Damariscotta Baptist Church
Monday, July 16, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

07/03/11 Sermon

Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight O Lord our strength and our Redeemer, Amen

Our scripture today is an interesting lesson for this particular weekend. Of course tomorrow we will be celebrating our nation’s independence.  And one of the symbols that we associate with the 4th of July is the Statue of Liberty that stands out in the New York Harbor.  For 125 years, the statue has stood there to welcome immigrants to the land of the free.  And as some of you may know, on the pedestal of the statue, there are some words from a poem by Emma Lazarus that are very similar to the words in the 28th verse of our scripture today.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The statue and its words have symbolized hope for people who have come to America seeking freedom and the American dream.  Seeking freedom to speak, to live, to worship as one pleases.  America’s freedom has enticed those living in oppression, enslaved and burdened to find comfort and peace.

But are we Americans really a people who are free?

Does the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution really make us a free people?

Does the Statue of Liberty and its words of hope and comfort to the weary and poor and oppressed really deliver on what it promises?

Well if you look at recent surveys and polls given to Americans, asking them about their lives, the answers to whether they are experiencing freedom from burdens and oppression doesn’t necessarily coincide.

Many Americans find themselves very weak and weary.  There is a tremendous amount of fear; people are worried and anxious over the future.

And why wouldn’t they be? People are losing their jobs, losing their homes, losing their 401K’s, losing their health insurance.

While we may be politically free, economically we can be very much enslaved.  And it’s easy to recognize the bondage when our bank accounts are affected; I mean we can go into full panic mode when the security of our finances is threatened.  The power over us is even more revealing because it’s only when there is hope of return that we find comfort.

But not only economically, -------many Americans are weary, tired and burdened in other ways too.  For example, physically we Americans are not free from addictions, obesity, disease and aging.  Emotionally we’re not free from depression, boredom, anxiousness, despair and fear.  Still, our saving grace as a free country is that because we are free we can look for things to help give us independence from these things that enslave us.  And our capitalistic free country is very generous in offering lots of fixes for the weary and burdened…… at a price.  For example, if you find yourself physically burdened we have diet books/dvd’s and health clubs, and personal trainers available.  For our emotional weariness we have self-help books to help us become our fulfilled selves.  And of course to amuse us emotionally, we have technological devices with widgets and apps along with 3D satellite TV designed to free us from our underlying tedious boredom and despair.

To help us with the emotional and physical weariness of our lack of time we have all kinds of products to help make life easier---software programs to organize us, cooking devices and quick dinner recipes.  All of these products and services are freely available to us in our free society (of course at a cost) and as a free people we can buy them as needed to help free us from the weariness and despair that lies deep within our hearts.

But do any of these products and services of our free country really provide the freedom we truly desire?

I mean haven’t we already tried the newest gadget and it became obsolete?  Haven’t we realized yet that Facebook and the 500 television stations on our HDTV’s are covering up our discontent and boredom?  How many websites can we surf before we realize that we’ve seen it all?  How many trips to the Y or hours on the treadmill shaping our image do we need to make before our soul says to our mind that this too isn’t getting it done.  Perhaps its time that we realize that our freedom isn’t necessarily freedom. Perhaps it’s time we recognize that our freedom is actually a code word for distractions that cover up our wearied and burdened souls.  But if the Statue of Liberty and the promise of a free country don’t really provide comfort for our weariness where do we find the true peace and rest for our deep-down wearied and burdened hearts?

Well for many of us, we seek to find it in religion. And of course our country is free place in order to get that too.  It was founded on this principal to be free to worship as you see fit.  But has religion itself brought the freedom to our wearied and burdened hearts?

Well as we see in our scripture today, religion is not necessarily the answer either.  In verse 16 Jesus was speaking to the scribes and Pharisees who were the most religious people ever to walk the face of the earth.   But as we see Jesus says that they were discontented people who were never pleased. Jesus says: 

17 “‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’  John the Baptist came and was a prophet who called them to a holy and moral life and they rejected him and Jesus had come to offer grace and mercy and they rejected that too.

So even though they were religious, they were still weary and burdened.

And such is the case today for many church goers. People have their religion but inside they are discontented and judgmental; they struggle with experiencing peace and joy.  Even with the free choice of religion, like other free choices we have as Americans, religion can be something that simply covers up our deep-down weariness inside.

So where do we find true rest and peace for our wearied souls? Where do we find true freedom from the burdens of our lives?  Well in our scripture today Jesus says that we can experience real peace and real freedom if we will do one thing----He says we can find rest for our souls, and our burdens will be lightened------ if we will choose to take his yoke upon us. Now that can seem quite contradictory to what we think freedom is about. I mean being yoked means we’re being harnessed.

Being yoked is being limited. At least that’s what first comes to mind.  But is that really what Jesus is talking about? Is Jesus some dictator or taskmaster who wants to muzzle and tie us down?  What exactly does Jesus mean when he says we are to choose being yoked to him?.......................................

Well being yoked to Jesus means 2 things:

First it means to surrender to him.

And second it means to walk side by side with him.

First let’s talk about what it means to surrender to Jesus.  To surrender of course means to say we give up; we lay down our arms and admit  defeat.

Now that’s not a character that’s easy to accept for us Americans who are used to strength and independence.  It’s especially difficult for the self-reliance of New England Yankee ingenuity.   But in verse 28 Jesus says “come to me”.   Now it’s important to understand that to surrender to Jesus is not about us surrendering to him as if he’s the victor.

