Joy Is Our Strength

Nehemiah 8:5-12 Common English Bible

5 Standing above all of the people, Ezra the scribe opened the scroll in the sight of all of the people. And as he opened it, all of the people stood up.

6 Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all of the people answered, “Amen! Amen!” while raising their hands. Then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

7 The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah[c]—helped the people to understand the Instruction while the people remained in their places.

8 They read aloud from the scroll, the Instruction from God, explaining and interpreting it so the people could understand what they heard.

9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all of the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Don’t mourn or weep.” They said this[d] because all the people wept when they heard the words of the Instruction.

10 “Go, eat rich food, and drink something sweet,” he said to them, “and send portions of this to any who have nothing ready! This day is holy to our Lord. Don’t be sad, because the joy from the Lord is your strength!”

11 The Levites also calmed all of the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy. Don’t be sad!”

12 Then all of the people went to eat and to drink, to send portions, and to have a great celebration, because they understood what had been said to them.

Holy and Loving God, You gave your people the laws to guide them. You gave yourself through the person of Jesus to be with them. For us to know and experience your love, your compassion. To show us a new way forward, a new life forward. God, give us the courage to see your light. God, give us the eyes to see your good news. We thank you that you reveal yourself to us. Show yourself to us now, We pray, Amen. 

I moved to Boston about five years ago from California. There are some adjustments you need to make, when you move to a new town. There were winters getting used to. And the vibe of the town. The people. And an adjustment, to how. you. drive. 

Driving around greater Boston, Lord Jesus, is quite the experience transition from driving around northern California. First of all, we’ve got these things called a Rotary. If you don’t know what it is, it’s this round thing, and there’s usually at least four intersections coming into it, and we all have to go around. We should simply call it Pure Chaos. I go. You go. Everybody yields. While we all go around and around in a circle. Try following that and Google maps and cars and pedestrians all at the same time and after a while you’re like, I know this dance! 

When you move to a new city. Into a new house. Starting a new job. Beginning a new relationship. Beginning of a new school year. New Season. These are the times when we take stock of what has served us. What changes we might make going forward. What I will keep and promise and agree with others around me to do. New land. New laws. Adjustments. And a hope for the future. What this new venture will offer to me and me to it, and how we will move forward. How I will make meaning on this new landscape.

This is actually what’s happening in today’s text. The Jewish people had been away, held captive in Babylon, and now, they were back in Jerusalem, ready to rebuild their land. They were returning from years of exile in someone else’s land, and as they were re-landing back to their own, it was time to regroup and lay down ground rules together again.

The priest and a teacher of the law, Ezra pulled together the old laws, reviewed them, made revisions, and then brought the people together, standing on a wooden platform, he read the laws out loud to everyone. He read, and they apparently interpreted for each other, maybe there were some breakout groups to discuss and process together, explaining to each other so that they’d understand the laws, they did this all morning from sunrise to noon.

As they were listening, and this is the part that’s the most intriguing to me, the people cried. They cried listening to laws. Why? Were they upset? Were they like, this is gonna be impossible to abide by? I really wonder why they cried. 

Our scripture reading today actually comes from our Kids Church “curriculum” from July. I say “curriculum” in quotes, because, for one thing, we don’t call it Sunday School, and call it Kids Church on purpose. It’s not just a place you learn. Schooling, teaching, learning is not the center of it. And so it’s less a “curriculum” but a more framework and approach that shapes what we do with kids on Sunday mornings here at Reservoir church. It’s simply a story from the Bible that we tell, as is, and then just listen, ponder, wonder, ask questions, and discuss with and around it–is the main point. 

The “curriculum” is based on one called Godly Play. It’s been one of my favorite children’s ministry curriculum in the past decade or so, one that’s a mix of spirituality, wonder and play and the Montessori approach. 

Our pre/k program actually uses the Godly Play method pretty intentionally. Our elementary program more or less does kind of Godly Play lite. 

And what they do is, they tell a story from the Bible and then afterwards, the kids cry, just kidding, afterwards they ask these things called, “wondering questions.” The questions are not a set up answers for memorization or to conclude the moral of the story. It’s to literally just get their reaction. I wonder why the story happened like this or like that. I wonder what’s your favorite part. I wonder what can be left out. 

