Have you ever noticed that we as human beings seem to be caught in a constant struggle between freedom and being burdened? Perhaps you have. Perhaps you’ve never thought of it in such a fashion. Let me try to explain.
First the freedom part. Perhaps this is easiest to explain since we have just come through the Fourth of July holiday and our nation celebrated its independence. There is something about the human spirit which does not like to be contained. It does not like to be told what to do. It does not like to have any sort of burden placed upon it. As Elsa from the movie Frozen sings in the song “Let it Go”, “No right, no wrong. No rules for me. I’m free.” We long for such freedom.
People who work cannot wait to be free from the responsibility of their job. There are more than a few who are workin’ for the weekend as Loverboy once sang. Most modern music that you hear today is all about finding a party–escaping reality–finding freedom from the daily grind. We long for those times of vacation. We count down the years until retirement. We gripe about government intrusion into our lives. We quip to others who would impose their values upon us, “What works for you, works for you, but don’t tell me how to live my life!” We want to set our own agendas. We want to call our own shots. We want to have complete freedom to do so.
And if we find ourselves overburdened. If we find ourselves with too many rules and regulations. If we find ourselves constrained as if someone kept pushing down on us, eventually, we will snap. It’s like a pressure cooker. If the pressure keeps building and building and building with no release, something bad will eventually happen. We will fight for freedom. Historically, this has taken place over and over and over again. There is a part of human nature that longs for freedom.
But here is an interesting twist to this phenomenon of freedom. We do not want complete freedom for anyone and everyone. We want some sort of system of rules that govern us as well. Why? Think about it a moment. Even those in our culture now who believe in relativism–the idea there are no universal truths say something interesting, “Believe whatever you want to believe and do whatever you want to do–as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.” Do you see the qualifier? Relativists don’t believe in true relativism. They don’t believe anything goes. Because we know what happens when anything goes. We know what it is like when there are no rules. We’ve seen this happen historically over and over and over again. When there are no rules, the strongest take over. The strongest surge to power and authority, and they prey upon the weak; they prey upon those who do not give obedience to them; they prey upon those whom they do not like. Various factions arise centered upon the powerful, and open warfare reigns. Many, many innocent people get hurt. Anarchy is not a beautiful thing.
We know this. We know this deep at the bottom of our souls. Somehow it is built into us–the need for freedom and the need for rule. We keep swinging back and forth back and forth along this pendulum in society and in our individual lives.
At this point, you might raise a question: Pastor, I see how this happens in society. I see how this happens historically, but what do you mean by saying this happens in our individual lives? Are you talking about working and wanting to be free from work like you spoke about earlier, or is it something else?
Let me expand this point a little. In each and every one of us, there is a desire to be free. We don’t like having a whole lot of responsibility. We want to enjoy living our lives in a carefree manner. We want to be at peace. We want to be at rest. And being at rest means being at a place of fulfillment–a place of peace–a place of joy. We want to be unburdened so that we can rest, and so we think about all those things that burden us. What are the burdens in our lives?
• Social responsibilities including church.
These are some of the ones we immediately think about. The obligations we feel toward these things give us a sense of burden. They seemingly weigh us down, and so we look to cut them off. They do not seem to give us a sense of peace, and so we look to something else.
• Vacation time.
And the list could go on and on. We believe that such things give us freedom, but you know what actually happens? Do you know what truly happens when you start looking to all of these things for freedom? Do you know what they start doing to you? They begin to demand your time and energy. They begin to demand your allegiance. They begin to demand your heart and soul. The things which once gave you some sense of pleasure and peace now begin to dominate your time. They begin to consume your thoughts. You become a slave to them. It’s easy to see this in the lives of others. It’s easy to see this in the alcoholic who is a slave to the alcohol. It’s easy to see this in the pastor who devotes all his time to the church. It’s easy to see this in the person who sits, chomping at the bit to leave work as soon as the clock hits 5 so that she can get home to watch her favorite shows. It’s easy to see this in the person who cranks the radio up as loudly as possible without regard to what anyone else thinks. It’s easy to see this in the person who doesn’t miss a single baseball practice or game while skipping work and other social obligations.
The reality is, when we think we are escaping from one thing, we simply replace it with another. Whenever we think we are free from one particular aspect in life, we are simply trading it for something else. Never are we truly free. We are always bound. We are always in a constant sense of rebellion because of this. We are always have a constant sense of unease. We are never at rest. We are never at peace. We are never fulfilled. Why?
It’s because we keep burdening ourselves with the wrong burdens. We keep burdening ourselves with those things which will always put demands upon us without truly giving us freedom. So what is the answer? Is it possible to be at rest and still be burdened at the same time? Is it possible to be free and still have rules?
The answer Christianity gives is yes. Listen to Jesus’ words from our Gospel lesson once again, “28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
How can Jesus say this? How can Jesus say that if we take His yoke upon us–being burdened–we will be at rest? This seems like a contradiction in terms, but it’s not. Not at all. In fact, when you think it through, it makes perfect sense.
You have to remember where it all begins, though. You have to remember that it all begins with the gospel. You know the gospel: for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son not to condemn the world but so that the world may be saved through Him. And this was done not by any work you or I did. This reconciliation was carried out by Jesus and Jesus alone–not because we were loveable or good or holy, but precisely because we were not good; we were not lovable; we were not holy. Jesus died for us when we were still sinners.
Think about that for just a moment. Jesus died for you when you were still broken–when you were still breaking God’s commandments–when you were not loving your neighbor as yourself. You were still in the midst of your sin–your disobedience, and God died for you anyway. In just about every case in this world, if you are disobedient; if you are not following the rules, you get punished. You do not receive a reward. Yet, when you were not following God, He took on flesh and died for you to give you eternal life. This is an amazing act of love–an act that is beyond comprehension–an act that many would deem foolish. Why say that?
Because, if you are a parent, you know doggone why it’s foolish. If your children are misbehaving and you give them cookies, they will just keep misbehaving. They won’t change their ways. You’ve got to punish them to make them get in line! But what if their behavior led to them being arrested and convicted and sentenced to death. As a parent, what would you do? Would you gladly take your child’s place and suffer their punishment? Would you die so that they might live? And if upon seeing your love for them, what do you think your children would do? If your loving parent stepped in and died for you when you deserved death, how would you respond? Would you keep doing the things you had always done, or would you be profoundly changed by their love? You would, of course, be free to continue in the path you had always walked. You could still do the destructive things you had done before. You could still rebel against all the rules and regulations. You would be free to do so. Your parents had kept you from the punishment. But at great cost. Would you let their sacrifice go for naught?
I hope not. I hope that having such love shown to you would radically transform your life. I hope it would completely change the way you operated as you realized the extent of what it cost your parents to step in and save you from your disobedience. Not because of guilt or obligation but because of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for your undeserved life at their expense. It would seem like foolishness to some, but to a parent, it would be worth it.
If what Jesus did for us on the cross is anything like a parent willing to die for his or her child–and I think it is–then we too can be transformed by that kind of love. We too can be transformed by that kind of good news. We know we are free because of what Christ did for us, but at the same time, we freely choose to be obedient to Him. We freely choose to take His yoke upon us. We freely say, “I will follow you and your commands, Jesus because of what you have done for me.” At one and the same time we are obedient and we are free. At one and the same time we are burdened and at rest. We are no longer bound by all the things that once put demands upon us in this world. We have freely turned to another yoke–the yoke of Jesus–the only burden that can bring us rest. Amen.