Monday, July 10, 2017

Taking on and sharing the yoke.

5th Sunday after Pentecost
Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 145:8-14
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-20

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen. 

Come to me, all you that are weary and 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. 

I love this passage from Matthew.  It is one of the scripture passages that we often shared during compline – the prayer service at the end of the day, when I was at seminary.  It was that pleasant reminder that whatever was still weighing heavy on us, whatever was stressing us out, whatever was still taking its toll on us at 10 o’clock at night was known and shared by God. 

This passage is a gentle reminder that we cannot handle everything on our own.  But how often do we think and try to handle it on our own?  How often do we not share what is in our hearts and on our minds because we are afraid of how people will respond?  How often do we not reach in to love and support others because we are uncertain of how to do so? 

In the book, There is no Good Card for This: What to say and do when life is scary, awful and unfair to people you love, the authors, Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell address how important it is that we open ourselves up to one another during tough times.  They write, “Believing that you’re incapable of connecting during painful times can isolate you from life’s most connected moments.” 

Let me say that again, “believing that you’re incapable of connecting during painful times can isolate you from life’s most connected moments.”  I know, it’s hard to love others and be completely present with them, especially when you don’t know what to say to them in response to a family tragedy, job loss, life threatening illness, or broken relationship….but the truth is, when we are able to be present, even if all we say is, I’m sorry, it opens up an opportunity to grow deeper in relationship with one another and with God.  It opens up the time and space to connect, love, and support more deeply. 

And that’s the yoke that Christ is bound to us with…the yoke of love.  That yoke, connects us to Christ and to one another as we journey through this life together, navigating ups and downs, highs and lows, struggles and celebrations. 

A good friend of mine once said that the problem with loving people is that you take into your heart, not only the joys, but the sorrows and sadness, too.  But again, that’s what happens when we are yoked together with Christ and with one another.  The load becomes lighter and we work together to love, support and sometimes carry one another. 

Serving as chaplain at Bear Creek Camp last week, I had many opportunities to see the yoke of Christ present in campers and staff alike.  It was most often seen with the campers when the counselors were leading them through specific team building activities.  Ilse, a counselor with one of the junior groups of campers reflected on this in the end of camp video.  She said on Monday, her group had tried an “Infirmary Hike” which means different campers have different ailments – broken bones, blindness, or other ailments that cause them to need help as they hike a trail. 

Ilse said that on Monday, the group struggled to work together, they were focused more on their individual needs than the needs of the group and it just didn’t go well.  On Friday, they tried the Infirmary Hike again, with much different results.  The group of campers who knew each other very well at this point, had more trust in one another, listened more carefully to one another and worked much better together for the benefit of the whole group. 

So yes, it does take time….to get to know one another and to build trust…but it makes a huge difference. 

Each morning at the pre-chapel staff meeting, you could see how the 2017 summer staff were continuing to build relationships as they are yoked together for the summer.  As part of each staff meeting there is a time for shout outs, a time for any staff person to give a word of thanks or praise to another staff member. 
Most times they were words of appreciation as one person saw another spending extra time with camper in need, or stepping in to help when no one else was around. 
It was great to hear their words of support and thanks for one another.  It gave the staff the opportunity to see how sharing the burden, sharing the workload makes it lighter for everyone. 

I spent most of my week at camp with the Seniors.  It’s the oldest group of campers and during session 2, they were all female.  It was amazing to see how the dynamic changed as the week went on, because here’s the thing…this group faced some tough challenges.  On Monday morning, they conquered the high ropes course with flying colors.  As I was catching people at the end of the zipline, I could hear cheers of support and when individuals got stuck or struggled through some of the elements. 

On Monday evening, they said goodbye to one of the young women in their group, we’ll call her Tina.  Her grandmother was in the hospital and her health was failing.  Tina was picked up by her mom so she could spend time with family.  We didn’t know what the outcome would be.  We prayed for Tina and her family that night and even after knowing her for just one day, we felt her absence in our hearts and our tents.  On Tuesday morning, I did a double take as I saw Tina reunited with her group.  She joined us on the overnight and was present with us for the rest of the week. 

We were overjoyed with Tina’s return, but it was words spoken on Friday night that still tug at my heart. 
We spent time going around the group at Friday night devotions and each young woman heard positive words about their actions, personality and presence.  More than one camper commented on this Tina’s strength to come back to camp.  Tina shared with us that she knew she needed to be in a place surrounded by friends where she could have fun and not just sit at home and worry about her grandmother. 

But so many of the other girls said they are not sure if they could have made that decision.  They admired her strength, her ability to know what would be good for her, and her ability to talk to her parents about returning to camp for the week.  The depth of our conversation that night showed the yoke that encompassed us and connected us all.  We were able to hear about Tina’s worries and struggles, and we were able to share our own worries, as well as support and love with her. 

That’s the yoke, my friends….it binds us together…it doesn’t weigh us down, but rather connects, supports and helps us through the challenging times. 

Christ’s presence with us does not free us from life’s struggles and challenges, but it gives us hope and strength to work through those situations with others. 
Christ’s presence gives us the promise that we will not face tough times alone. 

This yoke is a call to action, to be present for others, as Christ is present with us. 

And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and let all God’s people say, amen.