The promise of the Gospel is that when we let go of our own agenda, discern the direction of God’s mission in the world, and join with it, we do not carry any burden alone. It is not our yoke, but Christ’s, and we labor under a load that is borne by Him.

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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.”

Let It Go

God’s hand in the world and in our lives ordinarily makes itself visible only in hindsight.

I know, there are times people have described a sure knowledge of God’s presence in the moment, a Spirit of guidance or comfort, a sense of the Divine presence that leads one to sing “Surely God Is in this Place” from the heart.

But, in the broad sweep of things, Genesis lays out the human experience of God’s leading with a subtle nudge and a gentle appeal to curiosity. In the arranged marriage of Isaac and Rebecca, God whispers from the wings. When we get to the story of Moses leading the Hebrew people out of Egyptian bondage and through the wilderness, God shows up as a voice from a burning bush, a series of plagues, the parting of the sea, a pillar of fire and a column of smoke, manna from heaven, and quail falling from the evening sky.

If the Exodus story was all we had, we might be led to think that God used to be a hard driving extrovert but has since retired as a shy hermit, hidden from view, tired of the stress of creation and trying to redeem all these recalcitrant humans who keep worshiping other gods no matter how many amazing miracles they witness.

But in the seminal story of from Abraham and Sarah to Isaac and Rebecca to Jacob, Leah, and Rachel and all the generations that follow, God directs with a hidden presence, leading and luring people quietly into the future.

There is plenty about this story that feels strange and foreign to me. In my context, young people meet, fall in love, introduce each other to their parents and then get married anyway.

If my parents had arranged a marriage for me when I was young, I don’t think I would have said, “Thanks, Mom and Dad, I’m sure she’ll do just fine.” Our context of personal and political independence and autonomy has made such a thing almost unheard of in western culture.

I was surprised to learn, relatively late in life, that arranged marriages are still the way most of the world gets matched up. When Nancy worked for a college, a number of the students with whom she worked were first or second generation immigrants. They lived with one foot in their family tradition and another foot in U.S. American culture. While there were plenty of conflict points, how to find a spouse turned out to be one of the most volatile. The college students dated without telling their parents. Sometimes they dated people of the same sex. The parents, meanwhile, were working all their family connections back home to arrange for a suitable spouse for their son or daughter.

While the situation sounds like a setup for a romantic comedy, the tears of tragic conflict ensued more often than hilarity.

When people ask Nancy and me how we met, we tell the story the way many couples tell their story; with a sense that it was meant to be. Some might see it as just luck or random happenstance that somebody had to drop out of the conference at Ghost Ranch a couple of weeks before so that Nancy’s name came up on the waiting list.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence that Nancy living in Birmingham and I living in Austin would have a mutual friend in Fort Worth who was cooking up a plan to introduce us to each other at the same time we were meeting each other for the first time in New Mexico.

And perhaps it is just the way life goes that we had both come through the heartbreak of previous relationships that made us appreciate each other in ways we could not have without those heartbreaks.

Coincidence? Random events in a chaotic universe? Or providence?

That is the perspective of faith reflected in Genesis. I find it so curious and a bit frustrating that the servant of Abraham is never named. Why don’t we know his name?

But, if we take a step back from the text, we can discern—he is the narrator. He is the source of this story of God blessing the family of Abraham and Isaac with Rebecca in order to fulfill the promise of descendants. From a human point of view, the servant arranges the marriage. But, from the servant as narrator’s point of view, it is the work of God bringing Rebecca to the well at the same time as Abraham’s servant; giving Rebecca’s father an openness to the arrangement, and the servant arriving at just the time that Rebecca seemed ready to get out of the house.

Exactly why Rebecca consented to the arrangement is lost in the sands of time. It is remarkable that this ancient text from a patriarchal culture specifically spells out Rebecca’s consent. It clearly mattered to the narrator that Laban, Rebecca’s father, and God, were not manipulating Rebecca, but giving her an opportunity to make a choice. Many male commentators have held her up as the example of the submissive woman. In order to make that argument, we would have to ignore what comes later—Rebecca takes charge of the family and tricks Isaac into giving his blessing to her favorite son rather than the older son.

All that is simply to say, it was a complicated family.

But, in all the complicated emotional dynamics, the narrator discerns the hand of God at work providing whatever is necessary for Abraham’s descendants to bring God’s plan of the salvation of the world to fruition.

It is in that context of God’s providence that we can hear the words of Jesus in Matthew:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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.”
Jesus says this in the context of a world in chaos. He uses the analogy of children playing the flute, but nobody joining in to dance; of children weeping but nobody paying any attention to their suffering. It is a world out of sync.

All around Jesus and his followers, the world as they knew it had been taken over by the military power of Rome. To all appearances, the Roman Emperor was in charge. Everything that happened grew out of his decrees. If a rebellion to his power rose up, he could crush it in short order.

To all the world it appeared that what Caesar claimed was true—that he was a god, that he was shaping the world. But Jesus invites us to look deeper. Jesus invites us to listen for the sound of the children’s flutes, for the sound of children weeping—and to discern God’s presence luring us into a future of God’s making even in the midst of chaos.

When we pray, listen, and discern God’s mission in the world instead of trying to impose our own; when we join in with the work of God in the world, no matter how daunting the project, that is when the burdens lighten up; when the work we do is not dependent on our own strength, but on God’s.

In his book Bury the Chains, Adam Hochschild narrates “the story of twelve people who met in a printing bookshop in London in 1787. They had read the signs of their times, and they made a pact to seek to end the slave trade in England and in the colonies At the time, it seemed to be an overwhelming project, beyond their capability. Yet they read the signs of the times that God was sending to them and to others. They dedicated themselves to this task, and through God’s mercy, England passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807. They heard the music playing and danced in rhythm.” (Nibs Stroupe, Connections, Year A, Volume 3, p. 137. Referencing Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.)

The apostle Paul wrote that God’s mission in the world included putting flesh on the words,

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

The Deist Thomas Jefferson applied it to all of humanity when he wrote, “that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

God’s mission in the world to bring liberty and equality to all did not end with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It did not end with the signing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807, with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, or the reading of it in Galveston on June 19, 1865. It did not end with the 19th amendment, or the Stonewall uprising of 1969, or the Voting Rights Act or the Civil Rights Act.

But, for Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise, disciples of Jesus Christ, the work of liberty for all continues. The work of God’s mission in the world does not always feel easy. The burden does not always feel light. Sometimes it feels as heavy as a cross to bear.

The promise of the Gospel is that when we let go of our own agenda, discern the direction of God’s mission in the world, and join with it, we do not carry any burden alone. It is not our yoke, but Christ’s, and we labor under a load that is borne by Him.

Thanks be to God.