5 July 2020†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††St. Athanasius Lutheran Church
Pentecost 5††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †† Vienna, VA
ďForgiveness and FreedomĒ
Text: Romans 7:14-25a; Zechariah 9:9-12; Matthew 11:25-30
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the verses we heard from Romans today, Paul doesnít just sound like a sinner, but an addict. Someone in bondage. He sounds like the gambler who knows he shouldnít play with the rent money. He knows what he should do, but he canít; he canít resist. He sounds like the alcoholic who knows he should walk past the bar and go home to his family. He knows what he should do, but he canít; he canít resist. He sounds like the man who neglects his family and works too much. He sounds like the child lying to her parents. He sounds like the wife compulsively shopping. He sounds like . . . us. He knows what he should do. He knows that what he is doing is wrong, BUT. But. Such a little word that is oh, so big. BUT . . .
Itís not an excuse. Doesnít make it right. Paul knows that. We know that. He wants to do what is right. He doesnít want to be ruled by what he knows is wrong. He tries to resist. But he is not strong enough. Something has a hold on him. And he doesnít like it. And yet he canít seem to get rid of it. Whatís wrong with him?
But heís not the only one. Paulís story is Cainís story, knowing that he should be his brotherís keeper, and yet overcome with jealousy and rage instead. Paulís story is the story of Josephís brothers, who know they shouldnít sell him into slavery but do it anyway. Paulís story is Davidís story, who knows he shouldnít be looking at his neighborís wife, bathing on the roof next to him, but who keeps looking anyway, and then acts on his lust and winds up a murderer. Paulís story is Peterís story, who knows he shouldnít deny Jesus, BUT . . . Thereís that word again. But . . .
And Paulís story is your story. I donít know what Paulís addiction was. And I donít know what yours is. But you do. And I know my own. What is it for you? What sin, what addiction, what bondage that keeps popping up in your life, but you canít seem to get rid of. It may be a deed, or an activity. It could also be a desire, or pride. Maybe for you itís a person, or an achievement that has a hold on you.
It may not be illegal. In fact, it probably isnít. It may not even be wrong in the eyes of the world. In fact, it probably isnít. People may look at you and think: what a good person! Better than most. But you know the truth. The ugly truth. That thatís not true at all. Youíre an addict. It may not be illegal, it may not even be wrong in the eyes of the world, but it has become what you love so much, what you want so much, that it displaces God in your heart and life. And so itís an idol, making you, at times, push family aside, marriage aside, church aside, God aside, and serve yourself, your idol, instead. Itís the elephant - not in the room - but in your heart. A mammoth of sin, that keeps reappearing. What is it for you?
And it can be exhausting. Trying to serve it, trying to cover it up so no one knows, trying to fight it and overcome it. It wears you out because itís so strong and youíre so weak. And you donít want to be weak - you want to be strong, and that just wears you out more and makes you weaker! Itís a wicked cycle. Just the way satan has set it up for you. To keep you in its grip. To keep you in his grip.
So finally Paul, at the end of his rope, blurts out: Ach! Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Maybe youíve been there and know his cry. Maybe you havenít yet - but you will. No one is immune. Wretched man that I am! Wretched man, wretched woman, wretched child that you are! Who will rescue you?
You know the answer, but let me read it for you anyway:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
†† Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
behold, your king is coming to you;
†† righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
†† on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Now, I donít think those are the words you were expecting to hear! But maybe they were the words Paul had in mind when he wrote his answer: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Thanks be to God, through the one who rode into Jerusalem that day, humble, lowly, and looking like anything but a conquering king. And yet thatís exactly what He was, and what He was doing. He came having salvation, Zechariah says. Your salvation. The deliverance from your bondage. The freedom from your addiction, your idols, your sin. No one less than the King Himself came to rescue you from your body of death, for no one less than the King could.
We usually talk about what Jesus did for us in terms of forgiveness - and thatís certainly true. You are forgiven the guilt of all your sin. Done. But thatís not all. Jesus doesnít forgive just to have you go back to the same sin again - but to set you free from that sin, from that burden, that bondage, from that heavy yoke of your addiction that is taking you where you do not want to go. And so give you rest. Rest from the pride that makes you try to cover it up so that no one knows. Rest from the despair that makes you wallow in it and think youíll never be good enough. Rest from the struggle to try to overcome it yourself. Rest, to see in Jesus the only way out.
