Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 23 February 2020.
• Old Testament: Deuteronomy 11: 18-21, 26-28 (A blessing and a curse: the choice, to obey or not obey the commandments of the Lord)
• Epistle: Romans 1: 16-17 + Romans 3: 22-31 (A person is justified by faith apart from works)
• Gospel: Matthew 7: 21-29 (Hearing the words of Jesus and doing them)
I think that they call it an ‘ear-worm’ – a tune or perhaps a few notes of a tune that stick in our minds and will not go away. If it is a tune or song that we like then it is quite pleasant, but if it is not we do not really like then it becomes really irritating.
Somehow we live in the music and it has become part of us. I suppose that for the poetic-minded then the same applies to poetry. And as Christians we often find that a few verses from the bible, or lines in the liturgy, the verse of a hymn or psalm can have the same effect.
It is possibly in this way that we get to know and even love parts of the bible and have our favourite hymns.
But this is not always about having learned it off by heart in a Sunday School, but about these lines finding a lodging in our minds and memories. They keep coming back and often when we are least prepared for them.
But then there is something in our lesson from Deuteronomy about the words of God living in our hearts and souls.
Living: finding a place where they abide naturally, without jarring or disrupting us. That does not mean that there are things there that do not challenge us or leave us feeling uncomfortable and uneasy.
No, these are words intended to be part of our lives and our understanding, our national culture and our arts. They are intended to resonate with the unfolding of events in the life of the people and draw us back from the pressures of social conformity into the fold of God.
If they are reduced to legal codes about which people are free to argue over definitions and exceptions, then they are not living in us. Instead we are playing with them and imposing our agendas on them rather than receiving our agendas from them.
And so God wanted the words of the law to be more like the air that they breathed, the water they swam in, the land on which they stood. It was to be as natural and as second-nature as that.
But then the reality of human life steps in. There are things in human life in which we fail God and one another and ourselves. Whatever our intentions the sense of self intrudes and makes its own demands.
The demand to be fed and watered, to be loved and accepted, the demand to be free of constraint and to be free to dominate others.
This is also part of human life and Paul recognized its universality. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
The nature and extent of the personal rebellion against God is a matter of fact and degree. For some it may be a lifetime of resentment and rejection, a determination to have our own way and let others look after themselves.
For others, it is there despite all our good intentions, in small areas of selfishness. It is there in petty-mindedness, legalisms, resentments, and possibly in sheer exhaustion and fatigue.
But Paul writes consistently to say that our salvation does not start with us but with God. In Jesus, God took that first step to reconcile the whole of humanity and to achieve the salvation that the collective works of humanity could not themselves achieve.
Instead of giving each of us Herculean labours on pain of eternal separation, which few if any were ever going to fulfil, God placed Himself in the breach.
In Jesus, God achieved the reconciliation that none other could, and He placed it there so that all who hear the message might respond freely and personally. All who would might receive as a gift what they were never going to achieve as a wage.
And so Jesus moved around Galilee and Judea, preaching the gospel and showing that His message was about far more than a new set of laws to obey.
It was about a new kind of life to be lived and a new kind of being to become.
It would lead to a new kind of fellowship and society in which all would find a new kind of freedom and dignity, and a new way of relating to God and to one another.
The church was never intended to be a structure or a bureaucracy ahead of being a body and a fellowship. It was never intended to run on the basis of profit and loss, targets achieved, departmental budgets and career structures.
Rather it was to be a free gathering before God and in the Name of Jesus of those seeking His words in their minds and His forgiveness in their hearts.
The out working of this would be in the ways they associated together and the way in which they obeyed Jesus final command during His ministry among them: Love one another.
The next and final command before His ascension into heaven was that they were to go into all the world and preach the gospel, to baptize and to fear not for He would be personally with them.
The gospel would be the air of their breathing, the food of their nourishment and the drink of their refreshment. And nothing less.