Sunday, July 6, 2014

A War that Wages Within Us - A Homily for Proper 14, Year A, 2014

Homily for Proper 14, Year A, 2014
Sunday, July 6, 2014
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Texts: Romans 7:15-25, Matthew 25-30

“Come unto me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”

Since last December, I have made a conscious effort to be a healthier person. When I sprained my ankle just before Christmas, I realized that I was not going to get better without better self-care. And so I undertook seriously, what I had previously only committed to half-heartedly, and made regular exercise a priority. Now, those who know me well know that reading has always really been my sport, and when I figured I needed a bit more cardiovascular activity then what was required to turn a page, I picked up my guitar and let the strumming count for my cardio activity that week.  Obviously, I needed a wakeup call.  The problem is, though, that I really don’t like exercise. Sure, I feel great after I have done it, but perhaps that is one of God’s little tricks he plays on us, because motivation is actually needed before we do something, not after the task is completed!  So, I plug away. I try to do my daily exercise, and for the most part I am feeling better, but it is hard, and it is not really what I want to be doing with my time.  It is amazing how often I hear that Lumberjack breakfast at Hot Stacks calling my name, and that is really where I want to be! 

Like St. Paul, I have a problem.  I know what I ought to do, what I really should do, and in my heart of hearts I really want to do, but then I turn and do the wrong thing, the thing I ought not to do, the thing in my heart that I actually hate.  I suspect I am not alone on this journey, indeed, if I am not mistaken, it is part of the human condition and we are all part of that same race.  Like St. Paul, we do not understand our own actions.  We know what is good, and yet how often do we choose what is not so good.  And then we rationalize our choice.   The other day when I was on the treadmill, I had to pause it and tie my shoe.  I accidentally reset it and was trying to figure out how to get it back, and then just gave up.  “Oh well,” I said to myself, “that’s pretty good, I’ll make it up tomorrow.”  And then tomorrow gets busy, and you know the rest.

I am using the example of exercise because for me, it is the thing that is good for me, but the thing I am tempted to continually to forsake.  Each one of us will know what our temptations are.  Each one of us will have our “oughts” and “ought nots” that we struggle with.  And each one of us will think from time-to-time that we have slain our dragon, that we have become strong enough under our own might to fight off that beast of temptation, and yet, the moment our guard is down, we find ourselves veering off that good road, and wandering down that familiar side street of temptation. 

The truth is, we are actually wired to do the right thing. We are wired for goodness. We are created in the image and likeness of God. God looked at all he created and said “it is good!”  As human beings we have an intrinsic sense of the natural law of right and wrong. We know what is best for us both as individuals and as a community.  We may argue about the details of how to bring about goodness in the world, but we are wired to strive toward the good.  This is what St. Paul is talking about when he says that we know the good we ought to do.  There is both a natural revealed law of right and wrong, and in the Commandments of the Moral Law of the Old Testament we are taught right and wrong. The natural moral law and the revealed moral law have one and the same font, and that is God. 

Why then, knowing good from evil in our heads and perhaps even in our hearts, why, being wired for the good, do we struggle against it and often choose what is not best for us?  Somewhere along the line, something short-circuited.  Something interfered with the wiring.  A bug got into the programming.  Somewhere along the line, the creation confused itself with the creator, and placed itself at the centre of the universe, in place of the one to whom that honour is truly due.  Somewhere along the line, human beings, in extraordinary hubris mistook themselves for gods and forgot the one true God.  When we become gods and cast out the one true God we take to ourselves the role of rule maker, and the role of rule-breaker.  We place our own temporal and earthly desires and wants above the eternal good and twist our moral framework to accommodate our unhealthy longings.   And all the while, we know down deep inside something is wrong. We know the good we ought to be choosing, and yet, we choose it not. What we desire temporally has become so important that we have lost sight of things eternal.  But deep down the struggle is there, and from time-to-time pangs of conscience will attack, and yet we push away and bury them. It is often not until we reach a crisis, and we know we cannot go on rationalizing, seeking after earthly treats that never fill the longing soul, that we know something has to give. The weight of juggling all our conflicting rationalizations of our behaviour to ourselves, and to others, has become too heavy, and what are we do?

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” Jesus says, “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.”  The truth is, we know that in our moment of struggle, when the burden is hard, when the world is confusing, when we are hiding from ourselves and others that the answer really is a simple one: turn to Christ.  And yet, I want to carry that load. I want to prove that I can bear the burdens. I want to keep all the balls in the air.  Yet, I know deep down that I cannot.  But here is the irony: the burden sometimes is in laying down the load, rather than continuing to carry it, or even taking on more. It is harder to lay down the load, to say, “I can’t do it on my own”, and “I need someone else to carry it for awhile”. These are the truly hard things to say, and they are the truly hard things to do. But they are the right thing. Why? Because, in laying down your load before Christ you allow yourself to be re-wired, to be re-ordered, to be restored, refreshed, recreated.  In laying down your burden before Christ you take yourself out of the centre of the universe and recognize that that is God’s place, and indeed, that God never left it when you tried to place yourself there. 

And thus, the burden we pick up in Christ is an easy burden. Note carefully that Jesus still calls it a burden. It is not that the Christian life is without challenge, or work, or trial, but it is a burden that is carried by Christ, and not ourselves alone.  Last week we spoke about some of those challenges that come from following Jesus, from taking up his yoke, and we heard that they are not easy at all, and yet nothing beats doing the right thing, and God will empower us with his strength on the journey. “Learn from me,” he says, “For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”.  Is this not what St. Paul says he is longing for when he talks about the war going on within him, within all of us?  Is this not what we all long for – peace in our souls?  And yet we turn not to Christ because we are afraid of being judged for all our wrongs, for our mistakes, for the war that wages within us.  But what does Jesus say to all that? Do not fear, I will not judge you.  His words are simple, he is gentle, and he says “Come to me all that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”  That is why St. Paul, at the conclusion of his lament about the war that wages within us, can cry “but thanks be to God, who has given us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

As each of us face the struggles that challenge us, and as we set out, attempting to do the right thing, and inevitably, under the weakness of our own strength fall short of the mark, may we be given grace to hand over our challenges, our weaknesses, our hopes and our failures to the one who will truly give us peace, and find victory in him, Jesus Christ our Lord.

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