Addiction programs like AA and others often have ď12 stepĒ programs - kind of a ladder you can climb up and out of your addiction and make up for it. Iím sure youíve heard of them; maybe even been there yourself. But for Paul, there arenít 12 steps, but only one. But itís a big one! The step the Son of God took, coming down from heaven and all the way down to us, to you, in the depth of your sin and addiction, to set you free. The steps He took in freeing people from disease, demons, and death. The steps He took to the cross. And then the step He would NOT take - the one down and off of the cross. He let the bonds that hold us hold Him, so that He could break them, once and for all, with His resurrection. That you be forgiven and free.
So Come to me, Jesus says, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Rest for us burdened by guilt, under a mountain of sin, with piles of regret, and a crushing load of failure. Look! Jesus says from the cross. Itís all on me. All of it. Every last sin, every iota of your guilt and failure. And if itís on me, itís not on you.
So now take my yoke upon you, and learn from me - learn all that I have done for you! - for I am gentle and lowly in heart - like when I rode that donkey into Jerusalem - and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
So two quite different yokes. One heavy, leading you down a path you donít want to go but are not able to resist. So it controls you and drives you. But other is light, leading you to salvation, a path you want to go down, but are not able by yourself. So your Saviour leads you and brings you with Him. Which do you think is better? Which do you want?
And if youíre thinking that better than either of those is to have no yoke at all - to throw off all the shackles of this world and the Church and just be my on my own and be my own person . . . thatís not freedom. What youíll wind up doing is following your own urges and desires and being a slave to them, under their yoke. And so back under the heavy yoke of addiction to sin.
So while Paulís story is our story, what Jesus has done is made His story our story. †††††††† A better story, with a better ending.
So when you are baptized, Jesusí story becomes your story - you become a son of God, receive His Spirit, and die and rise with Him. So thatís where your life now is, not in an addiction that only robs you of life.
And when you are absolved, Jesusí story becomes your story as His words from the cross are spoken to you: Father, forgive them. So thatís where your life now is. You donít have to feed an addiction to feel good about yourself.
And when you feed on Jesusí Body and Blood, His story becomes your story - thatís where your life now is, that partaking of this new and greater passover, you pass over - already here and now - to a new life, a truly free life. To step over, or maybe even on, whatever it is that is addicting, holding, you.
So while Paulís story and your story are the ugly truth, so too in receiving Jesusí story, you have a beautiful truth, and a saving truth. That you are not defined by your sin, but by your Saviour. Not by what you do or have done, but by what He has done for you.
So I think . . . this chapter, these words, must have been really hard for Paul to write. To admit his addiction, his sin, his weakness, his failure. He had been such a strong and successful man, looked up to by all. Until he saw something different. Until he saw what was real. Experts say that to be able to identify a counterfeit, you donít† study counterfeits - you study and know the real thing, so that when you see a fake, it sticks out like a sore thumb. So only when Paul saw the real thing, saw Christ and His life and love, did he see his life for what it really was: fake. That he was not a good man, but a wretched man. And that he needed to repent and turn away from all that he was, all that he had been doing, and rely instead on Christ.
For only after being exposed, all his efforts crushed, did Jesusí forgiveness and freedom then taste so sweet. Paul drank of that, and rejoiced! It completely changed him. And he wants that for you. And Jesus, too, wants that for you, of course! Thatís why He came. And comes now. So while its hard for us, too, to admit our addiction, our sin, our weakness, our failure, and to repent,to do so means rest from your labors; rest in Christ. So that you, too, can rejoice, and, as Zechariah put it, be a prisoner no longer of addiction, but a prisoner of hope. To the Lord who restores to you double. Both forgiveness and freedom. Both faith and love. He gives you the forgiveness and faith that gives you life, and the freedom and love to live that new life, to no longer be in bondage to serve your addiction or your sin, but to serve your neighbor in love. Like Christ. For His life is real life, and His love real love.
And on this Independence Day weekend, this weekend we celebrate our freedom, that freedom, Paul would tell you, is the freedom we need. And the greatest freedom of all.
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.