Friday, July 29, 2011

Still Thinking About Society

I guess riding on a Greyhound bus can make you wonder about people's ability to be civil.  Watching a couple in their 50's (hetero, mixed ethnicity, not that it matters) snogging for a hundred miles is really annoying.  At one point, this would not have been tolerated by society.  Now I guess I would have been surprised if it didn't happen.  I guess I would have expected it from the younger travelers, though.

Society works because we all agree on standards of behavior.  But lately, it seems, this standard has gone down the tubes.  And to try to raise that level is considered rude.  It is more rude to point out that someone is littering by throwing their cigarette butt on the ground than the person who is actually doing the littering.  It is more rude to point out that snogging on the bus is causing other discomfort than to actually be causing the discomfort by snogging.

It starts with little things.  People disregard stop lines.  People disregard parking lot speed limits.  People disregard clothing decency by wearing clothing that has socially inappropriate words on it.  People are exposing body parts that really shouldn't be exposed.  Even baby clothes can be found with totally inappropriate things on them.

I don't consider myself a prude.  But I also think that if we are to exist as a civil society, we need to be able to keep a society that is aware of all of its people.  Laws work because we all agree to follow the laws.  When we all decide that the laws don't apply to each of us, then we descend into chaos.  Just things like stop-lines and speed limits.  We decide these things don't apply to us and then it moves on.

We become bullies because it is all about "ME!"  I don't care about you, just about me.  And when the whole world is worrying about ME! then we go down the tubes.  And quickly from what I am seeing.  There is no thought about how our actions will effect anyone else; as long as I am enjoying life, well, FU.

I see where people may say that things like Stonewall shouldn't have happened then.  Or that I shouldn't hold Nick's hand in public because it might make some people uncomfortable.  And I guess there is a difference between holding hands and sucking face.

I don't know.  What does anyone else think?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

News on Nick's Daughter

Some of you know what is going on; some of you probably don't.  (I am a logical genius, huh?)

Nick's daughter went into the ER with chest pains.  She had a heart attack and they put in a stent.  Then the stent collapsed and they had to go back in and replace that stent and placed four more.  They also put her on a ventilator and a cardiac pump.

I am home now, and Nick is still down south.

The doctors were trying to wean Nick's daughter off the ventilator and have been having some difficulty.  They will be trying again today.  Hopefully they can get her breathing on her own.  When the get the vent off, then they can get the cardiac pump off.

Once those are off, there is talk of surgery, but that will be a few weeks down the road.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

More Contemplating on Weeds and Wheat

I have recently "defriended" two people that I have known for almost 10 years from Facebook.  This act has shaken me and I still feel saddened by it almost a week later.

It wan't just one thing that caused this break, it has been in the works for a while.  One of these people is responsible for the "Letter to a Friend" post of a month ago.  And the other is his wife.  There had been growing stress as the ideological differences between us became more and more pronounced.  But the final straw was when I wished people "Happy Bastille Day" and was attacked for celebrating a bloody governmental overthrow.  When I can't even  wish people a happy national celebration, well, things have gone too far.  I am not going to ever change France and its holidays, so why should I even try.

It is not that these people have different political philosophies than I do.  I have very good friends that are dyed in the wool Republicans and a friend from college who is the personal assistant to a Republican Presidential Candidate.  (The one whose third wife happens to like expensive jewelry.)  And we manage to be respectful of each other's opinions and stay on friendly terms with each other.  We do not fire pot-shots over the bow.

I think it has become acceptable to be rude in society.  I don't like it.  People only seem to be worried about themselves.  "As long as I am having a good time, to Hell with you all!"  This takes the form of profanity screamed into a phone in public.  Firecrackers lit in public places.  Road Rage.  Congresspeople yelling at the President.  I might even go so far as the whole "Sagging" thing.  (I really don't want to see your underwear-covered butt at the mall.  And it makes you look deformed.)

