A Choice of Yokes

oken yoke

(This is a synopsis of today’s sermon)

I am sitting at my favorite diner. I am the only person inside. Everyone else is out on the covered patios.

There are only a few tables inside. The diner is in an old train station, long and narrow, with the kitchen and grills alongside each other. Because of spacing rules, there are only three tables inside. The rest are on the patio and deck.

I like being inside. The rattle of pans and clank of the metal spatulas busy at work combine with the good music the owner plays each day are a happy background for me. I can work, or pay attention to the music. (Today, it’s old-time blues.). At times, the cook sings. At times, I sing with him.

I have been coming here a long time, maybe seven or eight years. I’ve been here through five different owners, none of them except the current owners had staying power. I can’t tell you why they are making it when the others could not, but I can tell you their food is wonderful, the people are real, with no pretense to them, and they play good music.

Church is done. I am a part-time pastor of a small rural Vermont church. We worship earlyish, at 9 AM, so by noon I have not just finished; I have had time to go home and change into the old blue jeans and Eddie Bauer T-shirts that are my native attire in Summers. And I come here to write.

Most days, I write in the morning. I like to do it before my day gets going, to empty my head of all the toxic, hard thoughts early, so I can live the rest of my day the way I want to be: Gentle. At peace. I typically do some devotional, read in my bible, and then write both in my diary and here on one of my blogs.

It is a good way to begin my day. And this is a good place to do it.

There is a strange mix of anonymity and belonging here. At this point, I know many of the people who come here regularly. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes we just nod at each other. Most of them let me be as I write. At times, but rarely, someone will settle down across the table with something on their minds they want to talk to.

Mostly though. I just work with the background noise of sizzling grills and music. Having worked this way so long, the whole ambiance seems to tune my head into itself. It is almost like meditation.

I have spent so much of the last fifteen years coming to peace with myself. Nothing about it has been instant.

I have always treasured peace. Even when we went on vacations to places like Disney World, I would find the quiet places to sit, to take pictures, to rest. When I traveled overseas, my favorite memories were rarely the touristy places, but the odd nooks, empty churches and small villages. When I travel to places like New York City, you will find pictures of empty rooms in the museums, empty chapels in the cathedrals, back alleys.

That is what resonates.

It’s not that I can’t handle busyness and chaos. I have always performed pretty well in the world of constant change. It was the nature of my work for thirty years. I got a reputation for how well I dealt with the madness.

That all came undone when my own life came undone. It took a long time to get back to it, but as I did, I realized that the adrenaline hit of chaos held no charm for me any longer. I found I was a better person when I lived a larger portion of my life in peace. I made better decisions. I served others better. My anxiety level dropped to almost bill, where it lives to this day.

I probably always will.

This morning in church we talked about Grace. Grace’s actual definition is “the undeserved favor”. In religious terms, it means God loves us even when we mess up. He forgives us when we might not even forgive ourselves. Or we forgive people when perhaps they don’t deserve it.

It’s not about deserving. It’s not about tit for tat. It’s not about measuring sticks. It’s not about keeping score. It’s about our choice to love and forgive. Not what the other person does.

We focused on the verse where Jesus says “Come to me all who are heavy laden and lay your burden upon me.”  What a verse! What a promise! How many of us have leaned on that promise when things have come undone, when things are too hard or too much for us to bear. My guess is that it is one of the most remembered and most called on verses in the bible. We so need that sense that Jesus will lighten our burden, that we are not alone.

Jesus talks about how his yoke is light. That it is humble and full of love. A far different kind of yoke than the one we put on when we try to live out our holiness with rules and regulations first. A far different kind of yoke than we have to deal with when we are living in anger.

We are living in a time of anger. It is in our newspapers. It is on TV. It runs rampant on the internet and in social media. Everyone is angry at everyone else who believes something different.

Have you ever stopped to see how heavy a burden anger is? Anger causes anxiety. Anger strains our body. Anger makes us do things we would not otherwise do. Anger tears things down. At times, beyond saving. It destroys relationships.

What a burden!

And what a difference living in love presents. A whole different kind of yoke. Love brings peace. Love relaxes our body and leaves us with a sense of safety. It reduces anxiety. We never have to regret things said in true, Corinthians 13 kind of love. Love builds. It builds relationships.

A far lighter burden.

But even this far lighter burden does not come without a price. Earlier in the same chapter of bible, Jesus talks about the religious authorities of his time. He talks about how they reviled John the Baptist for being rough-hewn, for not being social, for not dining with or socializing; and how these same religious leaders criticized Jesus when he did socialize, (at times with the “wrong people”, when he did gather and eat and drink wine with people.

The lesson? People will find a way to critique us, even when are following Christ’s leading. People, even in religious circles, are quick to judge and slow to love.

But we have to choose.

We have to choose our burden. We have to choose which side we are on, and why because we will get cut down, ridiculed and publicly put down no matter what we choose.

“Choose me.” Jesus says, “Choose me and my way and your burden will be lighter.” It will be lighter because love is always lighter. It will be lighter because I will bear it with you and for you. It will be lighter than a faith that depends on rules and arbitrary judgment and shaming.

It will be lighter because Christ’s way offers grace when we muff it up.

This is important because of the time we are in. We are in an era of hate. When any flaw, any mistake, any tidbit of behavior, or any tiny misstep in our words are used as weapons to vilify and destroy.

We can choose the yoke of that anger and hate and the need to be perfect for this group or not.  What a burden, because sooner or later we will fail and our failure will be used to destroy us. No one is perfect.

Or we can choose the way of grace. Christ’s way of grace, in the way we live and love and treat others. Where perhaps we are not perfect, but we are striving to be better, striving to love and accept and give grace to others, and when we fail, we can begin again, knowing we are still loved, even as we love others who maybe didn’t get it exactly write.

We all choose our yoke. The question becomes, which one are we going to choose?

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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