Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“The Gospel For Those With Baggage” (Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30)
July 9, 2017
Philip Ryan

One of the great classics of English literature and spirituality is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. It is an allegory of the Christian life following the main character, named Christian, as he travels from the city of Destruction to the Celestial city. When we are first introduced to Christian, we are informed that he has a burden on his back. He tells Mr. Worldy Wiseman, “That is that which I seek for, even to be rid of this heavy burden, but get it off myself, I cannot; nor is there any man in our country that can take it off my shoulders; therefore am I going this way, as I told you, that I may be rid of my burden.” Bunyan’s point is that all of us have a burden or in more contemporary language, we’ve all got baggage we carry around with us. Now all of us have parts of our baggage that are similar to one another. We are weighed down by our own sinfulness, our past, the pain we’ve caused others, or even regret over things we did not do. However, part of our baggage and burden is not only what we’ve done but what’s been done to us. We carry with us people’s criticisms and judgments, parents disappointment, the time we let ourselves be vulnerable only to have our hearts crushed, or expectations made that we couldn’t meet. Everyone in the world carries a burden and, with little help in carrying it, we become tired of life and can become bitter, depressed, anxious, pessimistic, or cruel. Thankfully, there is hope and rest available. It is found in Jesus Christ who invites us to rest and gives us relief from carrying our heavy burdens.

In our gospel passage today, we see Jesus share about his unique relationship with God, “No one knows the Father except the Son.” He then invites all those around him and everyone of us who heard the gospel reading this morning, to come into this unique relationship. The invitation is to come with our weariness and our burdens and he will give us rest. There is an exchange implied. We bring the baggage and Christ brings the relief. No questions asked, no qualifications for what type of baggage he will accept. If you’ve got, he is ready to take it from you.

Now as is often the case in Scripture, after saying he will give us rest, Jesus also tells us that he will give us a “yoke,” which hardly sounds restful. For those of us not familiar with 1st century middle eastern agriculture techniques, there are two kinds of yokes. The first is one for animals. You would put a wooden bar over two animals to keep them together and this way you could drive them, put things on them, or simply contain them. The second yoke is for humans. It was designed to make work easier. You would place the wooden support over your shoulders so carrying became easier. The human yoke is more likely what Jesus had in mind. This is helpful because you would gladly welcome a yoke to help you carry a burden. Jesus is offering a yoke that will ease our burden and make work less difficult. During this time, the Pharisees would talk about people taking on the “yoke of the law.” The law was meant to make Israel’s life easier and bring them closer to God. Instead, rules, regulations, stipulations, were added to it making the yoke part of the burden instead of providing relief. Later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says of the Pharisees, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others” (Matt 23:4). What Jesus is offering is relief from the burden of man made religious rules, moralism, legalism, impossible standards, and offering a way to follow him that is easier. Jesus’ yoke is one of learning, of lifelong discipleship. He doesn’t get rid of the law of God. Instead, he frees you from a law based on labor and gives you a law rooted in love, his love. St. Paul knew this and so would tell the Romans, “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:10). The only way to keep the law is resting and learning of his love. Not your own accomplishments, not carrying your own yoke, but taking on the yoke of the Savior who provides rest for your soul. If the law was a burden and too hard, why should Jesus’ yoke be any lighter, any easier? Jesus’ yoke is lighter because he is “gentle and humble in heart” (v. 29). He’s good, kind, loving and seeking you out. He wants to help you and invites you to receive his help. Finally, Jesus carried his own burden. It was similar to a yoke of man made rules, expectations, and judgment. He carried it wearied and beaten, eventually allowing himself to die on it. The only reason we can rest under Jesus’ yoke is because he carried our burdens to the cross and crucified them there.

Christian would eventually receive relief from his burden. Hear how it happened, “So I saw in my dream that just as Christian came up with the Cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back…Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, ‘He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.’” If you are here today and have baggage and burdens, the Savior invites you to rest. Throw your baggage onto the cross and receive the relief that only the love of God can give you and the only way you will truly find rest in this life. – Amen