Tag Archives: New Year

That was yesterday

Traditional qamutik (sled), Cape Dorset 1999 Image credit: Ansgar Walk via Wikimedia

Traditional qamutik (sled), Cape Dorset 1999
Image credit: Ansgar Walk via Wikimedia

He had a story to tell. Our minister thought the youth fellowship should hear it. After all, you did not often get the chance to meet someone who has lived and worked with Eskimo people. When our guest concluded his story, he took questions. An opportunity not to be missed and the inevitable question: “Is it true the Eskimos rub noses instead of kissing?” Yes! They actually press the tip of their noses together. What other option was there? In the extreme cold climate only the eyes and the nose were exposed to the elements – Americans resorted to the same custom during the big freeze at the turn of the year. One important lesson – many of the people would be insulted to be called Eskimo today. They are the Inuit people and it is important to remember it.

We learned something else that evening. The Inuit people lived by the principle of never carrying the day’s evil experiences, its troubles or its quarrels, over into the next day. Two of them might be engaged in a violent dispute, heated words spoken and blows exchanged. And if it took place late into the evening, the night would usually erase the quarrel, and next day they greeted each other like lost brothers. If someone were to exclaim, “I thought you were enemies – you were fighting last night!” back would come the answer: “But that was yesterday!” There is a challenge for us, a great way to meet life – to be able to say, “but that is past; that is forgotten; that belongs to yesterday.” Early in a New Year could be an opportune time to examine the pattern our lives have taken in the light of the Inuit’s daunting philosophy. What a wonderful and tremendous difference it would make if we were capable and willing to follow the Inuit dictum: that was yesterday. Think globally; think nationally; think personally; it is mind-blowing – “forgetting what is behind and straining to what is ahead, I press on . . . .”

Of course there are things we cannot forget, things we must not forget however much we would rather forget them. It gets my back up and I get tired of hearing it, that statement so often made by news-readers, police, government ministers, chief executives. There are lessons to be learned. Sometimes it appears to slip off the tongue with professional ease! A statement which attempts to respond to criticism, by public, media or politicians, of an unhappy state of affairs, of mistakes made in the public domain, etc. Now I cannot disagree that mistakes are made, that events can take an unsatisfactory twist requiring an assurance that the confession is more than an attempt to get off the hook, more than an empty promise. And in every avenue of life, personal or collective, there will be things we must not forget until the lessons they contain are well and truly learned. The Christian and the church are not excluded.

What I say is this, forgetting what is behind and straining to what is ahead, I press towards the finishing line to win the heavenly prize to which God has called me in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14

                         

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Fits like a glove

Millais: Christ in the House of his Parents. Image credit: Wikimedia

Millais: Christ in the House of his Parents.
Image credit: Wikimedia

Part of the mystery of the event so recently celebrated by us and, at the same time, part of the glory of Christmas is that Jesus hailed from Nazareth where he was the village carpenter. Nazareth, a place from which no good thing was expected to come. Nathanael, eventually to become a disciple of Jesus, when told by his friend Philip that Jesus was God’s Anointed One, simply could not believe it. “Nazareth,” the bewildered Nathanael exclaimed, “Can anything of good come from that place!” Nazareth, a village of little expectation and Jesus, son of Joseph, an artisan, not a prince – take it with a pinch of salt! Yes, village carpenter he was: good with tools; with skills that were not confined to shaping wood. A carpenter not a joiner, as we understand the term, and certainly not the odd jobs man who advertises his services in the columns of the local newspaper. A good carpenter in Palestine in Jesus’ day was a craftsman of multi-skills. (Trade Unions, as we know them, would have a field day.) If you wanted a door planed or someone to drive in a few nails, you sent for the carpenter, and if it was a chair that you wanted or a table or a coffin, a bridge, even a house or a yoke for your oxen, the carpenter was your man.

I have never driven a pair of oxen. I did drive a pair of horses, Clydesdales, once upon a time, and in some respects that is much the same. If you are a horse man, whether show jumper or, as in my case, a ploughboy, like an ox-man, you are concerned with harness and yokes with which you attach your horse to a plough, or harrows or whatever. No good if they are ill-fitting or badly made. No good if the collar chafes at the shoulder or the saddle-girth strangles the belly or the tree-chains cut into the hock. They have to fit well! In Jesus’ day, if a farmer needed a new yoke for his oxen it was much like going to the bespoke tailor on the High Street for a new suit. A yoke was made of wood and the farmer would take the beast to the carpenter, first to be measured and then to be fitted. The yoke was tailor-made!

Jesus knew all about yokes from personal experience. In the course of his ministry of teaching and pastoral care there was an occasion when he utilised that expertise to illustrate his message. “My yoke is easy,” Jesus says, and the word easy may also be translated, serviceable, good or well-fitting.My yoke is easy” was actually the motto of the family business – it hung on a sign above his workshop door. It is part of folk-lore too that it was no idle boast, for Jesus had the reputation for making the best ox-yokes in the whole of Galilee and, without exception, the yokes he made fitted like a glove, as we might say. It is Matthew (11: 28-30) who tells us of Jesus’ use of the family business motto in his teaching. But there he does not speak of those well-fitting products shaped on his work bench, Jesus is talking about people; about life. James Stewart, a pulpit giant and theologian at the time of my youth and before, wrote an excellent hand book (Life and Teaching of Jesus) for the use of Boys Brigade Bible Classes. I was greatly influenced by him. He said this: “Made by the same hands, the yoke for the oxen at the plough and the yoke for the disciples of the kingdom were alike, they were light and easy fitting.” Jesus’ invitation and promise were addressed to a devout people whose spiritual allegiance had become a burden. They were exhausted and worn out by the increasing and ludicrous number of demands and regulations their leaders and teachers persistently added to the rule book, with the hope of gaining God’s blessing. The yoke – the task to which they were committed – was nothing other than an ill fit. For a people burned out by the intensity of religious fervour, what was intended to be a blessing had become an intolerable burden. (A yoke could also be the mark of servitude or slavery.) Jesus offers something different: a better way of life, a joy and a blessing, its demands tailor-made. “Take my yoke and put it on; the yoke I give you is easy and light.” The ironic feature of this tale is the reluctance of the Hebrew people to throw in their lot with Jesus. They feared what he offered might be no different – a burden rather than a joy. There is a paraphrase of the Saying of Jesus about the yoke which fits well. It goes like this: “pulling with me is easy; pulling against me is hard.”

The conclusion to this piece is brief, and the impression may be given that it has been forgotten or of lesser significance. The truth is that no one is excluded from this challenging invitation and tremendous promise. When life is tough and hurting; when things are getting on top of us and we are feeling low, Jesus speaks to us, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” This is not an invitation to escape trial or tribulation. There is no magic wand on offer, or rocking chair in which to take our ease. It is the promise that is at the heart of the Gospel, that there is no situation that must end in failure; no search for truth or for God that inevitably leads to a cul-de-sac. It is the promise that in the strength of grace God’s enabling gift to us, our life will be moulded so that we can cope.

My yoke fits well. A promise to carry with us into the New Year 2014.