2017-07-09 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
SUMMER SINNERS & SAINTS
This morning, I want to start off with a reading that humanizes Paul, so that we can better hear from a person who is not lofty and above us and untouchable, but we are reading a letter from a friend, perhaps a Christian mentor and in Romans 7 he is sharing from the even playing field of human experience, and yet encouraging and exhorting us with the good news of Jesus…
(From Frederich Buechner):
Sometimes the depression was so great Paul could hardly move the pencil across the page.
“I don’t understand my own actions,” he said.
“For I don’t do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…
I can will what is right, but I can’t do it.
For I don’t do the good I want, but the evil I don’t want is what I do…
For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self,
but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind
and making me captive to the law of sin…
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
He sat there by himself, aiming his awful question at the plaster peeling off his walls,
and maybe it was only ten minutes or maybe it was ten years before he had the heart to scratch out the answer:
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” he said (Romans 7:15-25).
It got him going again, and on the next page he was back in his old stride with a new question. “If God is for us, who is against us?”
He worked on that one for a minute or two and then gave it another try.
“Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword separate us from the love of Christ?”
It was the story of his life, needless to say, and at last he’d laid the groundwork for an answer he could get his back into.
“No!” he wrote, the tip of his pencil point breaking off, he bore down so hard.
“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
He sat there, with his cauliflower ear and a lump on his forehead the size of an egg from the last time the boys had worked him over, and when he reached for the drawer to get out an envelope, he found that his hand was shaking so badly he could hardly open it.
The ups and the downs.
The fights with his enemies and the fights with his friends.
The endless trips with a fever and diarrhea. Keeping one jump ahead of the sheriff.
Giving his spiel on windy street corners with nobody much to hear him most of the time except some underfed kids and a few old women and some yokels who didn’t even know the language.
Where was it all going to get him in the end?
Where was it all going to get all of them, any of them, in the end?
When you came right down to it, what was God up to, for God’s sweet sake,
sending them all out—prophets, apostles, evangelists, teachers, the whole tattered bunch—to beat their gums and work themselves into an early grave?
This is Paul!
Yes, he was a pretty amazing early Christ-ian…but he was inspired, enthused and soothed by the same Christ encounter that we have access to…he was having his mind blown and his world re-shaped by this resurrected, living Christ, who was on the loose and making all things new…
BUT just like you and me, he got overwhelmed…overwhelmed by his personal sins but also overwhelmed by the sin of the world.
So, that’s how I’d encourage us to enter into (embrace) this letter today…not trying to wring out some do’s and don’t rule about how to be a harder-working, faster-striving Christian, but recognizing that in a world that is “filled with many dangers, toils and snares”…there is a deliverer.
THEOLOGICAL Sidepoint: There has been 100’s of years of banter of who the “I” is in Romans 7:
–Paul early Christian
–Paul using 3rd person “I” as representing the universal Christian (human story, Israel’s story)
Since we preach the Bible as “story” here at FBC, I probably fall somewhere between 2 & 3. I feel like Paul is telling us his story…and that makes Paul more human to me…but I also recognize that he might be doing some generalizing here so that it’s not all about him…it’s about being human…and being religious…
And thus it’s not so much focusing on an individualistic struggle with sin, this is about how sin wreaks havoc all over the world, the cosmos, creation…and it even sneaks into the life-giving Law that God set out for Israel thousands of years before Christ!
ACK! Because we look back at the “old stories” of the people of God (ie Deut. 30), we read that God’s promises and covenant have always been for good:
Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
This “choose life” law is what Paul had spent decades of his life devoted to…but in Romans 7 he talks about how sin messed it all up. He, an upstanding, God-fearing Jew became a Christian killer because of the way sin infected his law-loving ways.
So..if we pony up alongside our “Christian colleague” Paul…can we resonate with his struggle?
We too find the law and the God’s words as the guiding force for spiritual formation
do we not?
And it’s confounding (distressing, depressing) to see how Christians’ good intentions to do right and please the Lord get in the way of actually sharing and being good news to the world.
Can we think of ways that sin sneaks in and makes us rule lovers VS people lovers?
I would like us to think more corporately VS individually.
–How has sin crept in or duped us to think that we are “life-giving people, walking in the way of Jesus” but actually we are bringing death and sabatoge to God’s creation or God’s created ones?
–Where do we live lives of contradiction…seeming like we have a desire to please God but pulled by the power structures of sin to do things that are rebellious or self-serving?
–Where has sin taken advantage of us and compelled us to actions that are contrary to God’s best understandings or intentions?
–Where has sin tricked us into the ways of death VS the ways of life?…to places where only God can deal with the evil and and the tangled web of sin that we need deliverance from?
[ obvious ways? Subtle ways? ]
And so…as we reflect on these ways that sin entwines its way into our lives and our churches, our lament echos Paul’s lament… 7:21-24
21 So I find it to be a law that when WE want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For WE delight in the law of God in our inmost selves, 23 but WE see in OUR members another law at war with the law of OUR minds, making US captive to the law of sin that dwells in OUR members. 24 Wretched CHRISTIANS who we are!
Who will rescue US from this body of death?
AND our deliverance and deliverer is found in 7:25
25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
And our way forward as the church…serving and loving in those places that we are sent to this week is found in 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
–No condemnation. No shame. No voice saying: “I dare you to be a Christian…” or “who do you think you are!”
There’s no condemnation for us when we rely on the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit.
The Spirit of Life…the Spirit of Pentecost…the presence of Christ breathing & blowing upon us and accompanying us into the world again this week.
We again, are filled, forgiven, renewed, healed and made whole.
And we go…not as individuals but as “the body of Christ.
This is not an “I” endeavour…this is a “we” journey!
We push back at the sin of the world, not in our own strength but as a body with many parts and many people.
>>>>>> As Frederick Buechner concludes his Pauline reflection, he puts it this way:
What was God up to?
God was making a body for Christ, Paul said.
Christ didn’t have a regular body anymore, so God was making him one out of anybody
he could find who looked as if he or she might just possibly do.
He was using other people’s hands to be Christ’s hands and other people’s feet to be Christ’s feet, and when there was someplace where Christ was needed in a hurry and needed bad, he put the finger on some maybe not all that innocent bystander
and got that person to go and be Christ in that place for lack of anybody better.
And how long was the whole great circus to last?
Paul said, why, until we all become human beings at last, until we all “come to maturity,”
as he put it; and then,
since there had been only one really human being since the world began,
until we all make it to where we’re like him,
“We must grow up…to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”
Christs to each other, Christs to God.
All of us. Finally.
It [is] just as easy, and just as hard, as that.