DOWNLOAD AUDIO

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Earlier this week I ran across an article in Time magazine that caught my eye:  “10 Things the Most Successful People Do Every Day.  Needless to say, I was more than a little interested.”  The tag line:  “What habits, tactics and routines do the most successful people use to achieve their earth-shaking accomplishments?  One guy wanted to know.  So he talked to over 200 world-class achievers to learn from them.”[1]

I was more than a little pleased to read that the first thing listed was: “Have a Mindful Morning Ritual.  You wake up most mornings and the world is already screaming at you, the article said.  Emails are coming in asking for everything under the sun, the kids are yelling, and there’s stuff you didn’t get done yesterday that’s still plaguing your mind.  And you’re still in your jammies.  So you start the day reacting.  You’re not following a plan and getting your goals accomplished, you’re desperately responding to all the things the world is throwing at you.  But that’s not how you get Big Things accomplished in life… More than 80% of the 200-plus people interviewed have some type of mindfulness practice, typically done in the morning, that helps prepare you to be more self-aware of your thoughts and less emotionally reactive during the day.  Getting your head straight and your priorities in line so you could face the day doing what matters to you.”[2]

And you know, there is a whole industry around this sort of thing:  how to slow down, how to de-stress, how to sleep at night, how to get away from social media, how to declutter, how to find rest.  A whole industry around helping us to be centered people.  In church life we call it having a devotional life or spending time with God or reflection.  But regardless of what we call it, the point is still the same.  We live these lives of anxious anxiety; responding to a world and to a culture constantly trying to define who we are and who we ought to be; what success looks like, happiness, and beauty.  We spin out our lives and as Christians we spin out our lives in conflict with a culture indifferent and sometimes, even hostile to the ways of God.

The Apostle Paul in our Epistle lesson jumps right to the heart of the dilemma.  He makes his own confession to the Church: “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh.  I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do… So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”[3]

Can anyone relate to any of that?  Paul talks about the divided-self in terms of sin and Law.  Certainly he understands the necessity of the Law (that is the commandments, rules of governance that are necessary for civility) and it doesn’t seem to me that he is interested in eradicating nor questioning its validity in any way.  Rather, it seems that Paul is saying the “living out” of it, the day to day practicality and reality is a whole other matter.

Most laws are given for our good; is that not true?  To provide order and safety in our society. At their best, laws are designed for the good of all people, not just a few.  Can you imagine what our streets would be like if there were no laws governing traffic on just one corner – say 86th Street and Park for instance?  What if there were no laws of social protocol – no laws that governed how we are to be with one another?

Likewise, the laws of the Old Testament were never intended to bind up the people or to hold them hostage. They were never intended to portray a tyrant God “imposing his will on an unwilling world and unwilling human beings, cramping their style, squashing their individuality and their very humanness, requiring them to conform to arbitrary and hurtful laws and threatening them with dire consequences if they resist.”[4] Rather they were intended to bring us into deeper more meaningful fellowship with a loving God and one another.  Jesus said that all the Law could be summed up in these two:  love God; love neighbor.

Pick one of the commandments (the law): “Thou shalt not kill” or “Thou shalt not steal” – easy enough for most of us would not dare think about doing such things – or we might think about it but not really seriously or to the point of taking action – hum– except of course, our words can sometimes be murderous to the point that they kill the spirit of others; our actions sucks the life right out of them.   Good people. Conscientious people.  Benevolent people.  But sometimes…

There are laws like:  “Thou shalt not covet…” which has to do with the heart’s desire and the mind and which often leads to outer manifestations.   I want what someone else has to the extent that I wish them harm or will do any manner of things to get it.

We can see Paul’s dilemma as we see our own.  At last, he asks the question: “O Wretched man [person] that I am!  Who shall deliver me?  Who will rescue me?  Who will save me from myself?  Is that not the question?  Who will save me from myself?  From my enemies and haters?  Who will deliver me from my pitiful and pitiable state?”[5]

And then, it is as if Paul has this amazing epiphany; this moment of recognition and certainty:  “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Could it be that our relationship of faith, our hope in Jesus Christ is the thing that truly keeps us healthy and sound, rational and balanced in the day to day? Could it be that the life force we describe and define in this place is actually the glue that helps us hold together?  Could it be that instead of Christ being a noose around our necks, something that chokes the very life out of ourselves that it is in fact, the very thing that sets us free – free to choose and live and be?

