Law and Grace

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Romans 7:15-25a; St. Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who give us an easy burden and a light yoke. Amen.

“I do not understand my own actions.”

Who among us has not felt like Saint Paul at one point or another? For we do not do what we want – what we really, truly want in our in-most being, to do the will of God, the very end for which we were created.

Oh, we start out with good intent, sure enough.

This is it! This is the time I’m going to hold my temper in check and not yell at the neighbor.

This is the time I’m going to buy that young woman on the street corner a sandwich and tell her about the resources at the shelter.

This is the year I’m finally going to read my Bible every day.

This is it! This time, I’m actually going to join the protests and speak up for justice.

But then we do the thing we hate.

The neighbor’s dog barks all night, and then work is awful, someone cuts me off in traffic, and so when I see my neighbor after that looooong day, he catches the full weight of everything that went wrong.

Yes, I walk by that young woman with her sign asking for help, but what if it’s all a con? What if she doesn’t actually need or deserve the sandwich and doesn’t care about what resources the shelter and the food pantry can offer? What if, horror of unspeakable horrors, she is out there on that same corner every day, and now she thinks she can just ask me for five bucks or a meal every time she sees me? Best not risk it.

One more video won’t hurt. This show is really good, and my Bible will still be there waiting for me tomorrow. I’ll get up early and read twice as much in the morning. Honest, I will. Now hit “Play Next Episode.”

Plenty of people will be at the march. My presence wouldn’t actually add anything. I promise, I’ll write a sternly worded letter to the mayor instead. I can do that at some point this week.

I know! I’ll give money to charity! That will make me feel better about yelling at my neighbor, ignoring the hungry woman I pass on my way to work, watching tv rather than reading my Bible, and skipping the protest!

And this time, I follow through, writing a check for the kingly sum of five bucks, twenty percent of which goes to pay board member salaries, and the remaining four dollars buy lentils from an industrialized farming operation owned by a large conglomerate in my own well-off country and flood the market in the recipient country, thus hurting the very farming families I intended to help.

We are in bondage to sin, and cannot free ourselves. It’s not just that we make bad decisions but that the power of sin and death have such a stranglehold on our world that even when we intend to do what is good, we into their grasp.

Scripture shows us God’s will: that we are to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength, and in so much as we love God, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. (And just who is this neighbor? It includes even our enemies.) This law, this Torah, is what our Lord has always intended for us. And it sounds so simple, so easy to live out. But our restless hearts chase after other ends instead, letting our anger, our greed, our sloth get the best of us. We sin and fall short of God’s command.

And so this law – this good gift that should reflect the image of God in us – becomes little more than a mirror reflecting our sinful image back at us. Yes, in a way, this can be a good thing because it reminds us of our need for the salvation freely offered through Christ, but more often it becomes a source of pride: as though, if we could just set our minds to it, we could actually keep the Law perfectly and justify ourselves. We try to justify ourselves through our own actions – but you might recall, it’s our own actions that landed us here in the first place.

And then we fall short again, for we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We sin in word and deed, to be sure, but also even our thoughts, our very intentions are corrupt. (Because, if we’re honest, good intentions are the exception, not the rule). Even when we want to do what is good, evil is close at hand. What should be good news – this gift from God – becomes news of condemnation.

The Law of God reveals who our Lord create us to be, but it is in constant competition with our sinful nature. Through our sinful nature, then, the Law becomes the means by which we are enslaved to death.

What hope is there? To whom shall we go?

Jesus the Christ, the one who fulfills the Law! He is the Righteous One of Israel!

He comes offerings an easy burden and a light yoke. He is the source of rest for our wandering hearts.

In Christ, the Law is no longer what we must do to earn God’s favor but what we are set free to do as a sign of God’s favor. Baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, we are given the grace to love God, neighbor, and enemy.

Yes, we will still fall into sin; the battle still wages on in us. But Christ our Lord has already emerged victorious, and even now his new life is at work in us. When we do fail, when we do fall back into our old, sinful ways, when we do try to justify ourselves, when even our good intentions fall woefully short, we have this assurance: that Christ is still beckoning us to himself to give us an easy burden and the promise of rest in his grace.

Amen.

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