Revised Common Lectionary, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, Year A
July 9, 2023*
Lessons: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67, Alternate OT Reading Zechariah 9:9-12, Psalm 145:8-14 (or 145:10-17), Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people are stewards in need of a savior. We recognize only Jesus can rescue us. As stewards we are called to share this good news.
Key Scripture: For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:22-25a
“Don’t eat your candy until we get home,” my mother warned as I clambered into the backseat of our VW Bug after church. I stared longingly at the small roll of candy in my hand. It was mine. I had earned it for knowing my memory verse of scripture, and here my mother was being a spoilsport about it. It was hard enough not to eat it during worship, and now she was depriving me for an additional 20 minutes. Not fair!
Did I listen? Of course not! What five-year-old can resist a colorful roll of Life Savers candy in her fat little fist? I still remember quietly opening the package and popping one of the sweet fruit flavored candies into my mouth. Savoring the goodness and success of my stealthy move, I was taken quite by surprise when my father hit a large bump in the road–so surprised in fact that I sucked that forbidden treat right into my throat where it lodged neat as could be. I tried swallowing and then coughing, but that only seemed to make things worse. My mother turned around and saw my growing alarm and guilty face, along with the open roll of candy on the seat beside me.
“Stop the car, George! NOW!” she cried in alarm.
I think she was out the door before the Bug coasted to a stop, dragging me forthwith from the seat and thumping me soundly and repeatedly on my back. Between my coughing and her therapeutic whacking, the “evidence” spat forth onto the asphalt. I don’t remember what happened next other than the relief felt by all three of us, but I’m pretty sure she confiscated the remaining candies.
I was captive to sin, to my own childish cravings for that coveted candy and to my impish impatience. Of course, I was in no real danger of dying–the hole in the Life Saver was truly a life saver, but I had to be rescued from my own wretched willfulness. This sort of rescue definitely demands much more than candy.
Yes, friends, the dilemma Paul talks about in this week’s epistle starts early in life and moves swiftly from candy to more costly and caustic conflicts between good and evil. We Christians know what is good for us; we can grasp cognitively the notion that we should be slaves to righteousness rather than sin. In my faith tradition (ELCA Lutheran) we learn to die daily to our human nature and its whims, but that doesn’t mean the battle is over. Temptation is literally a heartbeat away, and no one is immune from the siren song of sin.
Paul recognized this struggle within his very self and was bold enough to share it openly and transparently. That gives me great hope. So does the fact that other great pillars of faith–Augustine, Luther, Mother Teresa, to name a few–were well acquainted with this struggle in their faithful journey. They did not give up, they kept going, and like Paul, they knew exactly the source of their rescue–Jesus Christ. As Eugene Peterson translates Paul in The Message: “He [Jesus] acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different” (Romans 7:25b).
Yes, Jesus is our “Life Saver”–not just for as long as it takes a small piece of candy to melt, not just for a day, or a year, or a lifetime, but for all eternity. Jesus understands the contradictions and temptations we face each day, the tug-of-war between the life of faith and lie of living for the self. If you are weary, if you are burned out, if your faith is wavering, do not despair. Jesus is calling you to come to him, to walk with him and learn from him how to live, to really live. Jesus offers rest from distractions, hope and healing for the hurting, and instruction in how to live in grace and true freedom. Following “the way” of Jesus does not lead to choking, unbearable burdens and temptations, but to true freedom, purpose, and meaning. This is good news that people need to hear, and as stewards of the faith we are bound to share.
In WorshipConsider distributing individually packaged Life Saver candies stapled or taped to a small card with the words “Rescue Me! Romans 7:22-25a” written on the card. Better yet, give each worshiper two candies (one to keep and one to share). Make this a part of a call to worship by including words such as these:
L: Come to Jesus all you who are weary and bearing heavy burdens!
C: We are here seeking the rest only Jesus can give.
L: Take Christ’s yoke upon you and learn from him. Hear the Word. Feast at his table.
C: Jesus is gentle, humble, and offers rest for our souls. We bring our broken selves to you, Lord Christ.
L: Jesus’ yoke is easy, and his burden is light. Come and worship. Come and find rest. Come and be strengthened to tend God’s garden and sow seeds of hope for all creation.
Consider showing clips from the 1997 film Liar Liar, starring Jim Carrey. The story is about a habitual liar who ends up having to tell the truth for one full day. Connect a scene or two from the movie with the epistle lesson from Romans and Paul’s admission that he does the very thing he does not want to do. Ask youth to share their experiences, concerns, and hopes.
Bring a life preserver ring and some individually wrapped Life Saver candies. Talk to the children about how the life preserver works, and then tell them the history of the candy (click here). Ask them if they know what to use to keep from drowning in sin and despair. Show them a picture of Jesus and remind them that Jesus is a much better life saver than any candy, any life preserver ring, or lifeguard at the pool.
If you’d rather focus on the gospel lesson, bring a picture of a team yoked together. Talk about how being yoked together makes the burden of pulling a plow or a wagon easier. If you have access to a wooden yoke, bring it to show the children. You might also bring a weight that is heavy for a child to lift alone. However, when the weight is distributed between two or more children, it is “bearable.” Jesus doesn’t want us to bear life’s weight alone. He invites us to come to him and let him journey with us and help us find rest for our tired bodies, minds, and souls.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Have you ever felt like you are drowning in despair, in anger, in frustration, in grief, in pain, or in deep waters of hopelessness? If so, you know what it’s like to need a life saver. In Jesus, however, we have a life savior, and this is good news we are bound to share. How can you share the saving grace of Jesus with others in need this week?
Stewardship at Home
Jesus doesn’t desire that this life be overwhelmingly difficult for us, yet too often we tend to “go it alone” or assume we don’t need all that our relationship with Jesus offers. He can become a “foul weather” friend—someone we need turn to only in our darkest hours and most trying times. Instead, take time this week to simply rest in Christ. Set aside 15 minutes a day (If you’re like me, setting a timer or alarm works best.) to meditate on Matthew 11:28-30. Savor the words, silently and aloud. Breathe deeply and let the rest of the day’s demands subside with each exhalation. For younger members of the household, invite them to spend time coloring or painting a picture each day based on this gospel passage.
*This reflection was first posted in 2017.
Photos: Amanda Munoz, Andy Mudrak, and Jamie C2009, Creative Commons. Thanks!