Sunday Week 14 Year A

Two score and six years ago on this day my mother and father married. He used to say it was the day he lost his independence. He also said it was the day he began to lose his hair. Somehow subconsciously, over the years, I came to believe in that connection. Bald is bad—and not just cosmetically—in my mind lack of hair is associated with lack of freedom, lack of independence. A self-serving philosophy to be sure since I’m the only one in my family who has preserved his hairline and thus, by watertight reasoning, the only one who has preserved his independence. Religious life is a great way to preserve your independence—obedience is a small price to pay for autonomy. And come to think of it poverty and chastity help too. They provide the perfect excuse to live without the entanglements of living and above all to do so virtuously—because God wants it.
“Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.” All the paradox of our lives is wrapped up in that invitation. All you need to be free is to choose to wear the yoke of slavery.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuge of your teeming shore.” Another invitation. Shining across a dark ocean. No forms to fill, no standards to meet, no quotas, no questions. All the paradox of a nation’s life is wrapped up in that invitation. All you need to be free is to choose to wear the yoke of welcome.
When I first came to these shores I made a big mistake. I thought this was a nation in the same way that countries in Europe are nations—long family squabbles stretched out in soil and blood for longer than anyone remembers, where we all laugh at the familiar jokes before we ever hear the punch-line and we all cringe in unison as Uncle Harry says once again “Have I ever told you …?”
It took me a year or two to realise that the United States isn’t a nation at all in that sense. Here instead is something new, something self-consciously new—an experiment in living, working itself out on the clean surface of a new world. An experiment in freedom with all the funding provided by God. A messianic destiny to be light for the world.
Then I began to see the paradoxes unfold. I’ve never been anywhere with such a self-conscious sense of having an ideal to live up to—the inalienable rights of all people to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. But right alongside it an amazing amnesia about the disgusting treatment of those who were already here when America arrived.
Such hospitality alongside such violence. Such a thirst for freedom alongside such a tendency to rescue the rest of the world whether it wants it or not.
I don’t understand America. You fought a bloody war to be free of the yoke of English kings yet you are more obsessed with the English Royal Family than any Brit. You are famed for your practical, pragmatic, down-to-earth attitude but half the shows on TV are fantasies of an uncanny present or of a future with America writ large on the stars.
I don’t understand America but I do love her. She speaks to my soul too. Whispers a dream of how a world might be if we let God dream in us.
Like Zechariah’s dream of a ruler who comes to us riding on a donkey, not just because it is the transport of the poor—which would be startling enough—but also because she won’t associate herself with the war-horse and the chariot and the bow—the stealth fighter and smart bomb of her own age. Isn’t that a dream worth dreaming—of a world at peace, with the terror of violence only a forgotten memory?
Or what about Jesus’ own dream? Of a world where the little ones—your tired, your poor, your huddled masses—are not only tolerated but put first. Where politics and policy favour the weak, the lost, the vulnerable, where they get first choice and not just the leftovers.
Dreams. How many of the coming candidates for national office are dreaming God’s dreams? Our dreams stay dreams because we know there is a price tag we are unwilling to pay. Whether it’s higher taxes or added responsibility, there’s a yoke to shoulder. And a yoke doesn’t just mean work it means shared work. It means restricted freedom and lost independence. It means pulling alongside another for the common good. And if Jesus is right it also means rest for our souls.
Somehow in the last dozen years my unconscious dreams of religious life have been shattered. It has not meant independence. It has meant entanglement and passion and pain and joy and freedom abandoned for freedom’s sake … and yet I’ve still got my hair. Though now I’d gladly give it up for what I’ve found.
This morning, an ocean away, my mother spoke wistfully of marriage and my dead father. “Four more years,” she said, “and we’d be celebrating our golden wedding… but let’s not talk about that.” She’d gladly give all the freedom she’s found since his death to taste again the freedom she knew when he was yoked by her side.
Jesus is the same. He’d gladly give up all his freedom to wear your yoke and be at your side.