-Rev Sarah Renfro-
Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I'm gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light."
Matthew 11:29-30 CEB
"Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest,” Jesus tells those who have been bearing the burdens of living under an oppressive regime, a nation at war, and religious leaders who impose a strict interpretation of scripture. Their lives were hard, and Jesus offers them another way to live.
So many around the world suffer under such cruelty, poverty, and unrest, that they are willing to sacrifice everything they have in order to escape the abuse. They have been treated like captives for too long, and they wish for a better life.
These are the people Jesus is speaking to in our time. He exchanges the yoke of oppression for one of education and calling. He promises to lead with a gentle hand, not an iron fist. Those who have been unable to get a good night’s sleep for years due to insecurity will be allowed to close their eyes in the presence of the Lord.
Following Jesus’ teachings does not lead to an easy life, but it is easier to bear, because we share each other’s burdens. The weak are lifted up by the strong. When life’s experiences way us down, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, Jesus will help us lighten our load.
The way of discipleship is not burdensome, but life-giving. Our hearts may be heavy, but only because we are yoked to the heart of God, full of justice, mercy, and compassion. When our souls ache, we may find comfort that we rest in the grace of God, who took on flesh in the form of Jesus, who frees us from conformity and sin.
Jesus is firm, yet gentle, in his humble way. He doesn’t pretend that the world is all rainbows and unicorns. It isn’t. But for those whose mountain is too steep to climb with such heavy packs on their backs, Jesus allows others to shoulder the suffering, for respite and relief.
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Gentle God, some of us are suffering under the weight of the world. Others of us feel like we can move mountains. Invite us to share one another’s burdens, lessen each other’s loads, and rest in the One who guides us. Amen.
Rev Sarah Renfro is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Geist Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Fishers, Indiana. Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, Sarah formerly modeled internationally, was ordained into ministry in 2010, is married to Rev. Kyle Brown, mother to Miriam, March Madness fanatic (Go Big Blue!), and writer at m-bodied.com. Her ministry includes leading body image workshops and preaching on embodiment and faith.
-Brandon William Peach-
Comfort, comfort my people!
says your God.
Speak compassionately to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her that her compulsory service has ended,
that her penalty has been paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins!
Isaiah 40:1-2 CEB
When I was young, I watched Mr. Rogers every Sunday morning before church with my twin brother, countless episodes and songs and life lessons that stick with me today. I was profoundly saddened by his death. I would look for old videos of his Neighborhood on the internet when I was in college (more challenging in the days before YouTube). As an adult, I’ve come to appreciate him more and more. His fundamental personality trait—his gentleness—was, and is, something that I admire greatly.
In 2012, when we heard the news of the horrible shooting in Newtown, CT, a Facebook image of him went viral along with a quote of his from years earlier:
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers -- so many caring people in this world."
Gentleness, of course, was the input. Comfort was the result. Soothing a crying baby, petting a cat, treating a wound--all things meant to comfort--only work if gentleness is applied. The gentleness of Christ, of course, is on display when he offers a light burden and an easy yoke.
God displayed His gentleness toward the children of Israel, who suffered tremendously during years of Babylonian captivity, through His prophet Isaiah. In the same chapter, God promises to give rest to the exhausted, to empower the weary, and promises His people would fly with wings like eagles [Isaiah 40:31]. Comforting words after such a long wait for some gentleness, indeed.
We live a violent world still—one that seems to value being tough over being tender. Meek attitudes and gentle actions are seen as a weakness. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The most powerful being in the universe could have used any method at all to crush darkness and Satan and sin—yet He chose to save His people by literally condescending and becoming a human child. There is then, in the fruit of gentleness, an amazing strength.
Gentleness in a world such as ours goes a long way, as Mr. Rogers demonstrated. Our decision to be gentle even in times of fear and uncertainty allows us to share the heart of Christ, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” [2 Corinthians 1:3]
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Lord, thank you for Your gentleness toward me. Please give me the strength to be gentle today, no matter the circumstance.
Brandon William Peach is, first and foremost, the husband of Kathleen O'Neill and the father of William Sean O'Neill. He is a writer with a degree in literature from Penn State University, and a frequent contributor to various blogs, magazines, and podcasts.
While his career is in marketing, Brandon's primary interests include historical Christianity, literature, art, and pacifism in practice. He lives in the heart of Amish Country in Central Pennsylvania, where "getting stuck in traffic" often means being stuck behind a horse and buggy on a windy backroad. His hobbies include reading, writing, watching good movies, cooking, and most importantly, spending time with his wife and son.
He is owned by his cat Tiger and his dog Millie.
Brothers and sisters, if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual should restore someone like this with a spirit of gentleness. Watch out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted too.
Galatians 6:1 CEB
Think about a time when you made a mistake and you were called out on it in public. Was your first instinct to humbly admit you were wrong and try to fix whatever it was you’d done wrong? If so, you’re a rare bird. Most people don’t react positively to being corrected (and humiliated) in public like that. Most people respond by getting defensive and doubling down.
