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Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Rest in the law of love

Here is my sermon (based on Matthew 11. 28 – 30) from today's lunchtime Eucharist at St Martin-in-the-Fields:

A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plough or cart that they are to pull. It doesn’t sound like something which is light or easy to wear, so in what sense might Jesus be using this farming image to talk about rest for those who come to him?

Jesus would have been very familiar with ploughs and yokes as both are implements made by carpenters. Two animals, usually either oxen or donkeys, would wear the yoke and pull the plough guided from behind by the farmer. Their task was to break up the ground for sowing.

Jesus was speaking in a context where the Pharisees took the 613 commandments in the Torah – the Law of Moses – which were to do with all aspects of life - shaving, tattoos, clothing, work, food and drink, farming, money and so on – and multiplied these commandments by creating detailed instructions about the ways in which each of these commandments was to be kept. Keeping all of these additional rules was indeed a heavy burden for all who tried to do so.

Jesus, by contrast, taught that love was the fulfilling of the Law. Instead of keeping the endless detail of the regulations created by the Pharisees, Jesus said that we should simply love God, ourselves and our neighbours and that all the Law of Moses is actually designed to that end. This was liberating teaching which brought rest for those weighed down by the burden of trying to keep hundreds of commandments and thousands of additional regulations. On the basis of Jesus’ liberating teaching, St Augustine was able to write: ‘Love, and do what you will’ because when the ‘root of love be within’ there is nothing that can spring from that root, but that which is good.

I wonder whether you are ready to leave behind the heavy burden of rules and regulations in order to be accepted or justified and instead open your life to the liberating and restful law of love.

The oxen or donkeys undertaking the ploughing were guided by the farmer using the yoke. As they followed that guidance the yoke sat lightly on their shoulders and the ploughing proceeded apace. If they ignored the guidance of the farmer and pulled in different directions then the yoke would feel heavy and would chafe the neck causing sores or other injuries.

By using this image Jesus is arguing that we have choices about the way in which we live life. We can go off in our own direction pulling away from other people and from God but, when we do so, we are pulling against the way of life for which we have been designed and created. It is when we submit to God’s way of life – the law of love - that we find rest through being in the right place at the right time and living in the right way. When this happens we have a sense of everything coming together and fitting into place which is both profoundly satisfying and restful.

I wonder whether you are prepared to surrender control of your life to the one who created you in all your uniqueness and explore instead how to live in the way for which human beings were created; to live according to the law of love.

Finally, there is the task to which we are called. This image of pairs of oxen ploughing with the use of a yoke fits closely with the task Jesus gave to his disciples when he sent them out in pairs to go to villages and towns ahead of him in order to prepare people for his arrival when he would sow among them the seed of the Word of God.

He said, therefore, that this task - the role of a disciple – although it seems challenging to take up, is actually hugely rewarding as well as being restful in the sense that we are doing God’s will and it is God who does the work, not us. We read in Luke 10, for example, that the seventy disciples Jesus sent out in pairs returned from their mission with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

I wonder whether you are prepared to undertake the challenging, yet strangely restful, task of a disciple of Jesus; that of preparing the ground by sharing the message of love, so that others might receive the Word of God? Jesus said: “Come to me, 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.”


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