So we’re going to actually do that now. I’m going to first give all of us a moment to think, for like a minute. Cause I’m really curious. Why do you think they cried? 

So close your eyes if you want, to really wonder and ponder on it. Maybe imagine all these people and Ezra standing on a podium reading the law, and people crying. Why do you think they cried? 

Let me gather us back together. 

So in the spirit of Godly Play, my message today is not an offering of any answers but an invitation to wonder together this story and just to make space. 

The beauty of it all is how you resonate with the story with each of your unique stories. 

It may be that there have been times when you heard some news, it made you cry and at the same time you also celebrated. Maybe you also know what it means and feels like to be both really sad and yet also joyful at the same time. When something touched you deeply and you felt it, it made you feel like you could cry and laugh.

I was just so struck by this story because I love tears. I’m a person who is very close to their tears. I see a touching commercial and I cry. I imagined that after being in exile, and coming back to their land, hearing the laws might’ve even felt unreal. Are we really here? Back? Can I dare live as if we’re not slaves? 

And I still don’t know what to make of the priest and Levites (side note: apparently Levites doesn’t just mean descendants of Levi, yes and it’s a group of people referred to that were the priest assistants). It kind of feels like they were cutting off the grief and tears and encouraging them to go eat and celebrate for this is a joyous occasion. I sense on one hand, maybe this was good leadership. “Stop crying, we’re done grieving having been exiles. We’re done now. Let’s lean in and enjoy our life now!”, helping them move on as a nation? And on the other hand, was there a real mix of responses and were the leaders trying to just shut it down and diminish it? 

A theme of the book of Nehemiah and the book right before it, Ezra, which often are found in manuscripts as just one book, and most attribute the two books to one author, is that one of the glaring issues was one of identity. Particularly since while they were in exile, there was some mixing… mixing of races and intermarriages, that at that time, under their original law, was frowned upon. There are prayers of Ezra, confessing the sins of so many intermarriages, and even a list of the names of men who did so. We don’t know for SURE what they exactly decided to do with this issue. And we don’t know exactly what laws were condensed, or rewritten, either to further reinforce the tradition of not intermarrying, or somehow made efforts to include them in some way or form. It’s unclear from the text. 

The response was real. People cried. Audibly. Visibly. I just think it’s so funny, this call to rejoice right at the heels, right in the midst of grieving, weeping, crying, but go eat rich food and drink something sweet. I mean that’s what I do when I’m sad. I eat chocolate. 

This text reminded me of a text in the New Testament. Another time when some folks heard some news and were bewildered. I don’t know why the connection came to me, but that’s what I’ve been wondering with, the connection maybe between these two texts. I’ll read for us. It comes from the end of the Gospel of Mark. 

Mark 16:1-8 – Empty Tomb

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body.

2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb.

3 They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?”

4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!)

5 Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled.

6 But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.[a] He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him.

7 Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”

8 Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.[b

Overcome with terror and dread, at the announcement that Jesus has been raised from the dead. 

This is actually the original final ending of the book of Mark. In our Bible there’s more. Verse 9 to 20, that has a reappearing of Jesus, a kind of a few more words from Jesus that wraps up the story better. And you’ll see in your Bibles, between verse 8 and 9, a tiny footnote that says

“The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.” 

The original ending of the story of Jesus that Mark wrote ended with, verse 8,

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

That’s it. 

  • How are we to respond to the Laws?
  • How do we respond to a vision of a more idealized hope of how we should live (that’s what a law is, or at least should be)?
  • How are we to respond to the fact that when all we knew was death, and here was a man named Jesus, who spoke of heavenly things, apparently raised back from the dead?
  • How are we to respond to the Good News or the Gospel?
  • How do you respond?

I think it makes sense for us to be utterly shaken. If we are not, I wonder if we really heard it at all. And I think it is natural to have a mix of emotions. One of fear, like a fear of God, and also at same time, a nervous excited joy of the unknown future. I think the story of Nehemiah and the story of Mark both show us the depth and breadth of the range of responses and the permission to have them all. There’s not just one way to respond and the response might feel very visceral or intense. It’s okay to have a mix of feelings of being sad and happy at the same time for the same reason. 

