The Vicar writes . . .
Recently, as I’m sure we’re all aware, the Diocese has been facing up to the fact that its future is looking increasingly uncertain. To use a phrase which seems to crop up often in our shared discourse, we are facing a ‘Perfect Storm’ of circumstances, which in many people’s eyes call into question the viability of the Diocese of Dunedin.
Diocesan Synod met last month, and there we gave much time over to prayer and Bible study as we pondered what the Spirit might be saying to the church in the midst of this ‘Storm’. Interestingly I don’t remember any of us crying out ‘Save us! Don’t you care that we are drowning??’. Whilst our minds may been attentive to Scripture, perhaps there was too much confidence in our own ability somehow to navigate these threatening waters?
I don’t think I would have noticed this, but for a comment in a debate on a topical issue, which filled much of the rest of our time. In it the speaker said, almost in passing, ‘The Church disregards the teaching of Jesus in regard to this matter . . .’, but without any note of censure or concern. As if it was a matter of no import. As if, as with thinking about the future of the Diocese, we didn’t need, indeed desperately need the Wisdom of Christ. As if we can figure this out for ourselves. And I cannot help but think that the state of the Diocese may well be in part down to a deep rooted sense that we can figure this out for ourselves. [An attitude which it must be said has pervaded most of Western Christianity since the Enlightenment]
Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel says ‘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’. It is plain from speaking with many people about the future of the Diocese that our souls are far from being ‘at rest’ in this regard. Perhaps that is because we have not taken the yoke of Jesus? But, what is that yoke? This figure of speech is deeply embedded in the history of the Jewish people – for they had a King, Jereboam who laid a heavy Yoke upon the people. This was a Yoke of obedience, but one which was harsh. He was the King, but he did not care for his people. [1 Kings 12]. Jesus Yoke is easy – but it is still the yoke of obedience. In ancient times, the yoke would be put across the shoulders of two oxen. It was a means of ensuring that they worked in harmony with one another, for the Yoke would chafe if they did not. As Christians we are called to ‘the obedience that comes from faith’ [Romans 1:5] obedience to Christ. We gladly take up this yoke of obedience for we Know that he Loves and cares for us and that His Life is our Hope. So we are yoked to Christ and over the years learn obedeince (as he himself did – Hebrews 5:80) – to adjust ourselves in Eugene Peterson’s beautiful phrase, to ‘the rhythms of unforced grace’, the movements of Christ as we learn to live in obedience to him.
Of course we tend to read these things ‘individualistically’ as if their prime application is to the solitary Christian – but there is no such thing. Jesus here as throughout all his words addresses himself to the community of disciples, the infant church. He is saying to his church – take my yoke upon you and learn from me, that you, the church might find rest for your souls.
Following Jesus in obedience is not always convenient or easy. the winds of cultural change blow strong and we are easily deflected. When the Ox is deflected off course, the Yoke chaffs – and the Ox may wish to toss its head and leave the yoke behind – to ‘disregard the teaching of Jesus’ in this or that matter. But no longer yoked it all too easily loses its way, and even forgets, or perhaps does not have the faith in its distress to cry out ‘Lord! Save us! We are perishing!’ Lord, have mercy.