Sunday, July 24, 2011

Romans 8:26-39 - God On Our Side

Romans 8:26-39

Thus far Paul has let us know that we can be free in Christ, free from the slavery to sin, free from the inability we have to live the way we were created to live, but instead we are adopted children of God, belonging to God, and belonging to God’s family. We are not just saved from slavery to sin, but we are saved into a family, into a community, a loving caring family in which all of us have the position of privilege. We are not just all in the family, but we are all first born sons, co-heirs with Christ, all receiving the greatest portion, the full inheritance, the best that God has to offer. In this family no one is second, no one gets the cast offs or hand me downs. We are all first, we are all the favorite. We are together, we are united and we all receive all the privileges in God’s family.

The thing about being apart of a family is that we all belong and we all belong together. Being apart of a family is a wonderful thing. First of all it means we are not alone. It also means that we have others to help and support us. (It also means that we have someone to poke us continually until we want to scream and break their neck on long car rides but that is beside the point) Nothing makes my children happier than when we are walking down the street and we all hold each others hands, a string of four people all joined together, for them this is the essence of being family. It is when we are so obviously linked together like this, that they feel that we are truly a family.

As members of the family of God we all belong together. We are joined together and together we are who we truly are. We are children, brothers and sisters all apart of those who belong and to and are joined together with God.
As members of this family we have God as our parent, as our father, working on our behalf, striving on our behalf. God is not just about being up in Heaven being all holy and Godlike, creating the universe, keeping the cosmic laws in place and all that, God is at work on our behalf, on behalf the family of God, the children of God. God saved us not merely from sin, but saved us unto God’s-self, into a body, a community of those that belong to and are apart of the family, we are saved from the loneliness and self destruction of our lives apart from God into God’s family, in to THIS community, we are saved into relationship with God and with each other.

Because God has called unto God’s-self a community a family, God works for that family. Paul begins by explaining to us that although we as the people of God don’t always know what to pray for that because we are apart of this community and the Spirit knows that our deepest desire is truly for what God wants, for God’s greatest desires, that even when we are at a loss, and are not even sure what it means to align our will with the will of God, because lets face it most of the time we don’t know what is God’s best, the Spirit will take the core of our desire which if for God, for God’s best, to be aligned with all that God wants and desires not only for us as individuals, but for us as God’s Church and also for all creation, and the Spirit will speak on our behalf. The Spirit will speak in sighs too deep for words in groans that words cannot express. We are told elsewhere the all creation is groaning for redemption, groaning for all things to be set right. The Spirit joins in that groaning and deep sighing speaking on our behalf for God’s will, for all things to be set right.

The Church may not always know what being set right is, what being the people, the faith community, the body God knows we can be is. The Church may not always know what is God’s best for us. We may not always know exactly what the will of God entails or where it will take us, but even when we don’t know, even when we don’t know what to pray for or how to pray the Spirit of God, knowing that our deepest desire is to be the people of God we are called to be, to be the people of God, God envisions us to be, that our hearts longing is to live, act, move and be who we were created to be, will then pick up where we fail, pick up where our knowledge and our abilities fall short and pray for what we don’t even know how to pray for.

But that is not all there is, (at this point I almost feel like a car salesman) not only are we apart of the family, growing and moving together in relationship not only God but with each other, not only do we all have the rights and privileges of first born sons, all have the place of honor, not only does the Spirit of God step in and express our hearts deepest longing for all that it means to be truly shaped, formed and made over by the will of God but God will also step in and intervene on our behalf. God is working on behalf of this family, on behalf of the Church. God did not call us into this family and ask the children to fend for themselves. We are apart of a loving family with a loving father who works on our behalf, who does not self-servingly strive for merely that which benefit his life and his plans but we have a father who lives and seeks what is good for the family, who works and strives on OUR behalf, working to make all things work together for the good of us all, so that Church, the family of God can be who we are called to be, who God saved us to be.

God called the church into existence. It for the church that Christ died. It was the Church, the family, the children of God whom God envisioned and destined to exist from the beginning. God works and strives for the good of the Kingdom and in Paul that means that God works and strives for the good of all those who are children, for this family God has called into existence for the Church. Let me tell you folks, no matter how bad it looks. No matter how hostile our culture seems to be to the truth of the Gospel, no matter how many poor representations of God and what it means to belong to God prevail in our society, the Church, God’s church will never fail. God is continually at work, for the betterment for the good of those, those that gather and worship, for those who love one another and are marked by the love of the Lord God. No matter what is going on. No matter how bleak the future may look from the limited vantage point we have here, God will not let God’s church fail. God is always working on behalf of the family, for the children of God, for the Church, not just this Church but for THE CHURCH as it exists in all its congregations, bodies and forms all over the world. God is at work, the Church will not fail!

Nothing can stand against God’s Church and ultimately win. As long as we are God’s living, working and striving together to be the people, the Church God is calling us to be, as long as we are children of the most high, then God nothing can work against us will succeed. It is actually not so much that nothing can come against us, because believe me things do. But it is more that it does not matter what comes against us, because God is at work on our behalf, strengthening, teaching and guiding down the paths that she should go. God is at work on behalf of God’s family and God’s children and God will assure that his family will not be destroyed.
This does not mean that things cannot and do not move to work against God’s Church. Because believe me they do. But many of them do not come in the form we expect. The things that come against God’s church tend to not so much be people or outside institutions trying to destroy the church from the outside, but tend to be more subversive than that, the things that destroy churches are things like apathy, despair, despondency, distraction, a general feeling and attitude of hopelessness. These are the things that can threaten to tear a body of believers apart. These are the things that come against The Church. But it does not matter. No matter what comes against The Church, no matter what threatens to dismantle a community of faith God is still there at work. And if we are working together to love God and neighbor, willing to align our actions, our will, our desires with those of God, it is not so much that nothing can come against us, because things will. Things will come against this particular body of believers, but it won’t matter, because nothing can win when we align ourselves with God. God is working with us, for us, on our behalf, so that in truth nothing can succeed should it try to dismantle God’s church, God’s body, God’s community.

Nothing can separate God’s children, God’s beloved, God’s Church from God. We are a family and a family is always a family and like any true family nothing can really dissolve a family. A family can ignore each other, a family can feud, they can fight, they can move to the corners of the earth to get away from each other, but they are still a family, a dysfunctional family but a family none-the-less.
There are four children in the family I grew up in, four sisters, who grew up together. Let me tell you we drove each other crazy, and sometimes still do. We fought, we bickered, we called each other names and there were times in which we wished we could just be rid of each other, but through it all we are still a family. We have all grown up now and have all started our own families. We have all gone our separate ways. The two younger ones have set up house and home with in 10 miles of my parents house in Maryland but us two older sisters have wandered far and wide, my elder sister has live as close to my parents as North Carolina, but now lives in Utah, having lived for nearly a decade in Phoenix, Arizona in between. After having graduating from ENC I have lived in Kansas City, in a small town outside of Wichita, KS and now here. But no matter how far apart we live, or how close, we are all still a family. And nothing or nobody can take that from us.
With God is it is similar, but as with all things when it comes to God, so much better. Nothing can remove us from God’s family. As the family of God, as the body of believers, the community of faith, things may be difficult, we may become distressed by circumstances in the world around us, the world may rise up against us, we may loose everything that we hold valuable, we may be in danger, or threatened with death, there may be wars waged all around us, we may be separated by height or depth or distance, but none of these things can separate us from God. This is a family that can not be apart due to distance, this is not a family that can be torn apart by the actions of anyone from the outside. God’s family is united, joined together, sharing life, living in relationship with God and with each other. God is on our side, because we are united with God and with one another. WE are not called to be united with God and remain alone, it is not Jesus and me all the way to Heaven, we are each called out of our lives of sin and loneliness, out of being orphaned in our distorted, shadowy lives lived apart from God, love and community and we are saved into a family, saved into relationship, saved to be together. Part of living the way we were created to live, being who we are created to be is living in holy relationship, not just holy relationship with God (which is important) in relationship with one another, in relationship with the Body, with a community of faith, we were called to BE the CHURCH, to be God’s children together, no longer orphaned in our sin but united as a family.

The fact of the matter is that not only does God call each and everyone of us to be children of God, to love God and to love others, but we are called not only into relationship with the most holy God of the universe, but we are called to be in relationship with one another. We are called to be the Church working together, striving together, loving God together and loving this world, this city, this neighborhood together.

