St. Francis Sermon

St. Alban’s Church                                                                     Jeremiah 22: 13 – 16

October 3, 2021                                                                            Psalm 148: 7 – 14

St. Francis Sunday                                                                      Galatians 6: 14 – 18

Pastor Jim Stickney                                                                    Matthew 11: 25 – 30



My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.


These words of Jesus are at the end of the passage from Matthew we just heard,

and to my mind they embody a spiritual puzzle, or perhaps even a riddle.

We find many spiritual puzzles embedded in the text of the Old and New Testaments.


There’s a beautiful phrase from Psalm 85 which combines polar opposites:

Mercy and truth have met together — justice and peace have kissed each other.

How can we show mercy if we’re intent on telling the truth of the human condition?

When we execute justice, it more often leads to punishment than to peace.

But no: Mercy and truth have met together — justice and peace have kissed each other.


For two thousand years, Christian have been working out these tensions

found in Jesus’s teachings, which are both puzzling and at the same time comforting.

When a rural farmer wants to control several animals to plow a field

or to pull a wagon, a yoke is used, to keep divergent energies focused on the task.


There is a yoke, and yet it’s easy. We carry a burden, and yet it is light.

One pious story I’ve always liked comes from Joseph’s carpenter shop,  that his                            apprentice Jesus made the best yokes: they would not chafe the animals,

because each yoke was crafted to fit. These “easy” yokes made the burdens light.


My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.


All of us are members of several family systems, not the least of which is this church.

We are living in the midst of tensions that sometimes threaten to tear us up.

How do we say “no” to the earnest demands of people who have a claim on us,

on our time, on our money, on our attention? because saying a “Yes”

to someone means saying many “No”s to a lot of other people and possibilities.


Here’s how I work out this Christian meditation puzzle: say Yes to God first.

Everything else — families of origin, families of choice, work obligations, and the rest:

all these are secondary to our relationship with God, above all and within all.

All persons have burdens and yokes, duties and sometimes competing responsibilities.

But the burdens of a Christian becomes easier the longer you carry them.


My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.


If every time we turned a page of the Bible we only found exalted success stories

of insightful and perfect people who never strayed from the path,

we’d soon put the Good Book aside with a sigh, and say to two things to ourselves:

I’ll never measure up to that lofty standard. And frankly, I’m a little bored.


In contrast, when humanity encounters divine truth, we so often get it wrong.

Jesus Christ is the only perfect person in the Bible. The rest are like us,

holding on to high ideals even when we trip over our egos and fall again.


Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Francis, and we’re celebrating it on this day.

In past years, we’ve had the Blessing of the Animals, and at suburban churches,

people would bring the usual cats and dogs, hamsters and the occasional snake.

But for several years I served in California’s Central Valley, and more than once

someone would arrive on horseback. Thankfully, no dairy cows.


And yet St. Francis can symbolize more for us. We know that Francis made a claim

that he loved Lady Poverty, and his followers tried their best to live simple lives.

And Christians who are committed to environmental causes point to Francis as a person

whose love for Mother Earth is celebrated in his compelling nature poem

“The Canticle of the Sun”, which we will sing at the end of today’s service.


Of course we can see a clear link between voluntary poverty and concern for the earth.

A consumer society like ours need the prophetic witness of people like Francis

to live more simply, that others may simply live.


As all of us can easily discover, concerns about many possessions can be hard on us,

an increasing burden on our time and certainly on our finances.

As we strive to live more simply, we can take heart in Jesus’ direct invitation:


My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.