Sunday, 6 July 2014
Trinity 3: Which seed will you sow?
Do you ever get out of bed a bit late? Set the alarm to sleep for just another ten little minutes? And then, when it rings, maybe another ten after that? And then you get up, ten or twenty minutes late, and you have to rush to get in the shower, get dressed, scoff down some breakfast if you've got time, do your teeth, and maybe your husband or wife or one of the kids tries to engage you in a bit of conversation, but you haven't got time, and while you're smiling, you're gritting your teeth and thinking you just need to get out of there and into the car and get to work, and actually your wife can tell, and that winds her up. You get into the car and because you're running late - just ten little minutes late - you speed, and when you get stopped at the lights (how long is this going to take?) you can feel the blood pressure rising. Then you're waiting at the roundabout and someone pulls into the next turning without signalling, and you could have gone then but now there's a lorry coming, and you stick up the Vs at the driver who's just made you even later (how dare he?), and he sees and he gets angry, too. You get to work in the nick of time and don't have time to prepare for the first meeting, but you bluster through defensively. In the meantime, your wife is giving the children the silent treatment back at home because she's thinking about what a pain in the back side you are, and they go to school grumpy and get into trouble in class. The driver who didn't indicate loses his temper with someone who's been tailgating him. Your colleagues at work are stressed at wondering what they've done to upset you.
Just ten little minutes. Ten little minutes is all is takes for the Devil to get his grip: ten minutes to bring the world the gift of - sin.
"I do not understand my own actions," says St Paul in his letter to the Romans (7.15ff.). "For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." Doesn't that ring true? And then, just as the little example I've just given spirals out of control, so Paul tells us that there's a sense that we lose control of our sin. It's as if sin takes over us, sometimes. "In fact," he says, "it is no longer I that do it, but sin that lives within me ... if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that lives within me." Sin dwells within and all too often takes control.
And yet, St Paul himself also says elsewhere, in his letter to the Galatians (2.20), "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me." Sin lives within me and Christ lives within me, both of them, he says. This may come as a surprise. A lot of people outside the Church, and maybe some inside it too, seem to think that Christians are all expected to be perfect and sinless. We're held to harsh account on the many occasions that we fail to live up to Christ's example. And yet, here is sin written into the very blueprint of the Christian heart, just as we heard last week, Peter's failure as a disciple is built into the blueprint of the Christian Church.
But this should not surprise us if we listen to what Jesus Himself tells us. In today's Gospel (Mt 11), we have just heard Him call Himself a "friend of sinners." So is it really a surprise that the friend of sinners should choose to dwell in the very birthplace of sin, the human heart? The human heart that in its weakness takes the little ten minutes here and there, succumbs to the tiny temptations and the bigger ones, the heart that of all the organs in creation lets down its maker so disastrously. That is where Christ dwells: and the less room we allow sin to take up, the more room we give Him to grow in us.
That is why we prayed in this morning's Collect, "You ... have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts." In our own right, no one can see God and yet live, as St John reminds us at the beginning of his Gospel. But the Father, ever gracious and merciful (Ps 145.8), has sent us His Son to reveal Him, to let us know the Father as intimately as He does, even to the extent whereby, as the Collect puts it, "we can call [God] Father" ourselves. "No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him," and it could not be clearer from today's readings that the people He chooses are sinners, one and all. That means you and me.
It may not be easy for our sinful hearts to welcome such a gracious guest. Pride and self-righteousness can puff up and harden our hearts against Him. But in the end, Jesus tries to tell us, it's not a matter of how difficult we find it. When it comes down to it, for us, it's impossible to choose God, as impossible for us to enter the narrow gate as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. And yet, Jesus says, "my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Stop trying so hard. Rest in me, let me do the work for you. That much you can do, you're free to do, however hard your heart: dedicate your freedom to my service, take my easy yoke, let my love live you, so that "you and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God."
That is the offer that Christ makes us always, but especially at this Altar. Take, eat. It's just a little thing. It'll only take a minute. But see how it grows.
Posted by Tom Plant