Whatever happened to manners?  What ever happened to the concept of being polite?  It really does help to keep society civil.  When a comment such as "Happy Holidays!" is met with anger or snarkiness, there is definitely a problem with people.  When an act of kindness is met with scorn, I see a society in decline.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gardening with Jesus Proper 11 A

Welcome to “Gardening With Jesus!”
You know, last week, the gospel was talking about spreading seeds and how those seed would grow.  We had God spreading the seeds of his love EVERYWHERE, even in those places where most people would believe that love could not possibly grow.  And saw how God spreads those seeds of love, even where others may think it totally silly.  Contrary to what we my think, God is spreading love.
This week, we have the seeds growing, but we have a new problem; we have weeds growing along with the seed!  Can you believe it?  So what is a good gardener, I mean Christian, supposed to do?  What are we supposed to do with those pesky weeds?
The usual response would be that we are supposed to pull those weeds out!  Isn’t that what we have been taught all along?  Having no weeds around make the plants grow stronger, right?  And isn’t that exactly what the workers in the parable suggest?  Just get in there and yank out those weeds out!
But, of course, we are gardening with Jesus, here, and if we have learned anything as Christians, we should have learned that when Jesus enters the picture, what we expect to do and what we are told to do are often two totally different things.  The master of the workers, who we are told is the Son of Man, tells the workers to leave the weeds grow along with the wheat.  And when the plants have all grown, then the master will tell the reapers to collect the weeds to be burned and to gather the wheat into the barn.
Why not just pull up all the weeds?  Isn’t that what we hear all the time?  We need to get the weeds out of the way so that the good crops can grow?  But here we have Jesus instructing his followers to do just the opposite:  Leave the plants AND the weeds.  Just allow them all to grow.
We probably all have stories of things in our gardens that we thought were weeds but end up being the very plants we were trying to cultivate.  I moved into a new house ans saw all of these plants growing along the driveway.  There were growing at an incredible rate and were producing a ton of seeds.  I began to pull these plants out, thinking that they must surely be weeds.
Well, you guessed it: They weren’t weeds at all, they were day lilies!  Some of the poor things that escaped my savage yanking began to bloom!  They were beautiful flowers!  In my ignorance of plants, I almost yanked up the entire flowerbed!  Thankfully, I didn’t rip out all of the plants and these “so called” weeds managed to reestablish themselves and continued to bring beauty to my driveway.
But just think about it:  If we have this much trouble identifying which plant is a flower and which plant is a weed; then how much harder is it to make judgment about people?  People are so much MORE complex than plants.  How can we even begin to kid ourselves that we know which people are the wheat and which people are the weeds?  Jesus is pointing out the folly of thinking we can boil a whole, complex, person down to a simple title such as wheat or weed.  But yet, we, as people, as Americans, as Christians, as whatever, try to do just that.
We can just look through history to see where this has happened and see the results when people tried to place others into the categories of wheat and weeds.  Throughout history people have named groups of people as “weeds” and then tried to get rid of them.  We have had the Jews, the Blacks, Women, Gays, Italians, Protestants, Catholics, Communists, Socialists, the Mentally Challenged, the Physically Challenged, the Mexicans, Irish, the Poor, the Rich, the Indigenous Peoples of the area, the Christians, the Muslims, Chinese, Mormons, Japanese, the Smokers, the Left-handed, Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers, Hippies, Vegetarians, …and I am sure there are many more categories that I have not thought of.  But if you fit into ANY of these categories, as some point, YOU have been considered a weed and have been considered worthy of being yanked out by the roots.  Let that sink in for a moment:  At some time, someone wanted to yank YOU out by the roots.
So, as you can see, just about anything that one person could use to identify another person as “different” HAS been used to categorize others as “weeds.”  And what is even scarier is that in just about every one of these cases, the labeling of “weed” was said to be mandated by God.
The other interesting thing, when we look at the historical context of wheat and weeds, is that history often portrays the ones trying to do the weeding as the actual weeds, themselves.  Groups such as the KKK, The McCarthy Commission, and even the Pharisees have not fared well in the eyes of history.  Although I am sure these people believed what they were doing was for the good of society, and many cases, believed their actions were mandated by God, hopefully we can see that their actions were as evil if not more evil than the evil they were trying to eradicate.
Now, this is not saying that we should just ignore everything anybody does and carry an extreme “Live and Let Live” attitude, but it does call us to think about what is happening.  Crime is crime; murder is murder; abuse is abuse.  There are things that do, indeed, tear away at the fabric of society.  We need to be aware of what is happening in society and work to build up society as a whole.  But when people are placed into the “weed” category en masse, it is then, that we need to begin to wonder what is happening.  We need to question exactly what it is that makes that group a bunch of weeds.  Maybe we even need to ask, “Why am I not one of those weeds?  What have I done, or not done, that puts me in a different category?”  Are these people weeds just because they are different than you and me?  In trying to rid ourselves of the so called “weeds” are we being good stewards or are we being bullies?
So often, is seems the thing that causes one group of people to place another group of people into the category of “weed” is a lack of understanding by those who are either in the majority or those in power.  And since these OTHER people are different than those of us in the majority, there is a feeling of threat.  Now, most of us would agree that threat is not the most comfortable feeling and most of us would want to make that threat go away as soon as possible.  So, instead of learning why the power folks feel threatened and growing through the experience, the power folks turn those who are different into “weeds” and try to get rid of them.  So, to say it another way; the perception of who is a weed is based off of fear, ignorance and discomfort.  I feel uncomfortable so you need to change.
Unfortunately, right now there are various sections of our world calling each other weeds.  The Republicans are calling the Democrats weeds.  The parts of the Anglican Union are calling parts of the Episcopal Church, weeds.  Factions of the ELCA are calling other factions weeds.  These sections are trying to tear each other out by the roots.  But tearing each other out by the roots is NOT what Jesus is telling us to do.  Jesus is telling us that we are to grow together.  That has been a hallmark of both the Episcopal Church, and the Lutheran Church for hundreds of years.  That is a hallmark of what we claim to love about the United States!  We claim to work and grow together.  When we  are not so quick to yank those people we would consider weeds, we learn to grow together.  And as we grow, our fear, ignorance, and discomfort decreases.  It is in this way that we grow together and we grow into the reign of God.
It is not our job to select those who are worthy of God’s love and those who aren’t.  We are not to go around yanking people out by the roots just because WE think they are undesirable.  It is not our job to decide those who are part of the crowd and those who are the weeds.  If we were left to decide, eventually there would be no one left, except maybe me, ‘cause we all know that I never, EVER, do anything that would cause God to be disappointed!  Yeah, right!
Just like the lilies along my driveway, when we begin yanking weeds without really knowing what we are doing, we may just start yanking the flowers!  And some of those whom we have decided were weeds, if we had let them grow, may have grown to be wheat of flowers, but since we yanked them out, we will never know.  When the time for the harvest comes, God will do the deciding, but for now, our business is to help ALL to grow, regardless of whether we think they are wheat or weeds.
I do want to repeat that this does not give people free reign to do whatever they would like.  And it does not mean that we are to tolerate everything that anyone would care to do.  But it does mean that we are called to be inclusive, welcoming, and open to the alternatives the Holy Spirit might be sending in our directions.  Just consider that some people may come into our lives, not for us to change them, but that person may be a gift from God to change us.
The garden that Jesus would have us grow on Earth is one of diversity and delight.  Or maybe we need to think more along the lines of a meadow; Jesus would have us create a meadow filled with a variety of plants and animals.  This meadow is one that both sustains and dazzles us.  This meadow of diversity is found in those places where we would expect to find it, but also in those places where some may be shocked and scandalized.  The meadow that Jesus would spread across the world would be so much more than we could ever dream.   It is a place with all kinds of plants, all growing together.  Christ places this vision before us.  And Christ empowers us to help bring it to reality. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ho Humm...

