09 July 2008

Homily - Trinity 7 Midweek

From Wrestling to Rest
Trinity 7 Midweek

Romans 7:14-25a & Matthew 11:25-30 (Ser. A-Prop. 9)

We hear Jesus inviting to come to Him for rest: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” But we also hear St. Paul describe his wrestling with sin after he became a Christian: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” Talk about conflicting messages here in one service! What shall we make of this conflict, this tug of war between wrestling and resting?

Remember that St. Paul does not describe just himself. His words also describe us. His internal wrestling match between sinner and saint is our wrestling match too. It’s our tug of war between the inborn, indwelling rebel-without-a-cause and the baptized, reborn, faithful follower of Jesus who grows in us by God’s grace. So, tonight we wrestle with our wrestling, but then we are invited to rest in Christ’s redemption. Tonight we wrestle with our sin, and then we rest in Jesus’ forgiveness and life. In fact, that’s the heart of being Christian—wrestling with our inborn desire to rely on ourselves and then resting in the new birth of relying on Jesus. After all, our Lord Jesus wrestled with our sin on the cross and He also gives us the rest of His resurrection life.

Each one of us has our shameful deeds, our skeletons in the closet, our burdensome thoughts, words, or actions. And they weigh us down, even years after the fact. Some we can talk about, but others are just too raw and painful to mention. Some words or deeds we were very proud of when we performed them; now we wouldn’t be caught dead doing them. No doubt these shameful, sinful thoughts, words, and deeds have already revealed the stench of death in us. And that’s a horrifying reality check!

But we’re not alone in that realization. Many in the Bible wrestled with their sins. Just think of David and his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband. Just think of Peter and this three-fold denial of Jesus, or Paul and his persecution of Christians before he was converted. For centuries, everyone in the Church has wrestled with sins. Take St. Augustine, for another example. He was locked in a full-nelson with his sin. The former Christian rock band “Petra” actually summarized St. Augustine’s story quite well in a song called “St. Augustine’s Pears.” Listen to the lyrics:

Late one night I heard a knock at the door
The boys were really painting the town
I was just another bored teenage boy
Kickin’ up and actin’ the clown

One dare led to another dare
Then things were getting out of control
We hopped the fence and we stole the pears
And I threw away a part of my soul
Yes, I threw away a part of my soul.

Now it’s haunting me how I stole those pears
‘Cause I love the wrong
Even though I knew a better way
Not for hunger or poverty
It was more than pears that I ended up throwin’ away.

Time goes by – now I’m old and grey
Those pears are just a memory
I would gladly pay all I have today
But that’s just not the problem you see.

‘Cause it’s haunting me how I stole those pears
‘Cause I loved the wrong
Even though I knew a better way
Not for hunger or poverty
It was more than pears that I ended up throwin’ away.

The song continues with St. Augustine reflecting this way:

Why do we do all the things that are wrong
Forbidden fruit has a strange siren song
Why do we do what we don’t want to do
When we live with regrets our whole life through.

It’s haunting me how I stole those pears
‘Cause I loved the wrong
Even though I knew a better way
Not for hunger or poverty
It was more than pears that I ended up throwin’ away.
(Petra, “God Fixation,” Word Records, 1998, track 10).

What a penetrating reflection! Sound familiar? Perhaps it makes you reflect on how you “love the wrong.” Yes, we do love to sin. And what causes us to sin? As Scripture reminds us, it’s simply the love to sin. It’s that innate cancer that infects us from the time we are conceived in our mothers’ wombs.

Well, the song may leave us diagnosing our sin, poking and prodding and forcing ourselves to say, “Ah” as we see the symptoms. But our Lord Jesus does not leave us there. Actually, St. Augustine was not left there either. St. Augustine thanked God for His forgiveness and salvation. He said, “I will love You, O Lord, and thank You, and confess to Your name, because You have put away from me these wicked and nefarious acts of mine. To Your grace I attribute it, and to Your mercy, that You have melted away my sin as if it were ice” (Confessions, Bk. 2, Ch. 7).

Our Lord Jesus led Augustine from wrestling to rest. Listen to Augustine one more time: “Who can unravel that twisted and tangled knottiness? I hate to reflect on it. I hate to look at it. But You do I long for, O righteousness and innocence, fair and pleasant to all virtuous eyes, and of a satisfaction that never palls! With You is perfect rest, and life unchanging. He who enters into You enters into the joy of his Lord, and shall have no fear, and shall do excellently in the most Excellent” (Confessions, Bk. 2, ch. 10).

So, let the words of Jesus ring loudly and clearly in your ears and hearts: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Yes, we labor and are heavy laden as we strive and toil against our sin and sins. We are weighed down by how little we truly trust God and how loveless we are toward people around us. But Jesus is speaking to us.

Jesus promises and gives rest. Yes, it’s healthful to examine ourselves and reflect on how we love the wrong. But let’s not turn that into a psychotic syndrome with incessant torture. We have a comforting promise from Jesus: “I will give you rest.” When our Lord says, “Come to Me,” He wants us to trust that His battle with sin and death has overcome our dreaded enemies. By His wrestling with our sin on the cross, we are forgiven. That’s our rest and our freedom—our freedom to live in Jesus’ resurrection rest and peace.

And that rest and peace are ours again this evening in the Eucharist. Martin Luther said it this way in his Large Catechism: “Here [Jesus] offers us the entire treasure that He has brought for us from heaven. With the greatest kindness He invites us to receive it also in other places, like when He says in St. Matthew 11:28, ‘Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’… We must never think of the Sacrament as something harmful from which we had better flee, but as a pure, wholesome, comforting remedy that grants salvation and comfort. It will cure you and give you life both in soul and body. For where the soul has recovered, the body also is relieved” (LC V:66-68). Amen.

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