5th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 9) LSB #’s 816, 761, 704
Text – Romans 7:17-18
So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
SIN LIVING IN ME
A man & wife were walking through the mall & stopped to watch the puppies & kittens in the front window of a pet shop. A multicolored parrot was perched near the door as an attraction to passerby. “Hey buddy!” said the parrot. “What?” the man replied. The parrot squawked, “You’re ugly & so is your wife.” “What?” the man said in disbelief.
So the parrot repeated, “You’re ugly & so is your wife!” The man was so offended that he stormed into the pet shop & demanded an audience with the manager, who was appropriately embarrassed & apologized profusely. He took a leather glove, grabbed the parrot, & severely disciplined the bird for his rude remarks. The customer, satisfied, turned to leave.
He’d walked only a few steps when he again heard the parrot’s shrill voice: “Hey buddy!” In disbelief the man turned & said, “What?” The parrot threw a quick glance toward the manager & then said to the departing customer, “You know what!” PAUSE
And just like the parrot our tendency to sin is so deeply ingrained that no amount of discipline, effort, willpower or prayer will break us free. The sin we try to avoid rears its ugly head & trips us up day after day, hour after hour, moment after moment. The burden of that struggle between my saintly nature & the sin living in me, that burden, makes me weary.
At least it makes us weary if we are fighting the battle. Many a person in whom God has created faith & new life has given up on the battle of that new life. They’ve slowly drifted away from God, & been gone so long, they no longer believe in their status as children of God. That failure to believe then condemns them. That failure to believe makes all of God’s blessings ineffective & renders them useless in their lives. And what wretched lives those become, because they no longer receive the strength, the peace or the forgiveness available to them from their Savior.
Other people still believe in God & His blessings but for some reason fail to use them. They find substitutes though poor ones at that. A woman once complained about how narrow-minded older people can be. I replied, “Well, they get set in their ways & they really can’t change anymore.” It is tough for an old dog to learn new tricks.
She replied that they could change, they just don’t want to. I had to agree with her, but later on the irony of her statement occurred to me as I remembered that she spent the afternoon burning down about three packs of cigarettes while becoming drunker than a skunk. She was blind to her own unwillingness to change, as she turned to things other than God for peace.
Rather than fight the battles of her life through prayer & meditation on God’s Word, she’d turned to nicotine & alcohol to relieve the pressures created by her battles. She may still believe in what Jesus has done for her, but she fails to make use of the blessings He gives. God intends, & allows, those struggles for strengthening our faith. They are spiritual exercise.
But that strengthening only occurs if our faith is being fed through God’s means of grace. If we are not feeding on His Word & Sacraments, then the battles weaken our faith instead of strengthening it. And a weak faith makes for a wretched life in this sin filled world. The battles never end, but many hopes & dreams do.
That brings us to you & me – the people who do attend church regularly. If you know my sermon style by now you know where I’m going with this. This is the point where I call y’all a bunch of sinners. This is the point where I include myself along with you. And this is the point where the Apostle Paul includes himself along with us. He wrote, “…I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Romans 7:18) That is the realization that even faithful Christians easily forget or choose to ignore.
We so easily recognize & lament the sin living in others, even legitimately feeling sorry for the plight of some, yet all the while failing to account for the sin living in us. How often do we volunteer for something that never quite seems to make it to the top of our list of priorities? How often do we make derogatory remarks about others who fail to keep their word?
“For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind & making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:22-23 ESV) We can feel that law of sin as it works on us. I have an illustration from one of the mission projects in Tijuana.
It was our 4th day of building. We’d finished one house the day before & the 2nd home was down to needing just the shingles. It made perfect sense to complete the project that evening, but I’d already been up & working for 12 hours. My body was waging war against my mind. My legs were tired, my arms were tired, & my emotions were tired.
I just wanted to quit. We can come back tomorrow. It’ll be a short day. To top it off, I had 4 teenagers working with me, none of whom had any real experience with roofing. The rest of the crew was on the ground just hanging out waiting for us to finish, & the sin living in me said it was all so unfair. Why did I end up having to carry the load until the very end?
Sin living in me, the only thing it listens to or obeys is pain & suffering – kind of like taking cash out of a person’s wallet is often the only thing that gets their attention & gains obedience, however grudging that might be. What hope is there for Christians like us? Often, the harder we try the more our frustration grows, & the more apparent is our failure. The burden of that struggle between your saintly nature & the sin living in you, that burden makes you weary. So God sends, & allows struggles into our lives in order to bend us low, to weaken our pride that we might finally turn to & be closer to Him.
Have you felt in your marital or family relationships that you aren’t being treated fairly? How about in your career or even your congregation; by the coach on a sports team or by your supposed friends? Those are all battles caused by the sin living in you, & yet our Heavenly Father uses them to open our eyes to the reality of how certainly we need Him.
I’ve always liked this verse from the gospel lesson, “Come to me, all who labor & are heavy laden, & I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 ESV) But for years I had a major misunderstanding of what that text is speaking of.
I assumed it meant weary & tired from things such as long, hard hours of physical labor, like building houses for 12 hours or more per day on a mission trip. But I’ve since learned that Jesus was talking not just of the physical burdens of life. More importantly He was speaking of the spiritual burdens & the warfare that make us prisoners of the sin living within.
People end up prisoners to addictions like alcohol or work. They end up prisoners to a belief that God either doesn’t care, or does not exist. Men & women end up enslaved to false teachings like Islam or reincarnation. Christians can end up as prisoners to a false sense of security, just because they were confirmed, or because they attend church services regularly.
When life is going well, it takes more effort on my part to focus on prayer & I don’t long for my devotional readings as I do when God is bending me low. I can’t say I enjoy the pain of the battle, or of God’s discipline, but I do miss the sense of closeness to God that comes along with them.
It is possible to take comfort in the fact that our Lord uses the weariness caused by the burdens of life to draw us closer to Himself: “Come to me, all who labor & are heavy laden, & I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you & learn from Me, for I am gentle & humble in heart, & you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) He’s speaking of rest from the sin that lives within us & desires to control us.
Like Paul, we may not understand what we do. We have all experienced not doing the good that we want to, & doing the evil we hate. That tension & struggle can make us weary to the point of desperation; turning to almost anything we can find to relieve the pressure, the strain. It’s easier to surrender & give up than to fight the battle. What wretched people we are!
Who will rescue us from this body of death? Zechariah answered that question in the OT lesson, as he predicts the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous & having salvation is he, humble & mounted on the colt of a donkey.” (9:9)
Thus Paul ends his 7th chapter to the church at Rome with these words, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” He has rescued me from the sin living within. Rather than surrendering to that sin & to that battle I can now surrender to my Savior, because He proved His victory through His resurrection from the dead.
Jesus also had the desire to do what is good, & He did carry it out, in your place. On the Last Day each of God’s children will be raised to a new & glorious body with not a single ounce of sin living in us. The battle will have ended & there will be no more tears or sorrow. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee; let the water & the blood, from Thy riven side which flowed, be of sin the double cure: cleanse me from its guilt & power. Amen. LSB 761:1.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet