And That’s No Yoke! – 02.21.2021

[Jeremiah 27-28 and Matthew 11:25-30]

Celeste Sibley, who once was a columnist for the Atlanta Constitution, took her three kids to a diner for breakfast one morning. It was crowded, and so they had to take separate seats at the counter. They were sitting all in a row, with her daughter down on the end. And when her food was served, little 8 year old Mary, seated at the far end of the counter shouted down to her mother in a loud voice, “Mom, don’t people say grace in this place?” A hush came over the entire diner, Mrs. Sibley was trying to figure out how to respond when the guy behind the counter said, “Well yes we do sister, you say it.” And all the people at the counter bowed their heads while Mary prayer in a calm clear voice, “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food.” You ever get the feeling that kids might be wiser than the rest of us?[1]

Another time a guy named Roger wrote, “Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school. These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody…When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”[2]

Today is week three in our sermon series called The Meta-Fors, where we are unpacking the mysteries hidden in the symbols and metaphors of the book of Jeremiah. Each week Jeremiah presents us with a strange visual, and a lesson to learn that goes with it – and so each week we ask, what is the metaphor for?

Today’s visual takes a little bit of backdrop. Knowing a little bit about the history surrounding Jeremiah helps us make sense of what he is doing. There’s two quick things we need to understand: Empires and Exile. First, Empires. Even though Israel is like, the number one country that gets talked about in the bible, and it makes you feel like Israel is this really big important thing. The truth is, Israel is this teeny, tiny little country. They were not very powerful with their military. I’ll put a picture of it on the screen. This is the world, you can see America, but you can’t really see Israel yet. Let’s zoom in. Hmmm, it’s in there somewhere but you still can’t really see it. Let’s zoom in again. See that little circle? That’s where most of the bible happens. It’s a really small country. AND, after the glory days of King David and his son King Solomon, Israel split into two kingdoms. Kind of like a civil war sort of thing, they split into a north and south. North was called Israel, South was called Judah. So we have Israel and Judah, and together they make up this teeny, tiny part of the map. BUT, it’s in a really important place between Asia and Africa. So after the days of King David and his son King Solomon, after the glory days, Israel’s history is basically a series of getting conquered by giant, powerful empires. Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, and then later Roman. When Israel’s kings were selfish and terrible, they would get into trouble with these empires – come in and conquer them. Jeremiah was a prophet during the reign of the Babylonian Empire. That’s the first thing we need to know, the backdrop of empire control.

The second thing we need to understand is exile. Empire’s are huge, and once you build a huge empire – maintaining it can be really tricky. One of the biggest problems of controlling an empire, are small local rebellions. And so over time, empires developed a method to control people called exile. Basically, take a group of people and you move them away from their home. Force them to live somewhere else, they lose their roots, and usually when they are in a foreign land, they lose the will to fight.

Now, here’s the connection to Jeremiah and our scripture for today. First there was the Egyptian empire, conquered Israel. Then there was the Assyrians. During the Assyrian empire was when Israel, the northern kingdom, was destroyed. Judah was the only thing left. Then the Babylonians took over. And all along, at every step – the prophets have been there warning God’s people. If you don’t knock it off, stop sinning, stop living away from God, punishment is coming. Do you think Israel listened? Nope. The king kept on sinning, kept on doing whatever they wanted, so bad things kept happening. During the Babylonian Empire, Jeremiah shows up. He is the prophet for this time, and starts warning them. If you don’t knock it off, punishment is coming. Babylon, the guys in charge, they’re going to deport a bunch of you into exile. Do you think the people listened? Nope. Jeremiah predicted it, and then it came true. Jeremiah was roughly 21 years old when the first deportation came through. Bunch of people got deported into exile. Jeremiah says, “see?!? You’ve got to knock it off, come back to God, or another deportation is coming. They’re going to send more of you into exile.” Do you think the people of Judah listened? Nope (hopefully you’re catching the theme). 8 years later, the second deportation comes through. Now best we can figure chapter 28, our scripture lesson for today, comes from the time between the second and the third deportation. Because of course there’s a third deportation. [smack head] They just won’t listen to God. And I’ll give you a little sneak peak, the third deportation is the last one, because Babylon is so done with Israel’s rebellion that they just destroy the capital city of Jerusalem and are done with it. So that’s what we need to know to really get this scripture – empire and exile.

