07-26-20 WHAT IS GOD’S KINGDOM LIKE?

Matthew 13: 31-33; 44-50

In 2017, the world learned a secret that seemed to be hidden from our eyes as the award-winning film “Hidden Figures” hit the screens. In its magnificent true story, it was revealed that three women of color—Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson—did the hard calculations at NASA in the 1960s, with pencil and paper, figures that cumbersome computers were not yet trusted to produce. Even John Glenn, it was said, did not trust the NASA calculations until Katherine had said they were right. Who knew? These were hidden figures in history, until, in this case, a film brought the story to light. Another story recently was brought to my attention by the death of Congressman John Lewis: that the bridge in Selma, Alabama—where police clashed with marchers intending to walk from Selma to Montgomery—is named for a man who served as the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. This time in history has brought that fact to the surface. I just knew that he had been a Commander in the Confederate Army. Sometimes it takes action, or a deliberate revealing, for important information to be heard. As I was working on my Doctoral Thesis, “Discovery in the Dark Night of the Soul” I came upon the concept of the “Divine Hiddenness” of God: Quoting from my thesis:
Robert Oakes argues for the idea that if we have a God who at times is hidden from us, it is something of a paradox. As he puts it, ‘Might there not, after all, be something odd about the view that there can exist a Being who is both omniscient and hidden?’ Those who cannot find or hear God for a period of time are not, in their anxiety, denying the existence of God; they are alarmed by a sense of the absence or silence of the Divine. John of the Cross, in one of his other works, Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom of Christ writes, ‘Where have you hidden Yourself, and abandoned me to my sorrow, O my Beloved? (as he cries out to God.) [Jeffrey Alan Sumner, Columbia Theological Seminary Library, p. 14]

God even seems hidden at times for those who seek that Holy Presence. Some even wonder where God is now. Our Lord Jesus certainly had insights into the intricacies and mysteries of God, and the Kingdom. Here’s one more fact that you might not know: whenever Matthew writes about the “Kingdom of Heaven,” the original Greek has “The Kingdom of God.” Matthew, a Jew, believed it disrespectful to say or write the name of God, so he used a euphemism, “Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus in Matthew, is not describing the hereafter; they are describing the “here and now.” So today, in the next set of parables, we learn that they contain mysteries, secrets, and hidden treasures for living on earth. The Psalmist, long before Jesus shared parables, the Psalmist wrote these words in Psalm 78:2, in the NIV: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old.” Jesus even quotes it in Matthew 13:35. Parables, then, were not cute stories for slow learners; they were designed for insightful people to grasp; for those who had eyes to see or ears to hear. Parables are not about Heaven; they are clues about how God wants mortals to live in the here and now. Parable wrap stories like a mantle (or a cloak,) around the listeners, sharing meanings and secrets sparingly. So we will not be surprised if some come away from hearing parables scratching their heads.

After hearing two parables that seemed like they were about farming, we learned they were about the Kingdom instead. Now we move into staccato presentations of new parables. Wise listeners will have their ears tuned for hidden meanings. The first has to do with a mustard seed. Although small, we must acknowledge they were not the smallest seeds around. And we must acknowledge that mustard shrubs can grow large, but hardly into trees. Birds cannot actually build nest in its branches because they will not support the weight. And this parable is paired with the parable of the leaven, (or yeast) comparing things big with things small. So, like with all parables, we cannot read them with flatfooted literalism. The late Biblical scholar Douglas R. A. Hare says this about these parables:
The two parables are not “teaching” but “preaching”; they do not give instruction about what the kingdom is like but call for faith in God who is active in the tiny movement initiated by Jesus. … The twin parables challenge the hearer to leave behind the pedestrian, pragmatic everyday world that treats God as irrelevant and enters a new world where God is the primary reality. [Interpretation: Matthew; Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993, p. 156.]

Even a kernel of faith in God can bring about generous outcomes! Insignificant items or people bring about amazing results! God is extravagant, casting Gospel seeds without a care about where they land. God is extravagant, taking a small seed and creating a large shrub (or tree!) Like leaven (or yeast) can change bread, God can change our world with the stories of people reaching out to others. The yeast story tells about three measures of flour, indicating the baking of three loaves of bread, enough for an extravagant feast! Listeners in Jesus’ day would have remembered when Abraham instructed Sarah to prepare cakes from three measures of flour for their heavenly visitors in Genesis 18:6. Like Abraham and Sarah, might we prepare the table of our hearts too for visits from God’s angels unawares, pulling out the good china and fine silver to welcome holy guests in our midst? Who knows who our extravagant actions might touch others?

