Yoked In Thankfulness

“But to what will I compare this generation” Jesus says.

This generation. That generation.

My generation. Your generation.

Their generation.

741 days ago, Allison, Camden, and I packed up all our belongings. We put all of Camden’s toys, Allison’s artwork, and all of my Weber grills into a large moving truck and left the D.C. area for good.

We left the beltway banter and bickering. We left the partisan divides that are run deeper than the biggest hole young preachers dig themselves into, and, that at times are downright nasty (and that was before the past presidential election really ramped up). We packed up our dearest possessions, making sure to leave room in the car for Rosie Penelope, our barely 18 pound beagle, and headed south.

It wasn’t soon after we arrived in Chesapeake that we learned the Tidewater/Hampton Roads area of Virginia is not unlike Northern Virginia. Yes, we learned that Chesapeake was voted the #3 most boring city in America, but we also realized that we traded the beltway banter and bickering in for backhanded Southern compliments, “oh bless your heart”, and that the deep partisan divides ran all the way down I-95, across I-64, and continued into what we thought would be a new home, far away from what our new church family referred to as, “the crazy D.C. life.” We learned quickly the “crazy D.C. life”, was not isolated to just D.C.

Now don’t get me wrong here, Allison, Camden, and I loved Chesapeake. And why wouldn’t we? We were just a short drive away from the beach, we had a great group of friends, and frankly Allison and I both were able to grow professionally in a new area. But still, it seemed like something followed us.

This generation.

That generation.

Living here.

Living there. Did anything really change?

Yes, we moved into a new house. Allison and I both had new jobs. Camden started a new school. And yes, even Rosie Penelope the beagle had a new yard to play in. But the climate of unhappiness and unthankfulness, the atmosphere of “more is more” and “I am right and you will always be wrong”, still seemed to weigh heavy on the day-to-day routines of everyone’s lives.

What I learned, what we learned in our move 741 days ago is that the human spirit is not easily, if ever, satisfied. 

Don’t believe me? Look at John the Baptizer. He was a holy man. He did everything by the book. He was ushering in, preparing the way for the Messiah, preparing the way for God’s reign to take control, and still John was called demon-possessed.

Even when we do everything by the book, the book of living a happy life that typically makes the New York Times Best Sellers list, we come up short. We will wait in line for hours to make sure we don’t miss the moment when sales begin for the latest and greatest devices, only to become unimpressed, less than happy with the very same thing that brought us so much joy a few months later.

We meet new friends, sometimes even church friends, and begin comparing our stuff to their stuff. Quickly realizing, we think, that they have found the secret to living the happy life we had read about in that New York Times book and immediately we have to act.

We are not easily satisfied.

I learned, and I think I had always known this but was wishfully thinking, that no matter where you go, either generation to generation or geographic location to location, there will be times when we simply refuse to see “the opposition” as having anything of value to say. We refuse to see people beyond their ideologies and political beliefs, to say nothing of their theology.

Let’s go a step farther. Even when we live the happy life outlined in whatever book or internet article we read most recently, we find that because we have found happiness this way, the people living that way must be wrong, and therefore they must assimilate into our way of thinking or else.

Or else they become the villain of our own happy life. They are possessed by a “demon”. They are the “drunkards”. 

Does this not challenge us? Why are we so unhappy?

What is so wrong that we cannot view someone that thinks differently from us as a beloved child of God, who has lungs filled with breath from the divine, and who was uniquely created by the same being who created us?

Why can’t we live with the childlike joy that so many of our children live with? The joy that we used to live with.

The joy our kids, my Camden, lives everyday with. Have you ever noticed that our children are the happiest when we, parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles, and family friends are offering them a gift? Better yet, if you have a teenager you know this well, when we take a burden, a chore, or responsibility off the shoulders of our child?

Every time I return from a trip, every time without fail, Camden will greet me at the door, throwing his arms around me, shouting, “Thank you for coming home daddy”.

Or when I get home late from a church meeting and I go into Camden’s room to tuck him in, grabbing me by the shirt to pull me in close for a hug he will say, “I knew you’d tuck me in!” (with a smile from ear to ear).