Maybe it is the summer doldrums.

We are half-way through the time from when my previous church closed until the time the next possible call could come around.  And quite frankly, it is getting long.  I am one of those people who tends to "futz" over things.  And having all of this time has allowed me to futz with abandon.

Why am I doing this?
Why does it seem like others always do better?
Why does it seem like things always work for others?

I know, I am falling into the "Why" trap.  "Why" generally never solves anything.  It is what it is and part of life is just learning how to deal with what is.  But when I look at what life has been, all that comes to mind is "Why??"

Life is nothing like I had imagined.  By this point in my life, I was supposed to be firmly ensconced in the career-path of my choice.  I was supposed to have a house, wife, kids.  I was supposed to be out tinkering in the garage and  trimming the yard.

I was reading an article about a couple of gay pastors and the article was gushing about how wonderful these people are doing.  Yes, I am happy for them, but it seems that the only stories that are published are the stories about the "successful gays."  But what about the others?  What about us who are struggling because of the stupidity and prejudice of others?  What about those of us who don't have people rushing to give us the teaching jobs, the emerging churches?  What about those of us who have gotten hit by the tsunami of fear and bigotry and are just trying to keep our heads above water?  The articles want to put a happy face on the situation, but there are still people who have been hurt by the church and just rushing to the poster children isn't going to fix that.