For years I would find uplifting stories in Guideposts magazines or in the “Chicken Soul for the Soul” books. Now the internet brings hidden stories to light and onto our news feeds almost instantly. Take, for example the amazing story of Captain Tom Moore in England, a very old man who wanted to raise awareness of and support for England’s National Health Service. To do so, he used a walker with wheels since breaking his hip, and set himself the target of walking 25 meters around his garden 100 times by his 100th birthday which was on April 30th. His hope was to raise 1000 English pounds. He finished his mission, but instead as the word spread, people he didn’t even know donated to his cause, raising 33 million pounds, (or 40 Million dollars.) Queen Elizabeth II knighted now 100-year-old World War II Captain Tom Moore on Friday in an outdoor ceremony at Windsor Castle. Sometimes a small act of kindness can be turned into a profound, extravagant gift. You may have also heard about Chris Evans, the actor who played Captain America in the films, who sent a special video message and gift to a brave 6-year-old boy named Bridger Walker, who saved his four-year-old sister from a dog attack. The boy was badly injured, requiring a two-hour surgery and 90 stitches to his face. Chris Evans decided to contact Bridger and his family, giving a special gift that very brave boy. When he called, Chris went into character saying: “Captain America here, Bridger! I read your story, I saw what you did …and pal, you’re a hero! What you did was so brave, so selfless; your sister is so lucky to have you as a big brother! Your parents must be so proud of you. I’m going to track down your address and I’m going to send you an authentic Captain America shield because pal, you deserve it.” When some asked Bridger why he did what he did, the boy answered: “If someone had to die, I thought it should be me.” What extravagant brotherly love.

Now on to the next parables! Jesus came back on land, went into a house, and began addressing only his disciples. He shared another pair of parables, one about a hidden treasure, and one about a valuable pearl. They might be boiled down to a song we sing as new members join this congregation: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness. And all these things shall be added unto you. Alleluia!” People may seek the Kingdom all their lives, but once they find it, like those who have find a hidden treasure, or like those who find a pearl of great price, there is great rejoicing! Perhaps they use their extravagant treasure to help save their business or family from huge debt; or perhaps to help neighbors. Perhaps a parallel story was when Jesus came to the house of the tax collector Zacchaeus, who earned lots of money and tucked it away, being despised by others for his miserliness. But in Jesus’ presence, Zacchaeus had a change of heart, and pulled his money out of its hiding place, promising to compensate anyone he cheated and to give even more for the insult! Finding a treasure or a pearl gives one the chance to decide what to do with them. A child -like response was my young decision to save my 4 old pennies, holding onto them and keeping them hidden, letting them not help others. A mature Christian response might have invested or sold them as a way to lessen debt or help others. What might your extravagant Kingdom response be?

Finally, this is the third parable in this set—after the sower, and the weeds and tares, to talk actually talk about the end of the age. It means that God fishes with a big net, pulling in “rotten” fish with good fish, only separating them once they are in the boat.

Listen to John Calvin’s comments as we conclude: “We commonly set a high value on what is visible, and therefore the new and spiritual life, which is held out to us in the Gospel, is little esteemed by us, because it is hidden ….One pearl, though it is small, is so highly valued, that a skilled merchant does not hesitate to sell houses and land in order to purchase it. The excellence of the heavenly life is not perceived by the sense of flesh; and we do not [value] its real worth unless we are prepared to deny, on account of it, all that glitters in our eyes.”
[Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. XVI, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005, p. 131.]

Let us pray: God who is sometimes hidden to us: you remind us that you are, nevertheless, present. Help our eyes see, our ears hear, and our hearts grasp the Kingdom as Jesus continuously sought to live it and describe it. In his name I ask this. Amen.

