Yoked Together

A talk at Morning Prayer on 17th July 2019

Matthew 11.28-30

Jesus said, “Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.


When I came to this passage, I had a vague idea that a yoke was something you put on an animal to help with things like pulling heavy ploughs.

What I never realised before was that actually a yoke goes over the shoulders of two animals so that they can work together.

This way they form a team and work together, sharing the load.

Another thing I didn’t know was that it’s common to pair an older more experienced animal with a younger one so that the younger one can learn what to do.

And so it makes sense that Jesus talks about giving us both rest and a yoke to carry.


What Jesus is offering here is a rest from carrying burdens on our own.

A rest from struggling on alone with our sins and frailties or feelings of shame and guilt, and also a rest from constantly trying to match up, be the best, to succeed and to never show any signs of weakness or vulnerability.

However much we try we just can’t manage to get everything right all the time and we can end up very frustrated with ourselves and full of regrets.

In other words, we can end up carrying a heavy burden of “should haves” and “didn’t dos” and “if onlys”.

But then Jesus comes and offers to take all that from us in exchange for a lighter burden that we don’t have to carry alone.


Jesus offers us, instead, a chance to be yoked together with him.

We’re given the possibility of giving up all that stuff that makes us so tired to carry in exchange for working with him, sharing the load, drawing on his power and guidance and knowing that we’re never alone.

When we take on Jesus’s yoke we enter in to a partnership, a relationship, in which we can find the security, love and forgiveness we need to make a fresh start and know that we’re always supported and loved.

And, I think, we’re yoked together as fellow-Christians.

We’re not meant to do the whole business of following Christ alone – instead we’ve been given each other, the Church, to work alongside us, support us, guide us, love us and teach us.

And then we in turn can do the same for those who come along behind us.

We are to be yoked with each other, just as we are yoked with Christ.

It can seem like there’s a lot to do to live out our calling as members of the Church and followers of Jesus, but if we can fulfil our roles with Jesus close by us,  sharing the load, and if we do things his way, in his strength, then we will find that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.


A talk at Morning Prayer on the 22nd May 2019

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Deuteronomy 18.9-22 / 1 Peter 2.1-10

Set Apart

The common theme running through our two readings this morning is holiness.

To be holy is to be set apart, to be different, to be consecrated to God.

This why the Deuteronomy reading sets so much emphasis on God’s people being different from the pagan nations around them.

Israel is to refrain from superstition, magic and occult practices, and they are to be wise about who they choose to listen to, because they’ve been chosen to be God’s people and to live in a way that shows who he is.

And our other reading, from the first letter of Peter, picks up on this theme, describing all of us Christians as living stones, a spiritual house for God, as a royal priesthood given the privilege of serving God and so needing to live in a way that shows who we are and who belong to.

We, like the people of Israel in our first reading, are to reflect who God is in the world and be changed into different people.

But how can we reflect God in the world as holy people?

One part of being holy is to be different, even when that’s an uncomfortable thing to be.

We are to uphold God’s standards, follow his ways, make him the priority of our lives.

It’s not that we should be looking down on others, convinced of our own righteousness and sure that we are better or know better than them.

This would be the kind of attitude that Jesus condemned in the gospels when he met it in religious leaders who were convinced of their own goodness but failed to show compassion and love towards others.

And sometimes Christians make mistakes or stubbornly cling to cherished ideas instead of paying attention to what God might be saying to us here and now.

We do need to be aiming to walk in God’s ways but we also need to remember that we all need and receive God’s grace every day.

made whole

But there’s another aspect to holiness.

And this is about health and wholeness and being truly ourselves.

God’s call to holiness is not just to impose obedience on us for it’s own sake, or because he doesn’t want us to enjoy ourselves.

Rather, God calls us to holiness because it’s in living in his way that we can be set free from all the things that drag us down, our sin and fears and weaknesses.

It’s in striving to live holier lives that we can get closer to being the people we were always meant to be and find true fulfilment and happiness in living lives of greater love, joy and peace.

It’s been said that the glory of God is a human being fully alive.

God wants each one of us to be fully alive, fully transformed, truly holy.

And so he calls us to come to him, to be made into his people, walking with our God and confident that he will help us on the path to holiness.