A few weeks ago I met with a fellow Asian American woman for coffee. This kind of similar socio-location is fun to do. It’s like if the intermarried women of Jewish exiles got to chat after they heard Ezra’s laws. There’s this shared experience and wisdom. We shared our location, our settlement and the timing. She was born here, in America. I moved here when I was nine. She talked about being a child of poor immigrants, seeing their parents not being able to fully be honored or accepted and seen for who they are and what their gifts were. And at the same time, I saw a woman in front of me, who was gifted in her career, successful in many ways, blessed with a good life as good as anyone next to her.

And I asked her,

“so how does that feel? Like being a child of a poor immigrant, and now living the life you have now?”

She was a little stunned by my question, like who asks questions like that haha, saying,

“oh right you’re a pastor”

and I was like,

“yes and I’m also projecting, because it’s a thing, that specific experience… I have feelings about it.”

Well I let her go first and she said this… The first few emotions that she shared with me were not like, I’m so blessed and I’m grateful I’m so lucky, but that she feels guilty. She felt guilty that she’ not maybe having more joy like she’s supposed to. She felt guilty that sometimes she felt down like she’s not allowed to do that. And she felt guilty for feeling guilty. She’s grateful of course for the life she has now, but yeah, it was a mix. And I felt the same. Like I didn’t know how to live this life. A life that has been gifted to us too abundantly, too mercifully. And the pain and the suffering of our past, of our parents, our people, that that still is with us and lingers in us and that still hurts. 

I wonder if we feel like that after God has brought us back from what might have felt like exile, or suffering, or near death. I wonder if we have a hard time coming to terms with the extravagant love of God that God has bestowed upon us. Do we even know what to do with that? You can even be bewildered and not know how to process it all in the moment and feel speechless, the women at the tomb did. And I think the Bible tells us today to go eat something sweet. I’m… kidding… kind of. 

I wonder how it’s felt for you when God’s spoken to you. Or when you first encountered the resurrected Jesus. I wonder if you cried. Or if you were a bit scared. I wonder if you were told to rejoice cause you’re supposed to but you found it all a bit confusing all at the same time. 

I do like the added ending of Mark too though, verse 9-20. Jesus appears to them and says to them,

“Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”

I don’t know, I mean I have mixed feelings about it. I kind of feel like some other author added a happy ending to it and I don’t know if I agree with that. But the part I like is, “Go.” Just like Nehemiah too, “Go.” Go talk to people. Go eat with them. Go party. Go Celebrate. Go. 

And actually this brings us to the exact format of the Godly Play curriculum. In the classrooms, after the children hear the story, discuss, they respond, and then they GO to a time where they might interact with the theme but also just play games, build something, paint/draw, whatever you want to do, but the intention behind really is all about just being in community. Go and be in community with whatever you just heard, however you heard, whatever it might be bringing up for you, wonder and play and interact with it with others and see what it does. 

This was my teaser for a class I will be co-teaching with pastor Dan in October called Godly Play Spirituality for Everyone: Deconstructing and Reconstructing Faith Traditions in October. It’ll be a three part series on the Bible, Spiritual Practices, and Community. I feel like for so many of us, we’re asking the question, what does faith look like for me in my context, in my life. What do I keep from traditions of Christianity and what can I part with that no longer serves me. Again, a way forward that will begin to shape your own faith identity. We’ll do that together as a community. And yes, it’ll end with a meal.

 Hopefully with rich food and some sweet drinks. Because no matter what we go through together, even if it’s through many seasons of grief and through tears, not despite it but with it and through the crying, we are called to go and celebrate, to claim joy. The joy of living. The joy of our God who delights in us. The joy of our resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s invite one another, to be together, share dinners, tables, and meals together, even cry together, and choose joy again and again.  May joy be our strength. 

Okay, let me pray for us. 

Lord, you have our hearts. And we search for yours. Let us be your living sacrifices, a fragrant pleasing to you oh God. Let our tears fall on thee. Let our joy rise to thee. And give us one another to do so as a people, who can remind one another of the law you give us, of the life you give us, of the joy you give us again and again, in and through all that we might be facing in our own lives in work, in family, in relationships, in our nation, in our society, in our world, give us your strength. The strength of joy through it all. We pray. Amen. 


Walking with Jesus

Around this time of year, every year, we start getting that question,

“So, how was your summer?” 

How was your summer?