The truth of the matter is that God called US, The Cambridge Church of the Nazarene into existence and God called us to living in holy community with one another, living and loving and being the people of God, the children of God, the Church together, in this place, at this time. We are God’s church, we are God’s people. But it is more than that, God did not call us and leave us, God did not call us and the expect us to do this on our own, God called us and told us that as long as we are striving for God’s best, seeking the will of God in all things, even when we are uncertain, even when we do not know what it is God is calling us to, or who it is we need to be, as long as we are aligning our will with God’s and truly desire God’s desires for us as a community, then the Spirit of God will speak on our behalf, praying the things, that we don’t even know how to pray. And God, God, is working and striving on our behalf, and will not allow any force to dismantle the Church, the family God has called into existence. If we are truly being the Church God is calling us to be, allowing God to call us into existence, allowing God to make us the family that God envisions us to be, doing the work and the ministry God has called us to, God will not allow the distance between us, the struggles, the quarrels, the differing opinions we have, our own sense of despondency or despair, to tear us apart. We are united as a family we are God’s family and God will work to draw us together and move the work and ministry God has called us to forward. The future we have here in this place is one of unity and purpose, we merely need to join with God and be the people of God the children of God, the united family, God is calling us to be, together.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Romans 8:12-25 - Not Debtors but First Born Sons

Romans 8:12-25

Paul wants us to know that our new lives in Christ are not in any way indebted to our old lives. We do not owe sin or sins power over our lives anything. That way of life may have seemed to work for us for a while but now we can leave all that behind and never look back. We are free to forget, free to simply walk away, wash our hands of that way of life and move on the greater things, which God has in store for us. We owe nothing to the lives we lived in to our former life; the life we lived apart from God, to who we were when we were living in ways contrary to which we were created to be and how we were created to live. We owe nothing to our former way of life. We are not in debt to the life that we once led or the life we would have led if we had not come to know Christ. We owe nothing to sin. It holds nothing over us. There is nothing in us that belongs to sin. We owe nothing to it, and therefore should not let it have a say or place in our lives.

At this particular time in history if a person was hard up. If they could simply not make ends meet, or if they had some how accrued debts they could not pay, a person had the option of selling themselves into slavery. They would form a contract with the person with whom they would serve as a slave, which would mark out the amount of time that the person would be enslaved and the amount of money that would be given to the person for serving as a slave. The money was given to you; you could pay off your debts or do whatever you needed to do with it and then you would work off that money by serving as a slave for the allotted amount of time. Now someone could come and buy you out of slavery; that is pay your master the amount of money of the time you still had remaining on your contract.

One of the metaphors which Paul likes to use is the metaphor of being enslaved to sin. We had a contract to be enslaved to sin and Christ came and paid off our contract. He paid whatever needed to be paid so that we could be free, so that we would no long owe our sin master anything. When Christ “bought” us out of slavery he did not leave any debt behind for us to pay off. There is nothing that that part of our lives can cling to in us. No part of us continues to belong to it.
We owe nothing to sin. Paul wants to be perfectly clear we are free from our old master, sin. We are not in any way at all indebted to sin. We owe nothing to that way of life – it did not thing good for us. Sin was not a good or kind master. It did not bring us joy or happiness. It did not help us to be better people. It did not thing that bettered us in this world. It was a way that lead to nothing but death and destruction. We owe it nothing, it did nothing to help us or improve us. In fact all it did was enslave us and bind us to live half-lives, shadow live, less-than live. Lives that were so much less than they could be or should be. It robbed us of living the way that we were created to live. It took everything and gave back nothing. We owe nothing to that way of life.

The Spirit lives within us; this is what we were talking about last week. The Spirit has swept out the “deep dwelling sin,” no part of it is left; nothing in us belongs to it any longer. It has no place in our lives and in our lives there is no place for it. The Spirit has come and taken up house and dwells deep within us; cleansing us from the inside out; remaking us into Christ image from within. It is because of the Spirit’s presence in our lives that we know that we are God’s children. Not only has the Spirit come in and taken up residence within us but in doing so we have been marked as God’s children.

The inhabitation of the Spirit is what makes us not only God’s own, slaves of a new, master but more than mere slaves, so much more. We are children. God has adopted us as God’s own. God has given us God’s name. God has made us children. We are adopted children that have all the rights and privileges of birthed children. Adopted Children are to be treated just like birthed Children. Once adopted a child is just as much a child in the family as any other child in that family and unless the family makes it known, no one from the outside would even know that the child was once, not a child. They are true children in every sense of the word!
Look at this picture. This is a picture of a family with both adopted and biological children, but you would not know it by looking at the picture. I am actually friends with this family and I can tell you that when you see them interact with their four children you would not know which ones are biological and which ones are adopted. They love all their children equally and they treat all their children with the same love and respect. It is as if all the children were biological children, but it is more than that, they are simply all their children, loved cared for, nurtured and disciplined. This is what it is like to be adopted into God’s family. Although we are adopted into God’s family we are true children nothing more nothing less.
We are true children of God. Belonging to God and belonging to God’s family. Not just slaves, not just servants, or unwanted distant relatives, but children, true legitimate children of the most high God. But not just merely children, not just merely sons and daughters, we are all first born sons.