The scripture starts out, [read Chptr 27 v.2-6]. [laugh]. I know it’s a very serious issue, but I just love the fact that it’s not enough for God to send a message. He’s gotta have Jeremiah strap himself into a yoke and go around to all the leaders. If you don’t know, this is a picture of a yoke. ANd it’s funny, but I can’t see it without thinking – you ever go to a historic place and they have those photo ops with the stockade. Like this one? That’s what I think off. So he puts on a wooden yoke, straps himself into it and delivers the message, “don’t rebel against Babylon.”

Now here’s where the story gets interesting. Last couple week’s I’ve mentioned false prophets, and we talked about how they were lying and we knew they were lying because they got things wrong. And the punishment for being a false prophet was usually death. So let me introduce to my main man Hananiah. Hananiah is not a fan of Jeremiahs. Jeremiah is too much a bummer, Hananiah wants to give the people what they want to hear. They don’t want to hear about that punishment nonsense, they want to hear some good news! [read Chptr 28, v.10-11]. Huh. Jeremiah says, submit to Babylon, God has put them in charge. But Hananiah’s got a way better message. He breaks the yoke and tells people, “just a few years and then you’ll be free!” But the story’s not over, [read v.12-14]. I did a little research this past week, and I found out that yoke’s are usually hand crafted out of wood, so they would be comfortable for the ox to pull whatever they’re pulling. But something made out of iron? That is not going to be very comfortable. It is purely a device meant to shackle beasts to their burdens. And do you remember what I said about what happens to false prophets? [read v.15-17]. So just like last week, we finish up in the Old Testament with a really dark and sad message. The yoke represents being shackled to our burdens.

Let’s get on over to Jesus. It says, [read v.25-26]. I just love this prayer. I think it is so revealing of God’s heart. He does not reserve his wisdom for the best and brightest – oh no. Jesus thanks God, that he gives wisdom to the childlike. To those who are open to learning. I think what he’s getting at is that we need to put ourselves in a posture of learning from God. We need that humility that children have towards learning. Jesus says, “it pleased you to do it this way.” I think one of our greatest temptations as humans is to think we can do it without God’s help. Whatever “it” is. Rather than humble, childlike learners, in our pride, we love to think we can do it all by ourselves. Israel thought they could do it, we will rebel against Babylon and we will win! (What’re you nuts? You’re a little postage stamp of a country – you’re not beating the Babylonians without God’s help). And it’s easy to laugh at how silly Israel is being, but we do the same thing in our life! We think, I don’t need God’s help to be a good person, to be a good worker, a good parent, spouse, a good friend. I can do this life thing all on my own. But God reveals his wisdom to the childlike.

Then Jesus says, [read v.28]. Come, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burden (or, oh I don’t know – all of those who carry an iron yoke?), and I will give you rest. [read v.29a]. Oh come on, dude. You want me to take your yoke upon me? At this point in the story, I’m pretty much over yokes. Wooden ones, and iron ones. I don’t want another yoke. But then he explains, [read v.29-30]. Let me teach you, the burden I give you is light. Wow, I like Jesus’ yoke a LOT better than Jeremiah’s. In the story of the prophet Jeremiah, the yoke is nothing more than the device that shackles beasts to their burdens. The iron yoke is all about discomfort and permanence. The focus of the yoke is dragging the burden of the world. But with Jesus the purpose of the yoke shifts. Rather than being yoked to our burden, the focus is being yoked together WITH Jesus. It becomes a double yoke, like these two. Jesus says let me teach you. Let me come alongside you and guide you. When we are yoked together, the picture of a burden we are dragging behind us is transformed into a stroll with two friends walking next to one another.

