“Come to me, all you that are weary and are 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.”Matthew 11:28-30
Last week, I began a two-part series on the topic of Christian freedom. (You can find it here.) We are celebrating Independence Day here in the United States this weekend, so it seems timely to preach on this topic. Our freedom as Americans is no small thing. We are blessed in this country to be able to worship our Lord, and live out our faith, without fear of persecution. There are Christians in other parts of the world who do not have this same freedom. We can do this because of the sacrifice made by many of our fellow Americans in every generation, who were willing to give up some of their freedom in order to defend ours.
But there is another type of freedom that is important to remember, and that is our freedom as Christians. The freedom of the gospel itself. Last week we looked at one dimension of this freedom, the idea that we have been freed from sin by Jesus. We have been given a whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! We are now free from sin, and free to love God and to love our neighbor as our self.
Freed from Sin?
And it’s true – we are freed from sin. So why doesn’t it always feel that way? I don’t know about you, but I have to admit that I did not make it through this whole week sin-free. I might be freed from sin, but I still find sin nipping at my heels. Or, as Martin Luther is reported to have said, the old Adam within us might have been drowned in baptism, but he sure did turn out to be a good swimmer! Sin keeps knocking at the door and nipping at our heels.
Which is why I find Paul’s next passage in Romans so comforting, the one that forms today’s Second Reading. Shortly after Paul writes that we are freed from sin, he pens these memorable words:
I don’t understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate … I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
These words are beloved by many of us because they speak a deep and honest truth to us. As Paul so honestly describes, we may think that we are free, and can do whatever we want. But the truth is, we end up doing what we do not want, and sometimes even do the very things we hate. And even though we can will what is right, all too often we cannot seem to do it. “The Spirit is willing,” as Jesus reminds us, “but the flesh is weak.”
Who Will Rescue Us?
So what do we do? Or, as Paul says, who will rescue us from this body of death? Who will free us from our captivity to sin? There is only one who can rescue us from this kind of captivity, and that is Jesus Christ. As Paul puts it,
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Yes, it is Jesus who rescues us and who frees us from sin. And if Jesus sets us free, we will be free indeed. And I want to look at how Jesus does that, how he frees us from sin.
But before we get to how he does that, I want you to think for a moment of other burdens that we bear. Because Jesus doesn’t just offer to free us from our sin. He offers to free us from our burdens, of which sin is but one. It’s true that some of our burdens are the result of our sin, our inability to do the right thing. But not all. Some burdens are not our fault at all. A physical illness, a financial struggle, an accident, a natural disaster. This pandemic. These are not our fault, but they can still burden us greatly.
Other burdens that we bear may be caused by others. We might be victims of a crime, or of a hurtful word, or we might even be bullied. These are burdens that we bear, but not because of what we have done or not done.
And then there are the burdens brought on by our love. Because we love others, their burdens become ours. Family and friends who are hurting, for example. When they hurt, we hurt. But also people we don’t even know, who face trials in this world, who face injustice, discrimination, hunger, loneliness, and on and on. There are a lot of people, even in our own country, who don’t enjoy the same freedom that we do. That burdens us, or it should burden us. The burdens of this world become ours, because we want to be like Jesus. And because we hear the call in scripture to bear one another’s burdens, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. But sometimes these burdens can seem overwhelming. They just seem too much to bear. What then?
Come to Me …
Listen again to the invitation from Jesus in today’s gospel reading – an invitation to all of us who admit that we cannot rescue ourselves from sin; an invitation to all of us who burdened by trying to live a God-pleasing life, or even a meaningful life, on our own; and an invitation to all of who feel burdened, for all the reasons that I have just named.
To all who bear these burdens, Jesus offers these blessed words of invitation:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are 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.”
This invitation, which is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture, is an invitation to true Christian freedom. It is a beautiful invitation to all who are weary, and to all who are carrying heavy burdens. And who among us isn’t?
And the way to be free of that buren, to find that rest for our souls that we all long for, is to take Jesus’ yoke upon us, and to learn from him, for his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.
Now, a yoke is not a typical image of freedom. Quite the opposite, in fact. A yoke – that wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals – would almost seem to be the opposite of freedom. But Jesus knows that he can’t simply free us from our sin, without giving us a new direction in life. Otherwise, we’d find ourselves captive to sin all over again. So he invites us to exchange one yoke for another. He invites us to exchange the yoke of sin, for the yoke that connects us to Jesus. The yoke that paradoxically offers us true freedom.
This yoke, Jesus tells us, is an easy one. Meaning that it is a well-fitting one. The yoke that Jesus offers is made just for us. Because Jesus doesn’t want us to be something that we are not. He wants us to be who we truly are. And he wants to help us do that. So he offers to be yoked with us. He offers to come alongside us and pull with us. He offers himself, so that we can learn from him, and follow him, and serve him, and lose ourselves in him, and by losing ourselves in him find our true selves.
Have you ever had a moment in your life when you knew, just knew, that at that moment you were doing exactly what you were supposed to be doing, what God wanted you to be doing? You may have been working very hard at the time, but it didn’t feel that way. In fact, you had a peace about you. Your soul was at rest. Because you were doing what God created you to do, at least in that moment, and you knew it. Isn’t that a wonderful feeling?
That’s what Jesus offers us. When we come to him, and are yoked with him, our burden becomes light because it is the right burden. Our weariness goes away because we are given a well-fitting yolk. And we find rest for our souls. Jesus knows how tired we can get from trying to figure this life out on our own. We just can’t do it. Not on our own. So he invites all who are weary to come to him, and to take his yoke upon you. Learn from him, and follow him, and find the rest that you seek. The rest from trying to get it all perfect. And the rest from the mistakes and imperfections – otherwise known as sin – which weigh us all down.
In the middle of this Independence Day weekend, Jesus comes to offer us a very special path to freedom – himself. He invites us today to come to him, and exchange one yoke for another. And the yoke that he offers us is promised to be easy – well-fitting – and the burden will be light.
It is still a yoke, of course. We cannot now do whatever we want. Or we will end up captive to sin all over again. But instead, we now have the freedom to do whatever our Lord wants. That’s true freedom. Being able to choose the good, and follow Christ, and serve him with glad and generous hearts. Being able to do whatever he asks of us, as his joyful servants.
That is the true freedom of a Christian. The freedom for which Jesus laid down his life. May our freedom as Americans, which we celebrate and give thanks for this weekend, always remind us of our freedom as Christians. And may we always be faithful in using both of these freedoms for the glory of God. Amen