A Love Song

Embroidered cross with the words of Song of Solomon chapter 3 verse 4

Song of Solomon 3 / Matthew 28.16-end

A talk for Morning Prayer on Wednesday of Easter Week

Human Love

We don’t hear much about the Song of Solomon in church.

It’s a bit too romantic and passionate; even, if I dare use the word here, sexy.

We hear it read at weddings a lot, and in fact I had some of it at my wedding, although there the reading was from Chapter 4 rather than Chapter 3.

On one level it’s a very human love story, a description of a passionate encounter between two people in love.

Yet it’s here in the Bible, which to my mind suggests two things.

The first is that human love and romantic relationships are, at best, important and beautiful and to be celebrated.

The second is that maybe, as is often the case in puzzling parts of the Bible, other layers of interpretation and meaning are possible.

Divine Love

One level of meaning is that it’s a story about God’s love for his people Israel.

It’s about a God who pursues his beloved people even though they keep turning away from him and a God who is faithful and passionate about those he has chosen, no matter how often they let him down, get things wrong and turn away from him.

God’s people may sometimes be faithless, as we see throughout the story of the Bible, but God is always faithful.

And then this interpretation can be expanded into seeing the Song of Solomon as a story about God’s love for his Church – about his love for us, in fact.

We in the Church also have a history of letting God down, getting things wrong, turning away and being faithless – but God is always faithful.

The strongest evidence of God’s love for us is of course the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we are celebrating right now, and in one sense Chapter 3 reflects that.

It talks about looking for the beloved, who has gone missing, just as Jesus seemed to be gone forever when he died.

But then he’s found and his lover doesn’t want to let go, which may remind us of Mary Magdalene holding on to Jesus in the garden after the Resurrection.

And the chapter talks about the beloved coming triumphantly, crowned and ready for his wedding, as Jesus was raised and glorified by the Father and we, the Church, have become his bride.

For the Easter story is all about how far God will go to show how much he loves us – even to death and back again.

It’s about a passionate God, full of wild love, who won’t let anything stand in the way of reconciliation and mending the broken relationship between God and humanity.

Love for the world

Then, fired up and motivated by God’s love for us, we are called on to show such love to others, to let them know the good news that God is calling for them, and show them the way to him, remembering that our Saviour has promised to be with us always, to the end of the age.

For God is love, and we are his beloved.

Love and St Valentine

St Valentine

Sermon preached at Morning Prayer

We don’t know a lot about Valentine, but he seems to have been a priest or a bishop of Terni, in central Italy.

He was martyred in Rome under the Emperor Claudius in around the year 269, and probably on the 14th February.

It’s actually possible that there were in fact 3 Valentines who were martyrs but to avoid making things too complicated I’m going to stick to just one.

There are also two possible reasons why he’s connected with lovers:

One is that in the Middle Ages it was thought that birds chose their mates on the 14th February.

The other is that it’s connected to a pagan Roman festival which happened at this time and which was designed to promote health and fertility.

He’s not actually officially celebrated by either the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church, but that doesn’t need to stop us thinking about him or what his connection to love might mean for us, outside of the romantic kind celebrated by cards and chocolates.

Valentine, whoever he was, was killed for his faith, which he refused to let go of, despite the dangers it posed, out of his love for Jesus.

Such love for God is our first priority as Christians, and the thing which should inform all our thoughts, words and actions

There’s also a story that while in prison Valentine devoted himself to helping his fellow soon to be martyrs and to teaching the daughter of his jailer.

In this Valentine showed his love for the people around him – both Christians like him and those who could be considered his enemies – the jailer and his daughter.

And we too are called to show such love, to care not only for our friends and families but also for strangers and even enemies.

Then, finally, there is of course God’s love for us, from which all our attempts to love flow.

George Herbert wrote a beautiful and famous poem about this which goes:


LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,  
      Guilty of dust and sin.  
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack  
      From my first entrance in,  
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning        
      If I lack’d anything.  
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’  
     Love said, ‘You shall be he.’  
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,  
      I cannot look on Thee.’   
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,  
      ‘Who made the eyes but I?’  
‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame  
      Go where it doth deserve.’  
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’  
      ‘My dear, then I will serve.’  
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’  
      So I did sit and eat.     So this Valentine’s Day, may we remember that romantic love is not the only, or even the most important, kind of love.   The love we are called to show as children of God is the kind that puts God and others first, and is bold, strong, active and offered to all.