Jonas says, “get up!” to the oxen and starts for the woods." Text and image from hooftales.com
We all are one a spiritual pilgrimage. Sometimes we can feel closer or farther away from God, but as I get a bit older and hopefully wiser, I've begun to grasp how important it is to be yoked side by side with God as I travel down the road of life. It's quite likely that you've heard this well-know scripture in Matthew -
Matthew 11:28-30 (New International Version)
28"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Many times when I read this verse, I used to focus on the burden part and think, "How can a burden possibly be light and why is Jesus burden so different than mine?" It was necessary for me to do a little research on farming to unpack the intended meaning of this verse. A yoke is a tool used in farming were two cattle carry the load of their burden together. Imagine a single cow trying to carry a yoke intended for two cattle all by itself. No matter the effort the single animal would exert, it would simply walk itself a trench by going in circles. The single animal would not be able to accomplish its task with equipment that was built for a team to carry.
While independence and self-starting are skills that are often sought out and desired in our world today, I think there is something in this scripture that is trying to get our attention as individuals and as a faith community. If we insist on carrying our yokes alone, we will only end up running in circles. If we partner with Jesus by casting our burdens down, rest, and learn from Jesus example of gentleness and humbleness, our souls will be rested - not exhausted.
If you have ever trained for a race or prepared to go for a long hike, you know the value of starting out rested opposed to starting out on a trek already being exhausted. This yoking with Jesus is as necessary to our spiritual growth as sufficient rest, training, stretching and running shoes are to a runner. If we don't partner with Jesus, we'll end up exhausted, with shin splints and wearing solitary circle trenches in the ground.
Image from vi.sulizeus.com
In addition to being yoked with Christ, the faith community needs to better learn the value of being yoked with and to each other. In the small group (Holy Conversations) that meets at the church on Thursdays at noon, we've been taking time to share our own stories of faith and how God has worked in our lives. While all this discussion is a wonderful thing, there is also something quietly, mysteriously and I believe miraculously beginning to happen. As we tell our stories and share the joys and struggles that we've had occur over all our lifetimes, we are opening up our hearts to each other and beginning to become yoked together in Christ and in relation to each other as well. By opening up to each other its greater possible that in the moments that matter the most, that we are and continue to be there for each other. If we are truly a yoked Christian community we have have the opportunity to make, instead of break, the hard times that come and attempt to shake our faith in God and each other.
We all have had times of loss, illness, the passing of family and friends, the birth of children, the transition of those children growing up and leaving the nest, joys, successes, failures, and more changes that can be listed on all the pages of paper in the whole world. What if in all those times we were yoked to Jesus AND each other. What if, we always shared our burdens in a way that our spirits always reside in a place of rest?
There are times in my own life, times of challenge and sorrow, that Jesus sent just the right person through my doorway that understood my burden and helped me carry on until that burden was worked through. Without that partner to help with that burden, I might still be carrying it while making circle trenches and getting nowhere.
Image found at Trinitypastor@wordpress.com
When working in the world of farming, a garden could never be planted, grown and harvested without that initial process of yoking up two oxen, tilling up the soil and planting some seeds. In the world of ministry, it's just as important to team up with each other in order to till the soil and plant the seeds of salvation in our lives as well as the lives of those around us.
If it be Your will
If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
On all these burning heats in hell
If it be Your will
To make us well
And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In rags of light
In our rags of light
In the lyrics of the song, "If it be your will" by Leonard Cohen, I was struck by the theme of surrender, promise and community. Promise and surrender are things that a necessary for the journey as we yoke together and head out to the fields of harvest that God has already prepared for us. If only we will go to the field - not alone, but being yoked with Jesus and with each other. Side by side, what a harvest we could help to plant, tend and harvest if only we yoke up together and take a step on to new and exciting pastures.
Who will you yoke with? How will you plant your seeds? Those questions, I believe God will answer when we prayerfully ask - because a shared harvest surely is God's will.
Gregory Frank Harris painting "Golden Harvest" found at lee-ny.com.
Draw us near, and bind us tight, all your children here - yoke us to You and each other so that the garden will be planted and all the seeds of promise will grow to harvest and beyond.