I do what I don’t want to do

Sermon 9 July

Romans 7:14-26 Matt 11:16-19, 25-30

Did our reading from Paul ring a bell with you? It can be a bit hard to understand exactly what Paul is getting at, so I’ll read it again from the Message translation.

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

—————————————————————————————–

Does it make a bit more sense now? We are all familiar with those times when we decide to do something, but then find ourselves doing the exact opposite. On many occasions in my life I decide to eat sensibly, to try and lose weight, only to discover my hand reaching for another chocolate biscuit. It’s like our body, our flesh takes over. Have you ever wondered why that is? Paul says its because of sin within us. Does that mean we can blame the devil, blame the fallen world we are born into, and not take any responsibility for our actions? Well, no, we can’t. We are responsible for all our actions, but people still get off criminal charges because of diminished responsibility. Of course, if they can’t make good decisions because of another bad decision they have made, like if they drive drunk and hurt someone, they didn’t actually mean to hurt the victim, but they did make the decision to drink.

I don’t think we can say, sin made me do it, as a defence against being held accountable. Habits have a great deal of influence here. Take the example of me with the chocolate biscuits. I have come to understand that if I buy them in the first place, they will get scoffed. Usually by the kids actually. So I can break the habit by not buying them in the first place. But how about when there’s a shared morning tea? I seem to have developed a habit of standing close to the table so I can eat lots of delicious goodies without really thinking about it. The hand goes to the plate, then to the mouth, on automatic pilot. Breaking the habit, by deliberately standing away from the table, is hard to do.

I think trying to get out of responsibility is a bad habit. We know instinctively almost, from our youngest childhood, that if we’re caught doing something we know we shouldn’t, to try and shift the blame. It’s got good Biblical precedents – Adam said, it wasn’t my fault, the woman you gave me – see the blame shifting both to Eve and for God in giving her – gave me the apple and I ate it. Then Eve said, the serpent enticed me. She was telling the truth, but neither Adam nor Eve stopped to think, should I eat this apple? They did what they knew was wrong, and they tried to shift the blame.

We’ve seen tv skits where a little child blames a mess they have made on dolly, or the dog, or their brother. Actually in our house, it usually was the brother who made the mess… I won’t tell you which one.

But why are we so keen to avoid blame? Are we scared that if we say, yes, I did it, I stuffed up, that we will be punished severely, cast out, left unloved? I think we do fear rejection, some of us more than others.

Maybe the burden of guilt is one that Jesus talks about in our Gospel reading.

28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

If we find ourselves carrying a heavy burden, we can bring it to God, and he give give us rest. Maybe that burden is guilt, maybe the burden of loving people who are sick, there are many burdens we carry.

We don’t have to specify what sort of burden we have in order to qualify to bring it to God. Any sort of thing, if we feel it is a burden, something heavy, something that occupies all our thoughts and disturbs our sleep, then we can bring it to God. Even little things, if they are niggling your conscience, bring them. God will give us rest.

Rest – is that just a break form work? A spiritual cup of tea with our feet up? I think with God, when we come and lay our burdens down, it is the deeply refreshing rest that restores our soul, and gives us resilience. It’s like snuggling on a loving mother’s lap, knowing that we are safe in her arms.

I like this scripture so much that I have printed it off and put it in a frame in the bathroom. It’s a reminder every time I see it to stop worrying and trying to sort everything myself, and to let go and let God.

Jesus then tells us to Take his yoke upon us, and learn from him,;

What does that mean? What is a yoke? It’s the yellow bit in an egg, but he doesn’t mean that sort. In the old days a wooden bar would link two oxen so they could, together, pull the plough, or the cart, and do their work. They were equally yoked, that means, they both did the same share of work. If we take Jesus’ yoke upon us, we are sharing our load equally with Him. Rather than thinking of taking his burden on ourselves, he is taking our burden on himself. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, the wood was like a yoke whereby he shared in everyone’s burdens. If we accept that he died for our sins, we can accept that he will share our burdens.

Jesus goes on to say, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest

for your souls.

If we share in the yoke of one who is gentle and humble in heart, we too will become gentle and humble. Often burdens can be made worse by a sense of pride, or entitlement, and if we are gentle and humble, those burdens may never grow to the size where they start to control our lives.

It’s a hint about developing a good spiritual habit. This is a way we can resist the burden Paul talks about, a way we can instinctively chose the way that leads to life.

Jesus finishes, For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

As Jesus takes our load, he lightens it.

May your loads be lightened today, as you come to Jesus with them.

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