Sermon: Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Text: Matthew 11:25-30 preached on the Sunday after the Ordination to the Diaconate of Mother Margaret
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
How fitting. How fitting that the first Gospel that Mother Margaret should be called to proclaim is this one.
At this point in the liturgy, where she has breathed a sigh of relief that we have got the first part down right – the entrance, the shenangans with kissing the altar and all that, the proclamation of the Gospel itself, and before we stare into the sheer terror of deaconing the Eucharistic Liturgy (I think this is a more a reflection on memories of my first Sunday as a deacon at Holy Spirit rather than a comment on Mother Margaret), we get to hear some of the most profound teaching by Christ, words of challenge and of consolation; an agenda for change and a promise of the future; a realisation of just what Fr. Margaret has let herself in for in a simple, yet profound rural analogy.
I am reminded of almost the last day at Mirfield, my theological college. As was traditional, those of us to be made deacon brought our stoles to the mass for them to be blessed and sprinkled by the Principal. Fr. Christopher quoted to us from a passage at the end of St John’s Gospel:
“Truly, truly I tell you, when you were young, you would fasten your belt and go wherever you liked. But when you get old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten your belt and take you where you don’t want to go.” (John 21:18)
Fr Christopher likened the belt to our stole, reminding us that it is put on for us at ordination, and that as part of our calling first as deacons and then as priests we would be led by others (or perhaps more significantly, by an other) to places where we would not want to go – to seek out the careless and indifferent as described by the words of the Ordinal yesterday and which are quoted in this month’s parish magazine.
But Christ is not speaking just of the yoke of ordination and the burden (and joy, of course) which accompanies it as we seek to make Christ present in word and sacrament, he speaks of the yoke and the burden which is inherent to every Christian.
When we hear today’s Gospel, we tend to think of the yoke as a burden, a burden which will be lifted by Christ for us. But this is NOT what the text says: look again…
“Shoulder MY yoke and learn from me”
Christ calls us, each and everyone of us to ditch the yokes which otherwise weigh us down, which make us weary and overburdened, to discard the yokes of selfishness, of pride, of sin; and encourages us to pick up an altogether more palatable burden.
For a yoke is not just an instrument of burden, it is a tool of guidance. Without the yoke, oxen simply wander and furrows are uneven, heavy loads are left by the roadside. With a yoke, they are harnessed into action, co-ordinated with others and able to bear loads which unaided, would be impossible.
Christ himself offers us HIS yoke, HIS guidance, HIS sacraments and gives us the direction in which we should travel. We still have burden a carry, and Our Lord told us that we must pick up our cross daily and follow him. The burden we must carry now is not one of our sin, but one of our responsibilities: to God, and to Society, to bear witness to the light of Christ and to proclaim his kingdom.
Truly, Mother Margaret, we do not know where God will guide you, yoked as you are in His service, and neither do we know where we are driven by the Gospel, but driven we must be: fired up for Christ and prepared to be open to the Holy Spirit, to be as open as “mere children” to the possibilities of God and not to sit petulantly rejecting what is unfamiliar or different. As you begin your journey in ordained ministry this morning, we give thanks to God for your ministry with us, and we pray that together we can take God’s gentle and loving guidance to wherever he may lead us.