In the ancient world not all children were seen as equal. First born sons held the position of honor. They inherited a double portion of everything that the family owned. They also became head of the family when the father passed on. Second and other sons did not get as much; the younger sons would always be under the rule and authority of the oldest son. They would always be second (or third or fourth best) when it came to the family hierarchy. And daughters, well, all they were good for was marrying off and making alliances with other clans and families. They were little more than property to be bartered and traded to make peace with the neighbors. We are not just merely second sons and daughters, but we are all first born sons! We are Co-heirs with Christ we inherit what the first born son inherits. We hold the place of honor in the family, we are not second or third, we all are number one!
We are children, and such children we are able to call God, “Abba Father.” The cry of “abba Father” means something to the affect of Daddy. It was a loving term. It was something you only called your Father if you were really close to him. It is a term of endearment that a dearly loved child calls their Father. Early Christians would begin their prayers and petitions to God with theses words, naming God as their dearly beloved father before they began. Even before Paul penned these words, the church was already acknowledging the place that they held as God’s children and the place that he held as their Father. The glory of being able to cry "Abba Father," to call God our dear Daddy, is that God is all that a father (or parent) should be. God is kind, caring, loving, just, and merciful in all aspects of our lives. God nurtures us, guides us and teaches us along life’s journey. God raises us as a loving father raising his children with kind nurture and love. God raises us up to be the strong people that God created us to be. God raises up to be the people that God knows we CAN be. God raises us up in the ways that we should go, by guiding us, directing us, teaching us and speaking kindly to us even when we are choosing to go in ways contrary to those God would have us go.

The Father metaphor we find here and in most of the New Testament is an echo of the Mother of the Old Testament. Where the New Testament uses mainly fatherly metaphors when speaking of God, the Old Testament mainly uses Mother metaphors. In the Old Testament it is God who protects and shelters, just as a mother bird protects her young under her wings. God nurtures us and feeds us, helping us grow strong just as a mother feeds her children and nurturing them and drawing them to her bosom. God comforts us, just a mother comforts her small children in her loving arms, drawing them close, wiping away the tears of fear or sadness. God is the ultimate parent.a
The Bible makes clear that that the God the “Father” is everything that an earthly parent should be and is everything that too many earthly parents are not. God our father is every girl's dream, the one who holds her, protects her, walks her down the isle with a tear in his eye because he is proud of who she is and who she is becoming. God the father is every young man's "idol," he is the strength in the tough times that hold him up, is guiding and leading when advice is needed, he knows all the answers to all the tough questions about girls and proudly hugs him and tells him how proud He is of the man that he is has become.

We are sons are sons and daughters. And all are treated as first born sons! Hallelujah! We are joint heirs with Christ. Not second sons, not "mere girls" but all first born sons, with the rights and privileges to inherit all that our Father has for us. This means we don’t get hand-me downs. We don’t get the leftovers, we all inherit it all. This sounds impossible. The inheritance of God is an inheritance that can't be divided up, split, or parceled out. It is an inheritance that must be received in it fullness and completeness. We all inherit the fullness of God’s inheritance!

But the question then is, “What do we inherit?” We inherit full life, right life, life the way is should be. Life the way that it truly could be. A hope for a not only a life that could be but a world that could be. We get everything that God has to offer, everything God hoped for us when God brought us into existence. We get a relationship with the one who made us, who made all that is. We get to be loved; we get to live up to our full potential. We get to live life as it should be lived, as it was meant to be lived, as we were created to live it. We get to live now and all eternity in Holy Communion, perfect relationship with God. Folks I don’t know if it gets much better that!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Romans 8:1-11- The Indwelling

Romans 8:1-11

We are now officially halfway through the book of Romans. Paul has thus far teased us with his theology bringing us to a certain point in his way of understanding the state of human beings and then starting over and bringing us to the same point using slightly different logic. Everything he has been saying thus far in the book brings us to the “therefore” her at the beginning of chapter 8. Paul has been slowing teaching us what it means to live by faith and how it is that we on our own can not live the way we were created to live but that it is faith alone which brings us into relationship with God and allows us to live right, good lives, which reflect the love of God in this world. Paul has shown us that we can not earn God’s favor, that we can never be “good enough” but that God’s love and God’s favor is given freely to all those who choose to accept God’s love.

