The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: July 9, 2017

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67  |  Psalm 45: 11-18
Romans 7:15-25a  |  Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michaels

Today’s gospel, Jesus’ invites us to, “Take my yoke upon you,

learn from my gentleness and humility,

and you will find rest for your souls.”

The yoke is a wooden crossbar used to link a pair of animals so they could equally pull a load.

Dating back to 4000 B.C., it has long been a symbol of obedience and service.

What I find striking about Jesus’ use of this metaphor is that by inviting us to take up his yoke,

he does not assume the work of being Savior and Messiah of the world is a solo act.

Rather he invites us to share the load and by doing so

learn from God’s gentleness and humility and find rest.

Inviting someone to share our load…what a countercultural concept!

What would our lives look like if we stopped trying to be self-reliant,

self-sufficient,

successful,

spectacular individuals

and started inviting others

to equally share in carrying our heavy burdens?

Several summers ago I had the opportunity to be a whitewater raft guide on the Ocoee River in Tennessee. During the six weeks of training, we learned various skills…among them was the importance of yoking ourselves to the crew. If you didn’t know it ahead of time, you would learn pretty quick on the water that raft guiding is no solo act. To make the journey you had to share the load. The name of the game was pick up your paddles y’all cuz we’re all in this boat together.

Every rafting trip began with the most difficult class IV rapid on the entire river…also fondly known as Grumpy’s. To successfully launch, you had to ferry the raft upstream towards the dam, which meant facing a wall of water about three stories high while moving across a shallow riverbed of fast-moving rapids (which was about the length of a city block). Then make a quick turn around and immediately drop a 10 ft ledge.

Don’t know yet why they call it Grumpy’s? Ask the guy who fell out!

It is no easy task to go down a difficult, dangerous path with people you know…so imagine beginning such a journey with a bunch of strangers. And yet, time and again beginning with Grumpy’s forged an immediate bond among everyone in that boat.

When fear splashes you in the face, you tend to forget about what divides you, and you start looking around to see ‘who else is in this boat with me?’ You start looking for common ground and ways to share the load. You pick up your paddles because we know we’re in this together!

Grumpy’s was the yoke that provided direction and discipline for the journey ahead. It taught us how to share the load, how to listen, how to serve together. It taught us how to see God in the people and faces around us.

Joan Chittister says “When we follow the voice of the ones who call us to higher service, we put down our own concerns, allow ourselves to be led by the insights of another, treat our own best interests with a relaxed grasp. We empty ourselves out so that the presence of God can come in, tangible and present and divinely human.”[1]

This is the yoke that Jesus invites us take on in our daily lives. When we listen for the voice of God in ourselves, in others, in our world, then we yoke ourselves “to the incarnate God who forgives, who cares, who reaches out and wants to heal us. We yoke ourselves to Jesus, the one who harbors no suspicion, no resentment, no hatred…the one who simply desires to give love and receive it. Jesus, the one who sees the magnitude of human pain and responds to our reluctance and resistance by offering consolation and hope.”[2]

By yoking ourselves to the incarnate love of God present in humanity, a love that is unconditional and unlimited, a love in which there are no shadows, we can do nothing but bring healing, reconciliation, new life, and hope wherever we go.

We all have Grumpy rapids in our lives…difficult perhaps even dangerous places to navigate…places of rejection, abandonment, betrayal, abuse, loss. Society tells us to dam up those wounds, hide them behind the facades of wealth, success, popularity, and power. But you can’t dam up those wounds forever. Sooner or later, those currents are gonna come out.

And when they do, Jesus tells us, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” Jesus says you don’t have to dam those wounds up anymore…release them!  Allow those deep currents to yoke you to the unlimited, unconditional depths of God’s love. Because whenever we name and claim our frailty, our powerlessness, our inadequacies and failures before others, we yoke ourselves to the rest of the world’s humanity and bring the light of Jesus there.

When we make our faith and doubt, our hope and despair, our joy and sadness available to others, our wounds become touchstones for God’s healing and grace.[3] This is how we learn to move in a resurrection direction.

But we never make that journey alone. There are others waiting in the boat to help us move through those grumpy, bumpy rapids. Maybe your boat has a priest, spiritual director, or therapist. Maybe it has a teacher, coach, or mentor. Maybe your spouse, parent, family, or friend is in the boat with you. Maybe you have an entire medical team or a support group of strangers struggling with similar issues just waiting to share their wisdom with you.

This week, look around you. See see who is in your boat. Look for God in their faces, learn to serve the God you see in others. Release those wounds and learn to ride the grumpy rapids together by sharing the load. And finally, pick up your paddles y’all, cuz we’re in this boat together. Amen.

[1] The Rule of St. Benedict Insights for the Ages, Joan Chittister.

[2] In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership,Henri Nouwen.

[3] Henri Nouwen.