I know that good does not live in me-that is, in my human nature. For even though the desire to do goodis in me , I am not able to do it.
Back in the dim dark past during my secondary schooling the only team sport for boys was football – Aussie rules to be precise. I enjoyed watching football but couldn’t play myself. I did give it a go but replacing my glasses was getting too expensive. Reluctantly the headmaster allowed us to form a basketball team. One of the guys knew something about basketball but the rest of us didn’t have a clue. We went to the local basketball stadium to watch a game and get a bit of an idea how it was played. We didn’t have a coach at the beginning, however, one the boys had played before and became our coach (sort of).
We didn’t have proper goals to practice goal shooting, we knew barely anything about the rules and techniques of the game, but the team was all fired up, and with new uniforms were ready to whip all opposition.
Our first game was against one of the oldest and biggest schools in Adelaide, Pulteney Grammar. The score was easy to remember – Pulteney Grammar 66, Immanuel College 6. We had loads of enthusiasm and good intentions, but that wasn’t enough to score goals. When the sports results were read out after Monday morning chapel you could see the headmaster cringe when he heard the basketball scores.
Can this be said about the way we live our Christian lives?
We have loads of good intentions, excellent plans and even enthusiasm but somehow never get around to carrying out those good intentions?
As we read our Bibles and hear God speaking to us at worship we learn what God’s love has done for us through Jesus. We hear how Jesus has made us his new people through the forgiveness of our sin and how we have been adopted as his own dear children and made members of his family. The Bible tells us that faith in Jesus is a very practical thing and should affect our everyday lives. Listen to Paul, “You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. … Forgive one another …. To all these qualities add love … Christ’s message in all its richness must live in your hearts. … Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3:12-15).
Paul is describing a new lifestyle. He is telling us that Christ in our lives makes a big difference to everything we say and do, to the attitudes and values that we have. Christ in our lives gives us a whole new perspective on how we can serve others and work together with our fellow members in the church.
But still in spite of all of this, I know I have to confess, and I suppose I’m not alone in this, that too often there is a gap between what we know we ought to do, and what we actually do as followers of Jesus.
Perhaps most of us live our Christianity like poor old Grandma Schultz hanging out the washing. She goes to the laundry to fetch the pegs, notices a mouse, and runs inside to find a trap. She sees a grimy spot on the kitchen floor, rummages through the cupboard for a cleaning rag, and comes across an old letter from cousin Hilda who lives in the Barossa Valley. She reads it and finds a recipe for streusel kuchen. She goes to the kitchen and seeing the jam boiling over on the stove, opens the window and sees Grandpa in the garden. She remembers that she needs some tomatoes for lunch …… somehow the washing just never seems to get hung out! Grandma Schultz had good intentions but she was a busy person but never got around to doing anything properly. She was always sidetracked by something that seemed to be more urgent.
Likewise, when we hear the Scriptures and are encouraged to let our light shine and make a difference in the lives of the people around us we happily say “Amen” and resolve to let our faith really shine. There are things we want to change in our lives – get rid of some old habits and attitudes. We want to be more considerate, and helpful and co-operative, to be more open, to be less critical, to be more tolerant of others with different opinions, to be more patient. We want to let our Christian faith show by being more understanding toward our husband or wife, being around more for our kids. We really want to try our hardest to get on with that person who really gets under our skin. We want to worship more regularly, pray more often, be more helpful, and contribute to the congregation more regularly.
Maybe after hearing a sermon or attending a Bible study we make ourselves a promise that from now on things are going to be different. But too often all of our good intentions remain just good intentions. Somehow it’s all much harder than we thought and it’s much easier to fall back into our old pattern of doing things.
The Apostle Paul struggled with this, “I know that good does not live in me—that is, in my human nature. For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it” (Rom 7.18). Paul here says that he knows what he should do; he knows what God wants him to do; he knows that he has been brought close to God and made holy through Christ’s suffering and death but he keeps on doing what he knows he is not supposed to be doing. I think we can all relate to that.
In the gospel reading today we hear Jesus say to us, “Come to me”. What could be clearer that that – straight from the mouth of Jesus himself. When life is getting too much to handle and you feel the weight of trouble, sickness, and worry falling heavily on your shoulders, Jesus says, “Come to me”.
