Nearly every Sunday the Eucharist provides the context (and consequently shapes) preaching - such a dangerous word in a world that definitely suspects 'preaching'. However, thinking of it as an engagement possibly locates it amidst a more open space. In that space I am currently working on a project of holding all 3 readings within the engagement and reflecting at the same time on some item of the news. I'll be interested to see how this evolves.
6 July 2014
Readings Gen.24 34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Romans 7:15-25; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30.
Over these past weeks, perhaps especially these last few days, many of us have followed the news of Rolf Harris’s conviction and sentencing with sadness and a sickening dismay as we have begun to recognise the terrible disparity between the cheerful and benign public persona we took to our hearts; and the predatory dark self we never recognised, who crossed boundaries and abused trust and has caused so much suffering. It is a terrible story … but a very human story; part of our story too.
I refer of course to the story that begins in Genesis – where in Chapter 3 humankind is shown to abuse God’s trust and goodness by deliberately disobeying the divine constraints or conditions under which they are to live. We call it the story of the Fall!
The consequences are disastrous and from Chapter 11onwards all the rest of the story of Genesis is taken up with the stories of the Patriarchs - solely because they are God’s answer to the problems of mankind as set out in Genesis 3-11.
So, while last Sunday we were horrified by the story of the binding of Isaac, now this morning we have the lovely story of how Isaac is found a wife. And we are meant to realise that in the midst of dark and frightening things (such as Isaac endured) there is a vast redemptive purpose at work. God is keeping faith with Abraham; all is being cared for; the promises of blessing will be fulfilled. While we may feel as if we are forgotten or afflicted, while we may get things badly wrong, despite such moments, God is faithful.
Our passage from Roman’s Chapter 7 is famous: it influenced St Augustine and Martin Luther. In it Paul tells us something about human nature and provides what can be read as a commentary on the story of the Fall in Eden. You could think of it as the Cookie jar theory: you know how often a parent says to their child ‘Don’t put your hand in the Cookie jar.’ We know what happens – ‘ah, cookies’! Just as in Genesis Chapter 3 ‘Don’t eat of the tree’ – what happens –‘hey … fruit!’
In very personal terms that we can all identify with, Paul points out how prohibitions seem to stimulate bad behaviour in us… and that there seems to be something inherently flawed in who we all are.
Paul struggles with the conflict he recognises in himself and says: ‘I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.’ (8:21) But that is not the end of the story – just the beginning; we may be like this but Paul knows that we are created for something far better – in the next chapter he talks about what it means to live in the Spirit of Christ – ‘the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free’. Christ makes us alive! Paul closes that chapter with a great shout of joy: ‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:38-9)
That brings us to our gospel this morning and why we are here. Jesus is speaking to people not that different from us. People seeking to live good lives but getting stuck in their fears and selfishness; sometimes it may be they give up or go astray through flawed ideas about God. To all who are struggling to live honourably, to live graciously and fearlessly; to live freely, Jesus offers a radical alternative. In effect he throws the rules away; he dismisses the burdens (the yoke) of trying to live by the law of Israel and says, ‘God is more than that’ ‘Come to me’.
I love the image of the ‘yoke’ – one can easily think of the yoke as a burden devised to limit and control oxen but Christ directs us to himself. To follow Jesus is to embrace his yoke and to be constrained and directed by him. Christ makes us alive! To follow Jesus is not a burden but the way toward life and freedom: ‘You will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’
Which is why we are here this morning: we come to the Eucharist to draw near to Jesus and to encourage one another. Again we embrace his yoke and we seek to be shaped, formed, constrained, directed and renewed by him. Then we will leave here to take up once more our part in the great story that we are all part of, and live lives charged with God’s love.