Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
The contrast is breath-taking as the witch-hunt for sexual deviants continues with its tally of well-publicised trials of media personalities. The under-current is that if they were innocent then they would not be on trial. Yet over and over again other sexual minorities claim that they were made that way and cannot help it.
But on the other hand there is the triumphant entry into Jerusalem of the King who is to come and which the gospel-writers saw as being initially fulfilled in and by Jesus.
So: is creation wholly and irredeemably corrupted or is there a way of release? Are we all made that way, each with our own critical and fatal flaws, doomed to eternal damnation, and yet some gaining acceptance supported by media campaigns to normalize their preferences?
In his way, Paul asks the same questions, in saying that the good that he would do, he fails to perform while the evil that he would shun is that which he is drawn to again and again. But he goes on: who will release him from this pit of contradiction and condemnation?
If nature is wholly corrupted, then how can it continue? If it is impossible to obey the law of God then why is it there at all? And yet the Psalmist says that law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul. The testimony of the Lord is sure, making simple the wise. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. In short the law of God was never intended to be unapproachable, and in itself is not at fault.
The flaw, and it is indeed fatal, is in our own preference for self, for our own appetites and demands and needs. It places self ahead of others, including family and especially including our community and society. The default is set at self – in all its demands and appetites and weaknesses. For some it is power and control, for others bodily demands, for others it is the pursuit of money, recognition, love, status.
But Paul also sees the escape: and it is not in himself, or in having ever stricter and more demanding codes of law, or in avoiding society altogether.
It is rather in receiving and trusting in what God has achieved in Jesus, and in accepting that God has already reached out to him in love and mercy. God has offered His very self, to be seen and touched and spoken to. He has walked and talked, He has healed and taught. He has reached into that abyss where that heart of evil dwells and personally stripped it of its power.
God has already ventured where none other can go, and He has personally overcome. And that place where He has placed His standard is in the very roots of the earth, or as you will, at its very spiritual and moral and ethical core. He has already met and overcome the fires that would consume us, so that we also might come to overcome them in the details of our own lives.
And that is what salvation is. It already there and we do not have to earn or achieve it.
And yet: we do have to receive it, personally and directly. We do have to let it become part of who and what we are so that it may come to direct our paths and choices.
And this is where Jesus’ words in the gospel echo and resound down the centuries, even when other words are blared out and other cacophonies seek to suppress the harmonies of its music.
Perhaps there are two aspects to Jesus’ appeal. First: Come to Me. Second: take My yoke on you.
Jesus’ first appeal is an invitation, open to all regardless of race, ability, education, erudition, excellence or any other attribute. It is not overruled by tastes in politics, football or nationality. If you are human and have a pulse then you quality.
And this is an appeal to come to Him: directly and personally. None other. He does not even say come to God, remote and unapproachable in the highest reaches of heaven. It is to come to Him from right where we are, at home, on the bus, in the office or shop, or dare I say it, church.
The appeal is to come to Jesus from within the very depths of our souls, with all their sins and rebellions. Indeed, we are invited to name them before Him so that we may desire to be forgiven and released from their power over our lives.
And this is appeal made from the depths of Jesus’ own heart that longs for our fellowship and belonging like a rejected lover. The only thing stopping us is ourselves.
But His second appeal is to shed our own burdens of sin and guilt and inadequacy and condemnation – and to let our priorities be replaced by His.
We are not invited to wallow in a vacuum of loneliness and boredom. Rather we are invited to enter Jesus’ priorities, to see the world with His eyes and to love it with His heart. To be yoked with Him is to be joined with Him as part of the Body of Christ. We are invited to live lives that face outwards and not inwards. We are invited to see the whole order of the universe with new eyes, starting with God and moving outwards to the earth, its societies and mechanisms, and its need to receive and respond to the same invitation.
Jesus is calling us away from ourselves in order that we may indeed meet and find ourselves. He is calling us to enter new dimensions of life, and this is a life for which death is only a portal.
But it is an invitation. It is not a command or an exercise in coercion. The choice of whether and how to answer is ours, for that is the nature of love: it cannot be coercive or manipulative. And it that is the source of an appeal in and to our lives – then it cannot be love.