Reflections to start the week
Monday, October 7, 2013
The yoke is on you.
Last Friday was the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, described as the most admired and least imitated of saints. The power of his witness reverberates across the centuries, so much so that the new pope not only takes his name but embraces his spirit in word and action, symbolic and substantive. Francis of Assisi is remembered for his call to a life of simplicity and poverty. He is remembered for his love of all of God’s creation. He is remembered for a line attributed to him in teaching his disciples: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” The expression of his rigorous faith was marked by joy. Obviously, there is much to learn from him as we face this Monday morning and consider what it means to put faith to work in the world. How does his faith inform yours?
I draw your attention to the reading chosen for St. Francis’ day, from the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 11), printed at the top of the side column. It is a call to all those who are weary and carry heavy burdens. Is that you this morning? To those folks, Jesus says: “Take my yoke upon you”. That hardly sounds like a message of comfort to the weary and burdened. Take on a yoke? How about something like: “Relax, put your feet up.” That sounds more comforting. Yet Jesus says that his yoke is easy, his burden is light. One more example of how the question “WWJD?” (what would Jesus do?) finds its answer in paradox.
What does it mean to take on that yoke? In my former parish, in the exploration of the dynamics of spiritual growth, there was a lot of conversation about beliefs and practices, about what is expected of us as people of faith. We recognized what many religious commentators have noticed: a shift away from dogma, so that belief becomes less a matter of the intellect and more a matter of the heart. (See Diana Butler Bass’ comments in side column and read her excellent book Christianity After Religion.) We spent time trying to articulate beliefs and practices which we held dear as a community. There was one in particular that got a lot of attention. It began like this: “Every person has the freedom and responsibility to discern the truth of God for his or her life.” Said another way: Everyone has both freedom and responsibility in discerning the course, the trajectory, the progress of the spiritual journey.
What seemed to catch people’s interest was the paradoxical mix of freedom and responsibility, the fact that our relationship with God has this synergy of grace and gratitude, God’s initiative and our response. Our community was well versed in the freedom of our faith, graceful hospitality to the seeker and skeptic, a refusal to check theological correctness, or to check one’s brain at the door. We knew well the amazing grace that each one of us is on a spiritual journey that matters to God. But we discovered another dimension: a sense of responsibility as we move forward in that spiritual journey, that literal sense of response to the grace that has come to us. Perhaps that sense of responsibility is the yoke Jesus commends. St. Francis knew about that yoke, as in the wisdom of St. Augustine, he lived a life of faith in God in whose service is perfect freedom.
How are you living into that responsibility as the week begins? How will you discern the truth of God in your life? We’re talking next steps, even baby steps. What are the resources you will draw on, as you discern the course of your spiritual journey this week? How will you take on the yoke which Jesus describes? How does it feel? Think about the ways St. Francis of Assisi might guide you in that process: with a call to simplicity, with a heart for those in need, with a sense of joy and wonder in God’s creation, in the preaching of good news, in word and action. Not a bad way to start the week. The ball is in your court. The yoke is on you.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.