These childlike responses are no different from what Jesus is talking about in verse 17, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn”. Or this way, there were opportunities to have fun and live as a part of the community but you were too busy with your agendas and dissatisfaction.

“Well Teer” some might say, “we’ve been out in the world, we know how bad it is out there. Our childlike wonder disappeared with our childhood as we grew up to see the world for what it is.”

I will concede here that some of that statement is true. Yes, there is evil in the world. Evil so vile and repugnant that it makes the best of us throw our hands up and look the the heavens shouting, “HEY GOD, A LITTLE HELP DOWN HERE!”

Can I get a little help down here? Sure.

Jesus, God incarnate, came into this world, taking on human flesh. Jesus walked the earth, had friends, ministered to countless people, was killed, rose from the dead, and ascended.

God did that. So when we are looking up to the heavens, bellowing out that it seems all hope is lost, we have Jesus who offers us His yoke. God is offering us the help that we say is so far out of reach.

To receive this yoke, to have God walking alongside us, requires that we look at the community around us just like a child looks at the world, viewing the world full of hope and thankfulness.

Imagine for just a moment, how dramatically things would change if we, as disciples of the risen and ascended Christ, looked at the world with the view made possible by the resurrection and ascension of Jesus?

Even more, how would this attitude change the world?

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Living thankful lives, not lives of despair, beltway banter and bickering, leads us then to living in a constant state of prayer.

John Wesley said this on the matter,

“Thanksgiving is inseparable from true prayer; it is almost essentially connected with it. One who always prays is ever giving praise, whether in ease or pain, both for prosperity and for the greatest adversity. He blesses God for all things, looks on them as coming from God, and receives them for God’s sake- not choosing nor refusing, liking or disliking, anything, but only as it is agreeable or disagreeable to God’s perfect will.”

Even when we pray for our greatest adversity, whether that adversity be a person, issue of the day, or personal situation, we are presented the opportunity to be thankful to God when we go to God in prayer.

Is this what Paul meant when he tells us to pray without ceasing?

And, in by doing this, we can rise above what every generation has gone through, and truly live a life of thankfulness.

Prayer is a way for us to yoke ourselves alongside Christ.  The Son of God is offering to come alongside us, to share the load so that we can keep moving forward. We can keep moving forward being fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, friends and neighbors, and people who have committed to living lives together, living as a witness to the resurrected Christ.

All of this, however, is countercultural from what we are told. A life of prayerful thanksgiving is contrary to what you and I read about in those New York Times best selling books. Instead of being thankful, we are supposed to be living in fear. Living in a fear that not only cripples us but then leads us to a state of unwillingness to see one another as the divinely created beings that we all are.

We are living this mindset out right now, are we not, in the United Methodist Church. Not a mindset of prayerful thanksgiving but instead becoming fearful of the “other side” as we seek ways to move forward as a global denomination. This attitude of fear is something I hear constantly as I talk with clergy colleague and friends.

Attitudes of fear paralyze us, while an attitude of prayer, an attitude that yokes us alongside Jesus, keeps us moving forward. Thankful prayer does not just give us the opportunity to possibly move forward. No, an attitude of thankful prayer keeps us moving forward, even while we feel like and it seems like there is no way forward.

The beauty of this is we only need to yoke ourselves alongside Jesus, his yoke is not a burden. Discipleship is not a heavy thing.

Our life, in all of its complexity, burden, and fear is now in God. So maybe the only way Jesus’ yoke feels light, because lets remember that forgiving someone 77 times isn’t all that easy, is knowing that by grace, and grace alone, we are incorporated into God through Christ Jesus.

In other words, while the yoke of Jesus seems light and easy to carry, it’s not. But because our own failings, fears, and bickering are part of our story, and because of Jesus our story is enfolded into God’s story, the yoke is a relief. A rest provided to us by God.

Yoked with Jesus, we do not have to carry the burden generations before us carried, Jesus is offering us a new way. The burden once carried is now replaced by grace and by grace alone.

Rather than a laundry list of things we have to worry about, a list of things we need to make sure those people are not doing, instead we now have two things to do: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s it. That’s the cost of the yoke.

The burden of discipleship is light because of the risen and ascended Christ and in the midst of our own fear God is present. Is that not Good News?