St Mark’s Sermon for Pentecost V
Often I come across a thought I wish I had thought, a saying I wish I had said, or words I wish I had written, but when that initial sentiment passes, I am just grateful for the discovery. Sometimes the source is unexpected and the insight a surprise, like from a child, but there are also sources who are consistently reliable, like a dear friend. My critics say I cannot speak in public without quoting John O’Donohue, and while I do not always quote, I quite often consult him. Here is a sample, and even though these are not my words, nevertheless with all my heart I believe them true:
“There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself though it is always secretly there. It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life.” (Benedictus, p14)
What a blessing!
At the close of the Gospel reading this morning, Jesus spoke these familiar words, “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.” (Matthew 11.29,30).
My yoke is easy, and my burden is light. The image of a yoke makes sense, even if, to us, it is hardly friendly. A yoke in Jesus’ time was often double, implying that in the work of Jesus, we are not alone. If we take one side of the yoke, he will take the other. OK. There is another implication – an inexperienced animal was often yoked with an experienced animal for training in how to do the work. So, the promise behind Jesus’ words is that if we take up his “yoke”, not only will he be with us in life and our work, he will show us the way, and walk it with us.
The final thought can be troubling, though: My yoke is easy, and my burden is light. From what I read about Christian witness, it is often anything but easy. Even if we are not called to be martyrs, there is the promise of suffering for Jesus, and even living day to day a life of love, grace and forgiveness is not what I would call easy or light. Christianity can be a struggle. Choosing that life – love, grace and forgiveness – gives meaning and hope, and the assurance that we are friends of God. That makes the burden bearable, but though we may carry on without complaint, a burden is a burden.
Another insight I wish I had discovered on my own, but did not, is to read that last line – my burden is light – taking “light” as a noun, rather than an adjective. Jesus is saying his burden is “Light”, with a capital “L” if you like. His burden, his task, is bringing Light to the dark places of the world. Light to illumine, or Light to heal, or Light to point the way, and here is where the insight from John O’Donohue connects:
“There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself though it is always secretly there. It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life.”
Call it “quiet light”, call it “soul”, call it one’s “true self”, there is a quiet light that shines in every heart, EVERY heart. If we are created in the image of God, and we are, then at our very core, in the truest part of ourselves, we are good, and there is light. It must be so! We are created in God’s image, and by grace are children of God. How can it be otherwise? In a Christmas meditation several years ago, John wrote, “There is a place deep within you, where you have never been damaged or diminished; where there is serenity, courage, confidence, forgiveness and the endless adventure of imagination.” Marvelous, no? And do not serenity, courage, confidence, and especially forgiveness, come from the very deep parts of you, from your center, from your soul? From the light in your soul? “It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life.” These are profound blessings sourced in the heart of God.
Jesus said, “My burden is light.” The burden Jesus asks you to take up is your Light. First, to see and honor the Light in your own soul. It is there, shaped by the fingerprint of God. Then, let your Light shine. Become Light in your family, among your friends, in your world. “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5.16) Remember that? And bring your Light, the Light of Christ, to the places where you uncover darkness or shadow. You may find a shadow in pain, when a friend is suffering. You may find shadow in grief, when a loved one has departed. You may find darkness where people have not their daily bread, or where children are bullied, or where communities live under the threat of injustice. There may be shadows from your own past which can also receive healing from the Light of Christ that is within you. You may find shadow in the valley of death, but bring your Light, and learn Christ’s Light, to banish the fear.
At the conclusion of this service, as at all worship, there is a blessing. It comes from God through the words, the heart and action of the priest. It is a sacred privilege and duty of priests and bishops to bless in God’s name. But what about deacons? If you come to the rail when Marilyn is here you may receive a personal blessing from her, and it matters. You may often receive a blessing from a close friend, or from someone who loves you deeply, and it matters. How about grandparents? Can they bless grandchildren? Can parents bless their children? Of course! Moreover, you may receive surprise blessings, like gifts of light from unexpected sources. And you may receive blessings from persons you don’t even know and will never see again. We call those persons angels. Just watch, and see.
And remember, you are always a source for blessing – blessing those you love, blessing the creation with thoughtful living, blessing the stranger with your hospitality. You might inadvertently be one of those angels, unawares. So even you may bless in the name of love, in the name of hope, with confidence in the name of God. For there is a quiet light that shines in your heart. God put it there. God is that light.
Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me… For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Friends, “Each person has a unique intimacy with God… May we all receive blessing upon blessing. And may we realize our power to bless, heal and renew each other.” (Benedictus, p17)
Alleluia, and Amen!
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.