I started this about 5 hours ago and have left it alone for a while.  Kind of lost my steam.  But this still makes me angry; just because the rule has changed doesn't mean everything is now ok.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Spread the Seed! Pentecost 4 Proper 10A

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

I have often gotten into some fairly heated discussions with people over something that may seem kind of odd.  I have gotten into discussions over whether we humans were truly capable of unconditional love.  Most people would say, “Yes, of course people are capable of unconditional love!  I love my wife unconditionally, I love my husband unconditionally, I love my kids unconditionally!  It is silly for you to even ask this!”  And these people are a little put off that I would say different.  I guess being a clergy person; I am supposed to believe that people are capable of just about anything, including unconditional love.  But if we look at the world, we see that unconditional love is sorely lacking.
I think we all would like to think that we are capable of unconditional love.  I think we would like to believe that there are people that we would love, no matter what happened, but if we look at the world, we see that the opposite seems to be the truth.  Divorces are running around 50%; half of the marriages that start with “I do forever” move to “I don’t any more.”  I am sure that for the vast majority of these people who end up divorced, on their wedding day, would have said that they loved their spouse unconditionally.  And yet, these people find that love is not unconditional and the trials of life are just too much and overpower love.  So even where there was a sincere profession of unconditional love, in the end, we find that love between humans is conditional.
Some may say, “Well, look at the love between parents and children.  We see unconditional love there!  How can you say that THIS love is conditional?”
Unfortunately, I have heard stories about parents who have disowned their children.  The child does somethi9ng or the parent learns something about the child and the child becomes a persona non grata.  In a best case scenario, the child is just kicked out of the house.  In the worst of cases, this love can turn into extreme violence.
We may want to say that these people who appear to turn their back on unconditional love are weak or morally bankrupt.  We may want to say that if we were confronted with the same situation, we would rise above the situation and show unconditional love.  We really want to say this, but I am sure most of us can think of times when we have used our “love” as a means of manipulating others.  Or we withdrew our love until the other did want we wanted.  We are as prone as others to putting conditions onto love.
Well, we may be thinking, “I KNOW there are situations and people to whom I would show unconditional love.”  And even if this were true, even if there were people what you could love unconditionally, we still have an interesting situation.  If we can be unconditional in certain situations, then we are, by definition, conditional in other situations!  We are exhibiting “conditional unconditional love!”  To my way of thinking, if there is ANY condition placed on love, then that love is NOT unconditional.  Or to quote the great bard, Meatloaf, “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that!”
So why am I spending so much time going on and on about how we fall short of the mark many of us set for ourselves?  I am doing this so we can truly see the miraculous in our midst!  And today’s gospel of the Sower and the Seed helps us to see just what unconditional love is.
The way most of us have looked at this story is that of an allegory, Jesus even tells us what each part of the story means.  And looking at the story from this point of view is not bad by any extent of the imagination!  When we study the story in this manner, we tend to think about what kind of soil our lives may be and how the word of God is growing, or not, growing in our lives.  And this is all well and good except for one thing:  This view starts with the assumption that it is all about us.  What is OUR soil like?  Are WE a good medium for God’s word to grow?  What can WE do to help God’s word to grow in OUR lives?  And again, these are not bad things to be thinking about, but if we just focus on ourselves, we are missing something.
Let’s move earlier in the story.  Let’s move to the very beginning of the story; “A sower went out to sow.” This is the very first thing that Jesus tells us in the story, and it is so often lost in the rest of the allegory.  “A sower went out to sow.”  Period.  Not, “A sower went out and fount the most perfect field to sow.”  Or even, “A sower went out and found some adequate field to sow.”  No, just a simple statement:  “A sower went out to sow.”
“And as he sowed, some seeds fell…”
So who is this sower, and what is it with these seeds?  Well, of course the sower is God.  But the seeds, now that is one we can think about for a while.  Jesus likens the seeds to “the world of the kingdom.”  This description is good, but it contains some religious buzzwords.  Another way to think of the seed is that it is knowledge of the Gospel, and that is Gospel with a capital “G;” This would be the knowledge of the unconditional love of God for US, God’s people.
