Fourth Sunday of Trinity
Today's Readings First Reading Zechariah 9:9-12 In words that Matthew quotes when recording Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, God’s people are promised a rescuer who will be a king and yet humble. We need only return to him, our stronghold, and our hope. Second Reading Romans 7:15-25a Paul shares our own sorrow at frequently breaking God’s commandments, as sin leads us astray. Fortunately, salvation is not something we can earn but has already been achieved for us by Jesus, if we turn to him, our rescuer and redeemer. Gospel Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 Jesus urges all to recognise him as the Father’s Son, even if he does not match their preferred picture of God. His actions will prove who he is, and those who come to him will find both comfort and challenge. HOMILY ‘Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28) This passage from Matthew’s Gospel may seem remarkably familiar to you. Some of these words are used by the presiding priest during the traditional service of Holy Communion according to the Book of Common Prayer. “Come unto me all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” (Matthew 11:28) The ‘Comfortable’ words as they are known inspire us as disciples. But what was Jesus really saying? What does he mean, by using the modern translation, ‘Come to me?’ and ‘I will give you rest?’ In light of the present Covid-19 pandemic, with cases still rising around the world (and this our first Eucharist in Church for 15 weeks), we may not be feeling quite as comfortable as we once did (in Church or anywhere for that matter). In Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 7, we find part of the answer. Paul understands the demands of discipleship, that is being a life-long learner and the challenge of living by God’s law. That law is fulfilled in Jesus who is the new order - both God’s gift to us and by his Trinitarian nature, the giver of the gift – a new relationship with God. In so doing Jesus sets us free from the tyranny of the old law but we are not free to do as we please. The law has not passed away, rather it is complete! For it is God’s freewill offering of grace that has raised us to heaven. It is God’s action and call, and then we are left with a choice. For there is nothing wrong with God’s law, for it is wholly good. The challenge is our interpretation of it as disciples today. To follow the way means allowing Jesus to walk with us daily, which is something we have done rather differently during lock-down with daily worship online. But I know for many of you, beyond our corporate digital efforts, your own time of prayer has been important to you, in whatever form that has taken, structured or largely fluid, free and quite organic. By choosing to walk with Jesus, and him alone, we will never stray to the right or to the left, whatever life throws at us – virus or no virus! But this walk with Jesus is far from comfortable and we will continue to face challenges along the way. Perhaps that explains why we do not always find the walk of faith easy? Paul, in his writings, demonstrates that he fully understands the challenges we face. He is tempted. He is lacking perfection. Hence, he cries out, ‘Wretched man that I am’ (Romans 7:24) as he recognises the weakness of his body and the temptations of his flesh. Yet Paul also understands the love of Jesus, who longs to save him. He responds with a question, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) And the answer is, Jesus Christ the Lord! The call of the disciple is to follow the Lord, who calls us. As Jesus called those first disciples as they stood by the lake mending their nets, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19) But do we think of discipleship as a calling or our own choice? In today’s Gospel Jesus uses the image of children singing sad and happy songs in their games. Sadly, we cannot sing in church now but we can picture the scene. Now he is not simply referring to music but rather our state of mind. Often, if we are honest, we think we can make God dance to our tune rather than following God’s way. Jesus compares the children to ‘this generation’ – “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.”” (Matthew 11: 16, 17) These are also not comfortable words! Our relationship with God is not actually comfortable in the sense that it is not usually the way ‘WE’ want things to be. I know right now that many people here, and some who have chosen not to come, are struggling with this new world we are living in. But then, we can gather, even if it means jumping through some particularly important hoops that recognise our need for hygiene and efforts to keep one another safe. So, to gather for worship it is right we take these things seriously but, nonetheless, we must gather. We must worship. Friends in faith, it is Jesus who calls us – to be his disciples today and, as lovely as those words from scripture are, repeated in the old Communion Service, there is nothing comfortable about the call to discipleship. Especially at this time for challenge for many – and no the virus has not gone away – we must all work to control it – and we need to trust Jesus if we are to run the race that is set before us. Let us start our new journey with a question to ponder: How comfortable are we with our own picture of God? Too comfortable perhaps? In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us all an invitation: “Come to me.” Come to me – whether you can sing in church or not. Come to Jesus and recognise the inclusive call of the one who saves, the same Lord of Life who attended Synagogue and Temple and moved among the outcasts, healed the sick and forgave sinners. The Jesus we worship today is the same Lord who celebrated at a wedding feast and wept for his friend Lazarus! The same Lord who prayed quietly alone and yet taught the multitude, a gentle Jesus but also an angry Lord who railed at injustice and hypocrisy, who believed that our relationship with God, as well as our relationship with one another, truly matters. Rather than make God (or our fellow Christians!) dance to our tune, can we not allow God’s own music to emerge? We need Jesus to help us run the race. He is the Lord who calls, leads, teaches, and admonishes us! We cannot run without him – we cannot overcome Covid-19 without Him. St Paul knew that, but do we? Part of our response to the present crisis has been to offer what we are good at in a new way, using the tools of the internet but, as individuals, we need to play our part too. Could we not risk something different, if it helps others to come to find God at the centre of their lives too? Is it time to accept the challenge Jesus has given us, and step outside our comfort zone as his disciples? So, to each one of you, I say this; (Welcome back to St Mary’s Church! And…) remember that you are running a race! You are running a race which will last your entire life. Nobody is too young or too old to be a disciple of Jesus and you cannot run that race alone. You need our Lord to lead you and to protect you. You need to pray and you need to help others find what you have discovered – faith. You also need the wider church family here at St Mary’s to support, encourage and, yes, to challenge you! So, make church a priority – make discipleship your path as you listen in prayer to the Lord who speaks to you today through his Holy Word, the scriptures, and be comforted! Amen.