Summary: Deepening "whiles" become heightened "boasts". Weakness, sin, and enmity are our problems toward God. But in Christ there is help at the right time, conversion of consequences into positives, and sacrifical love for reconciliation.
“We have a problem here.” That phrase, in one form or another, runs through much of human history. We have a problem here. You know it, if you remember 1995, as almost what astronaut John Swigert said from Apollo 13. “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” Changed a little and immortalized by the film “Apollo 13” to, “Houston, we have a problem here” , it has been used as a tag line for countless difficult situations.
A scientist, worried about how our children do not measure up in math and science, wrote a stinging article, “America, we have a problem.” So an educator, thinking about why colleges are not doing their job, wrote an essay, “Harvard, we have a problem.” A computer guru, worrying about those video games so beloved of our children, titled his thoughts, “Sony, we have a problem.” But my personal favorite is a report handed to the Defense Department, “Halliburton, we still have a problem.” I say amen to that.
But last week, speaking of problems, I insisted that God is not a problem to be solved. God is a mystery with whom we are to live. I argued that God is not an equation to be worked out in mathematical precision; God is personal, one with whom we connect. And so last week we began thinking about basic things. We began an exploration I am calling “Prime Numbers” because, just as in mathematics, there are some things that are irreducible, so also in our Christian faith there are certain truths that are basic to everything else. Without our being on the same page about God the Creator and Christ and the Holy Spirit there isn’t much we can do together. But with an understanding of these things, we can build together toward what we are called to be.
And so, last week I asked you first to thank God. I asked you to place at the core of your being a grateful heart toward a God who has accomplished much through you, who has given you the gift of a diverse community, and who will give you victory. We said that the first thing we must do is to thank God and experience Him in His fullness.
But, Gaithersburg, we have a problem. We have a problem because you and I do not maintain grateful hearts, we do not continue in close relationship with the Father. We have a problem because we are frail, fatally flawed, and, most of all, because we turn our backs on the one who loves us most. We have a problem. Call it alienation, call it distance, call it rebellion, our issue is that we set ourselves over against our creator, and everything that we do is therefore out of kilter. Everything, unless somebody can fix it, is out of sorts. Gaithersburg – America – World – we have a problem here.
The Roman letter is chock full of theological vocabulary. The passage we are reading today is a good example. Words like reconciliation and justification, salvation, sin, and wrath, leap out at us. Maybe I can sharpen it up for you. Let me just take two words that are each repeated three times in this passage, and use these two words as a framework on which to proclaim the next prime number … after first thank God, second. A second chance in Christ.
The two key words are “while” and “boast”. “While” and “boast”. Each time these two words appear there is a deepening understanding of the problem we have; but there is also a heightened sense of the joy we can feel, for God has dealt with our problem. And the name of God’s answer to our profound human dilemma is Jesus Christ. Let’s find our key words, “while” and “boast”.
One way to describe our problem is to say that we are weak. One way to picture the human dilemma is to admit that we do not have the strength to do what we know we ought to do. Who will dispute that all of us, at one time or another, discover that we are weak? So Paul’s first “while” is “While we were weak ….”
Weaknesses. There are a thousand others, but I will confess to a weakness for sweet foods – pie and ice cream and pudding and all the rest. My wife and I recently traveled to Austria, and all during the flight over I fantasized about the fabled delights of the Viennese coffeehouses – Linzertorte and Sachertorte and all the rest. I even practiced a key German phrase so that I would be ready when it was time to order: “mit Schlag.” “Mit Schlag” means, “with whipped cream.” I knew that my bulging waistline suggested that I should say, “Nein” and not “Ja” to this delight, but I wanted it. I just plain wanted it. And got it, enduring disapproving glances from my wife (although, somehow, her fork kept creeping over toward my goodies for “just a bite.”). I did not resist; and after a while, I no longer even wanted to resist. Why? Because, in a word, I am weak.