Monday, June 30, 2014

yoked--a reflection for July 6

(published in the Abingdon 2014 Creative Preaching Annual)

Matthew 11.25-30

Few of us use yokes anymore—we often have to explain that a yoke is equipment used to hitch animals together and to something else, such as a plow. Machines do so much of our farming, and so few people work the land, that a yoke is an antique, a museum piece, not an everyday item.

However, for Jesus and the people in his community, the yoke was both everyday and held double meaning. The most obvious is the agricultural, but there was also the example of Isaiah 58: “Is not this the fast that I choose, to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke?” (v. 6, NRSV) A yoke is a system, often a system of bondage—whether that system is economic, political, or intellectual. Sometimes people are put under the yoke by an oppressive power, as the Israelites had been by the Babylonians, or as they were under the Romans. Sometimes the yoke is a choice—by choosing to follow a particular teacher, one took his yoke upon oneself. The yoke was the system of teachings, the teacher’s philosophy. And sometimes a system that should be life-giving—like the Torah—is turned into an oppression, as we see with the wise and intelligent—the Pharisees and the scribes—who have made the good law of God into a religious and political system that oppresses people and needs to be broken.

So Jesus calls all of us who are caught in those systems, especially those weary of following all 613 laws to the letter and still wondering about the grace of God, especially those who believe God’s love has to be earned, to come to him and trade that yoke for another.

I always thought the point of breaking the oppressive yoke was to be free. But we all know that isn’t exactly true—as Bob Dylan said, “You Gotta Serve Somebody.” The question is: will we be yoked to the letter of the law? To the economic and political system? Yoked to our possessions? Social status? Desires? Yoked to our limited understanding of God, or to what we think the good life looks like? Or will we slip into the empty side of Jesus’ yoke and partner with him in the work God has in mind for the world?

When a farmer has a new animal to train, the new animal is yoked together with an experienced one. That way the new animal learns the way while the experienced one carries most of the burden. Eventually the new animal becomes so experienced that it follows the way willingly, and finds the work easy, the burden light.

Are we willing to take Jesus’ yoke upon us? Are we willing to submit, knowing it means we cannot continue to pull our other burdens (however much they may look like blessings), to walk with Jesus until we are so trained that our lives won’t go any other way?

Monday, June 16, 2014

a well of laughter--a reflection for June 22

(published in the Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual 2014)

Genesis 21.8-21

Isaac received his name because he caused laughter in his parents’ lives. It seems that laughter is restricted, though, since when Ishmael laughs, it causes not happiness but rage. Sarah sees Ishmael and Hagar laughing and feasting as they celebrate Isaac’s weaning, and it is too much to bear. Though Ishmael exists only because Sarah gave her slave Hagar as a concubine for Abraham, and though his status as second-wife’s-son is below Isaac’s, he is still the firstborn, and his laughter cuts into Sarah’s heart.

So out they must go, out into the desert with only a little food and a day’s water. If Hagar had doubts about this God of Abraham’s, they have been confirmed now—this is a God who cares only for his own kind, not for outsiders or those who are mistreated. She will have no part in the covenant God is making with his people—she is literally and figuratively cast out. Her last meeting with God had resulted in instructions to put up with Sarah’s abuse (Gen. 16), and now she must know for certain that this is a God who not only allows but encourages pain, grief, and heartache. It seems unlikely she (or anyone else who feels outside of grace) would be interested in adding this kind of God to her already heavy desert burden.

Finally God takes notice…of Ishmael’s cries. Never mind that Hagar has been lifting her voice in grief and despair too, God has heard the cries of her son and remembered that promise to make him a great nation as well, to pay heed to his status as Abraham’s son even if no one else will. That paternity is what will save Hagar as well as Ishmael. By this point Hagar must be wondering if she matters at all—a foreigner with dark skin and different language, a slave turned concubine, an outcast. God’s messenger has even had the audacity to ask “what’s wrong?” What isn’t wrong? God is making covenant partners and has left her out, casting her aside into the desert. Is there any good news to be had?

There is a well. And actually, the presence of shrubs under which to place a child also means the presence of water. The haze of grief and despair can sometimes cloud our vision, but even so God offers what we need. God opens Hagar’s eyes and she sees her well of salvation right in front of her, and she is strengthened to go on, to find a way forward as a part of God’s great story, rather than as a footnote. How often do we resign ourselves to the bit part, eyes closed to the possibility of good news or clouded by resentment and despair of injustice ever being overcome? There is a well, even in the desert, for those whose eyes are open to see, and perhaps there will be laughter too.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014


Today, this happened:
 and then...
I couldn't get the actual moment because when I did it for 99,000, I got busted by a FB friend for snapping the photo while driving...

It's a little ridiculously exciting. This is my first very-own car, finally paid off almost 2 years ago now. And now I'm filling up the odometer! Lots of places gone, people seen, trips taken.

Getting to this moment made me think of this awesome story from Snap Judgment. Except that I was alone in my car, and there's no one to turn those miles over with me. Except you, oh bloggies. So imagine those miles, these last few miles spent on US highway 14, sometimes called Northwest Highway. I drive it almost every day, to work with and for the people who make up a life with me. It's a stay-together ride.