The good news this morning is that God teaches us. Jesus says, “let me teach you” – which is such an amazing offer. The God of creation wants to guide us on how we should live. He wants to invest in your life and help you grow into a righteous man or woman of God. That’s awesome, and we should take him up on that offer. God teaches us, and so our response should be to open yourself up to learning. Like Jesus said, God hides these things from those who think themselves clever or wise. But he reveals them to the childlike. We need the humility and childlike wonder that comes with learning. I know a lot of people who look at morality like a negotiation. Well, what does God say about this or that? If it lines up with what I think is right and wrong, then I will say God is good and I will follow God. But that’s a little backwards isn’t it? Shouldn’t God be the one who says what’s right and wrong? And we should be learning FROM him, right? God reveals his wisdom to the childlike, and so we should open ourselves into a posture of learning.

I have two quick pieces of application and then we’re done. First, do NOT act your age. Do not act your age. Some of you in the back are like, “No problem.” If Jesus says God reveals things to the childlike, and then two sentences later he says, “learn from me” – I think that’s pretty clear. We must work to have a childlike sense of openness when it comes to learning. Here’s the problem – as kids grow up they always seem to turn into adults. Which is really just the least creative option out there. Adults have terrible habits of learning. And if we want to learn from Jesus – we need to go back to our childlike habits of learning. Here’s three quick, practical ways. First, have the humility to say, “I don’t know.” When approaching a topic, or a person or a scripture – let go of the assumption that you already know the information. We need to put on a posture of humility – like children learning from a teacher. Sometimes I’ll be talking to Liam, my oldest – he’s four right now. And I’ll say a word, and then I’ll check myself and say, “oh, do you know what that word means?” And sometimes, he’ll have this moment of pride – I’ll call it “adult-like” pride and he’ll say, “oh yeah, I know what that means” And I’ll be surprised, and I’ll say, “wow, what does it mean?” And he always back, “I don’t know.” Even from an early age, we get this thing in our heads where we feel like we have to act like we know stuff. But Jesus says, wisdom is revealed to the childlike. So first, have the humility to say, “I don’t know.”

Don’t act your age, and the second habit of childlike learning is “ask questions to learn, not confirm.” Ask questions in order to get more information, not just to confirm what you already know. When we ask questions, if you already have the answer in your mind – new information will make you defensive. You will be surprised by learning. But if you ask to learn, even if you only get one perspective, and you need to learn the other perspective – you have started on the journey to knowledge. First, have the humility to say, “I don’t know.” Second, ask questions to learn, not confirm. And the last piece of NOT acting your age is to have a willingness to be corrected. We adults desperately need to learn how to say, “I have new information in front of me, and so I am adjusting my position.” Now I know kids can be stubborn too, but it always amazing me how easily they adjust their position when they are presented with new information. At the dinner table, when I ask, “are you full?” If there’s nothing but carrots on the table, oh yeah – I’m so full. But, strangest thing, if I put some other types of food on the table – like, I don’t know a paczki – they adjust very quickly. I have new information, and I have adjusted my position. Three habits of childlike learning: humility to say, “I don’t know”, ask questions to learn, and not confirm, and finally a willingness to be corrected. Don’t act your age. Adults are terrible learners.

And with these habits of childlike learning, we are now ready for the second application which is: learn from Jesus. Jesus has so much to teach us. He says, “take my yoke upon you, learn from me.” You see, the closer you are to Jesus, the lighter your burden will be. So learn from Jesus. Study his teachings, read about his life. Pray and talk to him every single day. If we are in the proper position of openness to accept new teaching, Jesus has so much to show us – and it will transform your relationship with the burdens of this world. Learn from Jesus, and you will find rest for your soul.

Whether it’s saying grace in a crowded dinner, or just the lessons we learned in kindergarten that stick with us our entire life – one thing is clear: God reveals his truth to the childlike. So don’t listen to the false prophets, who lie and try to tell you the burdens will be gone soon. Instead, put on a posture of childlike learning and step closer to the great teacher, and with his guidance, the burdens of this world will seem light. And so I’ll leave you with this. No matter what burdens you carry, no matter how strong the iron-like grip of the yoke of this life seems, may you step closer to Jesus, learn from him and may you find rest for your soul. Amen.

[1] Bits & Pieces, May, 1990, p. 10.

[2] Hugh Duncan.

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