Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 25 June 2017.
One of the things about being the youngest in the family was that I was always the last to understand anything, and beside that at school I was always on the back foot – always a bit slow in picking up on what was going on and that applied to most aspects of life. It was not just being slow but finding that almost everything was never quite right.
Lessons were a trial, sports were worse and I was awkward socially and probably in most other ways as well. I am sure that there are plenty of families where the youngest is unbearably bright, even precocious but this was definitely not me.
Now without turning all this into a sob story there are parallels in Christian living as well.
This is because there are always areas of life where we are just not winning. Maybe not all areas of life, but definitely some.
And yet in our lessons there are some remarkable pointers. They are there in Jesus’ instructions to the disciples: ‘Do not be afraid; if God cares for the sparrows, 2 which are sold for a day’s wages and God has counted the hairs on your head, then He definitely cares for the rest of you, even the most trivial details of your lives.’
If God exerted Himself to provide for Ishmael, who was not even the son promised to Abraham, and had to be sent away, then He will definitely exert Himself for the spiritual brethren of Isaac.
In short, what we care about, God cares about more. What we fear, God has already overcome. What we find embarrassing or humiliating, God has also seen and encountered in Jesus Christ.
We are therefore never alone, even and perhaps especially when we feel most disadvantaged and most at a loss.
And if that applies in our natural lives then how much the more does it apply in our spiritual lives, and especially when we are trying despite our own sense of inadequacy, to be true to Jesus Christ in what we say and do and are.
It is then that in Jesus Christ, God is closer to us than our own breathing, less than the blink of an eye away from us in distance and even more intimate with us than our own heartbeats.
But in that case why that pervading sense of inadequacy? Why the permanent struggle with ourselves and the weakness when confronted with what we know to be wrong?
Why that sense of being morally and spiritually on the back foot? Why perhaps the feeling that we are uniquely prone to difficulty when others seem to be so confident and capable?
Paul unpacks this for us by writing about the pervasiveness of sin in our own lives and in the world as a whole.
It is like the pollution in the air which seems to contaminate us in all that we do and see and are. It is there in the pressures to conform to what others do, and to put ourselves first.
Out for number one, and devil take the hindmost. Survival of the fittest. Be all that you can be, and overcome all obstacles, especially the needs and interests of others if they get in the way.
Let self be the judge and jury in determining our own interests, and let us do what we want so long as we do not get caught. And if we are then try to prove that we are not harming anyone anyway, or that struggle and violence are the natural order of things. If life is red in tooth and claw, then let it be our teeth and claws that are red, and not the other person.
Yes, that principle of sin is indeed pervasive and if we are caught up in it and owned by it then escape is indeed hard if not impossible. So what is to be done?
This is where Paul points to us belonging in Jesus Christ. He went to the cross for us so that we might be spared the death He suffered.
And it is in our personal commitment, and especially in our baptism that we own and commit ourselves to that death and resurrection.
This is what breaks the power of sin over us and opens the door to an escape. We are no longer defined by our sins and the things that point to our inadequacies but by Jesus who gave Himself for us.
Yes, there may well be habits or memories or relationships which fall well short of the Glory of God and which we know pull us down.
But then as we face them, we begin to confront them and strip them of their power over us. In some areas this may be a lifetime’s work, but then this is precisely the area where Jesus said we are to take up our cross and follow Him.
We will never overcome by justifying ourselves or by explaining them away or blaming others.
Rather the overcoming is in facing them, taking up that cross and continuing anyway, and as we die to self that little bit more in the love of Jesus Christ, then His life in us also becomes that little bit more vital and vibrant. Jesus went to His cross in order to enable us to carry ours.