(based on Romans 7:15-25a & Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30)
It was the fall of 1976 and I was fortunate enough to be part of the Winter Session program at Naramata Centre. Our group of 30 young adults played a game one day. It was simply called the `Red & Black’ game. Two teams, the point was to gain as many points as possible by voting Red or Black. If both teams voted Black, you’d each gain points, if you both voted Red you’d lose points, if you voted Black, and they voted red, you’d gain points and they’d lose. You could negotiate, agree with other team and then sabotage them! We did, and we won! We got more points than they did. Ha ha!
The twist was – we didn’t actually win. The `game’ was to show that if we co-operated rather than competed we would have made more points in total. I had a self-revelation at that moment that hit me like a ton of bricks, and it was devastating, and I cried my heart out.
One person said – “What’s the big deal, it’s just a dumb game.” But I knew it was more than a dumb game. I knew that it had revealed a side of me that I didn’t want to know or admit to – that part of me that had the potential to be competitive to the point of cheating and to justify it by saying, “They’re probably doing the same thing.”
I didn’t have the words for it at the time, just the feeling. Now I can say it was about living with integrity – having my inner values and my outer actions match up. They didn’t match up. Living without integrity comes in all kinds of disguises.
Saying, `It’s only a joke’, to justify racism, or bullying. Saying, `She’s just using the system’, to justify not helping out someone who is stuck in a bind, or not treating someone with dignity. Compromising your values about fairness and honestly and compassion for the sake of being liked or loved, or getting ahead. Not wanting to learn the other side of the story, because it might demand too much of you…
Whilst I was caught in the throws of self-condemnation, Roy Woods, one of the leaders, quietly picked up his Bible and read from Paul’s letter to the Romans: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15
Now, generally, I find that the dear apostle Paul is wordy in the extreme. He really didn’t need to go on with the next 10 verses. He captures the problem right off the bat. And because of this one verse, I do have a fondness for this wretched, loveable saint. I feel a kinship with him. Thank you Paul for being so real, and thank you Roy Woods for saying just enough, and no more. (Roy died in November 2006, but I shall always be grateful for this memory in my life.)
And…there comes a point at which we can choose to stay in self-condemnation or forgive ourselves, and ask forgiveness of God and others, and move on. Let’s move on… to the gospel.
The Romans passage says there are times when we don’t like our own choices, and the gospel says, we don’t like what others choose either! Here we find Jesus rather fed up with `the crowds’ and their fickle attitude towards the ministry of John the Baptist and himself. `To what shall I compare this generation…. You’re like a bunch of whiny kids! As much as Jesus loved children, he knew the down side of their character, especially when lived out in adult behaviour. “We played music for you and you didn’t dance, we were sad and you couldn’t have cared less.” He says, `You complained because John the Baptist was an uptight tea-granny and I’m supposedly a drunkard and glutton. Make up your mind, what do you want?’
They were both sharing the gospel, but they very much had their own personality and way of doing things. Why are we so quick to make comparisons? Why are we so quick to find blame? I think it’s because there may be an element of truth in what `the enemy’ is saying and we don’t want to be confronted with. If we can dismiss the person, we can dismiss the idea. It’s much easier to say, `Look at the weird way that guy dresses, and how can you trust someone who eats honey and bugs for supper, than to hear, `Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.’
It’s easier to dismiss someone by saying, `He drinks too much, and he hangs out riffraff, than to hear, `Give away your money, you’ll still have enough and you’ll still be enough’, or `Love your enemies, they are God’s children too.’ Oh, that is scary stuff!
It is easier to find some reason to dismiss the messenger than to take responsibility for living out the message, because what happens when you make a choice yourself? A terrible thing – no one to blame!
And yet we know, don’t we, that Jesus has the words of life. That Jesus is the Way. That’s not some pithy little slogan that means we’re in an exclusive club, but rather when we say Jesus is the Way, that means we choose to live the same way – with the same integrity, the same compassion, the same courage, but with our own personality quirks intact. It’s not easy to follow in that Way. Some things are just too big to carry alone. And so I am heartened by the words that Jesus says a few verses later:
The Message says it like this: “Are you tired? Worn out? Come to me. … Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace…”
But there is still sweetness and assurance in these more traditional words: “Come to me all of you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30