Frank Lloyd Wright is unquestionably known the greatest American architect ever- he was actually given that title by the American Institute of Architects. In fact, I distinctly remember as my classmates and I studied for our AP US History test, our teacher told us “Don’t waste time on architects- if there is a question about architecture, the answer is Frank Lloyd Wright. He’s the only
one they would expect you to know.” Apologies to any other architect whose name I never learned.
Wright was a master of design. His prolific works all display incredible use of natural light and materials- a style he called “organic architecture.” They are distinctive and beautiful for their use of natural woods and stones that match the beauty of the earth around them. Wright basically invented the open floor plan that continues to be popular, and he did create a whole new school of design- the Prairie School. His philosophies about the earth and nature informed his artistry, and his artistry guided every aspect of his creations. Wright was completely invested in the beauty of his designs.
But ask any architect or engineer, or even any current owner of a Frank Lloyd Wright design- they’ll tell you that they are all riddled with problems. His buildings have under-structured roofs that eventually sag, inadequate foundations because he hated using too much concrete, they aren’t durable, they’re not energy efficient, and their drainage is inadequate. And famously, they leak. Just about all of them leak, including a doghouse he designed at the request of a child whose parents commissioned a Frank Lloyd Wright home. Poor Eddie (the dog) had a gorgeous triangular house made of Philippine mahogany and cedar wood, but it also had a water problem, and he never slept in it. Wright’s most famous design, the 1935 house Fallingwater has been called “the best all-time work of American architecture.” It also leaked from the very start. When the homeowners called Wright complaining that their brand-new roof leaked, he famously told them, “put a bucket under it.” You see, Frank Lloyd Wright had one concern when it came to a house- design. The utility of the home was a distant second- so distant, in fact, that he really didn’t care if the home itself was a good home. The point was to be a beautiful home. Even when the engineers on his projects told him that one of his ideas wouldn’t work well, he ignored them, unwilling to alter his vision to accommodate something as insignificant as rain or settling ground. Wright was yoked to his philosophy of art. Nothing else mattered.
Here’s the reality: all of us are yoked to something. None of us is completely able to make our own decisions free from influence or context. The way you were raised and the society you lived in shapes you, yokes you to something. Your own personality, preferences, and experiences shape you, yoke you to something. All of us are marked by biology. Our genes are out of our control. On the most basic, cellular level, mirror neurons in our brain control us. These neurons detect what is happening around you and copy it. It’s how we learn! It’s also why yawns and laughter are contagious, it’s part of why we dress and speak to fit in with our peers, and one of the ways we experience empathy. Whether or not you are aware of it, you are yoked to beliefs, behaviors, and biology that make you who you are. Much of it is not by choice, but some of it is. Some of us yoke ourselves to our ideas of achievement, perfection, being the hardest worker, being the most attractive, being financially well-off, looking like a happy family, and on and on. So, when Jesus invites us to take his yoke upon us, we should ask ourselves, “am I strapped to the right yoke?”
You may already know that this metaphor of a yoke is from the agricultural world. Beasts of burden like oxen or donkeys would be connected to one another with a special harness, a yoke, that ensured that the animals would work through a field together at the same pace. The animals are stuck with one another, working side-by-side, matching in pace and direction. Naturally the idea of being harnessed around our necks seems deeply uncomfortable for most of us. This may be a metaphor you don’t much like, which is understandable. But really, the yoke makes the work easier for the animal. It makes the job more efficient.
And it was a common metaphor in Jesus’ time. In other written works it was used to describe a burden, but it also had positive connotations too. It was a common metaphor used by rabbis to describe a joyful obedience to learning God’s laws. Some of the writings from the time between our Old and New Testament use this same language of a yoke. While we do not recognize these texts as part of our scriptures, other do, and Jesus certainly was familiar with the words of Sirach 6 that teach about the yoke of lady wisdom. In fact, it’s pretty clear that he is borrowing from these words. Sirach 6:24-31 reads: “Put your feet into her fetters, and your neck into her collar. Bend your shoulders and carry her, and do not fret under her bonds. Come to her with all your soul, and keep her ways with all your might. Search out and seek, and she will become known to you; and when you get hold of her, do not let her go. For at last you will find the rest she gives, and she will be changed into joy for you. Then her fetters will become for you a strong defense, and her collar a glorious robe. Her yoke is a golden ornament, and her bonds a purple cord. You will wear her like a glorious robe, and put her on like a splendid crown.”
As this passage from Sirach and the ancient rabbis teach, the yoke is one of instruction. The yoke that binds us to Jesus is knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. We are living in a time when truth seems to be up for debate. People, when faced with facts that disrupt their understandings or preferences want to present alternative facts, create excuses or explanations, do any mental gymnastics rather than consider the possibility of being wrong. Truth can be hard to come by, yet without it, there can be no wisdom, no understanding. Religion professor Jennifer T. Kaalund writes, “The truth does matter. Truth is the beginning of wisdom. It is a starting point for us to live fruitful lives. There is always more to learn. We must seek wisdom, be open to instruction so that our paths may become clearer and so that we can live peaceably and find rest from our labor. Recall in Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus declares: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven … And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” As we learn and mature in our walk with Christ, we should grow in understanding the importance of knowing God and perhaps more importantly being known by God.”
