Preached July 3, 2011, at Douglas Congregational United Church of Christ (www.douglasucc.org) by Rev. Andy DeBraber
Matthew 11:25-30 (Inclusive Text)
Jesus exclaimed, 'I bless you, O God, Ruler of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. It is true, Abba, because you have graciously willed it so. You have given everything over to me. No one knows me but you, Abba, and no one knows you, Abba, except me and those to whom I choose to reveal you.'
'Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.'
My friend Kate moved to Germany at the end of April. Some of you may remember her. She visited us here once or twice. She was the interim director of the Triangle Foundation and previous to that led the AFSC LGBT Issues Program, a statewide faith group working for inclusive justice of which I was a part.
About living in Germany, she recently wrote: “It's been almost two months since I came and I am finally feeling like I am not just functioning on adrenaline anymore...ahhh... It's so good to have the mental space to listen to the birds again, sleep soundly (not just pass-out because of exhaustion) and to have time to share with people.”
Doesn’t that sound like a picture of life lived well and fully? “To listen to the birds, to sleep soundly, to share with people.” We could make an advertising campaign out of it: “Tired? Overburdened? Weary? Come and listen to the birds. Come and sleep soundly. Come and share life with those you love.”
For some of us, this is a choice we can make each day. Just as I put on this stole each Sunday morning to mark my being yoked to the Spirit of God, so too each one of us has taken a yoke upon our shoulders this morning. The question is: are we aware of the yoke? Are we laboring under and with the masters we desire?
One of us got up this morning and put on the yoke of worrying what other people think: how will I look if I wear this? what about my hair this way? or that? If I wear red, white, and blue, am I too patriotic looking? If I don’t, will they think I’m disloyal or unpatriotic?
Another of us got up this morning and put on the yoke of keeping up with the Joneses: I’ve got to have that kind of car, this kind of wine, that brand of clothes, and a dwelling place that is just so.
A third person got up this morning and put on the yoke of all the things that need to get done: dishes and dinner, mail and email, pay the bills and polish the brass, pull the weeds and mow the grass, sweep the floor and call my mom, the list goes on and on.
A few lucky ones of us might have awakened this morning and asked, “How can I live in Love today?” A few lucky ones of us might have awakened this morning and put on the yoke of Love, saying, “Today, I hitch myself to the one who calls me “Beloved...the one in whom I delight.” The burden of this yoke is simple, easy, and light: love God, love neighbor, love self. All who are weary and heavy burdened, come to this place. Hitch on to this yoke, and find rest for your souls.
I would love to end this homily right here and practice putting on this yoke. Some of us can do that. Many of us. In fact, it may be helpful for you to have a rope or piece of fabric or wood that you can take each morning and place around your shoulders, remembering, “Today, I yoke myself to Love. Now what can I do to live in that space?”
But I can’t stop there. You know the saying, “Give someone a fish and they eat for a day; teach them to fish and they eat for a lifetime”? Well, as I’ve said before, that’s all well and good as long as they have access to a lake or river. In other words, who owns the lake? Will they let us on it?
There are some here (or more likely not here) because they cannot rest. They work on Sundays and holidays. We live in an United States of America on this Independence Day weekend that is for so many not the land of the free but the land of the overworked. There is no time for rest.
One of the reasons my friend Kate finds Germany to be a place where she can “listen to the birds, sleep soundly, and have time to share with people” is that we in America work an average of 378 more hours per year than those in Germany. That’s nearly 10 forty-hour work weeks, almost a week off per month. Six weeks paid vacation is the norm there, and working on the weekends only happens by strictest necessity.
On the contrary, at the altar of efficiency, we worship the God of productivity. More and more, people are being asked to take on two jobs as people are let go or retire and are not replaced. And without some kind of assurance of continued employment, when the boss says you have to work the next two Saturdays in addition to two hours overtime every day for the next month, what choice do you have? Say no and get demoted, docked pay, or fired. One might argue that corporations love high unemployment because they can so easily find replacement workers.
This is the great American Speedup, according to an article in Mother Jones Magazine. Formerly a household word, Webster's defines speedup as "an employer's demand for accelerated output without increased pay.” Bosses would speed up the line to fill a big order, to goose profits, or to punish a restive workforce. Workers recognized it, unions (remember those?) watched for and negotiated over it—and, if necessary, walked out over it.
The writers of the article continue: Does this “Sound familiar: Mind racing at 4 a.m.? Guiltily realizing you've been only half-listening to your child for the past hour? Checking work email at a stoplight, at the dinner table, in bed? Dreading once-pleasant diversions, like dinner with friends, as just one more thing on your to-do list?”
Sounds like time to check the yoke, to me.
“To balk at working hard—really, really hard—brands you as profoundly un-American. Who besides the archetypical Japanese salaryman derives so much of his self-image from self-sacrifice on the job? Slacker is one of the most biting insults available in polite company.
“And so we kowtow to—nay, embrace—a cultural maxim that just happens to be enormously convenient to corporate America. "Our culture has encouraged me to only feel valuable if I'm barely hanging on to my sanity," one friend emailed as we were working on this article. In fact, each time we mentioned this topic to someone—reader, source, friend—they first took pains to say: I'm not lazy. I love my job. I come from a long line of hard workers. But then it would pour out of them—the fatigue, the isolation, the guilt.”
I don’t need to tell you how dangerous this is to our society and how unhealthy it is for individuals and families. We are talking about people working in professions in which one mistake can have tragic effects, such as surgeons, air traffic controllers, and firefighters.
If you are in this camp, know that it’s not just you nor is it a personal failing. It’s happening everywhere - to hotel maids and sales clerks, to project managers, engineers, and doctors.
And we can do something about it. One, we can practice healthy habits ourselves: putting on the yoke of Love at all times, even when the yoke of work is much easier and concrete and, sometimes, more rewarding (it can be easier to answer emails than deal with the real live person in front of us). Relationships suffer when we’re constantly online or checking email or have no time for anything but working, eating, and sleeping. Our society, culture, and nation suffer.
Two, if you are in corporate leadership or business for yourself, take the lead of firms like Mule Design Studio, a web-design shop with a number of blue-chip clients, which has the following policy: "Our office hours are Monday through Friday 9-6. We do not hand out our cell phone numbers. On the weekend, we cease to exist."
Three, we can advocate to change three dubious statistics we hold as the US: We are one of 16 nations that don’t require time off each week; one of nine that don’t require paid annual leave; and one of six that don’t require paid maternity leave.
Finally, we can make choices about our lifestyle, requiring less cash and work, more sharing, and increased time to listen to the birds, sleep well, and be with the people we love.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” Let us heed this personally and make it possible for all in this great country.