It’s like he wants to give us a good shake and bring us to our sense as he says “Come to me” because he knows that we are not able to keep our heads above water in our sea of trouble. He reminds us that we don’t have to carry all this alone. He is there to help us. “Trust me, rely on me, believe me when I say to you, ‘Come to me’”. But do we take this invitation seriously? Most times that invitation becomes real only after we have sunk into depression and made ourselves sick with worry.
God tells us through the scriptures to let love rule our lives. “Put on love” we are told, and yes, that’s a good idea we say. But no sooner have we stated our intention to do just this than some low flying temptation comes our way and we end up doing exactly the opposite.
We are a lot like Grandma Schultz, dithering here and there, with every good intention but never getting around to doing what we had originally intended. Sin is very real in our lives. We are tempted to make our religion something separate from our everyday world, and we leave our faith in Christ at home when we go to work, or we forget we are members of God’s family when we are out on the sport’s field or having a great time with mates and friends. We know what we ought to do and we might have every good intention, but the circumstances influence us to do otherwise.
Have I told you about the bloke nicknamed “gunner”? I was intrigued by his nickname and thought he must have got the name “gunner” because he had been in the military. Anyway, one day I asked one of his mates why this bloke had the nickname “gunner”. He laughed as he explained, “Don’t get me wrong now, Gunner’s a great bloke, but as long as I’ve known him he’s always gonna do this and gonna do that, but never gets around to it”.
The apostle Paul is admitting that he is a good candidate for the nickname “gonna”. In fact, we are all “gonnas”. We can know all about Jesus and what our faith means for our everyday life and one day we’re “gonna” get around to making a few changes in our lives. One day we’re gonna get around to caring for the needy neighbour. One day we’re gonna do something about spending more time with the family. One day we’re gonna do more for the church, be more regular in our church attendance. But the truth of the matter is that somehow we never get around to it. We have every good intention, but we never do anything about it. To put it bluntly, our faith is good in theory but putting it into practice is quite another thing. It seems we can never change!
Paul expresses his frustration when he says, “I don’t do the good I want to do; instead I do the evil that I don’t want to do. … What an unhappy man I am”. But he doesn’t remain locked in this feeling of helplessness. He thanks God for Jesus who is able to forgive even someone who knows what he ought to do, has every good intention, but doesn’t follow this through. Jesus is good news for everyone. He died because of our distractions. He died a bloody, brutal death to free us from the curse of our sin. He died for saying that one day we’re gonna get around to being a better follower of Jesus. We have a new hope. We don’t need to be afraid of every inadequacy, every doubt, every threat of failure. We are forgiven.
In Christ there is a new beginning. There is a change. In Christ we can break out of the old mould where we replace God’s will simply with good intentions that never amount to anything. With Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit our faith becomes more than something theoretical. It becomes an integral part of our lives. The living Christ becomes a powerful force in changing our attitudes towards other people and how we see our role in the life of the church. The living Christ fills every part of our lives and when burdens and troubles preoccupy our minds and lives, our theology tells us that we have a God who loves and cares for us. This is not just an interesting theological fact; it is the living truth for our lives.
Luther talks about faith in this way: Faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, so that it is impossible for it not to be constantly doing what is good…. Without any coercion a person is willing and desirous to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything for the love of God and to his glory…. Faith is not simply knowing about Jesus and saying that one day we’re gonna be more active in our Christianity. Our faith is very practical everyday thing. You learn to be caring and concerned about people. You serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion. You are patient in times of trouble, praying at all times. You do everything possible to live in peace with everyone. You are willing to do whatever you can to support the mission of God’s church. You gladly do these things and more because your faith in Jesus has become a busy active, living thing, giving an effective living witness to the world.
No doubt there will be times when all these become good intentions that are never fulfilled and we express our disappointment as Paul did. “I know what I ought to do, but I don’t do it”. We join Paul in expressing our thanks to God for the forgiveness we have through our Lord Jesus Christ. He forgives and renews us and sends us out from here today to live our faith as we go about our daily tasks. Amen.