Summary: Our High Priest Jesus has offered for all time one sacrifice for sins. This is the real Independence day. Christ has freed us from all sins, from death, and the power of the devil. If we reject this sacrifice there is no other cure for our disease of sin.
July 3, 2011 Pentacost 3A
The Real Independence Day
Grace mercy and peace from God the father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
The text for today is the Epistle lesson -- Paul’s letter to the Romans chapter 7:14-25a. Saint Peter commented about Paul’s letters (2 Peter 3:16b) when he said: ( Paul’s) letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. I believe that today’s lesson may be one of the letters that Peter had in mind when he penned these words. I am also aware of St James’ words concerning teachers:
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)
So with these caution flags in place let’s get into this text.
Who is Paul writing about here? It seems rather clear to me that he is describing his own struggle with sin. In the passage he clearly states: I am of the flesh, I do not understand my own actions, I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. These are all I statements. He is not standing above everyone, in his lofty pulpit, pointing his finger and saying You did, You are, You do not understand.
I believe he is talking about himself and we can be assured that the Holy Spirit can can point His finger and He can speak to us through these words of scripture.
Some have a hard time comprehending that Saint Paul is speaking of his struggle after he became a believer. Once again look at his words. I do, I Am, I do not do. These are in the present tense. This struggle is not something from his pre-Christian past. It does not say I did, I Was, I did not do. Paul is speaking about his struggle post conversion. As Luther said we are sinners and saints at the same time. We know God’s will and desire to serve Him ,but we can not overcome sin even when we try we fail. Our struggle is not a past event , it is a present reality. A analogy might be found in a description of kleptomania :
Kleptomania is an irresistible urge to steal items of trivial value. People with this disorder are compelled to steal things, generally, but not limited to, objects of little or no significant value, such as pens, paper clips, paper and tape. Some kleptomaniacs may not even be aware that they have committed the theft.
Kleptomania is distinguished from shoplifting or ordinary theft, as shoplifters and thieves generally steal for monetary value, or associated gains and usually display intent or premeditation, while kleptomaniacs are not necessarily contemplating the value of the items they steal or even the theft until they are compelled without motive.(Wikipedia)
In other words -- some of our sins are on automatic pilot………..
I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. -- This statement is made at thousands of twelve step programs that meet daily for people suffering from a wide range of addictive behaviors and substance addiction.
I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
Paul is careful not to tell us the nature of his sin and in honor of the Eighth Commandment ( You shall not give false testimony about your neighbor), I will not speculate about this here, and in the process, tarnish Paul’s reputation. My sanctified imagination tells me that Paul had a confessor or two and shared the details of his struggle within these confidential relationships. He did not give the gory details out to everyone.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran Pastor, martyred by the German Nazis, states in his book --“Life Together,” --- the following reality of congregational life: “He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the un devout, ---- as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is we are all sinners!”
Some seek comfort that their churches don’t provide and join self help groups so that they are not so alone in their sins. There is value in these programs but a person could be very sober yet very damned if their recovery is not Christ centered.