I’m not that good at questions like that. I can say basically nothing, like: pretty good. Or I say like everything and start telling people way more detail than they really wanted to hear. I’m still trying to figure out that small talk sweet spot in the middle – authentic, interesting, but brief. 

So here’s my stab at this year’s answer.

How was your summer, Steve?

Yeah, it was hard but also kind of easy. 

The hard part: At the start of the summer, Grace and I sat down two of our three children – who are all now either adults or right on the cusp of that – and we had this little conversation about what we’re doing this summer and what we want out of it. And let’s just say that our kids’ visions for our family summer were not very well aligned with one another, and they certainly didn’t line up well with what I was hoping for. And, you know, we never really worked that out. Kids grow up, and families grow up too.

Also, my mother in law had a stroke, which has led to suffering for her – a lot, and also a ton of complications for the extended family – also a lot. That has been mostly sad and stressful.

And then I had this big trip to Israel and Palestine planned, but given what was going on, it ended up being a bad time to be away from my family, my poor wife carried too much, and then since I got COVID while I was there, I had to be away from them even longer. 

So, there’s more, but summer was hard.  

I know I’m not alone. A lot of folks have been excited about more travel, more concerts, more freedom, more a lot of things, but life’s still hard for a lot of people.

I was listening to a podcast with this psychologist I like to learn from, and his guest was like:

you know, humanity’s not doing well. It’s a hard time to be a human. 

Does that resonate with you?

It’s a hard time to be a human.

Yeah. But I said hard and easy, didn’t I?

The easy part is what I want to talk about today, because I entered my summer having a harder time praying and a harder time making sense and making meaning about everything I’m experiencing, but I’ve been walking with God, walking with the Spirit of Jesus, in some ways that I feel like are simplifying my life, making things at the same time also feel easier. 

That’s what I want to talk about today, about a metaphor for a life of faith that simplifies and clarifies, about some ways of walking with Jesus that make life better.

Last week, I talked about what hell is or isn’t. That talk was related to the part of the faith experience we call salvation – what the worst is in life, and how God partners with us to rescue us. The best lived lives aren’t mostly hero or our victim stories – how we’re the best or the worst off. The best lives are full of rescue stories – how we need help, but how with the help of God and friends, we find our way. 

Now this week I talk about the side of faith that we can call sanctification – how we can grow into more of the wholehearted, beautiful life God wants to help us find, how we can find more of the good life for each of us. 

Here’s our text today. Just a few words from Jesus:

Matthew 11: 28-30 (Common English Bible)

28 “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.

29 Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves.

30 My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

Life is hard,

Jesus says. I get that. 

Jesus spoke these words nearly 2,000 years ago. It’s hard to get our heads around just how long 2,000 years is. If you were to line up on a timeline your grandma, and then one of her grandma’s, and then one of her grandma’s, and then one of her grandma’s and on and on and on, you’d have to do that like 20 times before you got to the grandma that alive when Jesus spoke these words, nearly 2,000 years ago. 

It’s a long time ago. Times have changed. 

But at the deepest level, the stuff that’s hardest for us hasn’t. 

Sickness – I mean we’ve faced a global pandemic, but that’s nothing compared to the kinds of health problems and sickness and disease that Jesus knew. Life expectancy was less than half for them than it is for us. Sickness and death were everywhere.

And political problems, economic struggles, trauma, anxieties, all that – most of Jesus’ associates were grindingly poor, faced huge tax burdens, and lived under a corrupt and violent colonial government. 

Jesus gets it: life is hard.

But he says,

I’ve got a way to make it easier, simpler, more peaceful. 

And the way he says is:

Put on my yoke.

Put on my yoke.

What in the world is he talking about?

A yoke is a kind of wooden tool or frame that connects two animals so they can walk together and work together, plowing the field side by side.

Jesus knew about yokes because a lot of people in his time and place were farmers. Walk around the fields surrounding Galilee, and you’d see pairs of oxen, maybe donkeys two, yoked together, plowing the fields side by side. 

But Jesus also knew about yokes because he made them. Jesus served his community as a rabbi, teaching about the Beloved Community of God and healing and training students for only two or three years before he was crucified and rose again. For maybe 10-15 years before that, he was a carpenter, a woodworker, a builder. 

