An Uphill Faith

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The Pas

Proper 9 – Ordinary/Lectionary 14 – Pentecost + 5

Year A

9 July 2017

 

Psalm 45:11-18

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

Romans 7:15-25a

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

Lord of heaven and earth, whose Son came eating and drinking, exposing the rivalry that tears the world apart: may we share his feast and friendship and lay our burdens in his liberating arms; through Jesus Christ, Wisdom’s child. Amen.

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Have you ever noticed that to live a life of faith isn’t as straightforward and as easy as we would like?

 

We’re working from the perspective that once we’ve become Christians, once we’ve accepted Christ into our lives and into our hearts then we’re a new ‘us’ and we wont go back to our old habits, to destructive ways of living.

 

Unfortunately, as much as we’d like to think otherwise, this isn’t true.

 

And Christ tells us: “wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” (Matt 11:19b)

 

Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, a follower of Christ, and a major contributor to the New Testament tells us “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Rom 7:15b) And really, this sums up our conundrum, our puzzle as well.

 

At the same time, although we have to teach our hearts, our words, our minds to walk in the ways of Christ, we also have Paul’s examples. We have his letters, not just  to the church at Rome, but to the other communities he advised during his career as well.

 

Today, he tells those in Rome: “19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (Rom7:19-20)

 

Paul makes a very fine distinction between the sin of our lives that just oozes out into our actions and the life we’re reaching for in Christ. He distinguishes the evil that happens from the grace we desire. He recognizes that we cannot do this on our own.

 

And Christ tells us: “wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” (Matt 11:19b)

 

In our lives of faith, we have the rite of Confession and of Forgiveness or absolution that, if we allow it, will help us to shed the errors of our past. It allows us to leave these burdens, these errors, these missteps, with our brothers and sisters in Christ and in the world, at the feet of Christ, and to walk away from them, renewed, refreshed, and able to take another stab at being better people tomorrow, than we are today.

 

Meanwhile, Jesus tells us, today, “28 ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’”(Matt 11:28-30)

 

Jesus tells us that he knows that this isn’t an easy way to live. This isn’t a way of life that will yield an instantaneous response, although we often wish it would. Rather it is a way of life that is renewed each day; expressing, each day, the love of God in our lives, and in our hearts.

 

It’s a way of life that is renewed each day. It’s a lifestyle that we grow into only if we wish it to become a habit that eventually overrules the negative, the bitter, the ‘old us’ that, as Paul points out, still tries to emerge and dominate our participation in the community all around us, every day.

 

And Christ tells us: “wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” (Matt 11:19b)

 

Like Paul we are a work in progress. We are an unfinished masterpiece that only the love of God, found in the teachings of Jesus can transform. We cannot do this on our own. We cannot do this in isolation.

 

“Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:21-25)

 

And Christ tells us: “wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” (Matt 11:19b)

 

Paul talks of the war within each one of us that continues still today when we strive to do good but what comes out of our minds, our hearts is less than we desire and the moment it reaches our ears we cringe at what we’ve said what we’ve done.

 

At the same time, Christ says: “18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”” (Matt 11:18-19)

“But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

 

This is what society is doing. It’s setting impossible expectations for each of us as believers of Christ Jesus, as followers of the teachings of Christ.

 

Yet, wisdom is proved right by her deeds.

 

So, really, how do we deal with this obvious disconnect between what society thinks we do and what we actually do? Between what we as Christians want to do and what actually happens?

 

No matter what we do, for those who don’t follow the Christian way, it will never be enough. For those who do follow the Christian way, they’re standing at our side struggling with the same urges we see Paul describing to us, today.

 

He says: “15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” (Rom 7:15-17)

 

The summary of the law is to love God, with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.

 

The summary of the law is to love, yet, Paul tells us that loving is probably one of the most difficult things to do in the world because of the struggle within each of our lives and  hearts, because of society’s opinions that impinge on even and especially how we love ourselves.

 

There’s a reason why the classic cartoons showed the dog with an angel dog on one shoulder and the devil dog on the other as the dog contemplated the right and the wrong actions with regards to the cat who was tormenting it.

 

And most of the time, the devil dog won the internal debate because it made for a better cartoon, and because then we would see the angel version trying to pull the dog back from chasing that cat.

 

In our lives, we feel that same internal debate when we face choices, when we feel provoked in our lives, in our actions by others.

It takes time and habit for us to stop, to think, to rephrase what we have to say, and internally, when we open our mouths and out comes the negative, the little angel version of ourselves is cringing, while the devil image is raising its pitchfork in victory.

 

We, like Paul, desire to do what is right, but often what comes out is the opposite. “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (Rom 7:18b)

 

And this is the heart of our identity, of our lives as Christians. We desire to do good, but can’t seem to achieve it on our own.

 

Even Paul cannot achieve doing good on his own, and if he can’t, why do we think we can? And this brings us back to Christ, to God, to the workings of the Holy Spirit in and for our lives, in and for our work in the world, in and for our interactions with each other, and with strangers on the street. It’s that taking a moment to remove venom from our words, from our hearts before we let them out into the world.

 

“Wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” (Matt 11:19b)

 

The world will continue to be the world. What we have to be aware of is how we represent Christ, how we represent the workings of the Holy Spirit in and for our lives, our families, our community and the world around us.

 

At the same time, Christ encourages us to find our rest in him.

 

Think about it, to be able to lay down our burdens, our doubts, our errors, and our mistakes. To be able to put aside all of the negative that just flows from our lives, in the confession, in the absolution, when we try to do it all on our own, and to let Christ help.

 

Christ tells us: “28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”” (Matt 11:28-30)

 

And who’s not weary of swimming upstream? Who’s not weary of constantly pushing against the current of society and getting a face full of water for our efforts? Sometimes it feels easier to flow with that current, to be carried with it, and to allow society to dictate how we represent Christ in the world instead of allowing society to see Christ represented in our words, in our actions?

 

Living a life of faith isn’t easy. The moment we stop, like a diet, we have to begin all over again.

 

Turning to Christ with our burdens and leaving those burdens at Christ’s feet is probably the hardest thing, but that’s what we’re encouraged to do.

 

This is what is expected by our hearts, by the teachings of Jesus, by the letters of Paul for our lives, for the benefit of our lives of faith.

 

This is what it is that makes us stand out from the crowd as Christians, as followers of the way.

 

Jesus offers to help us to carry our burdens. He’s there to help us to take each step of our lives, like a 3-legged race. And together, with Christ, we are able to do what even Paul is pointing out – the good we wish to do, not just in our lives, but for the benefit of each one of us, for our communities and for the world around us, because “wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” (Matt 11:19b)

 

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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