I remember the day I received a stole in worship for the first time. It was in 2017 and I had just been ordained by Bishop Leonard Fairley. For me, ordination was a long journey of starts and stops. It seemed like it would never happen for me to be ordained. When it did happen, I felt like an enormous weight had been taken off my shoulders.
So, when Kevin Burney placed the stole on me it felt like a victorious moment. I had made it. The mission had been accomplished. I could breathe easily now.
Or so I thought. The following Sunday, I wore a stole Abbi had made for me in worship. It is one you will see, from time to time, that includes elements of both West Virginia and Kentucky. It doesn’t weigh much, but the moment I placed it on me I felt a weight I had never felt before. I felt the responsibility, in a deeper way, of the call to pastoral leadership and the authority entrusted to me by God.
Much as I felt that same weight of responsibility earlier in the service when the stole, left for me by Rev. Angela Gay Kinkead, was placed upon my shoulders. In that moment, I was reminded, as I am each week when I place the stole on my shoulders, that this life and calling are not my own. That I am a servant of Christ and I will go wherever God leads me to share love, to encourage deeper discipleship, and bring to wholeness in places of brokenness. I am a servant of Christ called to be a pastoral voice of hope.
That servant call, however, is not just reserved for the pastoral vocation. It is the calling of all of who seek to walk on this journey of faith with Christ. We are all servants of God, yoked with Christ, and called to be gentle and humble in our walk. Yet, what does this mean and how does it apply to us today?
Our passage, this morning, from Matthew 11:25-30 focuses in on the idea of the yoke of Christ. We often see this passage in the context of pastoral care and, even, physical and emotional rest. Those who have been burdened by life and the demands of this world can find their hope in Christ. That is true. Jesus is our great shepherd and caregiver, but the context surrounding the passage tells a deeper story and one that requires us to consider if we are willing to be servants for Christ in all things.
Jesus has begun to face some challenges to his ministry and Messiahship. Cities that should have been receptive to his message refused to listen. The wise and learned were unwilling to receive what had been revealed in Christ. John the Baptist, even, was struggling if Jesus really was the One. Soon, the religious elites would press on Jesus for violating their interpretation of how to honor the Sabbath. People were placing their expectations and standards upon Jesus, and he is showing how he refuses to follow the example of the world.
His focus is that of God’s will. There is an intimacy in knowledge of the Father’s will in Christ, because the Father and Son are one in God with the Spirit. Jesus knows the Father and desires to reveal God’s desires and what it means to live them out to all. Jesus desires for all to know God and to live their lives in accordance to the Father’s desire.
What Jesus offers in this passage is an invitation to the weary and burdened to follow him and God’s desires. It is the only place in the gospels where we find Jesus making this particular statement of invitation. Who are the weary who are carrying a heavy burdened? They are those who have been weighed down by the demands of living out the interpretations of the law expressed by the religious elites.
The religious elites – the Pharisees and scribes – had placed upon the people an interpretive principle that was nearly impossible to faithfully live out. Their interpretation of the law was the equivalent of placing a fence around the desires of God. Instead of seeing the freedom and possibility that comes in living faithfully with God, the religious experts placed a stringent demand upon the people with the belief that the Messiah would only come if the people were blameless before God. Their yoke of obedience was one of strictness that even they couldn’t follow all the time.
Jesus’ invitation is not like that of the religious experts and elites. His is one filled with grace, humility, and love. Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus leading and showing us the way of obedience to the Father’s will. His is an obedience that is lived out with a deep desire to go wherever God leads him, even if it means going to places that others said were off limits. He models a grace that flows from the Father. He never lorded it over people about what it meant to follow God’s desires, but invited them on a journey where they would experience God in a deeper way and would be transformed in such a way that they would experience a new life in Christ.
His obedience, too, called into account the other yokes that sought to place too heavy a burden upon the people. Jesus challenged religiosity that was about following rules or propping up the institution of faith. A way of faith that is about keeping score to prove our godliness towards one another, instead of humbling submitting ourselves to the life of Christ. That was never part of God’s way.
What is part of God’s way of life is the yoke of servant obedience. To all who would seek to follow in Christ’s footsteps comes this invitation to take on his yoke. To take upon our shoulders the life of Christ and to go where he leads. The yoke of Christ is about humbling submitted ourselves as servants of the Lord who go with God.
To be a servant of the Lord means we are be obedient to the life of Christ. We cannot pick and choose when we will be obedience. Christ calls us to give our entire lives, everything about us, our every desire over to his Lordship and to go with him. This life is not a Sunday-morning only thing, a check-the-box life, or one that is simply about following a certain pattern. It is about a complete abandonment of ourselves and to take on the life of grace and humility offered through the life of Christ’s love for all.
When we take on this yoke of obedience, we make a conscious choice to go with God and to be used by the Lord to share hope and to be his witness. We are not seeking obedience of our will, but of God’s will lived out in our words, actions, and deeds. Our life in Christ cannot be about seeking God to bless our own agendas, but must be about completely giving of ourselves to wherever God leads us and to be willing to go with God in all things.
This yoke is one that requires a lot of us and is not easy, yet it is restful. What does Jesus mean by this? We know that following Christ is difficult and challenging. We know that being obedient to God in our callings is a heavy task. I can promise you that being a pastor, and being obedient to the calling placed upon me, is more difficult than anything I have done in my life. It is not an easy road to go with God and to lead people faithfully to the vision and purposes set before us by God, but, yet, I do not feel burdened by the call. I may, from the time, be exhausted by the demands, but never the call or the life in Christ’s love. That is because Jesus’ yoke is easy and restful.
The same is true for each of us. The life of Christ will challenge us and force us to consider things that, on our own, we probably would not wrestle with. It will challenge our priorities and how we see the world. The life and yoke of Christ will lead us into a deeper walk with God to where we become less and Christ becomes more in our life. Yet, we are not burdened by this life and when we are challenged. Why? Because Jesus’ yoke is easy and restful.
What does this mean? Jesus’ yoke is easy and restful, because we do not carry out our obedience and servant life on our own terms. We are never alone as we seek to be faithful to the life of Christ. God’s grace surrounds us and leads us to be faithful and to take on this life in ways we never imagined was possible. Jesus walks with us to encourage us, challenge us, and help us to see things in this life. And because we are not alone and that God goes with us, the yoke of obedience is never more than we can bear. We will not be burdened by the pain and expectations of the world when we go with God. When we go with God, we will feel God’s presence leading us into a deeper walk with the Lord.
We can be faithful and take on the yoke of Christ today. All of us who seek to love God, grow in faith, and serve the Lord can with boldness and confidence take on the journey of discipleship and grace knowing that God goes with us. We can go wherever Christ leads us. We can take on the yoke of Christ.
That is my prayer for you and for me as we begin this new season of faithfulness and discipleship. That we will take on the yoke of Christ and be servants of the Lord. That we will go wherever God leads us with a love that flows from our relationship with Christ that is shared with all people. That we will be willing to be challenged to think through things that we may not have been willing to wrestle with, because we know God is leading us to a deeper vision of hope than we can see right now. That we will boldly go with Christ no matter the cost, no matter the destination, because this life is not our own. It is God’s.
May it be true for us all as we take on the yoke of Christ, together, and go with God and serve the Lord with faith and love.