Whoa!  There is that word again!  “Unconditional!”  “The unconditional love of God for Us.”
So what is happening here?  As God, the sower, is going to spread his seeds of unconditional love; some of this seed is falling on the various types of soil.  Some of this seed falls on the path while some falls on rocky ground.  Some falls among the thourns while others fall on good soil.  The point is, this seed is falling EVERYWHERE!  God is not just keeping it all nice and packaged up until God arrives at the fertile field.  No, the seeds of God’s unconditional love are flying all over the place!  Those seeds are covering EVERYTHING!
To us this may sound silly.  Why should God let the seeds fall where it is almost certain they will not grow?  Why not hold back and sow those seeds where the reward will be the greatest?  In our economy, this frivolousness does not make much sense.  To us, and to our understanding of economy, this throwing seed willy-nilly just sounds foolish.
But our understanding of economy is not God’s understanding.  To God, even the hard-packed path is worthy of love.  God keeps spreading that seed in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, some of that seed will take root and grow.  God doesn’t hold back and say, “You, Path…You are a lost cause and are not worthy of my love.”  No, God spreads God’s love, even to the hard packed path.
Now, we may be temped to say, “Since god is spreading this seed everywhere, I can just go on, I have no reason to worry about the state of the soil.”  Yes, God’s unconditional love is still there, but on the hard-packed path. That love has trouble taking root and growing.  When our hearts are hard and our soul is rocky, it is so much harder for the good news of the Gospel to reach into our lives and produce a harvest.  Or when we surround ourselves with distractions and diversions in life, the love of God can feel distant and tenuous.  The love of God is still there, still falling into our lives, it is just that we often make it difficult for that love to grow.
So often, too, we forget that God’s love is freely given.  We may feel like we have to do something to earn God’s love or be good enough to have God love us.  We may feel that we need to be perfect Christians in order to receive God’s blessing.  But we see that God’s love is spread across all kinds of soil.  God doesn’t withhold God’s love until the perfect growing situations are found; God spreads the seeds, even when growth looks nearly impossible.
Or sometimes, we see where people place standards onto others, expecting that, only those whom THEY have decided are good enough, are loved by God.  In situations like this, in situations where we pass judgment upon each other, it is not God who is withholding love; it is the judgment and prejudices of others that make life difficult.
I believe our gospel reading for today is asking two things of us.  The first is to truly contemplate what kind of soil we have in our lives.  Are we allowing the unconditional love of God to take root and grow in our lives?  Are we surrounding ourselves with rocks and thorns that are stealing away our joy?  Or are we doing the best we can to make our hearts fertile soil for God’s love?
And the second question it:  Are we helping others to cultivate rich soil in which the seed of God’s love can grow?  This second question is not just aimed at us as individual, but at us as congregations and denominations, at us as the human race.  What are we doing to help others to prepare the soil of their lives to receive God’s love?  How can we, as a community based in Christ, help the world around us to see that God’s love is not just for the few, but for all?
We may not be able to rely on ourselves to exhibit unconditional love, but we can rely on God.  God’s love IS unconditional.  God’s love is spread throughout our lives and throughout the world.  The seeds of God’s love will fall, no matter what the growing conditions.  And even though we may not be able to exhibit unconditional love, we CAN love, nonetheless.  And it is through our love for each other that God reaches out and spreads God’s love to the world.
Through the death and resurrection of Christ, we see the ultimate in unconditional love:  That while we were still sinners, Christ came to die for us.  Not just the righteous, but the unrighteous too.  And although we cannot hope to reach Christ’s level of love, we are the beneficiaries of this unconditional love.  And this is the love we are called to emulate.  We are called to the table through this love, and we are sent out into the world through this love.
I pray that we can be as extravagant with our love as our loving God.  But I also know that we will fall short.  However, just because we may fall short, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  Just because our human nature will get in our way doesn’t mean we should not reach out to the world with the love Christ has first given to us!  We are called to love and we are called to reach out.  And we can be assured that when we reach out in Christ’s love, God will bless our endeavors and grow a plentiful harvest.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