Then in chapter seven he commiserated with us over the struggle we all have with sin in our lives, how even when we are trying to do the things of God, sin is there. Even when were doing everything within our power to move in Godly ways, we find that sin is at hand. Even as Christians we are continually at war with ourselves, with the sin that dwells deep within that moves us in ways that we do not wish to go.
Before I move on, I thought I should share something with you, which may or may not come as a surprise to you, the divisions between chapters in the Bible are all artificial, the original writers did not put them there. Paul did not put a division between the last sentence in chapter 7 and the first verse in chapter 8. They were put there later so that, no matter what translation or language from which we read, we are all able to generally find the same spot in our Biblical texts. Paul did not put a break between chapters 7 and chapter 8, he just kept on going it was all part of the same thought. There was not even a pause between last week’s verses and this week’s verses in Paul’s writings. So I many ways the division between last week’s sermon and this week’s sermon is just as arbitrary. Just as Paul has continued to build from one thought to the next in spite of the chapter divisions, that were put in later on so we can all be on the same page, so to speak, I am building from sermon to sermon, because I am building on Paul, and what he has been saying.

So as we look at this passage we should see it all in light of that last few lines in chapter 7 toward the end of last week’s passage Paul said, ". . . Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" The text moves from thanking God for the fact that Jesus Christ rescues us from the struggle against sin that we all face as Christians and then telling us that we are either Slaves to God, or slaves of sin, and then moves to “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (and I could seriously stop there and preach 40 minutes just on that line alone)

Although sin is at work within us making our best efforts at living right and good live fail, we are set free from the law of sin and evil in our lives! There is no condemnation not because God over looks the struggle that Christians face with their “fleshy” selves but because, Thanks be to God we are rescued from this body, given over to sin and death, by Christ Jesus. God has done what the law, weakened by OUR sinfulness, could not do, which is rescue us from ourselves! God rescues us from our own sin, from the sin that dwells deep within us, moves us, motivates us and drives us in directions that are far from God and far from the people we were created to be.

Quick side note: When Paul speaks of the “flesh” here in this passage he is not trying to tell us that our bodies are evil or in and of themselves somehow contrary to God. He is not trying to tell us that all things material, physical things are evil and only spiritual, immaterial things are good and holy. For Paul the body in and of itself is neutral, physical things in and of themselves are neutral. They were all created to be good, but due to sin and evil and its workings in this world all things can be used in ways that are contrary to what they were created to be. When we live contrary to the ways God created us to live and are living lives ruled by sin and sin’s selfishness then we are living lives of the “flesh” as Paul uses the word here. So our bodies and this physical world are not necessarily used in “fleshy” ways but when they are moved and powered by sin they can be used and lived according to the flesh, as Paul would put it.

The Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, has set us free, rescued us, from this struggle, from this battle with ourselves, from the battle that all us have, even as Christians, with the sin that dwells deep with in us. We first need to remember, nothing that we can do, not even our faith can change the sin that dwells with in us. There is only one thing can change the sin that dwells deep with in each and every one of us; there is only one thing can rescue us from the battle that we fight with ourselves, and the sin that constantly pulls us in directions that we do not desire to go; only the Spirit, the Spirit of God, dwelling deep within, removing that deep dwelling sin and replacing it; living within us in sin’s stead, moving us, changing us, purifying us, making us clean from the inside out! holy!

Those that live according to the Spirit set their mind on the Spirit. We cannot live life “according to the Spirit”, that is living in ways that wholly glorify God; ways that reflect God’s goodness and greatness to the world around us, on our own. Our minds must be set on the Spirit, we must allow the Spirit to live within us, we must allow the spirit to have full reign in our lives, we cannot hold anything back for ourselves, because in that one little piece the deep dwelling sin will flourish and prosper – we cannot live according to the Spirit unless our minds are set on the Spirit. We cannot because WE are unable to do these things ourselves, only the Spirit can do them; we can only do them when the Spirit is working these, Godly Life, miracles within us. We cannot will ourselves to be changed. We cannot move ourselves wholly and completely in the ways of God. Our faith is not enough to change us fully and completely. The spirit must be within, the Spirit must be allowed to move in and keep house, to sweep out all that is impure and unholy and replace it with the holy and, pure things of God.

