SCRIPTURE READING Matthew 11:28-30
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
LEADER The Word of God that is still speaking.
ALL: Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE The fluffy time of the Year. A perfect time to lighten our burdens. LIGHTEN UP!
Its summertime, time to lighten up! Time to lounge in the hammock or take a walk or read a book or cast a reel into the lake and wait to see if you get a bite, time to relearn to ride a bike in the gentle breeze. Time to lighten up!
Yet, how does a person lighten up when all one can feel is the overwhelmingness of burdens?
Did you hear Jesus’ invitation? Come to me. Yoke with me and you will find my burden is light.
At first glance it seems so simple; so enticing. And, yet, have you thought what it means to yoke up with Jesus? Have you thought what it means to put on a yoke as your newest fashion statement?
Hum, maybe we might hit the pause button to consider what is involved in being yoked more carefully.
My first understandings about a yoke came from a children’s book, Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, as she was writing about her husband, Almanzo’s, childhood.
On the cold winter day when he turned 9, his father said, “There’s something for you in the woodshed. … It was a little calf-yoke. … Made of red cedar, strong yet light.” Almanzo was allowed to stay home from school that day. He carried the yoke into the barn to put it around his calves, Star and Bright, that he had raised with loving care, each day taking them carrots, scratching around their budding horns like they liked.
“They crowded against him with their wet, rough tongues. They thought he had brought them carrots. They did not know he was going to teach them how to behave like big oxen.”
“Father showed him how to fit the yoke carefully to their soft necks. He must scrape its inside curves with a bit of broken glass, till the yoke fitted perfectly and wood was silky-smooth. Then Almanzo let down the bars of the stall, and the wondering calves followed him into the dazzling, cold, snowy barnyard.
“Father held up one end of the yoke while Almanzo laid the other end on Bright’s neck. Then Almanzo lifted up the bow under Bright’s throat and pushed its ends through the holes made for them in the yoke. He slipped a wooden bow-pin through one end of the bow, above the yoke, and it held the bow in place.
“Bright kept twisting his head and trying to see the strange thing on his neck. But Almanzo had made him so gentle that he stood quietly, and Almanzo gave him a piece of carrot.
He spent the day trying to teach them to walk side by side. “They stared at him innocently.” Then he went to the feedbox and brought back a pocket full of carrots and holding the rope tied to Star’s nubs of horns, he put his hand into the pocket of his barn jumper and shouted,
“Giddap!” Showing them the carrot in his hand. They came eagerly. “‘Whoa!’ he shouted when they reached him, and they stopped for the carrot. … They were behaving as well as grown-up oxen when Father came to the barn door and said: ‘that’s enough, son.’ Almanzo did not think it was enough, but of course he could not contradict Father. ‘Calves will get sullen and stop minding you if you work them too long at first,’ Father said. ‘Besides, it’s dinner-time.’ 
Wow! There’s a whole heap of wisdom in that child’s story about yoking his oxen calves. He knew to put the rope on Star because he was the natural leader of the two calves. He made the burden light by teaching them to walk side-by-side, and by not overworking them.
The history of being yoked is much harsher than the story of Almanzo’s calves. In Jewish rabbinic tradition, being yoked “was a metaphor of great importance. … A symbol of servitude”.
Jewish rabbis drew upon the remembrance of the Exodus, a time when the Jewish people were yoked to slavery in Egypt, but with Moses they broke the yoke and escaped to freedom.
In Jeremiah 27, the prophet Jeremiah used the yoke metaphor to warn what was about to happen. The people would be taken into captivity and servitude in Babylon. Here’s the Word from the Lord Jeremiah received.
“Make a yoke of straps and bars and wear it on your neck. (Jer. 27:2)
“I delivered the same message to Judah’s King Zedekiah: If you want to live, put your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him and his people.” (Jer. 27:12)
The people were symbolically placed under the yoke of Babylon during exile, but a return from exile was promised.
“I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. In two years I will restore to this place all of the temple equipment that Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar carried off to Babylon… for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon, declares the Lord.” (Jer. 28: 2-3, 4b.)
Rabbinic thought saw the yoke as a metaphor of service and servitude, but knew it raised a deeper level choice. We will all serve one master or another, which one will it be? The “yoke of kingdom of man?” Or the “yoke of kingdom of heaven?”
Jesus drew on this understanding when he said, come to me all who are weary and need rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden light. His meaning: choose serving the kingdom of heaven not the kingdoms of this world. Your life will richer in meaning and simpler.
This truth has resonated through the ages. Things that bring us trouble, such as the allure to prestige and power, our internal shaming messages that we are not doing enough (you know, that undone to-do list that burdens us), or we’re not good enough or successful enough, they all lose their potency when we are serving the kingdom of heaven.
Like a team of oxen where the more seasoned ox is yoked to the greenhorn or more erratic one, when we are yoked with Christ, he will calm us and lead us. A Challenge for You: What are you yoked with – worldly things or kingdom things?
Even, or maybe especially, preachers can get caught up in serving the kingdom of this world. Taking on all the burdens of the world and thinking we are God’s gift to the world. What a pile of hubris! Listen to this message from Scott Brewer, Assistant to the Bishop of the Great Plains:
Enough said. Amen.
 Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy, (NY: A Harper Trophy Book, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1933, edition printing 1971), 49-54.
 Jewish Virtual Library, “Yoke,” https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/yoke
 Jewish Virtual Library op cit.