St. Jacob's (Spader), Trinity; July 9, 2017
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
This morning we encounter a great biblical confirmation of one of Martin Luther's tremendous insights about our life as both heirs of Adam and Eve and heirs of Jesus. In baptism we begin a walk where we start as forgiven sinners and Jesus is given once and for all to the one baptized. Luther explained baptism's significance competes with the continuing natural life and impulses of the baptized person. We are at one and the same time righteous in Jesus Christ and sinful in our own flesh. Luther said we were simul justus et peccator, justified and sinner at the same time.
Paul describes this beginning with the first sentence of the paragraph, verse 14, which precedes this morning's epistle lesson, "For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold unto slavery under sin." In verse 15 he gives it to us in direct to our experience, pleading language. "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." He goes on to confess "I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want I do." This man, who did as much as anyone to proclaim the Gospel in the Roman Empire and advising churches he established or encountered, speaks of his struggle with his redeemed and sinful natures.
Paul and Martin Luther describe what is true. We think things we do not want to think. We say things we do not want to say. We do things we do not want to do.
Several years ago I was chatting with someone about neighbors with annoying dogs that are left outside by their owners to bark the night away. He shared there were nights when he wished he had a clear view long distance sniper's perch. Not being into firearms like him, I shared Linda and I had had the same problem. On more than one occasion I said "I wish I had had a bobcat that I could toss over the fence. We thought and shared.
Christian people have acted on those impulses. When the media was targeting TV evangelists we would be made aware of how money sent was misused for building their own estates and those of friends and not reporting such earmarked non ministry funds as income. During those same years I remember the treasurer for the Episcopal Church embezzling. In more recent years we learned of the Roman Catholic Churches cover up of felony priest misconduct.
Left to Paul's lament it is easy to get down on ourselves. It is one result of seeing the law of sin is in control. No matter how hard I try I know I will mess up sometime today or during the week. A person can get so far down thoughts like "I do not deserve anyone caring about me" or "I cannot believe God puts up with me, much less loves me." We can forget Jesus as loving Savior and Teacher is with us. I think of Martin Luther trembling so much he was unable to distribute communion, because he was unworthy to handle the body and blood of Christ.
There is an even more destructive pole. Accepting the inevitability of sin it is easy to take on an amoral approach to life. The effect of one's words and actions on others becomes unimportant. I remember while on a chaplain internship at a juvenile detention facility listening to a 14 year old gang member excitedly describe a shoot out they were having with another gang in the parking lot outside a hospital emergency room. I quietly asked, "What about the people who came there to see a doctor?" He stopped his tale. I could see that was something he had not thought about.
The Good News is the same Paul shares the answer to sin rearing itself in our thoughts, words, and behavior. "Who will rescue me form this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" He writes this in full awareness of his dilemma. Verse 25 ends with the sentence "So then with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin." What is most important is Jesus who gives salvation and assists in getting back on God's paths for us.
Paul knows he still sins. Paul knows what Jesus has done for him and how far Jesus has brought him. Paul will be short and impatient with people at times. Jesus does not say to him "My love is withdrawn." Rather can see Jesus has brought on big changes. Paul is no longer a persecutor of Christians, he does not persecute anybody. He complains but he takes life's slings and arrows well. The bottom line for Paul is Jesus continues with him in all things.
Last week I shared how Jesus broke into a funk I had at synod assembly not receiving reports I requested and a correct entry in the directory of pastors, even though I did what I was asked to do to make those things happen. Irritation gave way to lines from the hymn "Blessed Assurance" and rest and reorientation followed. I experienced I still sin but redemption operates more.
Hear the great news. Although we do not understand what we are doing, and even find ourselves thinking and doing things we know to be wrong but cannot seem to put a halt to it, Jesus is looking even deeper to who and what God is calling us to be and do. Sometimes Jesus knocks us between the eyes to get our attention as he did when Paul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christians who had moved from Judea to Syria and reestablished themselves there. Sometimes he breaks into a negative cycle with a gentle awareness he is there to help as he did a month ago for me.
It makes perfect sense that Martin Luther confidently wrote in his Preface to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, about the ultimate dominance of the spirit over the flesh. Paul "comforts these fighters, telling them that the flesh does not condemn them. He shows further what the nature of the flesh and spirit is, and how the Spirit comes from Christ. Christ has given us his Holy Spirit; he makes us spiritual and subdues the flesh, and assures as that we are still God's children, however hard sin may rage within us, so long as we follow the spirit and resist sin to slay it....He (Jesus) comforts us in suffering with the support of the Spirit of love, and of the whole creation(.)"
So as fellow strugglers with people who have gone before us such as Paul and Martin Luther, go in peace knowing that the love and power of Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit is over, under and within our internal struggles with sinning and will see us to God's best for us. Amen.