Transform – ministry on this corner of Narragansett and Wabansia in west Chicago’s Galewood neighborhood begins right with that word. Not with fixing up this building’s needed repairs, not with good sermons and culturally relevant music, not even with wisdom and learning.
It begins right in our own hearts and minds so that we become people who see beyond ourselves, focusing with God’s eyes on the 360 children who daily attend Chicago’s Joseph Lovett Elementary School on this same block. It begins with seeing the people inside the 13,000 cars that daily pass by the church’s front door, heading to industrial jobs just a few blocks north or moving a block south to turn onto North Avenue and head to downtown Chicago. How does that transformation happen so that we come to each of them with love that embraces diversity, love that is more like Jesus?
We’re just ordinary people; we don’t have all the answers – maybe we don’t have any of them. The intimidation of this new ministry in a neighborhood where things are different than what we knew before can leave us restless, questioning and insecure. Where do we start this transformation to look, live and love more like Jesus?
Transformation from being restless and uncertain to secure is embedded in Jesus’ words in Matthew 11: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
In these words, Jesus invites us to remove whatever yoke we are using in life and put on his new yoke instead.
You know how a yoke works? It’s a kind of harness that binds two together – usually two oxen or other animals that provide the strength and muscle to operate a farm implement such as a plow. A yoke has no flexibility. Where one turns the other must follow. Where one goes the other must go. Where one stops the other can go no further.
In life we yoke ourselves to all kinds of things: our friends, an educational system, an ideology, a career, an income level, our family, the attitudes and prejudices of an unhealthy culture. These direct our actions and responses. And while we may want to go a different way, the yoke we have in life can bind and limit our ability to change.
Jesus tells us about a yoke he provides. It’s a yoke carved of wood from a cross, stained by his blood, perfected in his resurrection, leading us to a life forever in the presence of God. Transformation comes when the worldly yoke that binds us falls away and Jesus puts on us a new yoke provided only through him. We don’t earn it – it’s freely given. We can’t buy it – it’s already paid for. It comes to us through faith. But in accepting it, the resulting transformation begins to change us from the inside out.
It will teach us how to look at, live for and love all people in a diverse environment. For us, that’s the people of Galewood, Oak Park, Elmwood Park and adjacent neighborhoods (yes, Chicago Austin and all its bad media press are just a few blocks away).
It will bring us rest and peace that passes understanding as we reject old habits of fear and take one small step after another to build relationships and bond with people who we’re just meeting for the first time – people you may think aren’t like you, but wait, yes they are.
And while this yoke may not remove the burden of embracing diversity in a church system that does not have a very good track record with it – or even remove a personal burden that any one of us might carry that distracts us from the mission – Jesus’ yoke will indeed make it lighter. Because we don’t carry any of it alone. Jesus is the lead; we only follow. And as we follow him together, we also carry one another.
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