Thou Shalt Not…

Proper 9, Year A

Romans 7:15-25, Matthew 11:25-30

I began this sermon by placing a large, fancy, chocolate cupcake with whipped cream and a cherry on top onto the lectern next to my Bible. The notes below give an idea of what I did with the cupcake while while giving this sermon.

Sometimes we struggle to understand the stories or lessons in scripture. What does that mean? What does this have to do with my life? That is not a problem with today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.  But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Romans 7:15-20)

Uncover the cupcake.

We can all relate to what Paul is saying. We have all eaten that extra dessert. We have all done things we wish we had not. We have all failed to keep promises or commitments to ourselves, or even to God. We do things that hurt others. We say things that maybe we shouldn’t have said. Who has not felt that little guilty thrill of telling one on a friend or acquaintance, or listening to someone else dishing?

I have put this cupcake here to illustrate Paul’s point. There is nothing sinful about a cupcake. But what happens when you decide  to cut back on sweets, or you are dieting, or trying to eat a more healthy diet, and you come face to face with temptation like this?

Hold the cupcake up. Admire it. Describe it. Smell it. Hmmm…Chocolate. Put it down. Lick the frosting from your fingers.

Last week we talked about the purpose God has for each of our lives. As baptized Christians, we are the adopted children of God. We belong to God now. We are subject to God; obedient to God rather than to sin and lustful desires; or at least that is the idea.

I illustrated the freedom that comes from accepting our God given purpose by trying to turn a brick into a paper airplane. When we continue to live as though we are not the beloved children of God we are trying to make a paper airplane out of a brick. The brick has a purpose that does not involve flying, and our lives have a purpose that is about loving and being loved by God.

God’s purpose is what we learn from Jesus. Jesus shows us that what God wants is for each and every one of us to know that we are beloved of God. And God wants us further to know that we are to give that love away; through compassion, generosity, justice, service, prayer, and worship.

There is no point pretending that God does not love us. We are called to be God’s beloved children and to spread God’s love and compassion.  And then someone says something you don’t like, or does something that irritates you, or simply cuts you off in traffic, and all that loving is out the window in a one-fingered salute!

The temptation, or simply the opportunity to sin, can be very subtle. You may be enjoying a chat with a friend, and you start talking about someone you both know, and one comment leads to another, and you are gossiping. You find yourself saying things you would never say to that person’s face. As long as you both agree, it feels all right. There is even a guilty pleasure in talking so freely about someone else.

When we are aware of our calling to be God’s children, and to do God’s work in the world, we want to – we want to be loving, generous, compassionate people – for the most part – but that desire is not enough.

That is the struggle that Paul is talking about. We want to do the right thing, but it is hard.

Casually, without making a big deal about it, pick up the cupcake.

I heard a great story that illustrates the struggle and shows how very normal our struggles can be. This story comes from Professor Rolf Jacobson. Rolf is a professor of Biblical Studies at Luther Theological Seminary and he has two children, a daughter and a son.

Begin to eat bits of the cupcake.

One night his family was having a talk about the Ten Commandments and his son, who was about five, was struggling to understand the concept of “coveting”. So Rolf’s daughter decided to explain. She said, “ Coventing is wanting something that is not yours. It’s like when you wanted our friend Michael’s Lego Battleship.”

“Oh, right. Now I understand,” said the son. Then he turned to his mother, who was keeping his Christmas wish list, and said, “Mom, would you put the Lego Battleship onto my Christmas list?”

In the same moment, Rolf’s son learned what coveting is and immediately coveted his friend’s toy. Coveting and lusting for things we don’t need or shouldn’t have is an easy example of what Paul is saying. Sometimes the things we should do are even more difficult than the things we should not do. In January and February the Gym is full of people keeping their New Year’s resolution to get in shape. By March, the crowds have thinned considerably.

This life that Jesus calls us to is not easy. If we cannot resist a cupcake, how are we supposed to devote ourselves  to following Jesus: to worship, pray, study the Bible, and to serve and love others?

That is where today’s Gospel reading comes in:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30)

We don’t have to do this alone. Jesus will share the burdens with us and help us. A yoke is meant to allow a horse or oxen to pull a heavy load without chafing or pinching. The yoke spreads the weight evenly across the shoulders. The yoke that Jesus offers, to take on the burdens of his way of life, is well fitted, and the burdens themselves are not great. Not only that, Jesus is right there beside us, sharing the burdens, wearing the other half of a double yoke, helping us with our struggles and burdens.

You are sitting in a room full of people trying to deal with these same challenges. All around you are people who are striving and struggling to follow Jesus, to learn from him, and to grow to be more like him each day.

That is what we are here for. We are all choosing, struggling, failing, and trying again, to follow Jesus. Offer your struggles and burdens to Jesus in prayer and ask him to help. Turn to the people around you here and share your struggles. We are all in this together and we can help each other.

Living the purpose that God has given us as his adopted children is not easy. But we are not alone. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!



The Rev. David Marshall

St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA

July 3rd, 2011

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