I don't get it...

Can someone please explain to me how we can accuse public school teachers of making too much money while we give billionaires "house" depreciation on their yachts?

How can we cut medicare while allowing billionaires to take 7 year depreciation on their jets?

How we can give tax cuts to industries that ship jobs overseas?

Why people would rather shut down the economy of the US rather than asking the richest of the rich to give a little more?

I am confused.

Pat Buchanan was complaining about how 51% of Americans don't pay taxes.  (This was shot down, thankfully!)  Harold Ford Jr. gave the answer I would give:  If you don't like your tax bracket, switch with one of us!  I know I would gladly deal with cutting the staff on one of my homes in order to pay more to help the country.

But I am just a barbarian gay pervert who couldn't possibly love Jesus.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Updates from the Homefront

Well, the stent is supposed to come out today.  To say I am happy would be a total understatement.  This whole thing has been just knocking me down.  Urinary Urgency is not something that is easily ignored, but when you then go to relieve yourself and not much, if any, comes out, it is just frustrating.  "Too much to ignore, but not enough to attend to."  And the urine that does pass, HURTS!  I have tried to go out, but that just makes the situation worse.  And the two Sunday mornings that I preached ended in blood and pain the rest of the day.  Possibly TMI, but I am SO excited to have the stent leave.

I have sent the Letter to a Friend to the friend.  I have not heard anything back from him.  I find it interesting that there was NO response.  Not a "thank you," not a "I still think you are a sinner," nothing.  I don't want to read too much into it, but I hope the no response represents some thought.  I told him that I would be brutally honest with him in the letter.  Maybe people don't want to think of their clergy people looking at Hustler magazine or getting aroused by men.  I didn't even mention "bait and switch" masturbation!  I don't know if people want to know that their clergy are sexual beings also.

Oh well, life goes on.  Looking forward to feeling normal once again.  Hope all is well in your world, too!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

