I say this often, and I will keep on saying it: Church is not about a building. Church doesn’t actually happen until we all get together. Church it is made up of people like you—people who are looking for purpose, authentic relationships, support, and hope. It is about a collection of individuals who have trusted Jesus with their lives and choose to support one another on this journey.
When we come together like this, you know what we find? We find hope. And last week, God proved it. We find a hope right here that empowers us to overcome anything that life can throw at us. So welcome to church today. You are a part of something bigger than yourself, and we are so glad you are here. You are here for a reason.
The basis of the Christian faith is this bold, audacious hope that God is at work in our lives. A hope that things don’t have to remain the same tomorrow as they are today. A hope that broken things can be mended, that there is rest from the heavy burdens of life, a hope that we don’t have to be afraid of what’s next, and a hope that we are loved by our Creator.
Maybe this morning you have come here in need of some of that hope. Perhaps the weight of the world is more than you can bear. Or maybe you have come here today because you feel there is nowhere else to turn. I want you to know that you are in the right place because hope does happen here.
Often, the word hope is used in a wishful thinking kind of way; “I hope this goes well. I hope I get the job. I hope I get a good medical report. I hope that doesn’t happen to me.” But what I want you to know is that when the bible talks about hope, it’s not just a maybe; it’s not a wish. It’s a promise. A promise that is unbroken and never forgotten. Hope in the bible is a sturdy foundation that never changes. It’s strong, powerful, and always true.
And when we feel like there’s no hope in sight, what’s really happened is that we lost sight of the promise. We’ve taken our eyes off of it. We’ve taken our eyes off of Jesus.
Last week, I mentioned that hope happens here right in church because church is a really good place to find God’s plans for our lives, to find His never-ending love for us, and to find the ability of His strength.
Today, we are continuing our series on hope, that ‘Hope Happens Here.’ And I would argue that the greatest need we have in our lives right now, especially with all the divide and hurt in our world, is a sense that there is hope. Some of us have experienced great loss. Some of us are burnt out and tired. Some of us are devastated by the pain in our country. Some of us feel broken beyond repair. Some of us have begun to doubt our faith and the things we used to hold so tightly to. Can we all just agree that we are all in need of hope?
We were created by God to live with a healthy cadence, balance in life. However, far too many of us are living without margin in every area of our lives. Life margins are like paper margins. On a standard piece of paper, there is an inch margin on every side. The purpose of the extra space is so that you can have room to take notes, or to jot down ideas. And honestly the extra space makes the page not look so busy, so chaotic, so crunched.
But many of us live with our margins so thin that there’s room for extra. There’s no room for flexibility or movement. And it looks and is chaotic! We fill our calendars tight. We can’t say no. We live with a harmful drive to achieve. Things keep coming at us that need our attention, that need tended to. And we have lost hope that it will slow down anytime soon.
All throughout history, starting with the early Church and all the persecution and devastation that they went through, the Church has still had the audacity to have an incredible hope in the face of trouble. And it all stems from the victory of the resurrected Jesus. When things looked the darkest for Jesus as He hung on that cross, He knew it was far from over. The tomb would not be the end. He would defeat death and come back to life. With this as the Church’s backdrop, there is always reason for hope.
In the Gospels, Jesus was consistently offering hope to those around Him. Whether it was a crippling disease, an oppressive government, a physical or spiritual hunger, or an evil attack, Jesus would meet people right where they were. The characters in the scriptures knew that if Jesus is here, then that means hope is here.
POINT #1 – LIFE IS HARD
There’s no doubt that life is hard, and that life’s circumstances have a way of leaving us feeling hopeless. There are plenty of times when we are in need of a reminder that there is hope. And I will say this, there is nothing in life that can steal our hope more than when we find ourselves weary, tired, or worn out. I would imagine that there are many in the room right now and people who are going to be watching this online who know exactly what this feels like. Waiting for a diagnosis, paying off heavy bills, trying to save a marriage, enduring an illness, trying to do all the right things only to have things keep going wrong. It is times like this when we feel like we cannot keep going, and all we want to do is give up.
The famous NFL coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” And it’s true. And Jesus knew it! He was well aware of the tendency people have to shoulder heavy burdens and therefore causing them to lose hope.