And one of the many things Jesus’ father would have taught him to make out of wood were yokes that would sit across the shoulders of two animals so they could walk together and work together.

Jesus would have worked hard to make strong yokes, that would help animals stay together and last for many years. And he would have learned to make gentle yokes, that sit well on animals’ backs, that don’t cause them pain or hardship, but that they bear smoothly and easily.

Here Jesus uses the yoke as an image for how we’re connected to Jesus.

Put on my yoke,

he says.

Walk with me, side by side. Stay connected.

I’m a good traveling companion,

Jesus says.

I’m gentle and humble.

In Jesus’ society, a yoke had also become an image of leadership – emphasizing not just the side by side walking of the two animals, but the farmer’s role in leading the yoked pair.

A yoke was sometimes an image for a leader, like the service required to a king. To follow the laws of the land was to take that leader’s yoke upon you.

And it was sometimes in Jesus’ culture an image for Torah, for living in the community guided by God’s word in the scriptures. To respond to God’s laws and invitations, to let your story be shaped by God’s story, was to take the yoke of God or the yoke of the Torah upon you. 

So Jesus is saying,

Walk with me. But also be led by me. My yoke is easy to bear. My burden is light. 

I’m not a hard leader, I’m a good leader. I’m a good fit, an easy fit. And when you’re led by me, you’ll find rest.

It’s an interesting promise, because a yoke is a tool of labor. You put on a yoke to work. But Jesus is like:

Walk with me, work with me, and you’ll not just work, you’ll rest. Life will go well for you.

And that fits the context of the passage too. Because right after this, there are a few stories about Jesus, and how he spends his time on the sabbath day, his day of rest.

Sabbath is a promise of liberation, it’s time out from work every week to remember that we are not slaves but free people. Life is more than our work and our obligations.

And sabbath is about restoring the original order of creation, about keeping the balance of the good life. The creation epic of the Bible says God ended six days of creative work with the sabbath rest – a time for celebration and joy, a time to experience that life isn’t just what we produce. It’s how we worship and celebrate and find joy, living in this great created universe, all of which is meant to be a kind of temple for the experience and worship of God. 

Friends, in my hard summer, the way it’s been easy has been how I’ve been giving renewed attention to putting on Jesus’ easy yoke each day. I’ve been relearning the best ways for me to walk with Jesus, and let Jesus be my leader. And I’ve been finding that everything Jesus says is true. 

He’s a great fit. He’s gentle and humble. And walking with Jesus, following Jesus makes my whole life easier to bear – clearer, simpler, calmer, better. 

Let me take a couple minutes each on three ways this is true, OK? 

Imagination, mercy, and words.

Just a minute or two on each of those: Imagination, mercy, and words.

Jesus says,

“Come to me.”

And his yoke imagery implies walking with him, following him, maybe even working with him. 

What does this mean for us, who weren’t with him in Galilee 2,000 years ago? What does this mean for us, who can’t touch and see him? 

It means faith, trust that the Spirit of Jesus is with us as Jesus promised Spirit would be, trust that the Spirit of God represents and brings to us a God that is like Jesus, everywhere, always. 

The New Testament says that

this is the good life, to walk by faith, not by sight it puts it, to trust God is with us more deeply than we can at first naturally perceive. 

The words about the yoke and about rest remind me of the famous poem in the middle of the Bible, Psalm 23, the one that starts saying,

“The Lord is my shepherd, so I lack nothing. He leads me to green pastures and still waters. He saves my life.”


“he restores my soul.” 

I pray this psalm almost every day, and I read it or pray it for others really often when I’m at the hospital or in the nursing home, as I’ve been this summer many times, both as a pastor and as a relative. 

I’m praying for myself, and often holding someone else’s hand and praying for them that we’ll know God leading us tenderly, guiding us toward refreshment, restoration, and rest. But also that when we’re in the valley of the shadow of death, we’ll know there too that God is with us, leading us through that place too. 

The Valley of the Shadow of Death is a real place in Palestine, the place now known as the West Bank. It’s a deep, long rift in a hot, forbidding desert. Jesus had walked there before, knew it was one of the scariest, most deserted, hardest places to need to walk through. 

Kind of like when you’re vulnerable in the hospital or the nursing home, or when you know your health is failing, or even that you are dying. 

