Matthew 10:16-20; 11:28-30; 28:16-20
I had the most exciting conversation this week with the director for liturgy for the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, Andrew Casad (I’m not sure that’s his exact title, but its close). He lives here on Vashon. His young children participated in our ecumenical Vacation Bible School last year and had a wonderful time. Andrew is the on-site supervisor for one of my students this year, so every quarter I check in to see how things are going at the internship site. This week, Andrew asked me if I had a minute at the end of our conversation. He wanted to run an idea past me—just something he’d begun to think about, a totally unformed idea. He wondered if I’d heard of Alpha, a small group Bible study designed to introduce people to Christianity. I have heard of it. Andrew had heard some good things about it from a priest in another part of the country and wondered if it might be a way, now listen to this, “For the faith communities of Vashon to let people know about this Jesus that we love.” He thought we could work together to introduce people to Jesus and then invite people to attend our churches to find their best home. I almost cried. Of course I’m interested! Alpha wouldn’t be my first choice for curriculum, but the chance to be a part of the Church with a capital C working together is nothing short of a miracle. The opportunity to partner with other churches to plant seeds of faith fills me with joy. That’s exactly what the first disciples did.
If we could do this thing, we would have to get beyond our critique of other churches. I don’t know about you, but it is so easy for me to be critical of other expressions of the Christian faith: the folks in that church are too emotional and the folks in that other church are so cold they might as well be dead. Or the criticisms I’ve heard (and maybe even said) about worship: I’m not going if there’s an organ; praise music is not adequate to hold the glory of God; not another new song—why can’t we sing the old songs; we read too many scriptures; the service went over an hour—again! And we miss it. We miss the face of Christ on each other. We miss the One who reveals the presence of God in our midst. It’s so easy to become disconnected from Christ and from each other. But you know what? That doesn’t stop Jesus. The discord in his time didn’t stop him then and it doesn’t stop him now. He simply moves on to someone who is weary and carrying a heavy burden, and he offers them a connection to the divine. “Take my yoke,” he says, “and I will give you rest for your souls.”
Jesus invites us to reconnect. “Take my yoke,” he says. A yoke is that harness that goes across the shoulders of two oxen, connecting them as they plow. Two oxen yoked together see the same thing ahead of them. “Take my yoke,” Jesus says, “and learn from me. Reconnect to the Holy One through me and we will share each other’s burden.” But, oh, being connected is so frightening. It means we have to care—that we have to share Christ’s passion. Jesus doesn’t let us sit safely on the sidelines, critiquing the human parade. He wades right in, with us attached, simply looking with compassion into the eyes of the weary and those carrying heavy burdens, and he picks up half the load so they can rest and catch their breath.
Let me give you an example. The first church that I served was in Rainier Beach, a part of Seattle where the distance between the expensive lake shore houses and the projects is about ten blocks. Rainier Beach sits halfway in-between. About a year after I got to the church we sent a mailing to 10,000 of our neighbors, inviting them to worship with us. I drew a circle around the church and included all houses and apartments in a two mile radius. Several weeks later, a woman called the church asking for assistance with her rent in senior subsidized housing. On my way to deliver the check to the housing authority, I wondered if I was being scammed—churches get a lot of scams along with genuine requests. It was a rough neighborhood and I was a little nervous. And then I saw a street sign and realized that I had just invited all these people to church! This was my parish—at least I had hoped it would be when I prayed over the brochures. These were the people to whom I’d been sent in ministry, the ones Jesus was inviting me to see as his beloved—weary and burdened with poverty, addictions, discrimination, temptations to crime, fear, and loneliness. Suddenly I wasn’t concerned about scams or my own safety. I was with Jesus, the source of compassion and love—among my neighbors.
Every Sunday morning I place a stole across my shoulders. It is a representation of the yoke the Jesus invites us to share. I am reminded of that yoke every time I robe for worship and I hope that when you see my stole, you will remember Jesus’ invitation to take his yoke. It is not for clergy alone, the yoke is for every believer. Jesus invites us to reconnect—with him and with each other. He invites us to wade into the human drama with him as he shares the burdens we’re carrying and we share his burden for the weary and heavy laden. “Come to me,” Jesus says, “all you that are weary and are 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.”