In the book of Matthew, John the Baptist is in prison and begins to question Jesus’ identity. John was going through moments like we do. He was losing hope and questioned whether or not Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and if all the hard work John put into teaching others about Jesus had been in vain. But in light of this, Jesus speaks these well-known words.
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus is doing a couple of things here in this passage. First, He acknowledges that life is heavy, that He knows we live life without margin, that we are hard on ourselves, and work hard to keep up with others around us, and therefore, we get weary.
Jesus is almost normalizing this for us. We should not feel bad when we feel crushed by life’s burdens. We shouldn’t feel like a failure. Because the sad thing is that when we do feel like failures, we often shy away from even going to God for help, and we certainly avoid being vulnerable with others. But Jesus tells us that if we are weary, we should come to Him. It’s not a condemnation. This is an open invitation because He cares about us.
Second, Jesus offers us a solution. He tells us to exchange our yoke for another. A yoke is a wooden harness that before there were tractors to do the work, a farmer would put it around the neck of livestock (an oxen or a water buffalo as we saw when we supported the Heifer Project). It would sit across their shoulders and hook around their neck, then hook up to a plow to plow a field or to a cart to pull in the harvest. The yoke would give the livestock a balanced pressure on their shoulders and would help the animal submit to the farmer. Jesus uses this example because for you and I, a yoke like this is heavy. And it was certainly not part of the original designed for us that we carry such heavy burdens like sin, oppressions, or weariness.
There were people in Jesus’ audience who were submitting to a way of life that was not designed for them either. It was law-based and was very hard to live up to. The religious law the Jews were trying to live up to had started with God’s Ten Commandments, but was added to over and over again by man making it performance-based and driven by the need to succeed. In the end, there were 300+ laws to follow. It became an extremely heavy yoke and burden, and impossible for anyone to succeed which left many feeling hopeless, like they could never please or get to God.
But the yoke Jesus was offering was a totally different kind of yoke. It is one of grace, mercy, compassion, and love. One yoke causes people to become weary. The other causes people to find peace. Jesus is inviting us to remove whatever heavy, burdensome yokes we have had across our shoulders and to replace it with His yoke because His yoke is easy. It’s light, and it will actually instead of making you work harder, it will give us rest.
POINT #2 – IS YOUR YOKE CRUSHING OR LIFEGIVING?
Because it’s one or the other. And you know this. If you are feeling like your load is light and easy right now, you are very likely following Jesus’ invite to give Him your cares and worries. You’ve given Him you heavy yoke for His light one. And because of that, you’ve found peace.
But if your weary, burnt out, tired, overwhelmed, don’t know which way to turn next, then you know which yoke you are caring. Yet Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, I’ll show you how to do it, I’ll show you how to live with peace, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (verse 29). ‘Learn or know’ in this scripture implies an intimate relationship.
See, Jesus offers a hope, a promise, to the weary by reminding us that our value is not found in how well we hold it together when things get tough or how we compare to the people around us. Our value comes only from the love that He has for us and the grace He gives.
Shortly after Matt and I were married, I started to see a counselor. My life had changed so much in such a short time, all good stuff, but it was a lot. First, I sent my only child at the time, who I had just spent 15 years with as just him and I, off to college. Matt and I got married which was a beautiful thing that I waited a long time for, then I moved into Matt’s home (yes, now ours, but then it felt like his), I left the home I had developed of 14 years, added two more children into my family which was also a blessing, was now living with 3 new people in my space, and just months after our marriage I was appointed to a new church. All were blessings, yet it was a lot!
Over this short time, I was stressed and overwhelmed with the newness. I developed anxiety and had panic attacks, and I couldn’t make sense of any of it. This was all good stuff. Stuff I had waited a long time for. So finally, I listened to the still my voice in my head and found this wonderful Christian counselor who just so happened to be a pastor’s wife, which was a huge blessing. See as a pastor, even though you know it’s a lie, there’s this stipulation that you should have your act together. You should know what to do and be able to do it.
After fearfully telling the counselor how I felt, stressed, overwhelmed and like my world was out of control which made no sense at all, she first assured me I wasn’t crazy, but that I was human. She gave me the best one-line advice that I still tell myself and many others today: Give yourself grace. Grace! That was is it.