Living life this way is life and peace; life, because sin is death, plain and simple. Life, because living a life of sin is living a half-life, a shadow life, living but a dim reflection of the life you were created to live, a broken mess of the life that you could live and were meant to live. Peace, because only then the battle that we have with ourselves due to the sin, that dwells deep within each of us, is over. The sin is removed, swept out, eradicated, completely and absolutely demolished by the Spirit. Through the Spirit of God we are able to do what we are unable to otherwise do. Live the way we were created to live, meant to live, live the way we truly desire to live, free of selfishness and sin, free of serving ourselves and our own desires, free to live lives of love, receiving God’s love freely and giving that love in return.

Paul tells us that "But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit." He a way he is saying this to remind us to who we are. Paul is speaking, the Church of Rome, which was one of the larger and more established churches in the early church. He is not preaching in the marketplace in a pagan city, speaking to people outside the Church, who have little understanding of who Jesus is and the call the love of God has on our lives. Paul is speaking to Christians, to people who know and have faith in Jesus Christ; Paul is speaking to people Just. Like. Us. He is not speaking to people who don’t know who Jesus is, he is speaking to the people of the Church, (us). He is reminding them (and us) who we are. We are not of the flesh, no we are of the Spirit. That is, as the people, who make up the Church we should not simply be people of faith; we should not be people who are fleshy, being controlled by the sin that dwells within, we should be people of the Spirit who are controlled by the Spirit of the Lord God who is Jesus Christ. This is who God is calling us all to be, this is who God is calling the Church to be, because this is who we really are, and if we are not then, they are not living the lives of the people who follow Jesus Christ, as people who accept, live and reflect the love of God in this world, we are not living lives of the people of the Church! The Spirit living with in should be changes us, remakes us, recreates us, to be people that live, breath and reflect God, God’s holiness and God’s righteousness, in all that we say, in all that we do, in every crook and cranny of our lives (this is exciting stuff people!)

Being dead to sin is POSSIBLE because the Spirit dwells within. The Spirit within is what allows us to be righteous. The Spirit within makes it possible to live lives that are dead to sin and the havoc and destruction that sin can bring to our lives. It is possible to live HOLY lives that are not bound by the struggle and the battle with sin that that rages within. We do not have to do what we do not want to do. Sin does not have to be at hand even when we are trying to do good. But it means giving it all up, laying it all on the line, making your self fully God’s. It means allowing God’s Spirit to take up residency within your life. It means giving God control of every part of your being, every part of your life, every part of every thing that you do, today, tomorrow, and for always; giving up your hopes, your dreams; giving up control and allowing the Spirit, the love of God to have control. It means trusting God implicitly in all things, at all times, with everything; everything that you can think of and everything that is beyond your thinking, with everything that you know and everything you don’t know. It means giving up, surrendering the battle.

This is about stopping fighting a battle that cannot be won, and allowing Jesus Christ to win the battle for you. It is not your battle to win! Who will rescue me form this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! It is a battle that can only be won by Jesus Christ himself, and the results of that battle can only come to fruition in our lives through the work of the Spirit. This is about living the way that God is calling us to live; this is about being the people of God that we can be, being the people of God that we should be. This is about giving God everything, absolutely everything, even the things we feel entitled to, even the things that we don’t want to let go of, even the things that we wish we could hide from him. Giving God everything, allowing Christ to win the battle with the deep dwelling sin and allowing the Spirit to live there instead, allowing the Spirit to remake us, reshape us recreated us into holy, Godly people, from the inside out.
It is about ALLOWING God to do it all, about giving up, throwing in the towel, acknowledge that we are helpless and weak (like Paul told us we were in chapter five) and allowing God to move in our lives in ways that we have never allowed him to move before. Give it up, resign the battle, wave the white flag and let God have the control that you have been fighting for.

We are rescued (saved it you will) by Jesus Christ, through his life, death and resurrection. We are rescued because the Spirit of the one who lived, died and rose again dwells within us. We are able to have the love of God with in us, moving us and motivating us instead of sin. We are saved from living the life that is described in the first part of the chapter 7. This is the life that we begin to live as believers but God has something better for us. God does not desire for us to live that way.

