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Sermon for 9 July 2017

 

Romans 7:15-25, Matthew 11:16-19, 25 - end

Today, after a couple of weeks of themed sermons, a straight forward look together at the gospel reading.

And as we go through, I’m going to give you a couple of questions - questions raised by the passage - which you might like to take away and to reflect and pray with this week.

 

I’m going to look at it in three sections - v16-19, v. 25-26 and v.27 to 30.

The passage comes right in the middle of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus has done incredible things, and many people have had their lives changed, but difficulties are increasing and opposition is growing. In the previous verses we’ve heard that John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, has been arrested, and our passage begins with Jesus making further comment about himself and John. And he is clearly ready to say it like it is. What are you like? he says.

And he gives a vivid metaphor in answer. You’re like children playing games in the street. There are kids playing a wedding game, with party music and aninvitation to passers by to join in and dance. And other children are playing a funeral game, with formal mourning rituals, also with an invitation to take part.

But no one does. Nobody joins in either game.

Jesus is saying that John came to call time on a way of life. To invite people to a funeral to mark the end of a lifestyle that was leading nowhere. People didn’t want to hear that - and they explained away his challenge saying he had a demon; that he was insane.

Jesus came next, celebrating the start of something new -  inviting everyone to a party marking the re-founding of creation, but people said he was a glutton and a drunkard.

The invitation from John is to recognise what’s really going on, and from Jesus to accept the invitation to join in the solution. But, like many of Jesus’ listeners, we often reject one or the other, or both.Although we know there’s so much more to life, we’re satisfied with the troubles we’ve got, and don’t want to take the risk of trying something else.  C S Lewis - always good for a sharp quote, put it like this, "We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

So often we are not ready to recognise what’s really going on, nor to accept the invitation to the solution.

But if we are able to look honestly - really honestly - at the way we use our time or our money, or our patterns of behaviour, or our way of life, we discover that there are things that need to change. That we need to call time on some of the things we’re doing or the ways we’re behaving.

What do you need to call time on today? What is that thing which - if you let yourself - you know is running your life, when it shouldn’t? Or that way of behaving which you are caught up in, which needs to end? John says, there are things that need to die in our lives. What is it for you?

And just as John calls us to let go of things, we also need to accept Jesus’ invitation to the party. Repent and believe the good news says Jesus. Let some things die, and know that there is a better way. A way that is good and whole and joyful. A way that gives meaning and hope. His hand is held out, and he says here’s the invitation - you are really, really welcome.’

John reminds us that we have to give some stuff up and Jesus offers what’s needed to fill the gap that’s left. Like a smoker trying to give up, it’s not enough just to stop smoking, there also needs to be a way to fill that horrible moment when you are desperate for a fag. Letting go of one way of life is impossible without something else, something new, something better, to replace it with.

Jesus offers that better way. And we’ll hear what that is at the end of the passage.

 

And then, the second section, verse 25 and 26. Jesus says something - if we really hear it - and I think it’s very challenging. I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Jesus seems to be saying that creation is set up so that it will be hard for the wise and learned to understand the message of repentance and good news.

It’s as if Jesus is telling us we need to unlearn what we think we know if we are to understand God’s hidden plans. We need to be like little children again. And one of the things that marks out children is that they’re open to change.They don’t assume they have all the answers, but are open to new possibilities. Neuroscientists are discovering more and more about our brains at the moment, and there’s lots of talk about brain ‘plasticity’. The way that the structure of our brains changes as we explore and play and learn. And a child’s brain is supremely plastic, open to being moulded and changed by experience and by relationships. They haven’t stopped learning.

I heard this recently -Children are: infinite in resources, confident in spirit and eager to learn. For them everything is possible’.

And Jesus tells us that we need that childish quality too. It is so easy for us to get wrapped up in our anxieties and responsibilities, to organise life around the things that we have to do, and to lose the spiritual ‘plasticity’ that we need to be disciples of Jesus.

St Paul puts it like this ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds’. And that’s the work of the Holy Spirit, who offers ways of seeing the world differently and invites us to live by a different set of rules. How do we do that?

Neuroscientists tell us that we can change the way our brains work and the way we think - even as adults - by doing the same thing over and over again. It’s why sports players and musicians practice. Apparently the phrase is neurons that fire together, wire together’. We become what we do - and Christians have known this since the very beginning. It’s why praying regularly and reading the bible regularly and coming to church regularly are so key to the Christian life. These aren’t things we do when we fancy it, these are disciplines we stick with, whether we feel like it or not, whether we’re enjoying them or not. Like Lions captain Sam Warburton, or Andy Murray, who follow clear and regular practice routine, we can let the Holy Spirit change us by putting ourself in a place where God can get at us on a regular basis.

So, another question - What do you need to do more regularly, so that God can change what He needs to change in you?

 

And then on to the last verses, 27 - 30.

These a beautiful, famous and powerful words, and there is so much to say about them - for today though, just one point.

This is all about Jesus. Only Jesus. When Jesus speaks to all those who are weary and who need rest, the offer he makes is to come to Him. Jesus is not offering a form of self-help and he is not talking about work/life balance - He is inviting us into a relationship. This is good news that’s on offer, not good advice.

If we want to receive the great gift of real rest, we need to become servants of Jesus Christ. One of the discussions we had at Any Questions on Friday was When can I call myself a Christian? We talked about different responses, and about the journey of faith, and how many of us can’t give a single moment when we ‘became a Christian’. We concluded though that the answer is - we are a Christian when we recognise Jesus for who he is - not just a good man, not just a great teacher, but the Son of the Living God, the Lord of all, our Saviour.

You might have seen the fish symbol on the back of a car - it shows that the driver is a Christian. The reason? In the days of the earliest church, during times of persecution, Christians used the fish as a symbol to indicate secret prayer spaces to fellow believers. The word for fish in Greek is Icthus, and the letters of that word spell out Iesus Christus Theos Uios Soter. It means Jesus Christ Son of God, Saviour. From the very earliest days, the heart of the Christian faith was clear - it’s all about Jesus. Son of God. Saviour.

So when Jesus says, Come to me, all you who are weary that is not pithy advice, but an invitation to become his disciple. And the image he uses is bold and powerful - to take on Jesus’ yoke, is to tie ourselves to his life  - to bind our destiny with him. If we want real, true rest, we need to stop thinking that we’re in charge of our own lives - with all our anxiety and effort - and to let ourselves be led by Jesus.

We often think of becoming a Christian as something we do or a decision we make - but faith is as much about letting go as it is taking something up. Faith is an acceptance that we no longer have to do everything in our own strength.

I’ve said it before, but faith looks much more like this [open hands] than this [closed hands].

So a final question - this time more of a suggestion than an open question - and this is especially for you if you are feeling burdened and weary. This week, allow yourself to believe that Jesus is alongside you in every situation, right next to you. Let him take the lead. You are yoked to him, and he is your Lord and Saviour. Actively picture him with you, and Accept Jesus’ invitation. Come to him, take his yoke and learn from him.

Amen

Posted: 10-07-2017 at 10:49
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