In other words, it was okay to take the time to wrap my brain around the new life God gave to me. It was an adjustment and change can be hard. But most importantly, she told me that I needed to make sure I was taking one on one time with Jesus. That really was the key! How can I give myself grace if I don’t have the source who gives it? That gave me so much hope.
If you find yourself weary today, whether because of circumstances you can’t control or because of situations that you are responsible for, I want to offer you something. I want to offer you hope for a better tomorrow, hope for true purpose, hope for a clean slate, and hope for peace and rest. It’s found in Jesus. Because with Jesus, hope happens.
What’s interesting about Jesus’ illustration about a yoke is that a wooden yoke would not be typically worn by a single ox. It would have been in tandem with a second oxen. They would work together to pull and plow. Isn’t it true that we find hope when we recognize that we don’t have to do life alone? The rest that we find in Christ is best experienced alongside others, like right here in church.
POINT #3 – THE CHURCH CARRIES ONE ANOTHER’S BURDENS
Paul wrote to the church in Galatia about the importance of living in community with one another. At one point, he was talking about the real struggle that it is to avoid sin, and then he makes a statement that when lived out, puts us in line with the invitation from Christ.
2 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.
To live in line with the way of Christ is to be willing to meet the needs of others. When we see someone else in the Church who is weary or burdened, we come to their aid with joy because it is in doing so that we offer hope to them.
Burdens can come in all shapes and sizes. Some burdens are self-inflicted. In those cases, we can help shoulder these burdens by offering grace, forgiveness, and a willingness to help navigate a better way. Some burdens happen to us: a divorce we did not ask for, a sickness that was unexpected, a job loss that is devastating. In these instances, we can carry each other’s burdens by being a listening ear, by bringing a meal, or by meeting a financial need.
Recently in our community there was a young family of three siblings who had nothing. They had no hope in where their lives were. They were without parent guidance, had a lack of food and support, and the oldest was about to drop out of school. But word got to a few teachers that this boy was about to flunk out of school, and they were asked if they could help him. They helped with his academics, but they certainly didn’t stop there.
They discovered not only his living needs, but his sibling’s as well, and they went into action. One teacher mentioned to her church about this family, and they also went into action. From there it snowballed. They discovered need after need and when they did, God provided church after church, community member after community member, business after business who all pitched in to get these kids what they needed in the moment and so much more. The oldest has now graduated, has responsibility of his siblings, and the first church is still helping the children to learn basic skills like cooking and managing money.
What a huge endeavor! When it seemed like there was no hope for these kids, God made one way, then another and another until huge doors opened up. Now these kids have a chance. Now they have hope!
What could be said about our community is that wherever there is a lack of hope, we are all there to carry the burden. Because when Christians are there, Jesus is there, and when Jesus is there, there is hope.
Here’s more good news: When we love one another in this way, we fulfill the most basic law that Jesus required. We love God with our whole heart, and we, in turn, love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus said all the law of the prophets hung on those two things. That sounds like hope to me. A hope that no matter where we find ourselves today, Jesus offers us rest and peace, and we don’t have to go it alone.
This grace is best experienced in community. We can learn from Jesus as we learn from one another. When we do Church with one another, we lift one another up, we protect one another’s boundaries, and we carry one another’s burdens.
When we invest in the relationships God gives us within the Church, we find help in living within our margins. Sometimes we need someone to help us say “no.” No to the things that suck up our time, our attention, or our resources. Sometimes we need someone to remind us that we are loved by God and that’s enough. Sometimes we need someone to help carry the load. And sometimes we need someone to help us slow down and rest in the grace of God.
Jesus offers us such a gift in saying that He has come to give us rest. This rest is found in a grace that does not demand that we jump through all the hoops or get everything right. The rest that Jesus offers is an unmerited favor for anyone who comes to Him.
So, are you weary today? Are you burdened by life? Come to Jesus and find rest. And you don’t have to do this alone. We are in this together, and that gives us hope.
My prayer for each of us today is that we would be bursting with hope as we become more aware of God’s grace and trade in our yokes in for His.