Surrender to Freedom

July 5, 2020

Matthew 11: 28‑30

“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.”

Every July 4th, Americans celebrate Independence Day. In the pinnacle of the northern hemisphere’s summer we enjoy activities on lakes and rivers, campfires, watching fireworks and eating and drinking the delights of the season. In the midst of the enjoyment, we likely do not spend much time thinking about life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness, because most of us have it.

Yet, this year is different. Because of the pandemic, many Americans are not enjoying the carefree and delightful aspects of this summer season. Fears of contracting the virus separate us from family and friends, struggling small businesses, massive layoffs, economic decline and the uncertainty as to when these concerns will resolve leave millions struggling.

In the area in which I reside, the major foodbank has seen a 20 percent increase in demand. This organization is preparing for another increase this summer when unemployment benefits run out. They’re also concerned that people unfamiliar with food banks and pantries are not getting the help they need.

While we can readily consume news of the discouraging data produced by the pandemic, some are prospering. The Institute for Policy Studies reports US billionaires have gained $565 billion additional dollars since March 18, 2020. It is true even now. The rich are getting richer, and the poor are staying poor and are becoming a larger class all the time.

“A society too sharply divided between its winners and losers loses its moral authority,” former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich said in a speech some years ago.

Independence Day is a time for Americans to recall the principle of foundational to our country: that all people are created equal, with equal opportunity and equal access. This principle was far more than a nice idea of our Founding Fathers; it was a hallowed precept, a strong belief, a radical hope for all people who came to this country. The original draft for the Declaration of Independence begins this way, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable . . .” The growing disparity in wealth and opportunity for obtaining wealth in this country shreds the social contract upon which this nation was founded.

As people of faith we can help change the face of things, by insisting that the moral judgment and equal opportunity which are embedded in the fabric of our history become relevant again. We can begin by bringing ethics to the forefront of conversations, politics and by renewing our own commitment to the three abiding values of our Christian tradition‑‑now abide these three, faith, hope, and charity.

This morning’s New Testament text implores us to come to Jesus and take up his yoke, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” We would not think of a yoke as a symbol of liberation, but to the wearer, it is just that. A yoke is designed to place on the neck of a beast of burden, usually an ox, so that its strength and energy may be harnessed for plowing a field or pulling a wagon. When an ox is fitted to its own yoke, the yoke is more comfortable or easy on the neck, so that the animal’s energy and strength are directed right into the harness; its burden then is lightened and made easier to bear.

If we are to live in these times and bear witness to the living, liberating God we love, our yoke must be harnessed about the neck of Christ. Jesus is calling for a complete surrender of spirit, a turning away from greed and power and a turning toward new freedom based on justice and love. This is an invitation, a welcoming home, a freeing liberation: “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy‑laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls.”

Our country and her people need a spiritual restoration and a renewal of faith in our relationship to each other in community. The Gallup organization, known for its public opinion polls, conducted one to determine the spiritual needs of Americans churches as they are increasingly challenged to work toward closing the gap between belief and practice. Gallup notes that Christians need to turn professed faith into a lived‑out faith which reflects the life and values of our faith stance. What is called for are not new committees, new strategies, or position papers on evangelism; we need nothing less than changed hearts.

Thanks to the religious freedom which is ours in the United States, we can make choices about our future and what our future will hold. These choices, I believe, apply fundamentally at the religious level; will we choose to harness our yoke to the living Christ or will we choose the substitute gods who live and thrive all around us? Money, greed, fame, drugs? Blaming the “other” no matter who that other may be‑‑whether it be Asian Americans or the Jews or blacks or gays and lesbians or women?

William Sloane Coffin was a clergyperson in the Presbyterian Church and later United Church of Christ. He died in 2006 but the wisdom of his words lives on. In one sermons he wrote: “God is calling all hearts out for review, and the reviews are not terrific. But we have been given a living hope of liberty, not only a statue in the harbor, but a liberating hope through the life of Jesus Christ. And if Christ is God’s love in person on this earth, then the church can be God’s love organized on earth.” (The Collected Sermons of William Sloane Coffin: The Riverside Years”)

William Willimon, another published preacher writes that “life’s greatest burden is not having too much to do, but in having nothing worthwhile to do.” How do you want to spend your life? (“Jesus Vacation” 7/8/90 at Duke University Chapel).

“Come unto me” is an invitation to surrender our freedom‑‑from selfishness to sharing; from maintaining walls that divide to creating whole communities based on justice, love and cooperation; from hoarding our possessions to healing the breach between us; from hopeless bewilderment to wonderful hope in believing in God’s grace and each other.

“Come unto me” is an invitation to a great feast. It will not be a fourth of July extravaganza‑‑all the beer you can drink, all the brats you can eat‑‑but it will be a feast where the hungry are fed and everyone is welcome at the table. There will be no division of race, class, or sexual orientation. It will be a feast where rich and poor find themselves laughing and crying together and sharing the wealth of the Table as one.

“Come unto me.” This is the feast of plenty, plenty of love and enough justice for all; the spirit of compassion will reign. Let this table help this nation realize and enrich its understanding of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. By God’s grace, may we become Christ’s people.

Prayer: Lord of the nations, guide this nation by your Spirit to go forward in justice and freedom. Give to all our people the blessings of well-being and harmony, but above all things give us faith in you, that our nation may bring glory to your name and blessings to all peoples, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Lord. Amen.

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.

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Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.