Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 9 July 2023.
Many years ago an aspiring politician was canvassing in the north and visited an elderly widow. He spoke at length and with great enthusiasm and conviction. Eventually he stopped.
Her reply was simple and direct: ‘All these years I have heard the wind blow – and never seen it yet.’
The voice of long experience and disillusionment. It applied then to the promises and campaign commitments of the aspiring candidates and doubtless applies today was well.
Some things are credible and are supported by evidence and argument while some things are not. For us the task is to discern one from the other, and to make our choices.
In Genesis, we have the story of how Abraham’s elderly servant also put his trust in God. He had been given his mission by Abraham, and evidently had some of the same confidence in the Lord as Abraham himself.
And so he was willing to set out, having taken the usual supplies and precautions, but not really knowing where his path would lead. He knew he was going to Abraham’s relatives but beyond that, not much.
And so he asked God for guidance and assurance. A simple and direct prayer which the Lord heard and answered. A simple and direct faith which God honoured, and which was vindicated by its results.
A wife was found for Isaac, and she was willing to depart into the unknown, supported only by the assurances and confidence of Abraham’s servant. And not much more than that – but it was enough.
Amid all the chances and hazards of the journey and of the mission entrusted to him, the servant had come through, trusting in God and he was not disappointed.
It was a direct and practical personal faith, and it worked on the ground in the details of daily living.
When we look at Paul, the issues of faith are still there but it is a different kind of need. Maybe the same kind of faith but this time it applied in the moral and spiritual sphere.
Paul was brutally honest with himself. He knew that he desired the things of God and yet the compromises and conflicts of life as lived left him bruised and battered in his spirit.
He knew the requirements of the law and yet even he could not meet them all. The regime of atoning sacrifices was a never – ending treadmill, and there was no escape.
The more sensitive he was then the more aware he was of his own failings, not only in what he actually did but in what he had said and how he allowed himself to feel.
Even his emotions let him down and he knew that as a whole his life was one of moral failure in the sight of God.
Not having killed anyone or stolen from them did not themselves make him pure before God. His inmost desires and impulses, his dreams and fantasies, his imaginings and arguments, even with himself, still left him empty and compromised.
And there was no end to it. The good that I would, I fail to do and the evil that I would avoid, that I do.
There was an endemic sense of corruption in the air and survival in itself was not enough. It was not Life, and certainly not life in its fulness. It was dull and joyless, and getting by was just not enough.
So who would save him from this endless futility? It was definitely not there in the realms of human philosophy, or science of politics or art. These only reflect the reality of the human condition with its power struggles, even amid the best of intentions.
And this is where we come to the gospel. In Matthew, Jesus says two things.
First, there are those who have the evidence of who and what Jesus was and is but still reject Him, for any reason that they can contrive. If they objected to John’s austerity then they also rejected Jesus’ willingness to meet the people where they were.
If going to find John in the wilderness was too much them it seemed that finding Jesus in the streets and squares of their cities was not to their liking either. This was not a matter of faith – it was a matter of rejecting it for any reason that came to hand.
But then there was something else. It was an invitation to all who could and would hear. Come to Me, just as you are and you will find rest. Lay your own agendas aside and find Mine.
It is not hard to lift and carry, and you do not have to be in the elite. You do not need social contacts or learned qualifications. Only a willingness to stop and to listen.
Instead of being yoked to an unforgiving and harsh regime that longs to find fault, there is a new kind of life for all who want it.
Instead of compliance there is relationship. Instead of appearance and presentation, there is reality. Instead of spin, there is truth in the inward parts.
Some of us will remember the advertisement for a drink that refreshes the parts that others do not reach. That is absolutely true of Jesus Christ. So: come, taste and see.