Summary: Though we're born into this world in bondage to sin, we have freedom in Christ Jesus our Lord.
July 5, 2020
Hope Lutheran Church
Pastor Mary Erickson
Romans 7:15-25a; Matt. 11:16-19, 25-30
The Gift of Christ’s Freedom
Last week I came upon this prayer by Henri Nouwen. I share it now:
O Lord, who else or what else can I desire but you? You are my Lord, Lord of my heart, mind, and soul. You know me through and through. In and through you everything that is finds its origin and goal. You embrace all that exists and care for it with divine love and compassion. Why, then, do I keep expecting happiness and satisfaction outside of you? Why do I keep relating to you as one of my many relationships, instead of my only relationship, in which all other ones are grounded? Why do I keep looking for popularity, respect from others, success, acclaim, and sensual pleasures? Why, Lord, is it so hard for me to make you the only one? Why do I keep hesitating to surrender myself totally to you?
Help me, O Lord, to let my old self die, to let me die to the thousand big and small ways in which I am still building up my false self and trying to cling to my false desires. Let me be reborn in you and see through you the world in the right way, so that all my actions, words, and thoughts can become a hymn of praise to you. Amen.
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Yesterday we celebrated our nation’s independence. So it’s ironic that on this Independence Day weekend our appointed epistle reading should address our lack of independence!
In the reading from Romans, St. Paul addresses the difference between what he wants to do and what he ends up doing instead. “I don’t get it,” he says, “I wind up doing the very things I don’t want to do. Why can’t I stop myself? It’s like somebody else is in charge and not me!”
This passage today from Romans is nothing short of a fishing lure for Lutheran preachers. How can we not bite on this passage? It’s so totally Lutheran!
Luther wrote about what he called “the bondage of the will.” We like think we have free will. And we do have free will when it comes to certain things. We can choose what to wear. We can opt what we’re going to eat for breakfast. We can select what books to read, TV shows to watch. We can choose if we want to marry or who we want to marry.
There are so many things we can choose. But these are external things. When it comes to our inner core, it’s a different situation. Here we’ve been chained to something. We’ve been bound to the force of sin. And because of that we’re incapable of doing the very things we want to do. We know what’s good and right, but can we do that? No!
Oh, we know what pushes our buttons. We say, “I’m not going to complain when my son leaves his dirty clothes on the floor. I want to live a day without nagging.” But then you see the offending garment and POP! You blow your top.
Or you earnestly want to lose those Covid 19 pounds. You’re trying to be good. But the ice cream calleth every night at 8:30. And shouldn’t you enjoy a tasty treat after your hard day? And every night you set your alarm a half hour early so you can get up sooner to exercise. But then morning comes and you hit Snooze four times when the alarm goes off.
You cannot help it. You want to do the good thing, but you end up doing the very thing you hate.
In his letter to Romans, Paul expresses his inner frustration. He wants to be a better person. He knows what is good. But he’s been rendered incapable of choosing the right path. Paul comes to the conclusion, “Nothing good dwells within me! Nothing!”
That is the bondage of our will. It’s like we’re driving a car with everything wrong. The engine is misfiring. The wheels are out of alignment and pull terribly to the right. The brakes are soft and barely work. The car backfires when you accelerate and belches a plume of dark, stinky smoke. Trying to drive this jalopy is near impossible. When you want to go, it won’t go. When you want to stop, it won’t stop. When you want to go straight, it veers sideways.
This is the power of sin as it rages within us. Jesus pointed it out, too, in our gospel reading. He remarked, “When John the Baptist came among you abstaining and fasting, you said he was crazy. But when I eat and drink, then I’m a glutton and a drunkard!”