Year A, Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 9, 2023
Year A: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45:11-18; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Whenever I’ve previously preached on today’s readings, I focused on the Gospel and the wonderful invitation that we hear, “Come to me.”
And that is a beautiful invitation.
Yet, I wonder how that invitation relates to the second reading we heard today in Paul’s letter to the Romans about sin. So, today, I will plunge into some uncharted waters, at least for me. With, I hope, a dose of humility and trust in the guidance of God and God’s word, I’m going to talk about sin. And I don’t do that with a spirit of fear or judgment but with the invitation to understand ourselves further, our faith, and our relationship with God.
Several years after I became an Episcopalian, we had a new rector at our church. During the season of Lent, she invited us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Yes, in the Episcopal Church, individual confession does exist. A humorous comment is sometimes used to inject humor into our sense of confession because it challenges us. “All may; none must; some should.”
A friend once remarked that you could rewrite “all may, none must, some should” as, “It’s like going to the gym: everyone’s invited, no one’s required, but if you’ve been indulging a bit too much in junk food, you might want to consider it!”
As humorous as that might sound, I think we can do some unpacking of the phrase.
“All may” recognizes that every person is invited to participate in the Sacrament, acknowledging that it can be a powerful tool for spiritual growth, grace, and healing. It invites us to consider confession as a means to deepen our relationship with God.
“None must” conveys the understanding that while confession is valued and available, it is not a mandatory part of our faith practice. We can connect with God and seek forgiveness in many ways, and confession is just one of these avenues. We can pray directly to God to seek grace and forgiveness. We can partake in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. We can read and meditate on scripture and perform acts of kindness, mercy, and love. We can seek guidance from a mentor in discerning God’s will for our lives.
“Some should” suggests that while confession is not mandatory, there are individuals for whom this sacrament is particularly beneficial.
Confession and reconciliation are often misunderstood, seen perhaps as a means of punishment or shame. But this is far from its true essence. The central theme is a sincere heart seeking God’s will and a readiness to receive God’s grace and mercy. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, we might find a pathway toward peace, reconciliation, and a renewed sense of divine love.
God has given us a great gift in these matters. If we ask ourselves, “What is God trying to tell me” then we can know ourselves better and God more. That is what Paul is talking about in our epistle today. He says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
Paul is basically saying, “The devil made me do it.”
Paul shows that we are not alone in our struggle to free ourselves from sin.
But what is sin? Sin is described in the Episcopal Church’s catechism as “the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people and with all creation” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 848).
We all have different sins we grapple with. But most importantly, sin is about separating ourselves from God’s will and love for us. I sin every time I watch the evening news and yell and curse angrily about the latest news cycle.
But, we also have the capacity to show humility – to admit that we can’t break cycles of harmful behavior alone and without help. For example, in Alcoholics Anonymous, the first three steps one must take are to admit that you are powerless over your addiction, to believe that a Power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity, and then to surrender your will and life over to the care of God, as you understand and view God.
We are powerless over our sins, but as Christians, we believe God can make us whole.
That’s what I learned in my first confession in the Episcopal Church, which took place more than twenty years after my last confession in the Roman Catholic Church. Confession wasn’t just about listing sins or reporting wrong turns. Instead, it was more like realigning my life with God’s direction – a sort of spiritual GPS.
Confession can make our lives as Christ’s disciples even more powerful.
This season after Pentecost is all about navigating the way of discipleship. We are called to be disciples, and Jesus continues to teach us about discipleship’s difficult road. Quite often, we fall back into believing that we are responsible for our salvation – if we go to church every Sunday, if we’re nice enough to people we don’t like, if we do more in the community, then maybe we’ll store up enough credit to make it to heaven. When we think this way, we get caught in the very sin we are trying to avoid, leaving no room for God’s grace to flow. It becomes all about us and not about God.1
Think of all the hopes you’ve had – for yourself and your family – grand hopes, some of them: we would be famous movie stars, baseball players, or some of us thought we’d be famous United States Senators.
By now, many of us have found that human hopes require continual adjustment. Most of us have experienced things that we would never have chosen. Most of us have found that the power of which we felt so confident in our youth wasn’t really ours. We used to think we could do just about anything we wanted to do; now, we know that many things are beyond our control.
Yet, when we think we know what we’re doing according to the world’s view, God teaches us a new way. We are called to God’s standard. When we stop listening to those voices of the world, we can hear the voice that comes from within, God’s voice. When we try to carry out our own salvation, we get weary; we feel hardened. Sometimes, we sin.
And it is in those times that Jesus invites us and says to us, “Come to me…and I will give you rest.”2
Jesus does not offer to help us in the way some of us may want. After all, when we carry a heavy weight, our desire may be for Jesus to lift the weight from us. Instead, Jesus offers to share our burden.
Can we trust in Jesus? Can we trust in God? Can we believe that when we are going through something that seems beyond our ability to carry, that is precisely when faith calls us to surrender our way and trust God’s way, not our own way?
I confess that I rarely give much time to Paul. But focusing on Paul today goes beyond discussing sin and takes us to explore our inherent human nature, our relationship with God, and the power of grace. Today’s passage from Romans shows us that sin disrupts our relationship with God, and Paul, as always, assures us that redemption is always within reach through Jesus Christ.
The gift of reconciliation is given to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Take Jesus’ yoke upon you. Offer your burdens to him.
Sometimes, we will stumble and falter, make mistakes, and lose our way. Remember that all may, none must, and some should. Jesus’ teachings emphasize forgiveness, grace, and personal growth. What matters is how one responds.
How do we respond to Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me.”