Trinity 4: July 9th 2017 Zechariah 9.9-12 Romans 7.15-25a Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30
I’m sure we can all identify with the knots St Paul is apparently tying himself up in in his letter to the Romans: for I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. I wonder how many times we’ve turned to another saying from St Matthew’s gospel the Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak – either to make excuses for our lack of action or as an attempt to motivate ourselves. And one thing I love about this passage (and it’s one of my favourites from St Paul’s writings) is that it reveals St Paul as being intensely human. Far from being some ethereal paragon of virtue and holiness, Pail struggles like the rest of us – and even as he tries to blame all his wronging on his physicality, It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me – he knows that in fact the two can’t be separated, that there is a permanent battle going on in all of us by nature of our humanity. And yet for all his frustration and regret, Wretched man that I am! – yet he knows that ultimately the good will prevail and that we are all vindicated, reconciled to God, through Jesus himself: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ Our Lord!
Paul, like us, does of course have the advantage over the people who Christ is talking to in our gospel this morning, the wicked and perverse generation, as he calls them elsewhere. For the crowds as yet do not know the truth of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection – and if Christ appears a little tetchy at the start of this exchange, then we need to bear in mind that he has just heard of John’s execution in prison at the hands of the foolish Herod, and he must be wondering just what is the extent of the ignorance of these people, what depths they must plumb, the so-called wise and intelligent leaders of the time.
He compares the crowds to wilful children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another: We played the flute for you and you would not dance, we wailed and you did not mourn. And we can imagine full well the crowds standing on the side-lines carping and criticising – John the Baptist’s austere witness is caused be a demon, Christ with his ministry of hospitality, eating and drinking, jeered at for being a drunken and a glutton. And how easy it is to sit and mock.
Here is a side-swipe for all those of whatever generation who sit with arms folded, grumbling, those who, in our previous Archdeacon’s wonderful phrase, are guilty of the sin of muttering. Such idleness and self-gratification blinds the grumblers to the truth which stares them in the face. And yet for all this, as we are constantly reminded of in Mission, Christ tells us, Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.
Yet while the he pre-crucifixion crowds might be excused for their lack of faith and trust, we, like St Paul, know the bigger picture. Looking back, we know that all that Our Lord did, his ministry, his passion, his death and his resurrection – these were all vital parts of God’s eternal plan. God’s purposes for his fickle people are accomplished in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In our reading from Zechariah, the true nature of the Christ is foretold: Lo your King comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey. And yet his generation didn’t expect things to turn out quite as they did. They imagined something very different.
When Highbury School came in to St Philip’s this week, we were thinking about Imagining. In a week which sees our children across the city in transition – moving on to next year’s classes, and in some cases to a new school, we thought about how when we’re little it’s very difficult to imagine ourselves being bigger, the top of the school – and so, when it happens, there’s an element of surprise. We’re not quite what we thought we might be.
So it is with the crucified, resurrected and ascended Christ – however mush he had prepared the ground, promised that he would rise again on the third day, nevertheless time and time again the Easter stories tells of him not being recognised, the confusion of the unimaginable dimming the minds.
Unlike the crowds, we also know that following Christ is not to take the easy way out. Paul’s struggles are our struggles too. And as we wrestle with our own propensity to sin, so the world struggles with the constant battle between right and wrong, the good and the bad. As this is Sea Sunday, when we remember especially those in peril on the sea, we think not only of their struggles and triumphs over wind and wave, but also of all those weathering the storms of life, those cast adrift, those who feel themselves swamped by hostile seas, at the mercy of forces they have no control over, those who long to be brought safe to shore.
Our Lord is here for all of us, even the mutterers – amid all the turbulence and confusion, in the very depths of our despair and sense of guilt, in the very midst of the storm, he reaches out to us and invites us to Come….Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. And even as we cry out to him, he urges us to take his yoke and learn from him. And if we do just that, if we really embrace his ministry of love and compassion, if we enter into his suffering as he enters into ours, then we have no need to sit on the side-lines and grumble, nor to wrestle with our own burden of wrongdoings. Instead, we are in the midst of that market-place with Christ himself as his people, called by him to follow, to reveal the power of his love through our own lives, lives not diminished by sin and trespass, but blessed with the holiness of his Spirit. And through our witness, we can see wisdom vindicated by her deeds, in all that we do in his name.
And we know we can be confident in his love; St Paul says, Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ Our Lord. We can set about the task ahead knowing that we are reconciled to God in one body by his cross. And as last week heard so movingly from those who are inspired to go out in Christ’s name. so we know that by God’s grace we all have gifts to use in his service, and in doing so to show to the world a more excellent way of doing things.
No one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Amen.