Many people can come to a place in their lives of weariness and defeat and think OK God I give up, you win.  In other words they think they are surrendering to a God who’s been “zapping” them with problems and defeated them.  But to surrender to Jesus isn’t about bowing down to his power. It’s instead about coming to the place that we are using and relying on his power.  We’re coming to the place where we freely admit that no matter what we tried thru our own self-reliant independence, it didn’t work.  Deep-down we still are weary and burdened and we’ve decided to turn from the inadequacy of our own strength to the Strength of the One who can help us.

A little boy was out helping his dad with the yard work. Dad asked him to pick up the rocks in a certain area of the yard.  Dad looked over and saw him struggling to pull up a huge rock buried in the dirt. The little boy struggled and struggled while Dad watched. Finally, the boy gave up and said, "I can't do it."  Dad asked, "Did you use all of your strength?" The little boy looked hurt and said, "Yes, sir. I used every ounce of strength I have."   The father smiled and said, "No you didn't. You didn't ask me to help." The father walked over and then the two of them pulled that big rock out of the dirt. 

To be yoked means we surrender trying to do things on our own and we turn to the One who says “come to me”----I can help you.  

 

Jesus wants us to experience victory. He wants to liberate and lighten our life.

We can continue to worry and fret and be worn down relying on our own power in this world, or we can turn to the One who will give us rest and strength no matter what comes our way.

Now along with surrendering to Jesus, being yoked also means we walk side by side with Jesus.

When we think about being yoked we usually think of oxen or horses.  And it’s a known fact that when you take horses or oxen and they are yoked together side by side something amazing happens.  For example an average Clydesdale horse by itself can pull about 7,000 pounds.  But if you put two Clydesdales together you would think they could pull 14,000 pounds.  But in reality with proper training to get them walking side by side, step by step together the same two Clydesdales are capable of pulling 25,000 pounds—more than 3 times as much as they could on their own.

So in a way you could say that by walking step by step with each other both of the original 7000 pounds they could carry by themselves has been taken away.  In the business world this is called synergy. Get two people complementing one another, working in tandem side by side, and much more can be produced than by one working alone.

Now in a much larger scale, the same is true when we’re talking about walking side by side with God. When we’re yoked side by side with Christ he takes away the burdens of our load.  

But how exactly does this happen?

What exactly does it mean to walk side by side with Jesus?

Well Dallas Willard in his book “The Spirit Disciplines”, talks about how we experience true rest and peace and a lighter more free life when we are committed to the yoke of the spiritual disciplines of the faith.  These disciplines are prayer, solitude, fasting, meditating on God’s word, serving others. They are the inward/outward practices of the Christian.  Willard says that when we are practicing these, we are actually walking in step with Jesus because he did these very disciplines himself.

Now for many Christians these disciplines are not a part of our daily lives.  Instead of being yoked in these daily, we instead want to go about living our lives as we please.   But since we are Christians we do try to act and make choices that Jesus would make. (What would Jesus do) The problem with this is that when we are confronted with those times in our life when we are called to love our enemies or turn the other cheek, or walk the extra mile or carry our cross or live out the Beatitudes, these things become a burden and difficult to us.  And why wouldn’t they be. After all since we’re living a life without walking in step with Jesus just doing as we please we are not dwelling in his peace at all times.

So when these things come up in our lives that cause us to be wearied and burdened we have no way of responding as Jesus did.   It’s like an athlete trying to go out and perform without practicing or taking care of their body.  I would hate to all of a sudden be asked to go run in a race or play in a real basketball game in the present physical condition I’m in. I may know how to play and have some ability but because I have no practice and no conditioning I would be worn out gasping for some oxygen.

In a similar way, we as Christians are called to be in shape in the journey of our lives by being in step with Jesus.   As we walk side by side with him, practicing these disciplines we are not only getting in shape---we are being transformed. We are yielding to the Holy Spirit who changes us to become like Christ because we’re living our lives the same way Jesus lived his.  And when that happens, life becomes more peaceful, more joyful, lighter and freer because we are walking in the footsteps of the Way; that rhythm of life of the kingdom of God.---……………….

Today as we’re getting ready to celebrate our country’s freedom, Jesus is calling us to embrace a true freedom. That true freedom comes to us when we freely choose to be yoked to Christ.

Being yoked to him is where we will find rest and peace and life. In Jesus we will find the true freedom that our weary souls long for. 

Today let us ask ourselves---  Where are we tired?  Where are we worn out, burned out, worried and concerned?

Ask that not only as an individual but also let us ask these questions as a congregation?

You know we are in a time of transition here at DBC. We can be anxious over the future.  Without the security of a portfolio and a parsonage up for sale we can be weary and burdened with pessimism and doubt. 

But Jesus calls us as a congregation to come to him; to surrender our self-reliance and be committed to a life of walking side by side with him. He will give us rest and lighten our burdens if we will be a yoked as a church to him.
Now this morning we are celebrating the Lord’s Supper.  And today as we receive the bread and the cup let us also make a commitment to be yoked in our life to him.  Let the bread and the cup be an invitation to drink in his life more fully that you may walk side by side with him.

Jesus is indeed calling us to come to him. Let us respond by gladly taking the yoke of true peace, true joy and true freedom.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen  

Hymn of Response---Softly and Tenderly