Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 9 July 2017.
For those unfamiliar with the ‘Mission Impossible’ series, a suave and efficient operative, square jawed in line with the received wisdom of the time would be presented with a task of unbelievable difficulty, normally by a self-destructing audio tape.
The mission was supposed to be optional but of course, he was never going to refuse it. You might say that Abraham had also charged his servant with another impossible task, and one of the utmost delicacy, for he had to travel to Abraham’s homeland and find a wife for Isaac.
And so the servant set out armed with prayer and faith that God would show him the way, to a land of which he knew nothing and to people of whom he knew little more.
He only had his faith and so he continued to pray for guidance as he went: yet in the event that faith was indeed rewarded, and for all his misgivings the impossible task was completed.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul also confronted an impossible task, this time one of a wholly personal and interior nature.
Here Paul was confronting his knowledge of what was the right thing to do while openly admitting his reluctance to do it. While his spirit wanted to serve God, his inner nature also wanted to please itself and to satisfy its own needs.
And those needs might range from the simplest like finding food and water, clothing and security to the more complex like managing his relationships, ordering his appetites and impulses, establishing his personal priorities and regulating his emotions.
And these needs were always going to be more subtle than the simple matters of obtaining food and water.
They would lead him into dealing with family and the organs of any kind of organized society. How to deal with the state as it collected its taxes, regulated his life and behaviour, demanded due loyalty to its officials and indeed to its most senior and prominent governors.
And Paul was fully aware of his impulses to satisfy his own needs and appetites and to ignore or to give small and grudging measure to his obligations to all others.
Yet this in itself was a basis for guilt and self-searching. He knew what was right and even desired to do it, yet in the event he failed to perform. And it would happen again and again and again.
Yes, this was also another impossible situation as he battled with the principle of self in asserting itself over all other considerations and duties to God, to country, to neighbours and to family. How could he silence that demanding voice of guilt without wholly compromising himself and his moral and spiritual life?
And so this is the context in which Jesus issued His proclamation and invitation, which is still part of the Scottish Prayer Book liturgy.
Let all those burdened down and sorrowing come to Him, bringing to Him their burdens, and He would surely give them rest and release.
Let all those confronting their own inner contradictions, or carrying memories of guilt and confusion, bring those very burdens before Him.
Let those with lives of compromise, or habitual sins or crushing relationships set them down before Him.
He had come to ease people’s burdens and certainly not increase them.
Jesus’ call was and is to any and all who know that within themselves there are not the resources to stabilise their lives and to balance their thoughts and appetites, to bring the whole sense of failure to Him, directly and personally.
Jesus’ own task was to offer release when others were there to condemn; He would give hope when others rejoiced in failure. He would bring the love of God when others only wanted to manipulate, to destroy or compel.
Jesus would give as a gift the freedom of a new self-knowledge and security when others would sell, at great cost faulty techniques in self-improvement and self-awareness.
Above all Jesus would place Himself in that place where condemnation rules and He would take personal responsibility for all the moral failures of those who come to Him. He would become that very thing that causes so much disgust and revulsion, and which generates so much self-hatred or self-rejection.
Jesus would readily and freely accept the burdens which we carry and instead, He would invite us to join Him in His burden – not so much that of bearing the sins of the world, as of living and proclaiming the life of freedom that He bestows.
He wants all to be blessed with that personal love that is only of God; to enter His presence with complete liberty and freedom from guilt and anger and self-sufficiency and indeed self-rejection – that we may reign as if we were in the Garden of Eden.