A few weeks ago as we were driving to the Sunday morning service, listening to Steve Wright's Sunday Love Songs on Radio 2, the Lionel Richie (was that with or without the Commodores?) classic 'Easy like Sunday morning' came on. And I had a bit of an epiphany. I suddenly thought, there's something in this. Easy - like Sunday morning. It all started to crystalise when it came to the bridge:
I wanna be high, so high,
I wanna be free to know the things I do are right.
I wanna be free, just me...
This talks of a deep spiritual yearning. There's a desire to know that we're living right. We're doing the right thing. And yet, as people, we seem to miss out, mess up. We can't seem to do right for doing wrong. So doing wrong becomes habit. But wouldn't it be brilliant to 'be free to know the things I do are right'? Wouldn't it be great if it was possible to live that life of rightness, where we do the right thing without even thinking about it? If only it was that easy...
Wouldn't it be great to be free, to be 'just me' - just who we are, who we were made to be?
The Christian message of salvation and transformation by God's grace purports to deliver this. And yet, experience often teaches us otherwise. In most churches, when we turn up for our Sunday morning gatherings (or equivalent), we seem to still be trapped by this combination of fear and longing - fear that we have to live up to expectations, yet we can't, or know we won't; and longing, to do the right thing, to be good, to be better... Somehow in all of this, we lose that power that makes us free to know the things we do are right, and free to be 'just me'. We have to appear a certain way, maybe sit in a certain place, stand at the right time, act in a certain way. Easy? Sunday morning is not easy. And yet it should be. And life as a follower of Jesus should be - maybe not easy, but definitely simple.
After all, isn't this the very heart of Jesus' own call to discipleship - to a scholarship as his student, an apprenticeship to him:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.
Being a disciple of Jesus should not be so burdensome. It should be free and freeing. It's about the easy yoke. The yoke was, first of all, a harness used to control beasts of burden (and maybe slaves), to allow them more easily to move their burden. But yoke also came to be understood as a term for wisdom or teaching. For example, a text written between the times of our Old and New Testaments (found in the Apocrypha), says:
I opened my mouth and said, Acquire wisdom for yourselves without money.
Put your neck under her yoke, and let your sould be receive instruction; it is to be found close by.
And so, Jesus' invitation to follow him and his wisdom, his teaching, is not an invitation to the kind of straitjacket that the world of 24/7 media, money-makes-the-world-go-round, 2 cars on the drive, infeasibly large TV, calls us to. It's easy.
Nor is it and invitation to the kind of 'performance', look right, act right lifestyle of organised religion.
Jesus calls us to 'be free to know the things [we] do are right', to 'be free, just me...'
By following Jesus in his way - not the world's way, our church's way, or our own way - we can know that freedom. As we are shaped by him, by his teaching and by his example, we will more and more behave habitually like him - without having to think about it. We can know that the things we do are right, because we will be right; and out of our character flows our behaviour. Easy.
Paul, a follower of Jesus, recognised that the change had to occur in our character first, and that trying to 'do the right thing' just doesn't cut it. He said that we shouldn't conform to the world around us - blending in without thinking, by habit - but must be transformed (changed from one form to another) by the renewing of our minds: to have the 'mind' or the character of Jesus Christ formed in us (Romans 12:2).