My Burden Is Light
by The Rev. Barbara Mraz
St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church
St. Paul, Minnesota
“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.”
Matthew 11: 25-30
It was 10:15 at night and I had a choice. I could either watch more of the video I had started, go on the computer and troll for books at Amazon.com, go to bed and read, or go out into the yard and just sit for awhile. I decided to go outside into the soft, warm, night air and sit down in the old wicker chair I had placed near the garden.
From this distance, I looked back at my little house and thought of all the events that brought me here six years ago – a divorce, a change of jobs, a desire for a less-demanding place to live, and how this two-bedroom bungalow had offered itself to shelter my fragile life within its walls, and allowed me to shape it into a modest expression of who I am and what I love.
The white star flowers and bleeding heart gleamed in the moonlit garden; the tiny lantern lights I had put up inside the small back porch danced; the fountain bubbled quietly on the deck, and I understood that I was more like my father than I sometimes liked to admit, who gardened through his eighties and hung lights on almost everything. Shameless romantics, both of us.
I turned back to the garage and smiled when I saw the lace curtains in the garage window, realizing that no man I knew would ever put up with that, but there they were and there they would stay.
It was then that huge wave of gratitude swept over me for my choppy, imperfect, wonderful little life, viewed at a distance from my garden chair.
I spent another half hour out there, looking at the stars.
The sky will be even more brilliant than usual the next two nights as fireworks explode to celebrate our nation’s history. And while today’s Gospel may not seem to be about light, it is, if you look closely. In some of the most beautiful words in the Bible, Jesus says: “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.”
“My burden is light.” A bishop I know reframed this verse in a memorable way. He shifted the emphasis from God’s burden is light – or lightweight, to saying that the burden consists of light. “My burden is light.” This refocuses the Christian life from merely enjoying how little weight God lays upon us to the responsibility of being the bearer of Light to those around us.
Last Thursday while watching the news, I was shocked to see person after person testifying before the judge who would determine which public services would be deemed essential and therefore continued during the state shutdown. There was a contingent of blind people with white canes, who showed up en masse for fear that life-support services they depended on would be stopped. There was a troubled woman who testified she had been suicidal and was terrified her mental health supports would be cut. There were people who worked with the elderly poor who said they didn’t know how those they cared for would survive without the help they were being given. And many more.
One of the reactions I had to this was to be profoundly proud and grateful that our state has been helping so many of those for whom such help is not a luxury but a necessity. The other reaction was outrage that such programs would be cut off either during a shutdown or because of governmental spending cuts and a refusal to look at our tax structure.
As our government makes dramatic decisions about how to allot our collective resources, my job is to remind you how Jesus always stood with the poor and the oppressed and the least fortunate – always, without fail and without exception. This is Biblically indisputable, and on that basis my outrage is not political; it is religious.
Maybe we don’t even see it. Maybe we are not even aware of the Light that pervades our own lives. I know I have to work at it…
Certainly, we can learn things about God in Scripture; yes, we can even learn things in about God church. But opening ourselves to the work of the Spirit of God in our own lives can be where the big payoff lies. But I think we’ve become really distracted.
I love technology: using the research miracle that is Google, having a cell phone in the car when I’m lost or late. I’ve written a book about movies, and even like some of what’s on television. BUT – I believe that these things are devouring more and more of our precious time to the detriment of our spirits.
Did you know that adults spend 65% more of their nonworking times with their computers than with their spouses or significant others? That we watch an average of 151 hours of television a month? That teenagers average 2,000 text messages a month.
It’s not the technology itself that is the problem; it’s what it is taking us away from, the time that it is leeching from anything introspective. Theologian and historian Phyllis Tickle notes: “Eventually free time will lead most of us to increasing awareness of our internal experience.” That is, if we don’t fill up that free time with toys and distractions because we’re too scared or guilty or lazy or hyper to seek its gifts.
Of course, not every little thing is some profound message from God, although the great American poet Walt Whitman believed that “a leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars.”
How do you know when it is God’s voice? You know it is the Holy Spirit if what it calls you to is consistent with the teachings of Jesus, and if it calls you out of your smallness – of your limited perceptions, your fear, your constricted imagination, your reluctance to risk.
The Spirit of God is at work in our lives as comforter, healer teacher, advocate and challenger. This is a foundation of the faith. The riches of awareness and insight and depth God promises you are more than you have dreamed. There is light abundant, but we have to take off our cultural and diversionary blinders.
In a commencement address in Portland, Paul Hawken referenced Ralph Waldo Emerson who once asked what we would do if the stars came out only once every thousand years. Hawken surmises, “No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.”
Make a decision to go outside tonight and look at the stars; walk across the street and look at your home from a new perspective; focus on the smiling faces of people during the Peace today. Behold your life; bathed in light.
We seek the light; we are blessed by the light. And a burden God places upon us is be to bearers of the light in the darkness, especially the darkness or others whom we may have become too blind or too privileged to see.
Sometimes you discover “light” in places like our nation’s history, not only useful fodder for political commentary, but also a rich source of information that enriches our national anniversaries and milestones and even makes us wonder if God is playing with our heads
Perhaps you know about the second and third presidents of the United States, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. With Benjamin Franklin and several others, they drafted the Declaration of Independence, but later they became bitter enemies when political parties began to form around each of them. However, Adams and Jefferson reconciled in their retirements and became the best of friends as they lived out their final years.
Both Adams and Jefferson died on the same day. John Adams’s last words were (supposedly), “Jefferson lives.” But he was wrong. Jefferson had died just hours earlier at Monticello.
That day was the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, 1826; July 4, 1826.
Clear-headed, courageous thinkers, moral visionaries; and bearers of light. Amen.