Yesterday we celebrated Independence Day, observing the day the Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies were no longer subject (and subordinate) to the monarch of Britain, King George III, and were now united, free, and independent states. It got me thinking about what it means to be independent. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary to be independent means not to be subject to control by others, or self-governing. It can also be described as self-dependent, self-reliant, self-sufficient, self-supporting, or self-sustaining. Independence is a formal severing of ties with another entity, and I couldn’t help but notice the repetition of the word “self-” It’s freedom, but it’s freedom alone, independent from one another. I along with countless people around the world gathered together to watch the release of Hamilton, a story that chronicles the events of the American Revolution, Independence, and the life of title protagonist Alexander Hamilton. During the show, Anthony Ramos, who plays Hamilton’s close friend and comrade in arms during the American Revolutionary War, John Laurens tells hearers “we’ll never be truly free until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me” and reminds them that there is much work left to be done when the revolution is over, and it is work that must be done collectively.
Our gospel reading this morning echoes that same reminder. Jesus spoke to the crowd gathered together and said “ 28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The picture that Jesus paints here is not one of independence, but instead interdependence, where we work together for the benefit of all, rather than just for what benefits us alone, after all, “a rising tide lifts all the boats.” We’ve talked a great deal over the past month about the work of anti-Racism and the radical welcome of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Just as Martin Luther teaches that the church is always reforming, the work of radical inclusion is never completely done. This work to make church a welcoming place may sound uncomfortable and even exhausting, and you’d be right to think that. Radical welcome or accompaniment as it is sometimes called in church circles is hard work. It’s hard work because as Linda Crockett describes in her book The Deepest Wound “accompaniment goes beyond solidarity in that anyone who enters into it risks suffering and pane of those we would accompany.” Accompaniment means forming relationships and sharing risks joys, and lives with the communities we accompany.
But how is this work sustainable? That answer lies in our Gospel reading. When we yoke our own practices to Jesus we receive a guide who brings humility, protection, wisdom, and order to the chaos. This act is so important that these verses are read by the Bishop as a new pastor receives their stole the day they are ordained. 6 months ago I did not understand the significance of the words that Bishop Kevin Strickland spoke over me that day. Then I moved here a month before Covid-19 rocked New York City. It may shock you, but pastoring during a pandemic was not part of my theological education. As it turns out none of my colleagues had experience with it either. Now the call to be a pastor can be overwhelming and exhausting even in the best of times, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past few months is that this vocation is impossible to do independently from the greater community and so rather than trying to figure out things on our own, we as the people of Holy Trinity yoked together, sharing the burden of envisioning what worship might look like when solely done outside the church building, we shared resources on best practices for how to keep safe, ideas for how to plan for safe re-entry whenever the time comes the list goes on and on. And that shared work doesn’t stop with COVID or anti-racism or radical welcome.
In preaching this sermon to you this morning I am accompanied by eight other pastors who yoked together to study and share ideas together. We work interdependently to engage in ministry even, and perhaps especially when it is uncomfortable and exhausting.
Jesus never says that this interdependent relationship will eliminate the burden or the exhaustion, but there is freedom to be in Community with God and with one another. When we yoke ourselves to Jesus we have a guide for what this work looks like. When we yoke ourselves to our greater community our own burden becomes easier, even though it does not eliminate our own personal work or responsibility to be an active participant in that work. Yoking together means that we have the ability to rest as individuals while others take the lead for a time, remembering that there is still work to be done once our rest is over. That rest is a luxury, a luxury that the communities we are called to accompany don’t have. And so it is our job to make the spaces in which we exist places where safety and rest are possible. It’s our responsibility to yoke together to do the work for liberation of the oppressed but it is also our responsibility to rest so that the work is sustained, combined they allow us to be a force for change in the world.