"Do We Have To Struggle?"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - July 7, 2002
Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Euripides, who brought Greek tragedy to unsurpassed levels of perfection, wrote very similar words 400 years before Paul was born. He wrote, "We know the good, but do not practice it." Paul wrote, "For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it. I don't do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do."
While this passage may make
for awkward reading, we all know what Paul means. For example, we
want to be kind until we meet aggressive drivers on the highway. We
want to be generous until we meet people whose purpose in life
appears to be fleecing others through the repetition of their hard
luck stories. We want to trust until we have been hurt repeatedly
by the betrayal of false friends. We want to be forgiving, but we
have this thing about justice and fairness. There comes a time when
"enough is enough" and we feel compelled to draw a line in the
sand. We know the dilemma of having to struggle. Some of us live
with it every day.
The other point of view
comes from Jesus. He said, "Come to me, all of you who are tired
from carrying your heavy loads and I will give you rest. Take my
yoke and put it on, learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in
spirit; you will find rest."
Is there a way to reconcile these two positions? Paul seems to suggest that life may be a constant struggle for some people. Jesus, on the other hand, taught that life can be peaceful regardless of the issues we face even though many of them may have the seeds of struggle within them. Was life created to be a struggle?
When we study the nature of
conflict, it is amazing how many different, well-supported points of
view there can be. We frequently find ourselves with the ability
to justify almost any response when our emotions become passionate
enough. Most of us have been involved in such circumstances
While we were recently visiting our daughter in Little Rock, we watched, The Patriot, a movie about our first war with Great Britain. As the story unfolded, many themes involved with our country's struggle for independence became very graphic. While not historic, the portrayal of certain events reflected the horrors of war.
General Cornwallis was trying to fight a war with taste, character and dignity, qualities that were quite characteristic for this British aristocrat. The colonists, however, were prepared to do anything to defeat the British. The eight-year struggle created moments of savagery from both camps.
On numerous occasions the British were ambushed by the colonists and slaughtered. In another scene the entire population of a small town was herded into a church. The doors and windows were sealed by the British who promptly set fire to it. The Redcoats surrounded the flaming structure to insure that no one would escape. No one did. Passions ran hot on both sides. Today we are known as the United States of America because we won that war. We do justify some struggles based on the rewards received as a nation.
Several days ago we experienced another 4th of July celebration. We love to rehearse the values for which our country stands. For those of us who watched the various celebrations through the miracle of television, we thrilled at everything from the fireworks in Washington and New York City to Sandy Patti's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
Few of us have mixed feelings when it comes to our need to preserve the values found in the Preamble of our Constitution. Without human freedom, little else works. Collectively we struggle to hold on to the values written in that document. Conflicting ideologies have been part of the human drama since the beginning of time. No doubt they will remain with us for scores of generations that will follow.
The struggles that both Jesus and Paul were addressing were of a different kind. They wanted to teach people one at a time how to reorient their thinking. Their hope was that when enough people have mastered the art of living peacefully, they would provide key leadership for the rest of the world.
Paul wrote, "If it is up to you, do everything possible to live in peace with everyone." (Ro. 12:18) The key words from Jesus are these, ". . . learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; you will find rest." Can we lay our passions at the feet of the Master and find release? Absolutely! But we have to want a peaceful spirit over every other kind.
As we know, a number of us do not want that. This request is too costly. We have determined that we cannot walk away from certain hurts. We want the struggle because it motivates us. The hunger to strike back consumes us like the recent fires in Arizona and Colorado. For those of us who build our lives around anger, life will always be a struggle. We have to be right. We must win! Must want to be the crusader who attacks injustice in whatever form it takes when it confronts us. However, there is another level of understanding that will eventually heal the world.
The good news is that with all our struggling, we cannot possibly exhaust the infinite patience of God. God will wait for each of us. Paul discovered this answer for himself and others. He wrote, "Let the Spirit direct your lives, and you will no longer need to satisfy the desires of your human nature." (Gal. 5:16)
Jesus was telling his listeners
that when they get tired of the nonsense that has dominated human
societies throughout history, they have a place they can go that will
bring them peace. When the struggle ceases to be a game that
champions our need to win, and when the pain becomes such that we can no
longer tolerate it, God already has determined that all of us will
eventually find within ourselves the ability to let go.
We need to remember that no one made it mandatory that we hold onto what hurts. No one forced us to think, believe or behave in ways that define who we are through our rage. What we do know is that God made us in a very specific way. God gave us the ability to create what Heaven is like right here on earth. When we learn this lesson and choose our responses more wisely, life will turn a corner and we will have discovered what we came here to learn. When we surrender our judgments, the gates of Heaven swing open where the Prince of Peace awaits to heal us and welcome us back home.
Loving God, our
awareness is not always focused on what is essential for our growth.
Our sense of "right" and "wrong" sharpens our ability to judge. Our
need to blame prohibits our creativity and clouds our ability to care.
Often we cannot do what reflects your presence. We say things that
reveal our nature, not yours. We want to move mountains, instead of
learning how to soar above them. We want justice for our hurts while
you showed us mercy when faced with Jesus' death. Lead us to uncover a
greater understanding of your nature. Help us trust in what we cannot
see as we may forgive the hurtful things that we can. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
O God, all of us are humbled by the blessings
which we have experienced from being born in this land of ours. We are
grateful that we have had something wonderful to inherit from those who
have gone before us. We know that vision is wonderful to have, but some
of our inspiration comes from their commitment to build foundations that
would benefit an infinite number of generations not yet born.
Lord, we know how easy it is to be unwise
stewards of what we did not build, of that which we did not earn and of
a quality of life that came to us as an inheritance. Spare us from
enjoying only the harvest. Enable us to plant the seeds that will
benefit the generations yet to come. Allow us to experience the peace
and harmony that happens when we express our love.
As we go forth into our world, may each of us take very seriously the human experiment that our personal freedom represents. May we cherish it so much that we become willing to pick up the slack caused by those who do not recognize what they have. Help us teach the people of the world to understand that with you as our creator, everything will evolve as it should. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .