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To what shall I compare this generation?

A Sermon by Canon Sarah Mullally, Treasurer The Third Sunday after Trinity - 6 July 2014

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To what shall I compare this generation?

Posted By : Sarah Mullally Sunday 6th July 2014

A Sermon by Canon Sarah Mullally, Treasurer

The Third Sunday after Trinity - 6 July 2014

Romans 7: 15-25a and Matthew 11:16-19 and 25-30



I was turning out the cellar in our house this weekend and came across a cycling helmet – a green skid lid to be precise. It was the cycling helmet that my son used to wear when he was small and it reminded me of an occasion when we as a family had been cycling in Norfolk and Liam about 2 years old, sat on a seat on the cross bars of my husband’s bike. And I remember watching as they both cycled across the road and as the bike hit the curb it was one of the moments when you saw disaster happen but could do nothing to stop it. In slow motion both my son and husband went head over the handle bars and off onto the ground. Now thanks to the skid lid both my son and husband suffered nothing more than shock and my husband a dented pride.

I am sure that many of you have been in those situations when you sit and watch disaster happening. Here this morning in our gospel reading it is as if Jesus can see disaster about to happen.

Jesus has been talking about John the Baptist and about how great he was, about how John was the one who the scriptures spoke of as proclaiming that the Messiah was coming. John came to proclaim that the kingdom of God was at hand. Jesus had already commenced his ministry, teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God, curing every disease and sickness among the people, but people had failed to listen and Jesus proclaims “To what shall I compare this generation?”

People were ignoring Jesus’ ministry and John the Baptists’ preaching. They just judged them on what they saw. They attacked the messenger and did not listen to the message.

Many of the Jewish people continued to believe that it was through keeping the law and through wisdom that they had access to God. God had given the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people, to guide them through the moral traps of life but well-intentioned people added on to the law until it became its own trap. Religious professionals prided themselves in their observance of the law, but even they couldn’t avoid breaking the law. The common person did not stand a chance of perfectly observing the law. All of these rules and regulations were a huge burden on the people. The wisdom and the wise was out of the reach of the average Jew of Jesus’ day.

Jesus saw them heading for disaster; this was not unique to the Jewish people of the time of Christ. Paul too speaks to those living under rules. Paul points out those living by rules, living under the law and seeking to earn justification or salvation by works to gain favour with God. They saw themselves as religious and defined themselves better than others and in doing so got themselves into a convoluted muddle – a bit like the passage itself. Try reading our New Testament passage aloud to yourselves when you get home. It is very easy to get yourselves tongue-tied but isn’t that the nature of life sometimes.

How often are we like the Jewish people? How often do we seek to justify ourselves by works, how often do we believe that our relationship with God is dependent upon what we do? We seek to study theology to use our minds, when in reality it is about our hearts. We seek to do, when it is about being.

Jesus confronts this false belief and declares that we need to be as a little child. Jesus had come to know his Father the way a Son does, by living in his presence, by listening to his voice and learning from him and this is how we can know Jesus.

Paul wants them and us to know that we can never earn forgiveness from God and just as Paul twists and turns his argument he then makes a clear statement. For God to restore the world himself, he sent his Son and his Spirit to do at last what the law wanted to do but by itself could not. It is about God and not us.

If we are to know God we need to know Christ. To know Christ is to spend time learning from him. There is no great rule book to fail but rather our relationship with God is through God’s gracious act.

Tom Clammer tells me rules are good, they prevent chaos. Some of you will know that I prepared the ordination candidates last week for the services on Saturday and Sunday and it is true, however great my tendency to give freedom of expression, having rules in the service stopped chaos happening. However it is out of God’s great love for us that we have a relationship with him and love calls for something more than rules.

Loved lived out by Jesus meant that Jesus broke the law – by allowing the women with the bleeding disorder to touch his cloak, by healing on the Sabbath, by eating with tax collectors, by touching the leper. Jesus new that something more important than the law was going on - love. “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Our relationship with God is not built on rules but rather love.

As we twist and turn seeking to gain God’s forgiveness there is a wonderful reminder that it is not us but God and there is this wonderful invitation – “come to me and I will give you rest”. To rest in Christ is to abide in him, to find space to know him and to learn from him. And if we sometimes get it wrong, we are told he is gentle and humble in heart.

Then it follows, if our relationship with God is based on love and not rules, so we should base our relationship with others on love and not our internal struggle with rules. This is true for us as individuals, as a Cathedral and as a church.

Next week sees the meeting of General Synod of the Church of England. The agenda will cover the final drafting of the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and ordination of women) measure and draft amending canon number 33. It will also debate the safe-guarding and clergy discipline measure associated with amending canon number 34. It will look at relaxing the current position on those who can administer holy communion; amendments to changes in the synodical elections, the faculty system, the arrangements for PCCs and parish trusts in relations to property, the vesture of ministers during worship and it goes on. And whilst I agree that without structures and policies and rule chaos reigns, I wonder to what would Jesus compare this generation?

Jesus instructs his disciples and us to lay down our burdens of lesser obligations. As the disciples got into the boat he called them to lay them down and as he sent them out he called them to travel light. We need to be people who get our priorities right, who find the heart of God so that we can both know his love for us but also so we can show his love to the world.

The yoke that Jesus calls us to take on and the burden he calls us to bear is humility and concern for the despised, for the outcast, for the lonely, for the poor and rejected. The sacrifice God requires is that which is spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, where we share our bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into our houses and cover the naked.

It is then we are told, that our light will break forth like the dawn, and our healing spring up quickly. God will go before us and be our rearguard. God will guide us and satisfy our parched places, make our bones strong and we shall be like a watered garden whose waters shall never fail. In returning to God and in faithfulness to his will, we will find refreshment and rest. Amen