So, Jesus offers a yoke of instruction and understanding, the wonderful burden of seeing and being seen, knowing and being known. This is what we agree to when we take on Jesus’ yoke. It is the promise of being in the world honestly, without pretense or subterfuge. It’s a life of committing to seek truth, of doing the work, of being willing to change your mind, to transform in the light of God’s truth.
Jesus’ yoke is also one of love. We are not wired to love one another well. We are wired to strive for first place, to compete, to control, to seek our own comfort and well-being. But Jesus’ yoke directs us in a different direction. As we discussed before, we are yoked to so many things that shape our lives and our desires. And so many of those things do not line up with the life Jesus is calling us to live. We cannot be free from those yokes, except by the freedom we find in Christ. The pastor Paul Nuechterlein writes, true freedom “comes only in being yoked to the [One] who will not desire in ways that lead us down that path of envy, rivalry, conflict, and violence. It takes being yoked to the love of God in Jesus the Messiah to catch a desiring that leads us deeper into love of all the others who are loved by God.”
If you want to be free to love others, you must do so by being yoked to Jesus. Jesus’ desire to love all will guide you in the right ways. This week I came across a wonderful story on Twitter that illustrates the desire to love others, even those you may not yet know. Amy McNally writes, “So I grew up in the middle of nowhere, Ohio. My house was in the center of a bunch of neighboring cornfields. We didn't get girl scouts, encyclopedia salesfolks, knife sharpening, or proselytizers. I read about some of the door-to-door stuff in books, but I had never seen an ice cream truck. One day, I heard music, and my mom looked out the window, and did something strange and rare (we didn't have a lot growing up). She handed us money from her purse and said, "RUN." "RUN, I will give them directions after you get your ice cream, they must be SO lost." So, my sister and I ran. I don't even remember what I got. I remember it was sweet and cold. I remember my bare feet pounding on the grass in the front yard. I remember panting in the sun. But I have never, ever forgotten the magic of that day. Well, now I live in a big town! In a neighborhood! And I have heard ice cream trucks go by in recent years. But none this year. So I called an ice cream truck that I googled, asking if they ever came by. "We're not out at a lot of places, gas prices being what they are, but we are doing events." "Events like... birthdays?" I asked. "Yeah!" "Y'all free for an hour on June 27?" Today, we had a small and careful outdoor party. And I asked them to tally up the ice cream at the end, and I'd cover it. It was great fun, and my inner child was greatly pleased. I had a snocone and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Raphael with bubblegum eyes and a blue raspberry Icee pop. but my favorite part of the day. My favorite part of the MONTH. Was the neighbor kids coming by. Running. Bicycling. Money tucked tightly in their fists. Nobody abused my hospitality, and it'd honestly probably be okay if they had. But I got to give some kids a tiny bit of the magic that that one terribly lost ice cream truck gave me on a summer day when I was a kid.
Jesus’ yoke of love calls, compels us to work and act in ways that may not make a lot of sense to anyone else but are directed by the desire to love. Jesus’ own love pulls us back in, back towards the life we are being invited to.
And finally, Jesus’ yoke is one of connection. Of course, connection is the most fundamental point of a yoke. The animals are bound together, they are utterly connected to one another. So too does Jesus desire to be connected to us, to be with us and us with him. The poet Jan Richardson describes it this way: [Perhaps it is] “a yoke not for servitude, not for bondage, but a tool of connection, a way of being in relationship with Christ that makes our work easier, not more difficult…It’s this kind of relationship, this connection with the Christ who labors alongside us, that makes it possible to go into the complicated realms that our souls sometimes need. This relationship helps us choose between complexity that deepens us and complexity that deadens us. So closely connected with Christ, it becomes more possible to discern how to move in directions that will provide energy and wisdom.” This is a yoke of togetherness. You are not alone; you do not strive on your own. Jesus is with you, helping you, never abandoning you. Jesus is inviting you to come alongside him, to be with him.
This passage is one of great comfort to many of us. Many of us come into this space today tired, worn out, hearts full of heavy burdens, with to-do lists that feel overwhelming. You may feel that the yoke across your shoulders is more than you can bear for much longer. And to you, Jesus says, “I see you. I know you are tired and overwhelmed. I know this is hard. Let me show you a way that I think will be better, more restful, more meaningful.” Jesus is inviting you to be free of whatever yoke has you strapped to something that is unfulfilling and exhausting and instead to take on his yoke, a yoke of understanding, of love, and of connection. The word most often translated as “easy” in our text, as in “my yoke is easy” is probably better translated as “fitting” or right. Jesus’ yoke is the one that fits best, the one that doesn’t chafe or cut, the one that keeps you moving forward in understanding, love, and connection. Friend, come to Jesus and find rest for your soul. Amen.