Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity
5th Jul 2020
Fourth Sunday of Trinity Year A
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart’.
There are three qualities our Blessed Lord seeks in those who would be his followers. Jesus looks for simplicity, he looks for faith, and he looks for trust. It’s clear that he values simplicity in his disciples when he says, "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and have revealed them to little children”. God’s grace is given in humility: in simplicity of heart and mind.
Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free
'Tis a gift to come down where I ought to be
And when I am in the place just right
I will be in the valley of love and delight
When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend I will not be ashamed
To turn, to turn will be my delight
'Til by turning, turning, I come 'round right.
The event which was the occasion for this remark of Jesus was the return of the 70 disciples after they had been sent by the Lord to preach the Gospel, to heal the sick and to cast out demons. These disciples were ordinary folk like you and me; but they opened their hearts to God’s grace, allowing him to work through them. When they returned, they were full of wonderful stories of success. "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" Jesus gives praise to the Father for revealing his power through them and the effectiveness of their witness.
In simplicity lies true freedom. It is an acknowledgment that we have been made in God’s image and we reflect that image in our own readiness to be open and seeing and hearing and in our dealings with others. It means that we return to that docility of spirit whose mind and heart is listening and alert and receptive. St Paul can say that this is a garment we must wear:
Put on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering… Colossians 3.12.
Our Gospel reveals secondly that Christ looks also for faith in his followers. He makes a tremendous claim in this passage. He claims to be the Son of God: "All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him." Nowhere does Jesus make a greater claim than this. No one can know this unique relationship between God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ except those "to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." My favorite hymns are those which express something of our unknowing either after the fact of life and also in the face of the greatness of God. “How shall I sing that Majesty”, “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise”, “Jerusalem the Golden” and others have all been written to express the strong sense of our own basic unknowing. But this is not a place where all hope and longing is excused. No, in the faith of Christ our hope and our longing is mixed and merged with what in God we cannot know. Faith makes possible what we might call ‘a passionate unknowing’.
When you first begin, you find only darkness, and as it were a cloud of unknowing. You don’t know what this means except that in your will you feel a simple steadfast intention reaching out towards God. Do what you will, and this darkness and this cloud remain between you and God… Reconcile yourself to wait in this darkness as long as is necessary, but still go on longing after him whom you love.
The Cloud of Unknowing
Thirdly, The Lord Jesus looks for trust. He wants us to trust him enough to give him our burdens and to receive his refreshment in return: "Come to me, all you who labour and are (burdened?) heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."
This image of a yoke is a very beautiful one. A "yoke of oxen" was always a pair of animals joined together by a smoothly shaped piece of wood. This was the yoke. It was placed on the shoulders of the animals and fastened under their necks. By means of this simple apparatus, two oxen (with minds of their own) could work together, accomplishing with half the effort a difficult job such as plowing a field or pulling a heavy load. Typically, the two beasts of burden would be matched in strength and temperament and share the burden together. The yoke is that which is emblematic of a burden shared “bare one anthers burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ”. In this we adopt the servant’s role, and the gentleness and meekness, especially in the face of human antagonism or resentment if transforming of relationships because it is a transforming of their understanding.
Today, once again, we hear this generous invitation from our Blessed Lord: Learn from me to be simple, "for I am meek and humble of heart." Learn from me to have faith, because I have revealed my Father to you. And learn from me to trust, because "my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Let us then learn these things, that we may fulfil the great words of St Augustine “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless ‘til they find their rest in thee’.