Jeffrey A. Sumner July 26, 2020

07-19-20 WEEDS AMONG OUR WHEAT

Matthew 13: 24-30; 36-43

Today we are faced with a with a firehose of information regarding the virus, the election, and news in Florida. Due to the internet and some televisions receiving hundreds of channels, plus talk radio being as prevalent as ever, we hear voices from the religious left and voices from the religious right; voices from the political left and voices from the political right. We have vaccers and anti-vaccers; we have maskers and anti-maskers. We have advocates for traditional worship and advocates for contemporary worship. The list is long, and if someone takes one side over another, it is almost like creating a sword fight in days of yore. So what do we do? Many people choose the lane in which they are most comfortable. In those lanes, is the truth slanted to be more palatable toward them and more critical toward what others think? Only baby boomers and older ones remember the news that seemed to be just reported, rarely with commentary, brought by Walter Cronkite, The Huntley-Brinkley Report, and other nightly news for 30-60 minutes a day, not all day long. We live in a different world now. News now is a-la-carte.

In our day, when it comes to sharing our message—the Christian message as we understand it from our Gospels—we learned last week that our audience might not be fully receptive to it. Some have heard personal witness stories before and don’t want to hear another one. Some have said “no” and don’t plan to say “yes.” Some, however, are ready to hear what you, or what I, have to say if we share a spiritual event that has changed our life. And last week we learned that the message could be polluted if the seeds we sow are not pure. We carry that thought over to today. Here we are, sitting as if we are on the banks of the Sea of Galilee with Jesus’ disciples. Jesus is still in the boat as he was last week, and we get the next chapter in the saga of parables. We are still on the subject of seeds. Some parables stand on their own, but last week’s and this week’s Jesus decided explanations were needed. This week, Jesus’ tells listeners that his second parable is an allegory. Do you recall what an allegory is? It’s a story where things stand for something—or someone—else. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan is a spiritual allegory. Animal Farm by George Orwell is a political allegory. The Faerie Queens by Edmund Spenser is a moral allegory. Let’s set the allegorical interpretation aside for a moment as we hear Jesus’ second parable in Matthew 13. Someone sowed good seed (so that takes out the possibility that they chose inferior or polluted seeds to sow.) The assumption is that during the night after planting, someone came in the darkness and planted weeds in the field with the wheat. Just as some people in our day are quick to point fingers at others, trying to avoid any personal responsibility, in this story the servants came to the master of the field doing the same thing. They said to the Master, “Didn’t you sow good seed in the field?” (The story doesn’t tell us how they could tell there was bad seed planted after just one night, but the master answered,) “An enemy has done this.” Even the master puts blame on an unknown “enemy,” never asking how they could already tell how weeds were mixed with wheat. So the servants offer to go pull up the weeds, (how big can they be?) but the master says, “No, you might mistakenly pull up some of the good wheat while doing it.” When it is time to harvest the crop, then the reapers can collect the weeds first and gather them to be burned, but the wheat shall be gathered and put into the barn, or storehouse.” If that image takes you to a Thanksgiving theme, you are not alone. Truly the hymn “Come Ye Thankful People, Come” belongs more in a summer service with a Matthew 13 text, or in an Evangelistic revival than in our tradition time to use it in November. Remember since we are all moving to allegorical thinking, this hymn is not about farming; it’s about the Kingdom of God and people gathering persons in whom gospel seeds have grown in their soul. If you believe this passage is about that, then perhaps you’ll think about this hymn that we often sing at Thanksgiving differently: Listen:
“Come, ye thankful people come” (be thankful you’re being brought into God’s garner—the Kingdom—instead of being burned in flames.)
“All is safely gathered in …come to God’s own temple, come.”
Then these words: “All the world is God’s own field, fruit in thankful praise to yield,” (receptive people let the fruit of the Spirit grow in their souls.)
Now you’ll know this hymn belongs more with our text than with turkey dinners! “Wheat and tares together sown, unto joy or sorrow grown.” (Are you getting it?) “Lord of harvest grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.” …“For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take the harvest home, from each field that in that day, all offenses purge away.” This is about people! Saints and sinners; not actually about grains. “Give the angels charge at last, in the fire the tares to cast, but the fruitful ears to store in God’s garner ever more!”

As we learned last week that the hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves” is not about farming, “Come, ye Thankful People, Come” is not about planting! It reminds us that our world is filled with good seed, and bad seed; that some have chosen to bear good fruit from the gospel seeds planted in their soul, while others have produced nothing redemptive.