THERE IS A BETTER WAY TO LIVE. We do not have to live in that kind of constant struggle with sin. There is a rescuer. There is a redeemer, a savior. There is life in the Spirit. There is life with the person of Jesus Christ living with in us, changing us, remaking us, from the inside out, into the people he wants us to be. The battle with sin is not our battle to fight. It is a battle that Christ rescues us from. The wonderful thing about Holy living is that it is a life lived purposefully, passively. A life lived in such a way that we allow the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ to live in us and through us. We give him our hopes, our dreams, our futures and allow him to move us in the ways that he desires us to move. It is freedom from the battle because we lay down arms and surrender to the only one who can win this battle, for it is a battle that is already won.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Romans 7:14-25 - Doing what we want to do.

Romans 7:14-25

I had the opportunity to do several fun things with my family this week. The first thing we did was go to the beach, usually we travel up the coast out to Nahant where there is a quiet beach full of tide pools and other little wonders, but we decided not to take the extra 10-15 minutes and choose instead to go to the closer Revere Beach. It was a 90-degree day and up to the beach we went to fend off the heat. As we approached we noted that the water was a funny reddish color but did not think much of it. We unloaded the car, staked out our little claim on the beach and let the girls run free in the waves. After some time Mike and I ventured down to the water’s edge where Stella convinced me to wade in with her so she could go jump waves (something they are not allowed to do without an Adult) as soon as I got in the water the reason for the odd coloration to the water became readily apparent, the water was thick with this red sea weed. It was like wading in soup with red noodles. The girls did not seem to care one way or the other about the seaweed but I did not like the way the seaweed in the water felt. I tried to stay in the water with Stella so she could enjoy wave jumping on our beach day, but my distaste for the feeling of weird red seaweed all around me won out and took her back in after only a few minutes. I wanted to stay in the water with her, I truly did, but I just could not bring myself to do it.

Later this week, we met another family at the Frog Pond on the Boston Common and let our children play together while their mother; Mike and I caught up on each other’s lives and talked. We had arrived early and were there when they first opened the pond up for wading, they did so by reminding us all of the rules. No carrying of children or adults while in the water, no running in the water, no horseplay and absolutely no food or drinks in the water. Now all these rules make sense to me and seem to be fairly self explanatory from a safety stand point, but when she said, “absolutely no food or drinks in the water” I had the over whelming desire to just toss the little blueberry which I was just about ready to pop into my mouth into the water. I don’t know why, even though I knew it was wrong and would never have thought of doing so otherwise, I still had to squelch the overwhelming desire to just (flick) that blueberry in, just to be contrary, just because she told me not to.
Paul has managed to put into words the struggle in which we daily live, individually and collectively. There are things we want to do that we know we shouldn’t do and there are things we should do that we simply don’t do. My desire was to stay in that water with my daughter, to let her happily play in the waves, lifting her up as each wave came rushing over us so that she could “jump” them, but the feeling of all that sea weed in the water, it was just . . .I don’t know, I just could not do it. Thankfully Stella was understanding but as with so many other things in life. I just could not manage to do what I know I should do, my desire was to allow my daughter to have the best possible wave jumping experience but I could not do it. I stopped myself from doing what I wanted to do and what I wanted to do was good. At least the better part of me won out in the blueberry battle. My children and I were not unceremoniously tossed out of the Frog Pond due to my lack of restraint. But it does not change the fact that my first gut reaction was to just toss that blueberry into the water.

We live daily having to stop ourselves from doing things we know we should not do, and telling ourselves to do things we know we should, whether it be not running that red light, or yelling choice words at that car that nearly ran us over while we were in the cross walk. Whether it be eating more fiber or stopping and helping out that woman who just dropped her bag of groceries all over the sidewalk even though we are in a hurry. We are constantly at war with ourselves to do the things we know we should do and not do the things we know we should not do.

In this passage Paul lays out, in the most confusing way he can possibly do, the weakness that we all experience in our lives, the struggle we humans daily live, the hopelessness our efforts find when we strive to live the way we know we should. As Christians we try to live the way God calls us to live. We desire to be kind to other people. We want live in ways that would glorify God. We try daily to love God with all our beings and to love others with the love God gives to us. But when we are honest with ourselves, when we look at ourselves in the mirror and really see the person we see there, we know that we fail, time and time again. It seems there is nothing to be done, we do not do what we want to do and we do do what we hate. We desire to live one way but we continually find the details of our lives show that we live an entirely different way.

