“Come to me, all you that are weary and 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.”
Today four people will put on the yoke of Jesus for the first time as they are baptized. But before they do, they will first throw off the yoke of Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God. They will throw off any yoke they may have with the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. And they will throw off their yoke with any sinful desires that draw them away from the love of God.
And if they’re too young to do this themselves, their parents and godparents will promise to do it for them, both this morning, and in the days and months and years ahead, until they learn as mature adults to have nothing to do with any yoke that would enslave them to someone or something that would rob them of their freedom to live in harmony with God, with other people and with the world God has made.
They will gladly submit to the yoke of Jesus because only Jesus can break these other yokes that are too heavy for anyone to bear, yokes that God never intended for anyone to bear, beginning with the yoke of being defeated from the very day of their birth because of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sinful rebellion in the Garden of Eden, as well as the subsequent yoke of their own shame for their own sins and for the yoke of their fear of death and their eternal separation from God.
But even more than that, they will submit to the yoke of Jesus because he offers them in baptism a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light because his Father adopts each of them and loves each of them as his own child, making each of them members of his Son’s Body, the Church, and giving each of them the gift of the Holy Spirit as a pledge of their inheritance in his kingdom, that place where there is no sin or death, no pain or sorrow, but abundant, everlasting life.
Our prayer book spells out what the burden of being yoked to Jesus looks like. Being yoked to Jesus means getting to know him, getting to know all about him, like a pair of oxen walking and talking and working side by side, which we humans do when we continue in the teaching of his apostles, when we spend time with other Christians who are yoked to him, when we nourish our souls with the sacrament of his Body and Blood, and when we talk with him and his Father, with the help of the Holy Spirit, in a daily life of prayer.
The burden we accept in baptism includes resisting the temptation to take off the yoke of Jesus in order to try on another yoke, or thinking we can live with no yoke at all, believing that life will be easier or better if we do. It means admitting to ourselves, to Jesus and to one another what a mistake it is when we submit to another yoke, with a determination not to do it again and to make amends to anyone who may have been hurt by our backsliding.
Our burden includes speaking and acting in such a way that other people see Jesus in us because we are so closely yoked to him. It also includes a growing awareness that if he is willing to share a yoke with us, if he’s able to make us more and more like him, then he’s willing and able to share a yoke with anybody, and that if he can share a yoke with anybody, then everybody we meet is a candidate for baptism, for getting yoked to Jesus. Everybody is a person for whom Jesus died. Everybody is capable of responding to Jesus’ love.
And so we have the burden, if we’re yoked to Jesus, of seeking justice and peace, and of respecting the dignity of every human being.
Our yoke is easy and our burden is light because this is the burden that Jesus has already borne for the whole world when he was yoked to the hardwood of the cross, a yoke he now invites us to share with him each and every day of our lives as we, together, extend his kingdom into the lives of others.
The prophet Zechariah says that we are prisoners of hope, that the hope of the fuller life that we have found in Jesus is why we have submitted to his yoke and have accepted the burden of witnessing to that better life with him by our side and in the strength of his love.
The yoke of baptism is our prison of hope. The love of Christ binds us and constrains us like a yoke even more completely than any other thing or person can do. No one is more attractive than Jesus. That is why we rejoice greatly and shout aloud today as we place the yoke on four new brothers and sisters in Christ: it is the yoke of Jesus that we share that has brought us to this day together and that will carry us through to our journey’s end.
And Paul promises us that even when we do the very thing we hate at times and in places between where we find ourselves here and now and his perfect kingdom somewhere and sometime in the future, between our new beginning in baptism and the complete redemption of our bodies when they are resurrected on the last day, our hope will always be in Jesus, who will rescue us from our body of death.
This will be my last visit with you as rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Florida. I will be retiring at the end of this year after forty years of being yoked to several congregations. I do not know where Jesus will lead me in my retirement, but I am looking forward to resting in him, of being relieved of the burden of parish ministry. I know that the yoke we share with him has been strengthened by our love and care for each other in the partnership we have honored over the past eight or nine years.
I also know that those who have raised funds for scholarships and other projects are already planning for their next big fundraiser after I am retired. Tommy Phillips, who is with us this morning, has been one of our chief fundraisers through his annual golf outing. Becky Wynkoop and Ana Downs are yoked to you through the Daughters of the King. I am confident that our teenagers, like Hannah and Stephany who are with us on this visit, with the support of their parents, will continue to want to visit you and experience the yoke of mutual labor and love. So the yoke between us is not just between you and me, but between you and many brothers and sisters in Florida.
Whatever the future may bring, let us always remain yoked to Jesus, because if we do, we will be together, whether near or far away. You have been Jesus to me. I have seen him in your faces and in your faithfulness. You have lightened my burden. You have gladdened my heart. God bless you. AMEN.