Now we can turn to Jesus’s first century explanation of his parable. Jesus says he himself is the one who sows the good seed. He says the field is the world, the good seeds are the children of the kingdom, and the weeds are the seeds from the evil one. See, even here fingers are being pointed at others, blaming them for bad things. Those blaming actions go back as early as the Garden of Eden. Jesus said the one who sowed the bad seed was the devil, and the reapers were God’s angels.
What a strong message, encouraging people to choose Christ! The reward now is good, and the reward later is even better! That’s a reason to invite thankful people to “Come!” In our day, good pure information can become distorted by people, sometimes with less than honorable intent. When that happens, pure information can become propaganda. The evil one continues to use people to sow such weeds in our world. When propaganda or editorial opinion passes for truth, buyer beware. And early in the sowing of such information, it might be hard to tell if the wheat planted in our souls and minds is good information or evil. The master allowed both to grow together for a while. But at some point, the true colors of those bearing the fruit of Christ, and of those bearing the fruit of the devil, start to show. It is then that we take the highest ground by not putting our heads in the sand like an ostrich, or pretending we just don’t see. Folk singer Bob Dylan during all the governmental and societal issues of race and war in the 1960s wrote: “How many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn’t see? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.” [Blowin’ in the Wind] And it was Sir Edmund Burke who famously once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing.”

Let’s not do nothing! Let’s join the angels of God in spreading the good seed, calling out those who spread counterfeit seeds as good ones. Let us work to encourage virtue and vanquish vice, as John Calvin would put it! This was the job of the first disciples, and the beloved Reformers 1500 years later.
Now it is our job too.
Let us pray: Jesus our Savior: who rooted out corruption and treated forgotten and marginalized persons with grace and justice: help us to go into God’s fields in the world and be able to recognize and name the wicked weeds, taking the good seeds into God’s garner, evermore. Amen.

Jeffrey A. Sumner July 19, 2020

07-12-20 WHAT SEEDS DO WE SOW?

Matthew 13: 3-9; 18-23

As we move to today’s gospel lesson, you might think it makes a good children’s message, but what can it say to adults in our day and age? Stay tuned. Up until this point in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has been narrating, teaching, and proclaiming messages about being part of God’s Kingdom. That, as we have learned before, is the primary way that Romans and Greeks taught: orderly, rational, and in your face. Other persuaders in the world, when they meet with resistance, may choose different strategies to get their message across. One of the most brilliantly persuasive campaigns was in the 1960s, when American car companies were all about bigger and faster cars. Their ads were not only in car magazines, but in Life magazine, Look magazine, and others. The ads were colorful and dazzling. But then came some curious black and white ads, that made people stop and read them: They were from Volkswagen of America. One ad was all white space framed with a black border. In the far back corner of the ad was a VW Beetle and the two-word sentence declaring: “Think small.” That was it, and people were drawn to that innovative way of advertising. Another one that caught people’s eye, also black and white with a sideview of a Beetle said: “Presenting America’s slowest Fastback.” If a student was pitching ideas like these to some “Mad Men” agency in the 60s, he would have been told to take his idea and leave! But Volkswagen made history with their car ads, including another famous one: “It floats” with the car seen floating in water while other cars were underwater. Brilliant. It worked for me: I bought one and had it from my college days, through my seminary days, to my first congregation days until our family grew too big for it to double as our second car.
Listen to what has been said about Jesus’ new way of teachings that starts in Matthew 13. It’s a campaign using parables:
Until now, Jesus’ presentation of God’s rule has been relatively straightforward. He has taught in synagogues, delivered a manifesto on a mountain, and offered diverse, compelling demonstrations of God’s power on earth. The responses have been disparate, from wondering crowds that follow him seeking healing, to the now murderous hostility of the Pharisees. In response to this growing division and rejection, Jesus begins speaking in parables, a form of teaching that at once reveals and conceals.
[Stanley P. Saunders, Preaching the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2010, p. 120.]