When we’re vulnerable, suffering, fighting for survival, we need to know that there too God is with us. 

Jesus is saying:

Life is hard. I want you to know, though, that I’m in it with you, that you are not alone.

And that can help us carry the load. 

Jesus’ contemporaries practiced faith in how God was with them in Jesus by literally walking with him.

We practice that same faith, and receive the comfort and strength of God’s presence by believing God is with us, by imagining that this accompaniment we can not see is real. 

We do that when we gather for worship together, like we do on Sundays. And we can do that daily as we pray as well. 

What is God like when God is with us? How does God share the burden?

My word for that today is mercy

Jesus says he is

gentle and humble. 

Psalm 23 says

God’s goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life. 

There’s an old and very short Eastern Orthodox prayer that I’ve been praying a lot this summer too. It just goes:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.

Or sometimes have mercy on me, a sinner. You can include the sinner part or not. But that’s not the key word. The key word is mercy.

Jesus, have mercy.

When I first learned about this prayer, more than 20 years ago, I didn’t like it much. It seemed kind of grovely, thinking I’m this despicable sinner who needs Jesus to be nice and not zap me or something.

I’ve come around to this prayer, though. 

After all, mercy means more than I used to think. I was taught that grace is giving good things that aren’t deserved and that mercy is not giving the bad things that you do deserve. 

But mercy is wider and deeper than that. The word translated “mercy” in the last verse of Psalm 23 is hesed. It means lovingkindness, and it’s the core quality of God, the scriptures teach.

So I think about the chaotic, violent, messed up state of so much in this world, and I hope God will be kind and helpful to us beyond what we deserve. I pray: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy.

And I think about the hard parts of my summer, which feel like more than I can handle, and I ask for God’s help and for God’s lovingkindness to grow in me and all the other people as I pray: Jesus, Son of God, have mercy.

And sometimes I catch myself stuck thinking on an anxiety I have about the future or a regret I have about the past, and I remember that the Spirit of Jesus is with me, wooing me away from fear or regret and toward faith, hope, and love, and I look for more of that as I pray: Spirit of Jesus, have mercy on me. 

Praying for mercy, believing in mercy, welcoming mercy doesn’t make life not hard. But it’s easier when I know I’m not expected to have the answers. It’s easier when I know I’m not supposed to be strong enough. And it’s easier to know God never wanted me to be able to just handle it all. It’s an easy, unburdening feeling to know God isn’t showing up to criticize me but to bring lovingkindness, to be merciful, to be in my corner as a help and support. 

Lastly, the words of Jesus. Jesus says,

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”

Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher, and through the gospels and through the Spirit of God, Jesus can be our teacher too. 

I read a little section of the gospels just about every day. That way I’m reading through all four several times per year. It doesn’t take long, but it’s one of the ways I stay yoked to Jesus, or at least try to. 

And Jesus has never stopped being provocative and helpful to me. 

Like last week, I read Mark’s version of Jesus feeding the crowds and how pretty much the next day, the disciples were traveling with students and got worried about running out of bread. 

And calmly, Jesus is like:

What happened yesterday? And how much food was left over? Don’t you understand?

And I smiled a little but the truth was I felt just like the disciples. What came to mind in that moment was that I’d been anxious about a few things in my life – big things like how we’re ever going to pay for our three kids’ educations, and little things like an email I was waiting for with some news. 

And I felt an invitation from the Spirit of Jesus to lean into these words. 

Don’t you understand, Steve?

Don’t you remember?

When have I not been enough? 

And I thought about lots of answered prayers and times it seems like life worked out better than I could have hoped. And I thought about hard times too, when circumstances didn’t go my way, but how even then, the help of God and friends was enough, and the love and goodness in my life was more than enough. 

And that kind of made a break in me, helped me start to let go of my anxious energy and open me up to an unburdened, easy spirit. 

Friends, your summer may have been a lot of things – awful, great, or anywhere in between. But anywhere that life is hard these days, let me assure you that God knows and understands. And let me encourage you that the Spirit of Jesus is still saying to us:

I get it. If life’s hard, could you come to me, so I can give you rest. 

Put my yoke on you. Let’s walk together and work together. Learn from me. Follow my lead. I’m gentle, I’m humble. My burden is light. I’d love to help share the load.