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A Different Kind of Balancing

A sermon on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

[ for an audio recording of this sermon, click here. Photo by Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash.]

Over the course of nearly 7 years as a weekly preacher I have found inspiration from a pretty wide variety of sources.

Often, of course, it comes from traditional paths for scriptural study: commentaries or Greek word studies.

Other times I find a spark of connection to the texts in an interaction with my family, or the social media post of a friend.

Sometimes the lectionary seems uncannily relevant to a recent world event, or sometimes a connection to a movie line or some other pop culture will offer just the illumination that I need to get to the heart of a gospel reading.

But this week’s inspiration was a first for me. I found my resonance with today’s gospel in therapy!

My therapist and I were talking through the way that my anxiety disorder has been manifesting in my life lately:

creating a felt need to strike the exact right balance between taking responsibility and acting decisively in situations of crisis… without reinforcing destructive patterns of poor personal boundaries and a compulsive need for control.

In talking it through, I struck upon the metaphor of a teeter totter to explain how I have been feeling:

The constant balance checks when I move too far in one direction or the other,

And the increasing tension that builds up in my mind and body as a result.

This image of struggling for balance on an unstable teeter-totter gave me a fresh, and somewhat unexpected, perspective on the “Goldilocks” generation that Jesus calls out in today’s gospel:

the people who are seemingly unsatisfied with either too much seriousness or too much enjoyment and will only accept an illusory “just right” in their prophets.

I have always just nodded along with the critique implied in Jesus’s description of this generation, but this week, I find myself identifying with the angst of longing for the “just right” balance.

I can resonate with the instincts that warn of danger when I lean too far in one direction or another.

And while I know that Jesus is right to point out the hypocrisy of their contrasting complaints, I can also empathize with the felt need that drives them.

It’s not really that unreasonable to long for a sense of balance, is it?

I honestly think that the answer to that question is “no.”

It’s not wrong, or unreasonable, to seek balance in our lives… to want to make space for both mourning and joy; both control and release.

After all, Lutheran theology is all about holding opposite truths in tension: we are both saints and sinners; free and obligated… these tensions protect us from dangerous excess in one direction or the other.

But I also see the point of Jesus’s prayer of thanksgiving that God has “hidden these things from the wise and intelligent.”

Because trying to reason our way to perfect balance can become another kind of excess: another kind of obsessive task that leads us to extreme self-reliance.

And this was the insight that struck me in therapy this week:

A teeter-totter makes finding balance a constant struggle because it has one fulcrum point.

All the weight and all the adjustments are centered on our effort, and it’s so frustratingly easy to tip too far to one side.

But Jesus offers us a different model for balance in this gospel:

Not a teeter-totter, but a yoke… which balances not on one point, but spreads the weight over two.

Now, I get that a yoke is not the most obvious metaphor to choose as an image of rest.

When we think of scriptures that call us into rest, we are probably more likely to think about the green pastures and still waters of Psalm 23 than of this image of a farm implement used to harness beasts of burden.

We cannot lie down and sleep while hooked into a yoke.

But sleep is not the only kind of rest that we need.

It can be entirely possible to be getting our full 8-hours a night, complete with REM and deep sleep cycles, but to still feel weary in our souls.

Because what tires us out mentally, emotionally, and spiritually is what happens when we are awake.

So, we need the kind of rest that carries through to our waking hours, when we cannot just shut everything out…

When we are facing our sources of stress, and the necessity of making decisions, and the needs and feelings of the people we care about, and our fears about the state of the world, and all the things that just. Make. Our. Souls. Weary.

When we long for joy but also know we need space to mourn.

When we know we need to find the right balance, but also feel like finding that balance is one more task that is just exhausting.

Because we cannot balance it all by ourselves.

We will never find a restful balance on a teeter totter…. But we can in a yoke.

A yoke balances the burden between two… and Jesus tells us that he is there and ready to be yoked to us,

to give his strength to the tasks that are weighing us down;

to walk beside us so that we know which way to step, learning from his lead;

and to do so gently, humbly… not fighting us for control but partnering with us so that we can move forward without unbalancing ourselves or toppling over in exhaustion.

A yoke is a strange metaphor for total rest, but it’s a beautiful metaphor for the kind of rest that we actually need:

a rest that teaches us to shift the way that we balance the tasks, and stresses, and burdens of real life.

We probably can’t do much about the reality of those tasks, stresses, and burdens… but we can share the load. And we can learn a new approach to balance.

I appreciate that in the midst of Jesus’s offer of rest he includes the invitation to learn.

Otherwise, these words of comfort could come off as rather trite: “Just lean on me and everything will be fine.”

But Jesus doesn’t offer us a magic wand, a promise that all our troubles will drop away in the instant we decide to trust him.

Instead, he describes a process:

Come to me… take my yoke and learn from me… you will find rest for your soul.

It’s the description of a shift that takes time.

We have to start with enough trust to try: to admit our weariness with the ways that we have been trying to do it all on our own.

We have to learn how to be yoked:

to unlearn habits of pulling in whatever direction seems right to us in the moment,

adjust to the feeling of a partner who balances the weight beside us, instead of trying to center it all on our own shoulders.

And even then, the change won’t happen overnight. We will find the rest, but it might take some time.

Being yoked, even to our gentle and humble Jesus, takes some adjustment.

And yokes can rub against us if we try to pull on our own, or to wander off in our own direction.

But it’s worth the learning for the promise: Rest.

Rest that isn’t just the temporary reprieve of sleep that let’s us turn off for a few hours.

Rest that is about a sustainable balance - because we aren’t balancing everything on ourselves. We aren’t trying to discover the mystical “just right” place that makes just the right amount of space for everything we are trying to hold together.

It’s a balance of doing what we can, but knowing that we have support. And knowing that when we make mistakes, we have a gentle teacher who is literally yoked to us, so he’ll guide us back to where we need to be.

So if you are weary, or carrying heavy burdens today, feeling overwhelmed by anything or everything in your life…

Try stepping off the teeter-totter.

Try laying your burdens down, not with the plan of just leaving them and walking away…

But with the expectation that Jesus is there to help you learn how to let him balance the load with you… knowing that with Jesus the burden will be so much lighter, and you will find both balance and rest for your soul. Thanks be to God.


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