You Better Work It! Pentecost 3 Proper 9A

Matt. 11:16-19; 25-30

A while back, back when I had my house, I had made the decision to move a tree that was in the back yard.  In moving this tree, we first started by digging around the base and getting a root ball.  But finally, we had to get under the root ball and finally yank the thing out of the ground.  We dug and then we tried to move the tree.  But it just would not move.  There were roots that just weren’t going to be cut.  We had the tree 90% out of the ground, but there was a tenacious 10% that just weren’t going to budge.
We tried to use ropes to saw through the roots.  We tried to pry the root ball up.  We tried to tug the tree out of the whole.  We tried just about everything.  Finally, we rigged a harness system and managed to pull the whole thing out of the ground.  What we thought was going to be impossible, became doable when we rigged the harness.  The harness helped, or maybe we could call the harness a yoke.
Yokes are not things we encounter very much in our world today.  Granted, a yoke is usually associated with farm work, but it is not even because most of us live in the city that we don’t see them.  Pretty much, any more, yokes are not needed.  Tractors usually do the farm work that was done by animals.  The image of two oxen pulling a plow is highly rare; unless you live near some Amish folks.  In our world today, we really don’t think much of being yoked or using yokes.
But yokes would have been very familiar to the people of Biblical times.  People would have seen animals yoked together  and probably would have used a your themselves; either for such jobs as carrying heavy loads such as water or even assisting animals in the field.  How rare one is in our time is how common they would have been in Biblical times.
What we need to remember is that in Biblical times, the yoke had two very different meanings:  One meaning would have been that of work.  The yoke represented work, hard work.  A yoke was not worn as a fashion statement; it was only worn when there was some serious work to be done.  However, the other meaning is almost the opposite; the yoke also represented ease.  By wearing a yoke, the work that HAD to be done was much more easy to do than if it were done without a yoke.  The yoke didn’t get rid of the work, but it did make the work easier to do.  So actually, the yoke had two meanings:  Yes, it meant work, but the work that had to be done was easier with the yoke than without the yoke.
The one thing the yoke never does, though, is deny that there is work to be done.  It never denies that things need to happen in life.  What it does tell us is that these tasks in life, while being unavoidable, can be easier.  The yoke says that the work can be made easier, but it never says that the work can be avoided.
In our age, we hear Jesus talking about yokes and we may question why we should even have to wear a yoke.  We can just hire someone else to do the work for us, can’t we?  We can pass the yoke off onto another person and not have to be troubled with the work at hand.  We have gotten used to having the hard work done for us; and if we do the hard work ourselves, we wear it like a badge or award.  “Yep, I dug that pond out myself; I didn’t even rent a backhoe!” 
We like to think we can just pass the work off onto another.  But if we think about it, we all have a yoke on of some sort.  It may not be a yoke for carrying water, or for plowing, but we are all carrying heavy weights around.  Are we dragging around our wealth?  Are we dragging around our power?  Are we plowing up the field of self-worth?  Or are we dragging around some different kinds of weights?  Are we dragging around the belief that we are unworthy?  Are we toting a load of guilt and self-hatred?  Are we carrying a belief that God’s gifts are not for us?  What are the weights you are carrying?  You may have been carrying these weights for so long that you don’t even notice them anymore.  But even though you may not notice the weight, it is still there, slowing your steps and sapping your energy as you carry it.
One experience I had with yokes was in carrying canoes.  When you portage a canoe, you have to move the canoe and all of your equipment from one side of an obstacle, such as a dam, to the other side.  I don’t know if any of you have ever carried a canoe, but they are not the easiest things to transport.  They are long, they are awkward, and they can be pretty heavy.  If you are traveling by canoe, though, you cannot just leave the canoe sit on one side of the dam and walk to the other side of the dam and just find a canoe sitting there.  You have to do the work; you have to get your boat and equipment to the other side of the dam.  A canoe yoke helps you to balance the weight of the canoe on your shoulders and helps you to move the canoe through the portage.  The simple fact is, the boat has to move; the yoke makes that move so much easier.
In offering us his yoke, Jesus is telling us two things, the same two things the people of Biblical times would have understood from the yoke itself.  The first is that there IS some hard work that has to be done.  The second is that this work can be made much more easy through Christ.
The work Jesus calls us to is the work of discipleship.  We are called to follow Jesus.  We are called to discipline ourselves to be about Christ’s work in the world.  We may not recognize it, but disciple and discipline come from the same word.  Discipline is not a bad thing!  In our society, we tend to equate discipline with punishment.  However, these are not the same thing.  Punishment is inflicting an adverse stimulus contingent upon a behavior happening or removing a positive stimulus contingent upon a behavior happening.  Another way to think of this is getting a speeding ticket for driving too fast or losing your license for drunk driving.  In punishment, the thing that is trying to control behavior is coming from outside. 
Now in discipline, the controlling factor comes from within.  We control our behavior because we want a specific result or to reach a desired goal.  Think about foregoing the piece of chocolate cake or getting up at 6 am to go to the gym.  Punishment is imposed from the outside; discipline emerges from the inside.
So how is the yoke of Jesus a form of discipline and not a punishment?  Being forced to work, isn’t that a punishment?  Possibly in our time we see work as a punishment, but in Biblical times, for the people who would be reading the Bible, work wasn’t a punishment, work just was.  For the people who would have first heard the Bible, carrying water and plowing the fields would have been facts of life.  They would not have been seen as punishment.  However, the yoke to help ease the labor would have been seen as a gift, just as a dishwasher was a gift for me when I got one.
But with the yoke come discipline.  I could still pile the dishes in the sink, even with a dishwasher, if I don’t put the dishes in the thing, it can’t help me!  I have to have the discipline to put the dishes into the dishwasher in order to have the dishwasher lighten my burden.  Jesus gives us the gift of his yoke, but we need to have discipline in order to have this yoke lighten our load.  The gift is there, freely given, but we need to train ourselves to get the most from it.
This is where discipleship really comes into play.  It is through disciplines like prayer, worship, and studying scripture that we prepare ourselves to fully take on the yoke of Christ.  It is through encouraging each other to prayer, worship, and study that we prepare our community to take on the yoke of Christ in the world.  We learn in scripture and prayer that we are loved and special, not because of what we have or what we can do, but because we are the beloved children of God.  It is through worship that we learn our place in this world and connect to our community of faith.  It is through encouragement, service, and giving that we find our purpose in life.  It is when we practice these forms of discipline, become disciples, that we get the most out of life.
Jesus does not give us false hope by telling us that everything is going to be easy.  Jesus doesn’t sya that in following him life will be a breeze.  However, Jesus does tell us that through him, the burden will be life.  When we follow the discipline of discipleship, the trials in our lives are place into perspective.  We remember that there is more to the world than what we see before us.  We know that our story doesn’t end with our death, but lives on in our life in Christ.
So although a yoke may sound life work, it is really a gift.  Christ’s gift to us is a yoke to ease our struggle.  The yoke doesn’t deny that there will be work to do in the world, but it does tell us that the struggles of life will not overcome us.  The struggles in life are not the final word.
So what is the best way to begin the discipline that leads to discipleship?  How do we learn to wear the yoke that Jesus presents to us?  Well, we just need to start.  We make the choice to read the Bible.  We make the choice to be present at worship.  We make the choice to tell people about Jesus.  It is no big event, it is just small changes.  But these small changes can change your life!  Whatever you choose, just make the choice and then do it!
The yoke is easy and the burden is light, but through Christ, life will never be the same!