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True Freedom

St. John’s Lutheran Church
9 July 2023 + Lectionary 14a (6 Pentecost)
Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30
Rev. Josh Evans



Buried somewhere in a box in my storage unit (along with all my other office artwork that someday I’ll be able to hang up again) is a framed quote attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. that was given to me by a friend several years ago.

It reads: “An individual has not started living until [they] can rise above the narrow confines of [their] individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

There is a sense of freedom in those words – rising above the narrow confines of our own individualistic concerns – but that’s not exactly the kind of freedom we’re used to thinking about.

Freedom, as this past week’s parades, fireworks, and patriotic celebrations would have us believe, is all about independence.

Independence is a profoundly personal thing that we place great value on. Most often, it’s accompanied by life transitions. There’s the independence that comes with getting your first driver’s license, or moving off on your own for the first time.

Conversely, we associate the loss of independence with seemingly negative life experiences. There’s the loss of being able to drive, or the loss of living on our own, particularly as we age, increasing our dependence on others.

To be “independent,” according to the dictionary definition, is to be self-governing, self-dependent, self-reliant, self-sufficient, self-supporting, or self-sustaining.

I can’t help but notice the way the word self is repeated … pulling us right back into those narrow confines of individualism … and cutting us off from one another.

***

Jesus’s words we hear this morning in Matthew’s gospel are words of great promise and comfort, as Sylvia Dunstan so eloquently captures in the hymn we’ll soon sing.

“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.”

For those who are weary and burdened by the concerns and demands of life, and for those who are weighed down by oppressive forces beyond their control, Jesus offers rest.

That’s usually the part we focus on.

But what about that whole yoke thing? That doesn’t seem very restful.

In farming, the thing about a yoke is that it requires two animals, working together. And in fact, younger work animals being trained would often be yoked with a more experienced work animal in order to get the job done.

I don’t think it’s any mistake that Jesus’s words of comfort and promise call us to be yoked together with one another like that.

From the very beginning, God knew it was not good for us to be alone, and so God created a helper and a partner for the first human. God knew the truth we have also come to experience: We are better together – in community, in partnership, in accompaniment.

Accompaniment, by the ELCA’s own definition, is “walking together in a solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality.”

Where independence confines us to ourselves, interdependence calls us outside of ourselves and into community:

A community that shares the joys and the concerns of each of its members, that celebrates with those who celebrate and mourns with those who mourn, that helps carry burdens too heavy for any one of us to carry alone.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…” Jesus says… Learn that you are always interdependent on those around you.

It’s also a truth that is deeply Lutheran. Our namesake reformer Martin Luther knew this. We don’t live for ourselves alone but for our neighbors.

Luther understood two things well: First, God in Christ has made us free – free from the power of sin and the ways we harm one another. That is the gospel, the good news, that we cling to. Second, our freedom makes us free to serve and love our neighbors in the same way that Christ has shown us. In fact, Luther wrote an essay about this called “The Freedom of a Christian.”

In other words, we are freed from and freed for: Freed from the ways we rely only on ourselves and separate ourselves from one another, and freed for community, partnership, and working together toward reshaping the world-as-it-is into the world as God longs for it to be.

There’s responsibility in being yoked to one another like that. But there’s also great promise: We are always part of the larger community of faith, carrying us, supporting us, lifting our burdens and worries and fears when they’re too big to bear on our own.

***

True freedom, despite what this past week’s parades, fireworks, and patriotic celebrations might lead us to believe, is not about independence.

The gospel doesn’t promise independence. There is no good news in being absorbed in the narrow confines of “self” and our own individualistic concerns.

What the gospel does promise, however, is freedom:

A freedom that shatters the narrow confines of individualism and that invites us into the community of all creation.

A freedom that yokes us together in Beloved Community.

A freedom that liberates us and gives us rest.

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