When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
244 years ago we celebrated our Independence Day. Where our forebearers declared their freedom from the tyranny and oppression of the King George of England. Perhaps then the streak of national independence began and the newly formed United States of America was off on its own. In later times, as people began to expand across the nation, we would give this independent streak a name: The Pioneer Spirit.
Still, even now, we are a culture that praises independence. We celebrate the day when we got our drivers’ license- that moment when we were no longer tied down to our parents chauffeuring. People in certain parts seem to rebel at the idea of not being able to do what they want when they want or having to wear masks
Independence: whether it’s about the days of youth or a sense of self-reliance at any age it is certainly something that we as a society place high on our personal agendas.
Faith is no exception. Each of us has a relationship with God that is intimate and personal.
In some parts of the Christian tradition great value is placed on ones’ personal relationship with God. Faith becomes then a very independent and personal thing so personal in fact that one begins to question the need for belonging to a community of faith. Why not worship God on the golf-course, or at the beach, or – well, you can fill in the blank.
It's made even harder by our present time. Do we stay home or do we try to come to church? Understandably, some feel they are not ready to be out in public yet and that’s ok. They are able to join us online – still maintaining a connection to God and a community that loves and prays for them.
The apostle Paul in today’s epistle reading is arguably the most complex and difficult passage to read and hear in all of the Epistles. In it Paul says, it doesn’t matter if we know it’s the right thing to do, when it comes down to our actions it’s still struggle. And there are times that I fall short and do not as I say, but do as I shouldn’t do. How’s that for clarity?
I find this so refreshing about Paul. Often Paul comes across as judge and jury, praising the pious, and cursing the pompous. But here HE is, the Evangelist himself, the one who was struck blind by the very God he now worships is just like us – struggling to live out each and every day a faithful life. Thank God for grace, he basically says, for it is Christ who is there to rescue him from himself and the sin that lies with in us all.
From Jesus we hear what we call the comfortable words. In the Rite 1 liturgy, They come after the confession and absolution- “Come all ye that travail and are heavy laden and I will refresh you for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
It’s really hard for most of us in our modern city based life. But for a large part of the developing world, yoking animals is still done. The joining together of at least two oxen or sometimes horses by a long wooden crosspiece allows the animals to work as a team sharing the load they pull whether it’s a plow or a wagon.
John the Baptist preached a confrontational message and modeled an ascetic lifestyle. He was accused of having a demon. Jesus’ lifestyle was a more joyful announcement of the coming of the kingdom. He ate and drank with all sorts of folks without reservation. He was accused of being a glutton and drunkard, a friend of sinners and tax collectors. Neither John nor Jesus could win, evidently.
What was wrong with these people? Couldn’t they see that Jesus and John were inviting them to return once again to a faithful living of their covenant, to a more “golden rule” living out of the law that says, “love as you would be loved,” to behave towards others as you would want them to behave towards you? Jesus even tells his listeners that if they would just come to him, he would give them rest. If they would take his yoke on themselves, they’d find his yoke easy and his burden light. How very obvious. How very simple. Or is it?
Of course it’s not- if our own experience of living out a life of faith is anything like Paul’s. How many of us have wanted to flip off the next crazy driver that cuts us off in traffic or have been tempted to do something else when the time came for us to make a moral decision. Do as I say, not as I do and yet we do it anyway don’t we?
But here is the amazing thing. Christ, our Lord. The one who calls us into service invites us to take up his yoke that our burdened may be lifted. It’s not that all of our problems or our struggle with sin will go away, its not that in turning to Christ this winter will end and the sin we struggle with in us immediately departs. Far from it. We still struggle. We still sin- personally and as a society. But what is different is that we have yoked ourselves to Christ. Jesus is along side us. We are not alone in our labor of life, in our struggle to live as Christ would have us.
As Christians, in our faith, we are yoked with Christ and as a Church we are yoked together as a community. Together, not alone, we seek to overcome sin and death that we might live. We aren’t being offered the chance to dump all our cares and work on Jesus when he talks about giving us rest. He’s offering us his yoke—the symbol of obedience to God—that we might labor together for the kingdom of God. When we accept that offer, we will be able to speak the Good News of God to others. And work together to tend to the needs of our church community, and break down the walls that divide God’s people. We indeed hold to the self evident truth that all men AND WOMEN are created equal regardless of their race, creed or color. Our lives will be bound and directed by the laws not of our own independent choosing, but of the laws of the kingdom of God, the laws of love.
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.