Thursday, May 3, 2018

Sermon -- HVL Chapel (May 2, 2018

This was preached at Huron Valley Lutheran High School, Westland., Michigan.

ROMANS 7:14-23

He Helps Us With Our Struggle With Sin.

In the name + of Jesus.

     I will I could sin as much as I want to, but I can't.  Either you are thinking of me as a reprehensible person who can't wait to do what is evil, or you recognize that I would really rather never sin and have to deal with guilt, shame, and regret.  I wish I could sin as much as I want to—which is, not at all.  But I can't.
     We all know that we are supposed to do what is right.  God has made us a new creation.  He has created in us a clean heart and renewed in us a right spirit.  Therefore, we want to do what is right.  And we like to credit ourselves with this desire, even when it is only done in our heads.  Consider:
     When we hear the Christmas story, we often find a villain in it.  It comes with this phrase: “She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)  We often think of some evil inn keeper, heartlessly snarling at Joseph and Mary while she is in full blown labor, and pointing them away from his Holiday Inn.  Well, for one thing, it did not really happen like that, but that image is often too good to pass up when we hear the Christmas story.  Besides making a villain out of this fictional inn keeper, we also tend to make heroes of ourselves.  It goes like this: “Well, if I had been there in Bethlehem at that time, I would have made sure that Joseph and Mary were taken care of.  I would have seen to it that Jesus would have been born in a comfortable room and that they had everything they needed.  And then I would have worshiped with the shepherds when they came.”  Most Christians feel this way  Even if they do not say it, they think it.  And, to be fair, I think that everyone who feels this way means it.
     Since you have been given a right spirit, you agree that these things are good.  So you agree with St. Paul and share his confession:  “I agree with the law, that it is good.  … For I have the desire to do what is right....  I delight in the law of God, in my inner being...” (Romans 7:16,18,22)
     Still, no matter how much you may boast about taking care of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Bethlehem, that is not what God has given you to do.  You weren't there.  But you are here.  And God has given you friends, family, loved ones, and others that you come into contact with throughout each week.  These are the ones whom God has given you to serve and love.  But what do you find about these people?  Are you as eager to love and serve them as you claim to be about loving and serving Jesus, Mary, and Joseph?  Chances are, you get angry with your friends and tell them off.  You are annoyed by your siblings and have no interest in helping them with their projects.  You are able to be polite to strangers, as long as they do not ask too much of you and go away quickly.  In other words, it seems to make sense when we tell people, “There's a reason they call them YOUR problems.”  Now, if you cannot show love to those who are your loved ones, what makes you think you would have been kind and generous to strangers in Bethlehem?
     As much as we delight in God's law and recognize that it is good, we also share St. Paul's confession about sins, because we know Paul's words are true.  We see it in our lives: “For I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.  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.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” (Romans 7:15-21)  
     If you are struggling with sin and temptation, let me assure you: There is nothing unusual about you.  Even the Apostle Paul endured the same struggle, the same frustration, and the same weaknesses you have.  You are still a sinful being, and you still need a Savior.  You still need Jesus, and you will never out grow him.
     Good news!  Jesus is and remains forever your Savior.  He does not grow tired of you.  He does not regret suffering and dying for you.  Rather, he continues to give you his body and blood so that you will find forgiveness of your sins and strength for your faith.  He summons you to call upon him in the day of trouble and temptation so that he will aid you and help you when temptations come.  Your Savior is not one who barks orders at you or threatens you; he speaks tenderly to you.  He demonstrates love and mercy toward you so that you are always eager to hear him, follow him, and recognize that his word is good.  Even if that word shows you that you are not good, your comfort comes from the fact that Jesus supplies his goodness and innocence to you so that you remain holy and blameless before God.
     As long as we have this flesh on us, we will struggle with sin and temptation.  That struggle is good.  By it, you recognize that you should be striving for good, even though your sinful nature would prefer you don't.  As long as you are struggling, you have evidence that God is at work in you to will and to act according to his will.  This is life in the Church Militant.  And if you struggle, you are in the Church.
     But in the midst of our struggles, we still have a Savior who has paid for our sin for us, who has overcome temptation for us, and who will be with us to forgive, strengthen, comfort, and encourage us always, even to to the end of the age.  For, your status before God is not determined by how good you can be; it is found in Jesus who covers you with his righteousness and, therefore, also works all good in you.
     I hope that you are able to sin as much as you want to, which is never.  But you can't.  Nevertheless, in the midst of your struggles, you have Jesus who will strengthen you in your fight against sin, and who purifies you from all sin.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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