Sermon July 5 2020
Genesis 24:34-67 Romans 7:15-25 The Message Matthew 11:16-30
I Obviously Need Help!
Paul spells it out like it is, doesn’t he? It can be a bit hard to understand, so today we are using the version from The Message.
“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!”
Have you had times like that? I’m sure we all have. Maybe it’s driving things – you know you should indicate that left-hand turn, but there’s no-one for miles about to see, so you don’t bother. Or maybe, like me, you find yourself taking a pen home from work, and don’t consider that it really should have been left at work. What’s the harm? There’s no-one to see or criticise, and anyway, doesn’t everyone do things like this?
Maybe you don’t see little infractions like this as sin. How about other things? As long as there have been people, there have been temptations to cheat in our relationships. No one will know, it’s ok, people have tried to convince themselves.
But Paul is talking about an innate law, one that we know is inside us. It’s not because we are scared of begin caught out that we are encouraged to follow the law, both the law of the land and God’s law. If even the saintly Paul struggled with the flesh, with temptation, with inner sin, we can be reassured that we are not the only ones who go through times like this.
But Paul leads us to what is really going on – ‘the power of sin within me keeps challenging my best intentions.’ We are born into a world of sin. When Adam took the first bite of that apple, metaphorical though it may have been, human beings were opened up to a world where we can make our own choices, even if
they are bad ones. We do have free will. If we didn’t, God would just have made a race of robots, Barbie and Ken dolls to play with, instead of people with free will who can choose to love God and love each other.
We can choose to turn away from sin, but even Paul admits that we need help. We can’t do it under our own strength. We have a real adversary who is trying to pull us from the path, and we have the adversary of the flesh, which is also nudging us from that path.
Paul goes on:
‘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.’
This sounds like New Years’ resolutions doesn’t it? How many of us have made these, bright and shining with the New Year, and by January 2 we’ve completely forgotten about them. I can already be promising myself to stop buying chocolate, while I reach for the Whittakers at the checkout.
Or how about when we see those desperate pleas from Save the Children on tv, and we decide, yes, I will support them, but by the time the add has finished we’ve forgotten what or why we even thought we might? Our decisions don’t result in actions at times, because, as Paul has said, something has gone wrong deep within me. That’s sin.
But don’t despair! Paul says:
‘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?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.’
You can feel such a sigh of relief, can’t you? After spelling out all the failings of our frail humanity, Paul takes us to the point where there is hope. That Jesus Christ can help us, and importantly does help us.
How does Jesus help us? By answering our prayers, by inspiring us with the Holy Spirit, by setting us his example, by challenging us to radically love our neighbour, even the annoying one, by being with us in other people – the list goes on. There are so many ways Jesus helps us to do what is the right thing.
We need to have the right thing set as a default in our heart in order to recognise when we are tempted to do the wrong thing.
How can we do that? By asking ourselves, what would Jesus do? This takes us back to really examining Jesus’ example – ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild ‘was a fiction designed to make little children behave themselves. How about Jesus braiding a cord and cleansing the temple ,or calling the Pharisees a brood of vipers?
Following Jesus doesn’t mean being nice and sweet all the time. Some of the time sure, but when there is injustice or hypocrisy, we have an excellent example in Jesus to try and right the injustice, to call out the hypocrisy.
Being a Christian is not always a comfortable place to be. In fact, if we are too comfortable, we are not really engaging in the world we live in.
Now, I’m aware today that many of you have been God-following Christians for many years, and have this idea of doing the right thing pretty sorted in your life. It may not be for you that these words are. But you may have other people that come to you for advice, for support, for friendship. Maybe your cleaner has a problem to discuss with you. Maybe your grandson wants to run something by you. Maybe the hairdresser opens up an interesting topic of conversation.
Dear friends, you have a job to do. There is no such thing as a retired Christian.
Whenever someone engages with you, you can guide them into Jesus’ way to
live. People will see the wisdom and the love shining off you, and will come and ask, knowing that there’s something about you that is different from the world.
Our mission is to let the world know about God’s love for each and every one of them, and this can inform every contact we have with anyone.
Think about contact tracing, like we’ve had to consider in the Covid crisis. Many of you weren’t going out in lockdown, so didn’t come in contact with people who might infect you. But now that we’re out of lockdown, how many people can you infect? In a good way, of course, with the Good News. With the love of God.
This week, do a bit of a tally of how many people you encounter, and you might be surprised about how many opportunities there are for you to spread the Good News!