We do Christ’s work with him and we do it in partnership with other Christians. Too often we divide over issues, sometimes significant and sometimes petty. In Ephesians, the church claims, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
So we are called to work together to ease burdens. John Wesley wrote a sermon entitled “A Catholic Spirit” sometime around 1771. His sermons are very long, but let me share just a short bit that I have cobbled together out of this powerful sermon. He starts by quoting 1 John 4: "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God. He that does not love, does not know God; for God is love" (4:7, 8). "Not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another (verses 10, 11). Wesley preached:
All men approve of this; but do all men practice it? Daily experience shows the contrary. Where are even the Christians who "love one another as he has given us commandment?" How many hindrances lie in the way! The two grand, general hindrances are, first, that they cannot all think alike and, in consequence of this, secondly, they cannot all walk alike. However, in several smaller points their practice must differ as their opinions differ.
But even though a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without doubt, we may. In this all the children of God may unite, even though they retain these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may help one another increase in love and in good works. . . .
I dare not, therefore, presume to impose my mode of worship on any other. I believe it is truly primitive and apostolic. But my belief is no rule for another. . . . My only question at present is this, "Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?"
Is your heart right with God? Is the Lord Jesus Christ revealed in your soul? Is your faith filled with the energy of love? Do you love God "with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your soul, and with all your strength?" Is your heart right toward your neighbor? Do you love as yourself, all mankind without exception? Do you show your love by your works? As you have time and opportunity, do you in fact "do good to all men," neighbors or strangers, friends or enemies, good or bad? Do you do them all the good you can, endeavoring to supply all their needs, assisting them both in body and soul, to the uttermost of your power? If you are thus minded (may every Christian say, yes), if you are but sincerely desirous of it, and following on until you attain, then "your heart is right, as my heart is with your heart."
"If it be, give me your hand." I do not mean, "Be of my opinion." You need not. I do not expect or desire it. Neither do I mean, "I will be of your opinion" . . . . Leave all opinions alone on one side and the other: only "give me your hand."
I do not mean, "Embrace my modes of worship," or, "I will embrace yours." This also is a thing which does not depend either on your choice or mine. We must both act as each is fully persuaded in his own mind. Hold fast to that which you believe is most acceptable to God, and I will do the same.
Let all these smaller points stand aside. Let them never come into sight. "If your heart is as my heart," if you love God and all mankind, I ask no more: "give me your hand."
I mean, first, love me. And that is not only as you love all mankind, not only as you love your enemies or the enemies of God, those that hate you, that "despitefully use you and persecute you," not only as a stranger, as one of whom you know neither good nor evil. I am not satisfied with this. No, "if your heart is right, as mine with your heart," then love me with a very tender affection, as a friend that is closer than a brother, as a brother in Christ, a fellow citizen of the New Jerusalem. Love me as a companion in the kingdom and patience of Jesus, and a joint heir of his glory.
Love me so as to think no evil of me, to put away all jealousy and evil-surmising. Love me with the love that covers all things, that never reveals either my faults or infirmities. Love me with the love that believes all things, is always willing to think the best, to put the fairest construction on all my words and actions. Love me with the love that hopes all things. And hope to the end, that whatever is amiss will, by the grace of God, be corrected, and whatever is lacking will be supplied through the riches of God’s mercy in Christ Jesus.
Commend me to God in all your prayers. Provoke me to love and to good works. Love me not in word only, but in deed and in truth. So far as in conscience you can (retaining still your own opinions, and your own manner of worshipping God), join with me in the work of God, and let us go on hand in hand.
Can you imagine planting seeds of faith as partners on this island? Can you imagine working together with other faith communities to reach those who are weary and carrying heavy burdens—to share and lift those burdens? Let’s take this to prayer and ask God’s guidance.