The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s047e05 Lockleys Sunday 14 3/7/05
"I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members." Romans 7.23
These words of St Paul are not my most favourite, simply because they often precipitate a vast amount of self-examination, self-recrimination; indeed self-depreciation. However they are valuable words and deserve to be taken notice of.
If St Paul struggles with competing demands within himself and a need to question his motives and outcomes, we also ought to be wary of anyone who claims that Christianity is simple. We ought to be especially suspicious of those who claim to be right and everyone who disagrees with them to be wrong.
If nothing else, this should alert us all to the fact that our own version of the truth may not in fact be God's version. We assume that we can trust ourselves to be informed by our own consciences, but that is not enough. Within the context St Paul is saying that even the combination of conscience and law can lead people astray. In his life before the Damascus Road experience, he was living a life that he and his Church considered to be a model of devotion and action -- and it was wrong.
The temptation, the law in our members, is to structure our universe around our own personal theology and comfort, with no regard to the theology and comfort of others -- all others.
It is not especially in the personal arena that I mean -- it is in the religious arena that is potentially far more damaging, as well as being potentially grace filled for far more than just individuals.
I think that it was Marx who said that "religion is the opiate of the masses", but I have come to the conclusion that religion can be used far more destructively than this implies. Our presence in Church on Sunday mornings, our contribution in the plate, the vital ministry that we perform -- all can be used in practice to imply that others have to defer to us. And it's not just those mythical sinners 'out there' who don't come to Church like us. It is also the others with whom we worship.
I have often thought how it seems that some people think that it would be good if the Rector did this or that, or preached a theology closer to their own. One sometimes thinks that people are trying to make me into their own image! This doesn't work with humans, let alone God!
When Jesus says: "Come to me all you that are weary" one of the most wearisome things in my life is trying to be someone I am not. It is hard work living up to someone else's expectations. My own father, God rest his soul, was horrified to hear me saying that I was considering going into the Church. Why would anyone want to have a job with 200 bosses? I have often had cause to think how wise he was :-)!
One of the former heads of the ABC regretted the advertisement that the ABC cost each of us only 8¢ each. It seemed to him that everyone then thought they were entitled to have their opinion prevail over others!
So the rest for your souls, that Jesus' promises, is acceptance, as you are; and we can spread this rest by accepting others as they are.
The delusional and dangerous religion encompasses the first, true enough, but denies the second.
The true and grace-filled religion encompasses both, and encompasses all people.
One of my favourite phrases in the Nicene Creed is "We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church". We are meant to be one, and we are holy precisely because we are sent out, to embrace all. 'Kath - Holos' means 'with all'.
Any religion that does this is inspired by God; not just Christianity. Any religion that doesn't do this is not inspired by God; including some versions of Christianity I have found.
The implication of these words is that we actually determine the amount of graciousness in our lives, by how widely we allow it to be spread around.
I was thinking about those lovely words about the "good measure, pressed down, shaken together, RUNNING OVER, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back." (Luke 6.38) These words mean that there is inevitably some spillage. It is designed that way deliberately. Try as one might to quietly slip away and horde it all to oneself, as soon as one gets up, a lap this full will always overflow. And one cannot direct just who might benefit from what spills out of our laps, and who may not benefit.
It is curious that, on the strength of the words about revealing these things to infants, we think that we are to become trusting as children. I am not sure that children, generically, are all that trusting. Many children are actually very shy. My surrogate Sudanese grandchildren take a while to accept me if I haven't visited them for a while. But one of the things about infants is that we accept them as they are. We accept when children are going through the "terrible twos". We know that they will grow out of that stage. We accept children for the joy that they bring into our lives, even when they act in ways that are, naturally, childish. We give them time, we don't put pressure on them, and in doing so we allow them to grow.
So, as we allow other people time, and as we do not put pressure on others -- we too will allow them to grow. If we don't do this -- if we don't allow others time and if we put pressure on them -- we are most likely to stunt their growth.
So when St Paul says that 'nothing good dwells within me' he is not talking about the life of each and every one of us a precursor of a doctrine of universal human depravity. No, he is talking about his religion before his Damascus Road experience -- a religion devoted to trying to convert others and persecuting them if they failed to comply. Of course I am not talking about Judaism here. There are enough Christians who think like this, without me criticizing anyone else.
The best thing to do when we are caught up in a war in our members -- is to surrender. Accept ourselves. God will bring us to the place we are supposed to be, all in good time. Accept others. God is also quite able to bring others to the place where they are supposed to be, entirely without our assistance, all in good time. Be at peace -- enjoy the rest that Jesus offers -- to us and to all.
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