“His Yoke is Easy”
Pentecost 4, July 6, 2014
His Yoke is Easy
Text: Romans 7:15–25a
A young stockbroker didn’t like some of the shady moves his superiors were making. He had a feeling that the company was headed for the rocks. So he quietly put his résumé out and soon joined another company, at a slightly lower salary. It was a lateral move. When people asked him why he’d done it, he answered, “I just got tired of polishing the brass on the Titanic.” And sure enough, the company he’d worked for sank. So now, his metaphor, “polishing the brass on the Titanic,” has popped into my head when thinking of any futile effort. You know what I mean by a “futile” effort. Trying to keep a house clean when you have kids…and a cat…and a comfort dog. Trying to get your doctor to return your calls. Trying to make sense out of tax forms. Trying to get the truth from a politician. They all seem to qualify as “polishing the brass on the Titanic.”
In today’s Epistle, St. Paul describes the futility of trying to achieve a good standing before God. To paraphrase Paul: “I try to live by God’s Law, but I find myself doing the very things I don’t want to do. I find that I want to please God, and at the same time I want God to mind His own business and let me run my own affairs. But how can this be, that I love God and still disobey him? How can I hate what I want and want what I hate? And how do I get off this treadmill, anyhow? O wretched man that I am! What’s the use of even trying to be good?”
Well, if you’re counting on your goodness to give you your standing before God, obviously Paul’s experience parallels your own. It’s no use. It’s futile. It’s like Sysephus, the Greek king who because he lied too much, was condemned by the gods (we are talking Greek theology here) forever to roll a boulder up a hill only to see it roll down the other side. It’s like polishing the brass on the Titanic.
The experience Paul describes is the experience of every religious person who finds himself at war with themselves. The conflict between good and evil rages around us in society, but it also rages within us. Far too often, what we want and what God wants don’t agree. And then there’s conflict. We promise ourselves, our spouses, our children, our Savior that we will be better spouses, parents, children of God and it is not long, it is never long, and we realize we are not doing well enough.
If you’re anything like me, what God wants loses far too often. We find ourselves thinking just as Paul did: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (v 24).
It didn’t take Paul long to come up with his answer: “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v 25). And he didn’t stop there. He went on to write chapter 8. There he spelled out what kind of deliverance he was talking about: “If the Spirit of [God] who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (v 11). So, if the sin living in me brings death, the Spirit living in me brings life. After all, He is the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ Himself from the dead, and He is the only one big enough, powerful enough, to overcome the sin that lives in me.
It’s not really a matter of myself at war with myself then. I’m Not Just Living in Futility. There is a power at work in me that is stronger than myself, stronger than my sin. I know there is, because I am a baptized child of God, and the Spirit of God does indeed live in me. He came to live in me at my Baptism; He has renewed His presence within me every time I have taken Holy Communion; He is renewing His presence within me right now, as in faith I listen to His Word and trust His promise. I know that every time I lose my temper, every time I run out of patience, every time I fail as a parent, a spouse, a brother, a pastor, a comfort dog handler, Jesus takes those sins away.
In today’s Gospel our Savior said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). And then he adds, “Take my yoke upon you . . . for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (vv 29–30). I doubt if any of you has ever plowed with a team of oxen. Hands? Neither have I. But I have it on good authority that, when using a team of oxen, the fit of the yoke is crucial. If the yoke doesn’t fit right, it rubs the ox’s shoulders raw. (It’s kind of like shoes, or a new suit, right?) In order for both oxen truly to work together, the yoke has to fit perfectly. I can’t help remembering that our Lord probably grew up as a woodworker. A yoke worker?
It is, indeed. Because the Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that our standing before God is gift, not achievement. On the cross and rising again, Jesus Christ won for us, did for us, our standing before God. We enjoy God’s love and His favor because of Jesus. Our faith didn’t cause that. Neither did our obedience. Nothing in us caused anything in God! We don’t cause God to . . . anything! Rather, God’s grace, His undeserved love, is the cause of our faith and our obedience . . . and the strength that enables us to continue to struggle against sin.
A man was on trial for murder. He bribed a juror to hold out for the lesser verdict of manslaughter. The jury was out for a long time, and when they finally returned to the courtroom, they found the defendant “guilty of manslaughter.” The defendant breathed a sigh of relief. Later he looked up the juror he had bribed and asked if he had had a hard time convincing the others. “Yes,” he said, “I had a terrible time. They all wanted to vote ‘not guilty.’ ”
Now, that was futility on the part of the accused man. But, wretched, guilty men and women that we are, because of Jesus Christ’s cross, our struggling is not just an exercise in futility. We are not only declared not guilty, but by the very power of God, we also live before Him in righteousness and purity forever. With God in here, we can go out there and show, demonstrate, BE the love of God in someone else’s life. Loving God, loving family, loving our neighbor, that is never futile.
And when Jesus looks at us, knowing billions of people have rejected Him, He never thought it was futile to die and rise for us.