Sunday the 9th of July 2017
Romans 7: 7- 25
At the end of today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus says these words: 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.”
“Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Sounds good doesn’t it? We live in a world where rest is often elusive for many. The temptation to be anxious and stressed about all that is happening around us is always with us. We live in such a fast paced world. How many times do we ask someone how they are going and they say: “busy”? Life can be very hectic for many of us with so little time to ponder about life, to think about things that are important.
But there is another type of rest that Jesus touches on here in this reading, the rest that we will find for our souls. This is the true rest that we need in this life, so the question is what type of rest is this?
Today’s Epistle reading from Romans chapter seven is all about sin. It is about how sin works in our lives, how sin seeks to disrupt our walk with our Lord. The Apostle Paul lays out for us to see that sin in this life is a real battle. In fact he speaks in a very direct and honest way describing just how sin works in our lives. He says: 14 “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” As Christians who have the Holy Spirit within us, we know when we are not doing what God asks us to do. When the Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Word and points out to us what God says in his law to us, we are well aware of when we fail. And the evil one has no hesitation in reminding us when we do not obey what God says. When this happens our consciences can so easily become burdened. When we know full well what God is asking of us and we are doing the exact opposite, life can become very difficult.
Often I have heard, from those who do not believe, criticism of Christians. Why? Because according to them Christians talk about living perfect lives and loving others, yet don’t practice what they preach. In this, their criticism is accurate; we don’t live good Christian lives at times, we do struggle with sins in our lives and to deny this would be foolish and dishonest. But is this what our Christian faith is about: living the good Christian life? Yes we are to live according to what God tells us through his Word. Yes we are to obediently follow him. God shows us very clearly in his Word what he expects of us; just take a look at the Ten Commandments. It is clear what is expected from us by him, but the fact is that we do not do what he asks. Now if you and I did not know any better, if we had not heard God’s Word to us and not heard what he expects of us then we would have an excuse. But the fact that we do know and have heard condemns us even more. This is the point that the Apostle is getting at here in this reading.
Our tendency in situations like this is to think that we have to strive harder, that we have to work harder to overcome the things in our lives that are getting in the way of our relationship with God. The problem is the more we work harder the more obvious it is that we cannot overcome the sin in our lives. This attitude works in most areas of life. If something is not going well, then work harder and it will improve. If you want to meet the goals you have, you have to work hard and eventually they will come about. If we want to overcome difficulties in our lives then we are encouraged to work hard, because hard work pays off. And it does, but it does not when it comes to our sin before God. It is not that we don’t have the desire to follow God and do what he asks; it is just that we are in a battle between where the Holy Spirit is leading us and where our sinful natures want us to go. The Apostle says: “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.”
When I was studying at ALC there was a retired pastor, Rolph Mayer, who lived close by and would come into the refectory and talk with us over coffee. One morning tea time he was talking to a group of us of how in his pastoral experience, he had come to the conclusion that the majority of people whom he had served knew the law because they were aware of their sins before God, but he said: “It is a lot harder for many people to hear the Gospel in our day and age, so make sure when you preach that you speak the Gospel loud and clear because we all need to hear it”. There is some very good wisdom in his advice. In our culture it seems to me that we can so easily focus on the negatives in life. We can’t seem to find joy in the good things, because we are always critical of everything we see that is wrong. The same is often true of how we see ourselves. It is easier to see the sin in our lives, that to see the way that God is working in us. It is easier to see when we fail, than it is to see God’s grace at work in us, which leads many to be discouraged and disheartened. It is easy to become burdened to the point of giving up and walking away from the faith for some. This led Paul to ask the question: “…Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” and the answer is: “25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
As those who are called to be God’s children in this life, despite the fact that we all still sin and struggle, because of what Jesus has done for us we no longer have to live life burdened by the guilt of our sins before him, because Jesus has dealt with them. This is the good news that you and I have. This is the joy of the Gospel that we live in. Because we are his children through baptism, we no longer stand condemned, but have the gift of receiving forgiveness and peace from God to us because of Jesus. Jesus said in today’s Gospel reading: “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.” Jesus says to us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. We can never deny that we sin, or pretend that sin doesn’t have consequences in this life. We have to be honest and admit that to live the Christian life is a real battle to fight against giving in to the sinful temptations that hound us, but we don’t have to fight this battle on our own, in fact we cannot do it in our strength. We are to take a hold of Jesus’ yoke, we are to cling to him, to let him take the burdens of our sins and guilty consciences from us and let him gently direct us in this life in the way that he wants us to go. Notice how the apostle is giving thanks to God because he had been rescued. We too can give thanks to God for rescuing us. We can rest in the joy that we have in Jesus because we know that no matter what happens in this life we are in his hands. We have the Holy Spirit in us guiding us, even when we sin he brings us back to him in repentance. No one is beyond his reach and no sin is too powerful, for those who believe, that he does not forgive.
I encourage each of you to confess your sins to God, but also to actively receive his grace, mercy and forgiveness that he offers to you. And in doing this I encourage you to look for all the positive ways that God is working in your life, all of the ways in which he is at work in you, so that you may be full of joy and giving thanks to him for what he has done, and what he is doing for you.