Sermon for July 3, 2011 || Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, Year A|| Romans 7: 15 – 25a; Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30
The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…”
…Rest from the weariness of going it alone, rest from the burden of unmet expectations, rest from the yoke of pride and isolation; rest from the weariness of worn-out will-power, rest from the burden of failed fortitude, rest from the yoke of strenuous self-control; rest from harmful habits, fear-based decisions, and demoralizing demons; rest from all the death-dealing forces that weigh in on us: greed, guilt, negativity; failure, frustration, anger; resentment, remorse, regret; broken hearts, broken dreams, broken families; and secrets: secret stories, secret addictions, secret hopes.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…” Is there any among us who does not carry a heavy burden? Or did you think you were the only one? Listen to St. Paul writing 2000 years ago in this morning’s Epistle:
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…I can will what is right, but I cannot do it…Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
There is no more misleading proverb than the one asserting that, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” A far more accurate assessment of human existence is that, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” The simplest and yet most difficult truth with which each of us needs to come to terms is that we can not will ourselves –or our reality– into what we want. The application of human will—no matter how powerful, no matter how determined—is simply not enough to right all wrongs, heal all wounds, or accomplish all aims.
We can’t will ourselves out of grief into gratitude, out of hurt into healing, out of anger into forgiveness, or out of hatred into love. I know: my name is Margot and I’m a recovering alcoholic who’s been sober for 17 years. My name is Margot and I’m a mother who’s known the anguish of losing one child and the joy of raising another. My name is Margot and I’m a daughter who treasures the miraculously loving relationship I shared in adulthood with a father I hated as a child—a relationship bathed in forgiveness. My name is Margot and I’m a very human priest who is called to love all of God’s people—even, if not especially, those who don’t love, or even like, me. My name is Margot and only by God’s grace can I stand here and lay claim to any of these things. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, because as counter intuitive as it may seem—it is when we surrender our wills and depend on Him instead of ourselves, that all things are truly possible. It is when we, “Let go and let God” as they say in 12-step recovery, that we fling open the doors to God’s grace and the seemingly miraculous happens. All manner of burdens are lifted, even the weariest of souls are restored to new life, and God will indeed do more for us than we could ever ask or imagine.
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord… who we are invited to meet in His word, in His sacraments, and in His people– each other. You see, to be a Christian is to embrace our dependence on God’s grace– and to open ourselves to that grace by opening ourselves to the transforming mystery of Christ’s presence in word and sacrament and one another. And that means letting go. It means letting go of the self-important busy-ness of our lives that denies us time for reading and reflecting on scripture; it means letting go of the glorification of human reason that denies the power and effectiveness of the sacrament; and it means letting go of the false pride and societal taboo that denies us the gift of vulnerability, intimacy, and connectedness to each other that is so essential to Christian community.
Paul knew from repeated experience that as much as he wanted to do God’s will he didn’t have the power to do it alone. His utter failure to obey God’s law as revealed to Moses –in any consistent and coherent way–was a constant reminder of his personal short-comings, his proclivity to sin, and his utter powerlessness. The law served for Paul as a constant reminder of his dependence on God’s grace through Christ, and for that he was grateful.
In Eugene Peterson’s contemporary rendition of this passage, Paul says: “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another… I can will it, but I can’t do it…My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions…I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.”
Jesus Christ can and does if we let him. Jesus Christ can and does when we throw in the towel of self-reliance. Jesus Christ can and will when we surrender our burdens to the transforming power of his grace, by daring to be vulnerable before his word, his sacrament and each other.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Come to me, Jesus says, I’m right here, in the scriptures. Come to me, he says, I’m right here, in the bread and wine. Come to me, he says, don’t you see? I’m right here, sitting next to you. Amen.