7/9/2017 Fifth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Romans 7:15-25A.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
Years ago, there was a Peanuts cartoon where Lucy was explaining to her brother Linus about the division in the human heart. She drew a picture of a heart, put a line down the middle, and said, “One side is filled with hate and the other side is filled with love. These are the two forces which are constantly at war with each other.” Linus says, “I think I know just what you mean. I can feel them fighting.”
Everyday, there is a war that rages within each of us. It doesn’t matter who you are, how much you have, how old or young, what degrees you’ve accumulated, where you work or live, how you were brought up or anything else – like Paul, every one of us is trapped. We are trapped between the worlds of right and wrong, good and bad, hate and love and because of this, we often make choices that are not as wise or as helpful or as reflective of God’s grace as we wish they were.
We are tempted to do things we know are wrong, like speeding on the highway, or ignoring the yield signs, or gossiping, or lying, or cheating in order to get what we want. That’s why I’ve said if I were ever to get a tattoo, I would have to get two – an angel to sit on one shoulder and a devil on the other.
It would be tough enough if the only problem we face deals with temptation, but it goes much deeper than that. It doesn’t end with doing the things we know are wrong. We also have a problem doing those things we want to do, like being affirming of others and using errors as opportunities to gently teach, rather than losing our temper and yelling, and belittling others when we get frustrated. So we often end up doing the things we don’t want to do and we don’t do the things we do want to do.
If this sounds confusing, it is, but then this internal battle between doing the very things we don’t want to do or know we shouldn’t do, and not doing what we want to do or doing what we know is right, isn’t new at all. That’s why Paul writes about it in his letter to the Romans. Try as he might, Paul never seems to get it right and he candidly admits to this. In spite of being Paul, he has to deal with the same spiritual struggle that most of us go through.
“I do not understand my own actions,” he says. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me…For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do…”
Now, it may not be fashionable in this modern age for people to be as candid about this type of struggle as Paul who takes responsibility for his own actions. If you listen to people talking, you’ll hear frustration being vented and excuses being made. Children’s temper tantrums are credited to the terrible twos or the terrifying threes or the fearsome fours. Completely sane people rely on a plea of temporary insanity in order to avoid being punished for heinous crimes. People will lie in order to avoid owning up to a mistake, an error in judgment, a sin.
But, Paul candidly admits that he falls short of perfection. Paul candidly admits that try as he might, he just doesn’t do the good that he wants to do. In his frustration and confusion, Paul candidly admits that he sins by his own fault and that this sin is part of his life and he needs to be rescued from. Paul knows that he cannot save himself…he cannot save himself from doing those things he really wished he didn’t and he cannot save himself from the consequences he must bear for the wrong that he does do. So, he definitely cannot save him from himself. He needs a rescuer, a savior. He needs Jesus in his life. And, so do we!
We are a people who need the same rescue for we are a people who make mistakes. Some of those mistakes are calculated risks, some are oversights, some are poor choices. Some of the mistakes are blatant, some are carefully laid out, some are blunders, some are simply done without foreknowledge, some come from our misreading of what others do. But, no matter how the mistakes are made, we are people who sin…by what we do and by what we fail to do. And, the responsibility for these sins…for what is done and what is not done…does not rest outside of ourselves. We may be conditioned to believe that we have the power within us to make all the right choices, to accomplish all things, and to have and be everything we need. But, try as we might, we cannot win this spiritual war ourselves for we cannot free ourselves from sin. But, thanks be to God, for through Jesus Christ, we are rescued.
The resolution to the nature of our problem doesn’t come from within, but in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. No, Christ doesn’t wipe away the confusion, the temptations, the mistakes…but, through Christ we are offered forgiveness and new life.
Forgiveness is not easy to come by in this world. Too many people hold onto hurts and refuse to accept or listen to apologies. Too many people believe in a black and white world where right is right and wrong is wrong, and if you fall on the wrong side, well then you’re out of the picture. But then, there are also too many people who do not know that what they need to do most of all is to take responsibility for their actions, to acknowledge that they are not perfect, that they sin and do things both known and unknown that injure others. There are just too many excuses, too much casting of blame, too much holding onto the past and refusing to let go and hold onto the future awaiting us as children of God.
We are sons and daughters of God who have been given the gift of the law to guide us, and the spirit of God to drive us back to Jesus when we have erred. We are not a stagnant people who are afraid to venture out into the world for fear of making mistakes. But, we are an honest people who acknowledge our inner most struggles and our need for the Lord. Through Jesus Christ, we are a bold people who know that we have a safety net in the cross and in the Lord to rescue us when we find ourselves not doing what we want but doing the very things we hate.
So, we delight in the law of God…not fearing it or the consequences that we must bear for our failure to keep it…but, we delight in the law of God for it guides us in our dealings with others, indicts us when we fail, and send us to Jesus for our rescue, our renewal, and the strength we need to go out and try, try again. But try as we might, we, like Paul, will never get it perfectly right. But, thanks be to God that he has made it right for us through Jesus Christ.
So, go out into the world, my friends. Go out into this confusing world with boldness, trying to do that which is good. And when you find that try as you might that you have fallen short – run, don’t walk, to Christ. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.