We are hopeless, at every turn, no matter how strong our effort we fail. We know God’s way is good, we know God’s call on our lives is to be holy. We know that we should treat everyone we meet with kindness. We know that we really should not yell at our children or our neighbors. We know that we should reach out and help those around us whom we see are struggling. We know that we should not speak sharply to those whom we love most, even if they deserve it, even if we know we are right and they are wrong.

These are the lessons of kindergarten, respect others, use kind words, wait your turn, keep your hands to yourself, don’t run and always take a nap after lunchtime. We learned these lessons when we were but 5 or 6 but although we know them we do not know how to live them, how to continually act in ways that are kind and respectful to others. We can’t seem to keep our voices and tempers under control. Perhaps we know how to keep our hands to ourselves, most of the time, but we still can’t seem to stop our hurtful or angry words from reaching out and slapping our loved ones and strangers alike.

We know that there are 101 little things that we could have, should have done in each day that would have better reflected the love of God in this world. There are another couple dozen things that perhaps we should not have done, or said that we choose not to do because we were too busy, did not have the time, or simply did not care enough to make the effort it would have taken to do them. We might have been able to justify our actions, words or lack thereof at the time, but if we looked ourselves in the mirror or took the time to look into the face of God, we would know that our excuses and detailed logical reasoning would fall short and would be weak to say the least.

In many ways Paul knows you. He knows your daily struggles, because your struggles are the same struggles Paul faced, they are the same struggles I face, they are the same struggles we all face. Our desire to do what we want to do, to please ourselves and ourselves alone; our constant ability to not live up to our best intentions, our failure to be kind in the face of evil, to speak words of peace in the face of violence, to love those who hate, or to simply just not verbally snap the head off of those whom you love most when you are annoyed with them (or perhaps annoyed something or someone else entirely), this is the reality of sin in our lives. This is the power of evil at work in us, at work in our lives, at work in the very fabric of our world. We live in this reality. We want to live right and good lives, but we continually find that we live more like pigs. We try very hard to not be but we continually find ourselves right back where we are trying to not be.

Sin/evil is a very powerful force indeed. At our core we are selfish, at our core we are angry and self-righteous at our core our desire is for ourselves, what will make us happy, what will feel good to us, we do what will best fulfill our wants and desires, we use other people to fulfill our own ends, we walk through this world thinking of little more than us and our own pleasure. This is who we are when left to our own devises. When we work hard to not live this way, when we struggle and desire to put others needs ahead of our own desires, when we try to act kindly in all things, love others and speak gently we find that we fail at every turn each and every day. Our efforts are useless they are worthless. No matter how often we try to love others, to act kindly to others in all things we find that it is always easier to love ourselves and to act in selfish ways.

Paul says this is who we are in our sinful selves. This is who we are as long as evil runs rampant in this world. This is the reality of life here in a fallen broken world that is but a poor reflection of what it was created to be. This is the reality of our shattered splintered lives. This is who we are when we are living but a shadow of the lives we were created to live.

This may be the reality of our life, but the truth of the matter is, this is not the way we were created to live. Although this is the best we can do in our own efforts. We will find that our own efforts will always fail. Our wanting to live right is not good enough. Our desire to live right is not good enough. Trying to live right is not good enough. Our wanting, our desires, our feeble attempts will always fail.
At end of the passage Paul in his own way asks, “Is there any hope?” “Will anyone rescue me, wretched man than I am?” he says. And the answer, thank God, is YES! There is hope someone will rescue us. There is more to life than failing at being who we know we can be. There is more to life than falling short of living the way God calls us to live. We can love God and neighbor. We can not yell at our loved ones, we can stop doing all those things we try not to do and manage to do all the things we know we should. But we can’t rescue ourselves; we can’t succeed on our own. We can succeed because of Jesus Christ. We cannot overcome the power that sin’s selfishness has over our lives on our own but through the power of Jesus Christ, because Jesus shows us the way, we are able to live the way we are called to live. We are able to succeed where we once failed. With Jesus Christ we can do what could not do otherwise and stop doing those things we have tried so hard to stop doing. Through Jesus Christ and through Jesus Christ alone, we can truly be who we were created to be. And THAT my friends it the good news of the gospel, that we come here every Sunday to celebrate, THAT is the good news of the gospel that we are called to share, THAT is the good news of the gospel that we all believe and have the opportunity to live! Through Jesus Christ we are able to be who we were created to be!