Now think about a time when you were corrected privately. It’s still not fun to be corrected, but without the added embarrassment of losing face in front of other people, it’s usually not as bad. Sometimes, we run across people who are clearly in the wrong. If it’s a Christian, and they are doing something that is counter to the gospel, it often falls on the community of believers to correct that person. But we should never jump the gun and rebuke them in a harsh way
We should offer gentle guidance. We should speak to them the way we’d want them to speak to us. Sometimes that means taking them aside and gently nudging them back onto the right path. Sometimes it means just listening to them to find out why they’re doing what they’re doing (which can lead a person to realizing their own mistakes). What it never means is getting up in someone’s face and wagging a judgmental finger at them.
Gentleness isn’t a righteously aggressive rebuke. Gentleness is taking someone by the hand and slowly guiding them back into the light.
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God, Please help me to have a spirit of gentleness, especially when I notice someone doing wrong. Help me to remember I am a sinner as well, and to treat other people the way I would want to be treated. Amen.
Kristy Burmeister writes about stalkers, church-related trauma, feminism, and pie (pretty much in that order) at kristyburmeister.com. She's currently working on a memoir about a church that almost got her murdered when she was a teenager. (Spoiler: She's still alive.)
Look, my Servant whom I chose, the one I love, in whom I find great pleasure.
I’ll put my Spirit upon him, and he’ll announce judgment to the Gentiles.
He won’t argue or shout, and nobody will hear his voice in the streets.
He won’t break a bent stalk, and he won’t snuff out a smoldering wick, until he makes justice win.
And the Gentiles will put their hope in his name.
Matthew 12:18-21 (CEB)
Several years ago—even before YouTube—a series of videos produced by Vintage 21 Church went “viral.” The four videos were satirical in nature, taking clips from an old 1960s Sunday School film about the life of Jesus and dubbing over them with their own voices, a la “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Their goal was to challenge some of the preconceived notions about Jesus; in the original film, Jesus is depicted as stoically gliding from place to place, his face nearly emotionless as he robotically interacts with his disciples. This is in contrast to more modern dramatizations which attempt to convey Jesus’ humanity and “realness.”
While I find the “Jesus Videos” (as they’ve been called) to be very humorous, I do think that the original film was earnestly trying to depict a very important attribute of Jesus: his gentleness. As we discuss the fruit of the Spirit this Lenten season, we see each attribute vibrantly demonstrated in the life of Christ. After all, as the above passage states, the Holy Spirit was upon him and gentleness is one of the ways the Spirit is made manifest. Where I believe that old film fails, though, is in confusing gentleness with indifference and apathy.
What, then, does the gentleness of Jesus look like? In the context of Matthew 12, we see Jesus interacting with his opponents, the Pharisees. Their conflict grows rather heated and impassioned to the point that the Pharisees leave enraged and being the plot of have this Jesus of Nazareth killed. In a battle of verbal debate, the Pharisees are no match for him and this infuriates them. Jesus was fully aware of what they intended to do with him. And yet, how does he respond? He withdraws. He leaves that place and continues his healing ministry in secret. Was he afraid? Was he cowardly? Was he apathetic, even? No…Jesus was gentle.
We never see Jesus on the offensive. Though he certainly wields great power and demonstrates that thoroughly during his time on earth, Jesus never uses his power for personal gain. When attacked by the Pharisees, he very capably defends himself and gains the upper hand, but he chooses not to pursue them. Instead, he retreats. As we see in Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah, he won’t “argue or shout,” “break a bent stalk,” or “snuff out a smoldering wick.” To do so would not be in line with the will of God and is not a fruit of the Spirit. Instead, Jesus proclaims a message of justice, hope, and grace to all nations. The gentleness of Jesus, despite how it may appear at first, is extremely powerful, for it is in the spirit of gentleness that he achieves his greatest victory.
In our own lives as God’s children, we are presented with similar opportunities as our Lord to choose gentleness over aggressiveness. In our battles with this world, may we remember that it is endurance and perseverance that ultimately carry us through to the end.
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Merciful Father, may your Spirit be upon us. Help us to demonstrate gentleness to those around us. May we never seek more than to do Your will and to bring healing and hope to this world in our words and in our actions. In the name of the Gentle Shepherd we pray: Amen.
Mike Miles is the student and family minister at the Livonia Church of Christ in the western suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. He attended Abilene Christian University, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry in 2009. Mike is currently working on his Master of Religious Education in Missional Leadership at Rochester College in Rochester, Michigan.
Mike has a love for community and for bringing people together, especially across society's dividing lines. Born in the Philippines, he has since lived in over twenty different places but happily calls Michigan "home." He is unashamedly nerdy. He has tried to maintain a blog for years, but has decided that he is just too lazy. He is married to Blythe and has a son, with a baby girl on her way in early 2017!