Like the Volkswagen ads, parables are a middle eastern tool to “sell an idea” by drawing listeners into a story, inviting them to respond. Jesus first parable is a deliberate choice, not a haphazard one. The first thing Jesus asked his disciples to do was to tell others about God’s Kingdom. Perhaps they were starting to get their first rejections to those invitations. Certainly Billy Graham and his team taught thousands of pastors and new converts not to give up when people turned away uninterested after sharing “the Word.”. No salesperson who has tried a straight-on approach if selling a product is successful by just giving up. Likewise using the same approach that did not work over and over in the past will likely not work in the future. So people change strategies. Jesus is teaching his disciples with parables as a change in strategies. He even changes scenes too: he leaves a house, and gets into a boat, forcing his listeners to sit on the shore. I suspect he looked around and saw a person sowing, or planting seeds. Then he tells what every sower of seeds knows, but it’s information that others may not know. A sower goes forth to sow, and because sowers do not carefully select where each seed goes, casting his hand back and forth in a general area, some of the seeds land on a path, likely placed there so crops could be picked without trampling other crops. But seeds on a path could easily be spotted by birds that are hungry, and they could come down and make a snack of those seeds, never letting them take root. In some plots of land there are also rocks under the slimmest layer of soil. When a seed lands on it, roots start but cannot grow beneath the rock, so the sun bakes those seeds so they cannot not grow. Not every garden is picturesque, and some seeds fall among weeds (or thorns) which grow much faster than the crops, and they choke out the growth from the seeds. But some seeds fall on good, deep soil, and if it does, it will grow, but not by the same amount every time. Sometimes a seed will grow a lot, some will grow, a little bit, and some will grow somewhere in between. Then Jesus give his audio clue to his listeners: “Those who have ears, let them hear.” Again, this is not literal. All his listeners have ears; he’s not talking about those who are literally deaf! He’s saying, as we say sometimes: “Do you get what I’m saying?” or “Do you understand?” or colloquially: “Do you feel me?” Then we put our thinking caps on to realize what he is teaching us is not just about how to farm. There is another meaning. So if you are selling a product, or if you are telling others about God, not everyone will respond in the same way! Some will jump at your invitation, some will decide to think about it, some will shut down and walk away, and some never even heard you since they were checking their phone the whole time! That is how life works! Astoundingly, even Jesus decided that he needed to explain what he meant for this, his first parable. Most people know that if you have to explain a joke, it probably wasn’t a good joke! But sometimes explanations can bring along some in the human race who learn differently from others. So from verses 18-23, we find an explanation from Jesus about what his parable meant. A little later when we sing “Bringing in the Sheaves,” it’s not really about farming, it’s about bringing people in who have been won for Christ! See, even I’ve gone to explaining this just as Jesus did! We have little control over our audiences when it comes to sharing the gospel with others; what we can do is use different methods to connect with them. Clearly American History has been taught from books for ages, but with the Broadway musical “Hamilton” that has been selling out wherever it has played, audiences have been wildly receptive to the acting and the music, and in the meantime it has ignited a hunger to learn more about American history! The way we present the gospel matters!
But there is one nuance of this parable that barely gets noticed: Gospel messages, historical messages, political messages, or advertising messages can affect us differently by the way they are delivered. If we say to others: in a monotone voice, “Do you know Jesus?” we might expect a quick, “yes,” or “no” or “what do you mean?” from the person we are asking. But if we say “I have a story to tell you!” and then relate how a prayer saved you from a scheduled surgery, or how another prayer brought a loved one back from the brink of death, people might be more than ready to listen! Or if a person approaches me to ask, “How can you really believe in that God of yours? Instead of a straight answer they may tune out, I could answer a question with a question: “What if I told you I believe I’ve heard God’s voice on two occasions?” We could have an interesting conversation, with less likelihood that I will be tuned out! These are the ways Jesus is trying to offer his gospel message; by extension, he is teaching us too. Recent ads about “Tractor Supply” company on television have reminded me of one time when I was in a feed store. There are different grades of seeds baskets or burlap sacks that can be planted. We can choose one kind or another kind to plant. But if we are planting “Gospel seeds,” which seeds will we choose? Will we sow “seeds of kindness,” as the old hymn describes? Will we sow seeds of judgment? Of fear? Of love? Of grace? We can choose the attitude with which we will sow the Gospel seeds. Presbyterian Christians have been teased about having an aversion to the “E” word. You know, “Evangelism.” Perhaps they experienced it as an in-your-face encounter on their doorstep. Jesus shows us the original way: by telling stories that draw people in. Practice telling others about your God events, or as we are calling them this summer, “God Sightings.” When you do, you’ll get much better at inviting others to buy what you are selling:
That Jesus loves; and that Jesus saves.
Jeffrey A. Sumner July 12, 2020

