Sermon for Pentecost 3 Proper 9
July 3, 2011
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Asheville, NC
The Rev. Jeanne Finan
Yoked together in love
“Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses
yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse
of you teeming shore.
the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
These words are from a poem titled “The New Colossus”
written by Emma Lazarus.
This poem might have been long forgotten
except these words were engraved on a bronze plaque
and placed inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
These words greet those who visit that Statue
that rises so prominently in the New York City harbor.
Even if you have never been there in person,
we all know what the Statue of Liberty looks like—
and that is not only true for Americans.
She is a very recognizable lady
for people throughout the world.
The Statue of Liberty was given as a gift of friendship--
a gift from France to the United States.
But its meaning and symbolism
has stretched far beyond what was initially imagined.
The United States has a history of welcoming immigrants--
welcoming those who long for freedom,
welcoming those who believe in possibility.
"Immigrant" has become a rather negative and politically charged word
In today's vocabulary.
We need to remember and continue to claim
the words of Emma Lazarus' poem.
Give me your tired…she writes.
This poem echoes what we hear in Matthew’s gospel this morning.
Come to me, all you that are weary
and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.
Most of us love this message- we welcome the comfort of it.
This verse from Matthew is on the sign that welcomes you to the hermitages
at the Valle Crucis Conference Center.
Welcoming those who are weary and have come away for a time of retreat,
for rest and renewal.
I imagine most of us, even if we have never taken time for retreat,
know what it is to feel weary at times.
We understand the need and the desire
to lay our burdens down—
to take a time for rest.
At least on occasion, at least for awhile.
Jesus goes on to say,
My yoke is easy and my burden is light.
As I prayed with those words this week,
I know your story Jesus.
How can you say this?
My yoke is easy and my burden is light
Jesus’ yoke was not easy
nor was his burden light.
Isn’t he talking about the cross—crucifixion--death?
Do we want to be yoked to that?
Jesus was not exactly Mr.Congeniality in hIs day and time.
People hated him. Despised him. Wanted to kill him.
They did kill him.
He was framed and then he was crucified.
How can Jesus say, My yoke is easy and my burden is light..?
Yet one thing Jesus is not is a “pollyanna.”
He had a pretty realistic view of the world and of people.
Look at the first part of this gospel passage.
We quickly notice that Jesus is not a happy camper.
He is frustrated.
He is frustrated because these people around him are never satisfied.
(Hmmm…I’m sure he would NEVER think that about us, right?)
Jesus describes how people reacted to John the Baptizer—
they accused him of having a demon--
because John lived a sparse and simple life—
neither eating nor drinking.
Then along I come, Jesus says, and I AM eating and drinking,
and I am accused of being a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners!
(Okay, so maybe that last part is true!)
This is rather like Jesus saying,
“What’s wrong with you people!!??
Are you never happy??”
Jesus is frustrated that people are so tied up,
so bound by their pettiness, their complaining,
their judging of others, so often unfairly.
But then—almost in mid-sentence, he changes.
Something turns his oh-so-human mind and heart.
Suddenly he seems to pay attention to a deeper feeling,
to what really matters.
Jesus calms down and becomes aware of his true feelings.
Life is not perfect.
Human beings are not perfect
but imperfection is no barrier for love.
Suddenly it turns for Jesus--as it does on occasion for us--
we are filled with love and the world is bright with hope and beauty.
So much so that Jesus invites us—come, give your burdens, to me--
Because I can handle them.
Jesus no longer looks at those around him with irritation or disappointment
but simply with pure love.
There is a story about the monk Thomas Merton.
One day he drives into nearby Louisville, Kentucky
(the city closest to his monastery of Gethsemane).
He parks his truck, gets out and looks around.
He looks around at all the people busily going about their day
and suddenly a feeling of pure bliss washes over him.
But for that moment he knows that he is truly a part of all these people
And they are truly a part of him.
He is overcome with the feeling that he loves--truly loves--
all these people--every single one of them.
He is powerfully aware that love is the yoke we share.
Jesus wants us to take his yoke upon us--
a yoke of love and of peace.
You know I have heard that when animals are yoked together
they often put an older more experienced animal
beside a younger, less experienced animal.
The old one acts as a mentor, a role model.
Let me show you how we do this.
Let me show you how we work together.
Jesus offers us to share his yoke so that we might learn,
So that we might let go of our burdens--
the burdens of complaining and criticizing and judging--
the burdens of fear and anxiety and hopelessness.
Those words engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty
are not a message for tourists.
Those words are not a happy-go-lucky-so-glad-you-could-cruise-by greeting
Those words are written for those who have risked everything
for a different life, a better life.
My great-grandparents and my grandfather
arrived at Ellis Island,
coming to this country from Ireland.
They were immigrants.
Much of their story I do not know.
but I know they risked a long and hard journey
for the hope of a better life.
That is what Jesus asks of us:
The journey will indeed be long and difficult at times
but the only way to make it through
is to yoke ourselves to love and kindness.
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.
We need to learn to give love away at every turn--
especially to those the world considers “wretched refuse,”
to the homeless and the poor and the suffering
and to those people no one seems to wants.
God wants and love us all.
Jesus says the same: Come to me ALL of you…
By yoking ourselves to the one who is love incarnate,
we too—all of us—
can learn love and humility, gentleness and kindness—
And then indeed,
we will find rest for our souls.