Sunday, July 3, 2011

Is Your Life Not Going the Way You Wanted?

Third Sunday after Pentecost
July 3, 2011
Romans 7:14-25

Who are you? If I may be so bold, you are a body of death. Okay, so maybe you don’t want to hear me be so bold. I’ll let the Apostle Paul do the talking. He cries out in helplessness: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” If you can picture various metaphors of a rotting corpse or being chained to a dying person, you’re getting there. Paul is saying he is a body of death.

Christianity is not a feel good religion. Some churches have people coming in in droves because they are being given a feel good message. People are flocking there because, well, they want to feel good.

Paul most certainly did not feel good. He was rotting away. His flesh was consumed with the filth of sin. He was a body of death.

Paul is agonizing over not being able to do the things he desires to do and instead doing the things he knows he shouldn’t do. His agony results in his exclamation that he is a body of death.

As Lutherans our usual question is, What does this mean? Was Paul literally rotting away? Was he slowly dying? Was his body a living corpse? When we see what he meant then we can see what he means by his question of who will deliver him from it.

Adam and Eve were warned of death if they were to eat of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. A funny thing happened after they ate of it, they kept on living. Okay, it wasn’t funny, but what are we to make of their remaining in a living state after having eaten of the tree when God had said, “In the day you eat of it you will die”? Did Adam and Eve look different in that instant after eating the fruit? Were blemishes suddenly visible on their skin? Did they look aged in contrast to the pristine look and feel of their skin before they had eaten of the tree?

Whatever the physical condition that was apparent, something happened. They were now living in a body of death. God in His mercy kept them living so that they wouldn’t be severed from Him forever. But consequences are consequences. They were now living a life in which they were bound in a body that was in its nature dead. Their life wasn’t exactly going the way they had wanted.

So how is your life going? What it means that each of us lives as a body of death should move us to realize this daily. Daily we wake up a body of death. We should remember this daily. But our condition of being a body of death shouldn’t be a morbid fascination. It shouldn’t drive us to despair or cause us to walk around in morose manner. People, especially non-Christians, don’t need to see us walking around with our shoulders slumped and receiving as an answer to their question, “How are you today?”, “Pretty good, for being a body of death”.

What we ought to ponder is a body of death all right, but the focus needs to be on deliverance. Paul’s exclamation of being a body of death is as a question: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” [Hold up crucifix.] “Thanks be to God!” is his immediate response. But his response isn’t simply, Thanks be to God,” it is “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.” What does this mean? The body of death God sees is the body of His own Son on the cross. Not just beaten. Not just bloodied. Not just dying. A body of death. A body upon which the sins of the world have been placed. A body in which the stench of death and sin has been infused.

It’s not just that God delivers us. God in His Son Jesus Christ delivers us. It’s not just that you’re a body of death walking around. You are a person who has been brought to life through the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s not just that you can’t bring yourself out of the deathly state you’re in, you can’t even see clearly to get your focus off yourself and your own body of death and onto the Christ who hung on the cross. [Hold up crucifix.] So God delivers you. He delivers you in His Son. He brings you out of the death you’re in through Baptism. You can then see clearly the Christ who was blood-stained on the cross and who Himself rose up from His death.

Jesus was not born this way. He was born in the way you and I were, in the womb of His mother for nine months and born. But He was not born as a body of death. He was not born in sin as you and I are. This is the great irony, that we are born in sin and yet Jesus says we must receive the Kingdom of God as little children. In today’s Gospel reading He says: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will.” How is it that babies are in original sin and in need of salvation and yet Jesus is saying that we must be like them in terms of understanding and receiving the blessings of God?

These things cannot be taken in by us through understanding and comprehension. Those things are certainly part of it. But it’s really by simple faith. That’s why Paul doesn’t go into a long explanation of what it is that God in His Son Jesus Christ does to deliver him from this body of death. He simply exclaims his thanksgiving. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” At this point Paul has spent seven chapters explaining, so to speak, exactly what it is that God does in His Son Jesus Christ to deliver us from sin and the body of death which weighs on us.

Today’s Old Testament reading gives us a little taste of Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is all about the cross. It heads up Holy Week. The way it does is not just by starting Holy Week but by showing us that it’s all about the cross. Why was Jesus coming into Jerusalem? To go to the cross. He was coming in righteousness and bearing salvation. The only way to impart that to us was by going to the cross, to be a body of death.

When a child looks at this [the crucifix] he or she sees something very simple, Christ on the cross. That’s exactly it. There’s no amount of knowledge or information that can add to it. When Jesus says, “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest,” we see it all here. We have it all here. When you look at Christ on the cross you see the body of death that delivers you from your body of death.

Is your life not going the way you wanted it to? Are you struggling as Paul did, with the desire to do right and the filthy thoughts that instead flood your mind? Are you heartsick over the intention to be patient and the vile actions that instead characterize your life? Do you find yourself time and time again wanting to do the good God calls you to do but instead doing the evil you know you shouldn’t do? Do you attempt more and more to try harder and harder to stop sinning, to work more and more to do what is right, and find yourself utterly failing? Does it seem as though you are not simply not getting better but that you’re actually getting worse? And the more you work at it the worse it becomes?

Jesus’ words are for you. They are spoken to you: “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” You know the thing about this body of death of yours? The one you are bound up in and continues to weigh you down and bring you further and further into death? It is delivered. You are delivered. You find rest for your soul in the body of Christ. It not only hung on the cross. It not only died. It was raised. It not only was raised, it is given to you. Jesus Christ invites you to His Table: “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” Here at His Table He gives you Himself, His body for you, His blood, for you. His words are spoken to you: Take, eat, this is My body, given for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.

Given to you to deliver you from this body of death. Given for you—for rest, for forgiveness, for life, for salvation. In body and soul. Amen.


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