’s call for us as a church. Elie Wiesel was a Romanian Jew who survived the holocaust. He was a prolific author who wrote over 40 books and one of the major themes in his writings was the danger of good people who do nothing in situations that demand action. Wiesel witnessed many good people who looked away as millions of Jews, many of whom were their neighbors, coworkers and friends were carted off to concentration camps. Wiesel writes: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it is indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it is indifference. Indifference is the enemy.” According to Wiesel the indifferent person is someone who says nothing and does nothing when he or she sees or participates in something that is wrong or unjust. Christ is calling us as a church to fight against indifference. Indifference in ourselves, in our church and in our community. To be Christ’s light in our community involves listening to those who are weary, tired and carrying heavy burdens as a result of injustice. Just as Jesus did. Jesus took the time to listen to those who felt oppressed and forgotten by both their government and their religious leaders. Who feels that same way today and how can we as a church be better listeners? And how can we as a church serve those who are suffering from injustice? How can we speak for those whose voices have been silenced? We alone can’t fix the injustices of the world, but that doesn’t mean we are to do nothing, and again it doesn’t mean we are alone in this endeavor. Remember Christ is in this with us. For whenever we love others as Christ calls us to love we become more deeply acquainted with Christ himself. And when we come to know Christ more deeply we will find “rest” and “peace” not just for ourselves, but for all who are suffering from oppression and injustice.