Bearing a light yoke

When we learn from each other, burdens get lighter

Feb 18, 2019 by and

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Jesus gives light burdens. He says so after telling his followers to “take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” Then he adds, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29-30).

We might reply: If only it were so. Some burdens of faith feel heavy. One weight that can be hard to carry is fellow Christians who believe and act differently than we do. We might think they drag the church down, standing in the way of progress. Or that they’re pushing recklessly ahead on dangerous paths.

How can Christians ease the burden of their differences? Can we lighten the load?

An answer can be found in following Jesus’ command to “learn from me.” And from each other. One of the greatest needs in the church today is for Christians to understand — and learn from — those whose beliefs and experiences differ from ours but who share a desire to follow Jesus.

Learning happens when we:

— Listen to each other. U.S. Mennonite Brethren did this last month at a study conference on women in pastoral ministry. They examined different interpretations of Scripture. They listened to stories of women who have answered God’s call to pastoral ministry and have felt the pain of limitations imposed on them. Conversation was gracious and respectful. A church whose members can talk about their differences in a healthy way carries a lighter burden.

— Draw upon the strengths of other Christian traditions. In a new Herald Press book, Flee, Be Silent, Pray: Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians, Ed Cyzewski writes of overcoming his stress as an anxious evangelical who feared he wasn’t working hard enough to defend the faith and win souls. From Cath­olic teachers, he learned to pray and read Scrip­ture contemplatively. Rather than a duty to improve himself spiritually, Bible reading became a way of being present with God. Reading Scripture devotionally freed him from “marrying the cause of Christ to culture wars, elections, heresy hunts, theology debates or religious measuring sticks.” His burden got lighter.

— Avoid negative assumptions. We’ve seen, in some Mennonite discussions about LGBTQ inclusion, a tendency to assume the worst. When progressives dismiss traditionalists as full of hatred and prejudice, and traditionalists assert that progressives disregard the Bible and blindly follow secular trends, divisions in the body of Christ deepen.

Yet progress is being made toward dispelling negative views of LGBTQ people. Young people are leading the way as they learn. According to the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Study, at evangelical colleges, students’ attitudes toward LGBTQ people grew more favorable during their first year. Students who accept their friends’ sexual identities are setting an example for churches to affirm LGBTQ Christians. Will LGBTQ-affirming Mennonite young people stick with a slow-to-change church? Or will we make the burden too heavy?

Learning happens when we break out of our confining circles of like-minded opinions and open ourselves to see God at work in the lives of others. It happens when we let Jesus teach us to be gentle and humble. It starts with following Jesus’ command to take up his light yoke. Jesus seems to be saying that there’s work to do but that in the end we will be glad we’ve done it.

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