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The Yoke and a Different Kind of Labor Day

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The day had started like most days. The morning sun was beating down on the dusty dirt road and little rain was in sight. The days were now beginning to get a little shorter and the heat had started to be less oppressive. Summer was now turning to fall and the grain fields were ripe for harvest. Jesus could look out and see the fruits of the labor of the farmer. He knew the farming routine like the back of his hand even though his trade was with wood. He had seen the drama play out for as long as he could remember.

The two oxen were given the yoke and it was no easy chore to even place it over their heads, settling it onto the base of their neck and their shoulders. Gosh how stubborn those huge animals were! It was quite an event to get them to plow along the path the farmer wanted. Sometimes the hard headed oxen listened; at other times they would need a good hard directive to keep them on their path with a wooden stick that had a nail in it.

Jesus was standing in the shadows of a place of worship watching as the Pharisees and Sadducees entered into the synagogue while looking just across the fields at the laborers cutting the wheat for harvest. Some could go into the house of the Lord while others were left standing. Jesus was watching the whole scene play out. Between the farmer and the farm hands working in the field, the “holy” men entering the synagogue, and the outcasts unable to read or hear the word of God, a crisis was about to occur like a car stuck on a train track with the conductor blowing the horn from the engine of a fast moving train. It was coming by golly!

Oh how heavy, how burdensome it all was, he thought. Those people entering that synagogue with all of those rules; how could a person stand to walk with the heavy yoke of a religion draped over their heads like a heavy yoke, being yanked around by the straps of a hard headed religious know-it-all, and the pull of a translated religion based on heavy laws and opinions that over time would wear a person completely down; Is this what the love of God was supposed to be about, he thought?

Between the crossroads of this religious place and a grain field ripe for harvest, it hit him: this whole event is exactly how people believe they should relate to God. The do’s and don’ts, the regulations, all of it, every single word of it that those leaders required, all, painted a picture of a God of wrath and judgment and ritual. If there was one thing, one thing Jesus knew, it was that this kind of ritual did not represent who He knew God to be. In the shadows of the holy place, within earshot of a farmer’s toil and labor, of fancy Pharisees prancing around in their religious garb, and people on the outside looking in, he began to speak:

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you 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 is light.”

People who heard those words of Jesus, his disciples, the outcasts, and the hyper religious knew what Jesus was saying. The “sinners”, those who were not allowed into the holy place, knew the heavy yoke of both the ox and the religion that played out every day. If you were on the outside of the religion of the day, you knew it was impossible to keep all the do’s and don’ts.

He finished his sermon and immediately allowed his life’s events to be a living kind of illustration where once again, he would tick off a bunch of those he would call hypocrites, the same bunch that would kill him one day. He would take his disciples after the farmer had finished his work and walk through the field, picking and eating whatever grain they could find on the day of the Lord. Problem was that it was the Sabbath, and Jesus had a point to make, a point that would only further to anger the Pharisees that while they were wearing people out with their laws, they had neglected the point of any religion which was mercy and justice and a relieving of heavy burdens in the lives of people who hurt.

No more had Jesus began to walk through the field than the Pharisees, who were watching from their building, yelled out, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” Jesus, having heard their religious baloney all too many times before had an idea what they were going to say.

Jesus yelled back to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Oh it was on now! They knew their bible well enough to know that no man born from a woman was going to be THEIR Messiah! They were sure of what the bible said, dead set sure, and no one was going to misinterpret what they felt was right to do by the good book! And to say that there was “something greater than the temple?” Really?

To make a point of what he meant by how they were using their temple, he upped the ante with one more little exercise to prove his point. He healed a man, on the Lords day, in the temple of the most high and kinda hit them with their own bible from 1 Samuel 15:22 that reads; “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8″For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Something greater than the house of the Lord? Compassion, not worship? People over the law?

Happy Labor day!

Beaver Pond Woody

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The clay pot is sealed and buried in the middle of the beaten down clay dirt floor. It is all they have. There is no bank to invest it in. There is no portfolio, no 401K. It is all they have and they pray they will not need it anytime soon. But they know if they need it, they can access it, digging it up, and breaking the clay pot that it resides in.

I am not sure if anyone has ever done a “gospel according to the clay pot that houses the family treasure.” What would it say if it could talk? Perhaps it would say, “My greatest purpose is not yet realized! I will have to be busted and broken for you to get at what I am holding!” Maybe it would echo, “I am made by the hands of a great potter, as are you, and my purpose will never be realized until I am broken, just like you.” But there is that inference right there in the holy writ. Paul talked about it as he dealt with his own brokeness. It was as if he understood that to be fully human and fully purposeful is realized only when we are broken.

It is a novel concept, isn’t it? In a society of hunks and hormones, of strength and stamina, we are given the illustration by Paul that we are a pot, formed by a great potter,and that found inside of us is a treasure, which is released and given by only being broken. Unexpected illness, unexplained death, hopes destroyed, grieving, heart-wrenching, cancer filled; broken!

It is T-minus 11 days and I pray I have done this special art piece the justice it deserves. It will be surrounded at the time of it’s presentation by hundreds of art pieces that have been completed by artists whose health was in no way compromised and they were able to spend months and years on some of them, concentrating with no distractions, each stroke of the hand having nothing in the way but his or her own imagination. I will be compared to each of them accordingly with so few having a faint clue to the person behind the creation of this flying wood duck that I have called, “Beaver Pond Woody”.

I have yet to know why in the world I chose to do of all ducks, a flying one and on top of that, the most colorful of all ducks, all complicated with the fact that the artist doing this piece is “all broke up.” My day begins by placing my brain in gear for the pain that will momentarily run throughout my body. Bed is my good friend and enemy, all wrapped up in one. I start by massaging my hands, rubbing my neck, massaging my back, trying to get up enough strength to stand, grabbing door facings, an ironing board, anything that will help me to start. Each breath and every heartbeat shoots a signal to my brain that I am not at my best because I am broken.

I think of the work that lies before me for this day. I think of my children where each day brings their own set of stressors and I think about the person God has given me to walk with, in the midst of it all and I pray. For all that I don’t understand and all that awaits and the reasoning beyond my own understanding of pain and suffering, I stop and pray for one thing: that the treasure that is found inside of this broken pot will be of value to the brokenness of our own world.