07-05-20 A YOKE THAT FITS

Proverbs 3: 1-6; Matthew 11: 28-30

Once again today, we encounter Jesus painting a picture of what he wants to convey with his words: he says” My yoke is easy, and my burden light.” This is an unusual claim. A yoke was most often a wooden farm piece placed over an ox or other animals for pulling a plow, not over a human being. But because of Jesus’ words, some ministers like Radford and I chose to wear stoles that represent the yoke of Christ to whom we have devoted our lives. A yoke in Jesus’ day was usually made of wood, a carved harness that fit over the animal. Oxen are particularly noted for their ability to pull heavy loads at a steady pace, so yokes were often made for them to pull plows. But for an ox to do the best work, the yoke had to be comfortable; it had to fit well. “My yoke is easy,” said Jesus. The Greek word for easy also translates as “well-fitting.” For the yoke to fit, a carpenter would have the ox brought in for measurements. After they were taken they would make the yoke in rough form. Then the ox was brought back, the yoke was tried on again, and adjustments were made so that it would fit well, not hurting or chafing the ox. “My burden is light” Jesus said. With an ox, the yoke was usually hitched to a plow—crude blades that tilled dirt baked hard by the sun. The weight and drag was such that pulling the plow was back-breaking, tedious work. You’ve heard the expression “strong as an ox?” It’s clear why oxen were chosen to pull plows. The burden was heavy. The great preacher Phillips Brooks once said: “I do not pray for a lighter load, but for a stronger back.”
Jesus tells us not only that his yoke fits well, but that the load is not heavy. The burden is light because it is tailored to us and given in love. A burden given in love can feel lighter. Jesus encouraged his disciples, as he encourages us, in the midst of the pressures of a day. We read earlier in Matthew 11 that Jesus had just joined his cousin John in calling for repentance. He addressed people he deemed unfaithful in towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida, calling them to repent. It feel to me like Jesus is—to use a modern expression—worked up. And in the midst of that, he radically shifts gears say: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Does what he’s doing seem light to you? But something in Jesus—perhaps his constant prayer life; perhaps his certain trust in his Heavenly Father; perhaps the knowledge that his time living on earth is short—makes him be able to manage his issues. Those are clues for how we too can turn our burdens into a yoke that fits. Even the issues in our day—political, racial, financial, educational—can create burdens in our lives. So let’s look at Jesus’ suggested trade today: we give him our burdens while we take on his.

Have you noticed people who look burdened? Some I’ve seen physically stoop, that is, bend over as they are walking, as if the weight of the world is on their backs. They physically look burdened! Some just won’t let go of problems and give them to God. What they do, is say “Here Lord. You take this burden.” The Lord takes hold of it, but they won’t let go! They keep trying to steer the direction of the burden they say they gave to the Lord. Others have deep lines on their face that some call worry lines—here, let me point some out to you! (Points to lines between his eyes) Sometimes I carry burdens that do not give me the abundant life Jesus wants me to have. My issues may be unique—first born, pastor of a congregation, father, husband—but yours might be similar. So I have learned to delegate more, and Jesus trades my yoke for his. Boom-I feels lighter! What is the yoke over your neck that is your burden? For some it is anxiety over Covid-19. Jesus, later in the gospel of Matthew, speaks to the crowds saying: “Do not worry about your life….and do not worry about tomorrow.” Instead of worrying, we can decide to be smart: to social distance; to wear a mask; and to pray for this pandemic to pass. By doing that, you can trade your burden for Jesus’ words that I just quoted from Matthew chapter 6. Perhaps your burden is not enough money for living. There again Jesus says “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, yet I tell you Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” [Matthew 6]. So yes, there are specialists in debt consolidation you can consult; you can ask a financial specialist; you can think outside of your box and consider ways to spend less or ways to bring more income in. And you can listen to the words of Jesus and put on a yoke that fits better than the heavy, chaffing one you have. If something else is a burden to you—manifesting itself as back problems, heart problems, or digestive problems, or emotional problems—step back and consider ways you drop or modify some burdens: can you share that load with others, delegating parts of your burden to someone else? Or you can as the Psalmist in Psalm 55 says, “Cast your burdens upon the Lord, and He will sustain you.”
Finally, even Jesus knew the wonderful words of Proverbs chapter three. As you change your yoke with the one that Jesus wants you to have, it might have these words burned into the wood. Listen:
“My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you.
Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck (sounds like a yoke doesn’t it?) and write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of others. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not reply on your own insights. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
Consider a daily reading of those words, and the words of Jesus, as you seek to trade your yoke for His.

Jeffrey A. Sumner July 5, 2020