There is this new law in us now; this law motived not by fear or dread and legislation but by love itself – the overwhelming radical love of Christ that claims us and keeps claiming us come what may.

Paul says it’s not easy and I have to agree.  It is not some passive commitment but requires constant and daily attention; sometimes all day long.  Some days, you just don’t feel like it.  You don’t feel like being patient or kind or taking the high road.  You don’t feel like forgiving people who have hurt you; sometimes without cause.  You don’t feel like being long-suffering.  We fall short.

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. is known for describing it this way:  “This strange dichotomy, this agonizing gulf between the ought and the is, represents the tragic theme of our [man’s] earthly pilgrimage.”[6]

It begs a set of profound and chilling questions and honest answers.  It reminds us of the inner turmoil and personal conflict that we all face at times if only fleeting: that yes, there is some good in the worst of us and there is also some evil in the best of us.  It is not simply an abstract intellectual debate but an ongoing inner personal struggle.

How it is that we have made up our mind that from now on it’s going to be different but then something happens and there is a spiritual – if not physical – relapse.   All the things we tell ourselves that we have outgrown and let go. That we are bigger than that now only to discover we are not nearly as far along as we had imagined.  At best, we grow in grace but its slow good hard work.

Our compassionate Jesus understood our dilemma. Hear again his word of invitation in today’s gospel: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”[7]

Come to me if you are tired, angry, and wounded.  Come to me if you are sad and grieving, rejected.  Come to me if you have been overlooked and looked over; you’re lonely and frustrated.  Come to me and I will give you rest. Is there anybody here whose soul needs rest?  Are you tired and worn down?  Sick and tired of being sick and tired?

What are those chains weighing you down?  Those weights of stress, anger, fear, jealousy, insecurity, disappointments.  Weights of entitlement and privilege.  Old wounds.  Parents.  Society.  Politics.  Paranoia.  Isms.  What are those weights that just won’t let us go?  Jesus says “Come.”  Others say: I’m tired of hearing about your situation; I have enough problems of my own.  But Jesus says just the opposite.  Come to me all of you; none are excluded.  You are all welcome here.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn of me.”[8]  I think Jesus was saying “I’m not going to take away the struggle; the pain; the sorrow – no I’m not going to take it all away but you’ll have to endure some things but I will partner with you.  I’m willing to be the other person in the team who carries the yoke with you.  I’ll help you carry the load.  Whichever way you go, I’ll go.  If you pull this way, I’ll pull with you.  If you go that way – though it may be the wrong way – I’ll go there too.  Even there, I will not leave you nor will I forsake you.  I’ll wait on you.  I’ll wait for you to mature and get it right.  I’ll do some heavy lifting.  I’ll help you carry the load.”

Here it is my friends plopped down at our feet just waiting for us.  Yesterday I attended the funeral of a 43 year old who left a young son just 5 years old.  Sometimes there are no words.  We carry our burdens and pains; our sorrows and struggles.  We grow tired and weary but here is the promise:  I will give you rest.  I’ll be with you.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm.  When you walk through fire you will not be burned, and the flame shall not consumer you.  For I am the Lord your God; and you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…”[9]

“…for I am gentle and humble in heart.  My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[10]

 

 

[1] http://observer.com/2017/01/10-things-the-most-successful-people-do-every-day/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Romans 7:15-23

[4] N.T. Wright, Kingdom come, in The Christian Century, June 17, 2008, pg. 29.

[5] Romans 7:24 Paraphrase

[6] Martin Luther King, Jr. Strength to Love, Fortress Press, pg. 40.

[7] Matthew 11:28

[8] Matthew 11:29a

[9] Isaiah 43:1b-2

[10] Matthew 11:29b-30