Matthew 11:28-30; Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
“Welcome to Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church, a Bridge Building congregation partnered with the Neighborhood to create Taborspace – an event venue and coffee house dedicated to creating connected community.”
The first time I drove a tractor it was a team effort. I was about four years old. My big sister was in school. And dad needed a tractor driver. I was the only one left. He knew I could put a vehicle in gear. I had done that with the car one day when mom wasn’t looking and drove the car into the garage pantry, smashing jars of tomatoes and peaches! So I was already and “experienced” driver!
I climbed up onto the tractor seat and dad showed me the clutch, the break and first gear – we were never going faster than first gear, because dad and grandpa would be walking behind spraying weeds. The biggest part of my job was steering. When dad or grandpa yelled stop, I had to put in the clutch and take it out of gear, then put it back in gear when they were ready. When we got to the end of the ½ mile row, dad ran up and jumped on the tractor and made the strong u-turn into the next row – no power steering in those days!
That morning’s work was a team effort. And it wouldn’t have gotten done without everyone doing their part. What I will always treasure is the feeling of being trusted to drive that old Ferguson down the rows of cotton and not drive on the crop. I was proud of my ability to contribute! My dad empowered me to contribute, and he was always there to help when I needed it. His yoke was easy and his burden was light for me.
Teamwork was a big part of my up-bringing. Whether it was gathering to make sausage, or to bring in a neighbors raisins who was in the hospital, or bringing food to someone who was sick. The whole community was there to help. My favorite was the quilting. The women would work on their quilt tops at home in the evenings, but when it came time to quilt them, it took teamwork. When a quilt was up, it was stretched on a large frame that took up the whole living space. So the women all gathered to help, until it was rolled down to a size the family could work around. Sometimes for a week, the women gathered whenever they could and chatted and planned their next project. Together, our yoke was easy and our burden was light.
As I have looked back on those years, I realize that is how I knew what church was. The church was the community where I belonged, and where the people had our backs. To be honest, in later years, with the seeping in of television, convenience devices, more cars and I am not sure what else, our sense of community deteriorated. The younger generations moved away, like me, and when we did, we lost some of our sense of what it was to be church. To be in a community of belonging.
A community of belonging is what Jesus offered. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” In a sense, we are all weary and overburdened. In our depths lies hidden a poverty which, because it frightens us, oppresses us and drags us down. In the words of this passage, Christ welcomes us in our vulnerability and does not seem to be afraid of it. “Come to me,” he says, and later on he will say: “Let the little children come to me, for the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like them” (Matthew 19:14).
I was a little child when I first drove a tractor, but I was never alone. And so, I could do it. Alone, that would have been much too much for me. But in a sense, I was yoked to my dad and grandpa, and so I knew all would be well.
Today our bridge building image is a yoke.
So, what is a yoke? I have never seen one in operation. But because of this quote from Jesus, many of us know what a yoke is – a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull. A yoke is designed so that two can share the work, giving strength to each other.
When we think about what the church does, so many of us go the the passage from Matthew 25 where Jesus commends the faithful for giving water, food, company. And so, we have been busy feeding, clothing, visiting and helping in any way we can. The church is known for helping. The church is known for charity. Jesus commends that behavior.
And yet now the tables are turning. The Western church has, since the time of Constantine (early in the 4th century) been in the position of privilege. It was given freedom to worship throughout the empire and eventually became aligned with and protected by the government. This allowed Jesus’ message to flourish and spread, which is wonderful. And the church became immensely wealthy, which led to corruption.
As we begin the third millennium since Jesus lived, the culture is turning away from western Christianity. It is associated with privilege. Justified or not, our culture is tired of the church saying we have the answers or come join our team.
We are entering a new era of being church when we have to get back to basics – being the community of belonging. No longer can we be about institutions, and forms and dogmas. People don’t want to do things that way any more. It may have been a useful structure in the past, but it is not part of Jesus’ instructions. Religion and liturgy and dogma are all containers which will change when no longer useful. It is time to go back to Jesus’ welcoming the children to sit on his lap as our primary mode of operation.
When we started Taborspace, we stumbled on the truth of this passage about yokes. We made the huge leap from doing kingdom work for people (without a yoke) to doing kingdom work with people (yoked). Now I am hearing and reading everywhere that we have to move from “doing for” to “doing with.”
And that is what Jesus was talking about from the beginning. Jesus’ followers were never intended to go out into the world of people alone. Jesus said, “Behold I am with you always.” Jesus is on the other side of the yoke. Whenever we climb out of the harness, and head off to do what we think is best, we are leaving Jesus in the yoke alone. Jesus hasn’t left us, but we have tried to pull against the yoke. And that doesn’t work! The yoke only works when both are pulling together in the same direction.
This is why Presbyterians do everything by committee, and the most important thing for proper committee work is to open and close with prayer. Because we need each other and we need to be in the yoke with Jesus in our work. A yoke is a comfort, not a burden. I am reminded of the yoke with Jesus every time I put this stole around my neck. And it is a comfort.
We have a wonderful example of ministry “with” rather than “for.” We call this part of our ministry the Parish House Partners. When we envisioned this neighborhood work, we diagramed it as a three-legged stool – the congregation, Taborspace, and the Parish House Partners. The Parish House Partners pay for their use of space and are the biggest source of income for our Facilities Ministry fund.
And they are so much more! The Parish House Partners are “all in” with the community connection work of MTPC and Taborspace. You will find them walking through the halls and welcoming, directing and making people feel at home. They are doing with us the work of Jesus to heal the sick, bind up the broken-hearted, care for the earth. Here is the mission statement they all commit themselves to:
Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church, as followers of the way of Jesus, shares Jesus’ purpose to enact the Kingdom of God. Jesus described it as a place where people live together in unity, where healing is made available, where people experience the love and presence of God, and so much more. For this reason, it is part of the calling of MTPC to be open and hospitable to neighbor, stranger and member alike, and to call together people who help to build a community of love and healing…. [Partners] in this space help us carry out this vision of a world at one by healing, creating, teaching, caring for creation, and serving the poor and oppressed.
Right now the Parish House Partner are healers doing acupuncture, Reiki, Rolfing, Feldenkreis; we have Via Artistica teaching art, Earthtones healing through music therapy, a personal counseling suite shared by three therapists, NICU Families NW caring for families who have children in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care units of local hospitals, Confluence Environmental Center teaching earth care practices in under-served neighborhoods, Pea Pod Play School and the Mt. Tabor Coop Preschool inviting the children to come and be in community – More than 30 people are involved as Parish House Partners. They are healing, promoting our space, welcoming, serving on committees, inviting people to our space, building a play ground, leading fundraising efforts and so much more!
We will be including them more in our Sunday morning time going forward. Jodi Winnwalker of Earthtones will be here to lead us in music mid-September. Cynthia Hoff of Singing Crane Acupuncture will be there Wednesday hosting the Bell Tower Concert. You may meet some of them on committees with you.
Here is the point. They share the yoke with us and with Jesus. They do not all worship the same way we do, but they are with us in this community of belonging we call church. Jane Parker Huber in 1981may have written an appropriate theme song for us (#343 if you would like to follow along):
Called as partners in Christ’s service
Called to ministries of grace
We respond with deep commitment
Fresh new lines of faith to trace
May we learn the art of sharing
Side by side and friend with friend
Equal partners in our caring
To fulfill God’s chosen end