The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 9A (7/6/2008)

Freedom: Gift and Responsibility

Lessons:      Zechariah 9:9-12      Psalm 145:8-14      Romans 7:15-25a      St. Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Prayer of the Day:      You are great, O God, and greatly to be praised. You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Grant that we may believe in you, call upon you, know you, and serve you, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen.

11.15  I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 7:15-25a, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

What Lutheran theologian doesn't like the opportunity, from time to time, to reflect on the Apostle Paul's words in his letter to the Romans?

"Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (3:23-24) "His faith was reckoned to him as righteousness." (4:22) "Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God." (5:1) "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (5:8) "We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." (6:4) "The wages of sin is death, but he free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (6:23)

There are enough proof texts in Romans to keep us Lutherans in bumper stickers for another couple of millennia.

This weekend's text, however, reminds us that the Apostle's thought runs much deeper than your average bumper sticker. From a distance, the Lutheran movement has occasionally been accused of embracing what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. "God loves to forgive, so then let's not bother trying to live good lives. Sin away, and let grace take care of it." But a closer look reveals that Paul would have none of that, and neither would Luther. Paul addresses that in chapter six: "What then? Should we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!" (Romans 6:15)

In this weekend's text, we see the depth of Paul's desire to grow in grace, and live a life that is worthy of the Gospel. Already forgiven by Christ, assured of his place in God's family, Paul is free from worrying about his relationship with God. Yet he is still consumed by a desire to live in a way that pleases God. For Paul, freedom is not a license for lax living. It is a gift and a responsibility. And the deeper his gratitude for the freedom God gave him: the deeper his desire to live in a way that is worthy of it.

On Independence Day weekend, it might do us well to study the Apostle Paul for what he could teach us about being Christians - and about being Americans. We have been given by God, and by virtue of our citizenship, a great and precious gift. Yet to take that gift for granted is to misunderstand its power. We are freed to give ourselves in service to the One who authored that freedom. We are freed to live in a way that rises above self-interest and takes seriously those concerns that lay at the heart of our Lord's ministry: breaking down barriers between people; caring for the hurts and needs of the human family; working for justice and righteousness throughout the world. Let us celebrate our freedom this weekend. And let us renew our desire to use our freedom in a way that becomes a blessing for the whole world.

David J. Risendal

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. How did the Apostle Paul describe the inner conflict he experienced between wanting to do what is right, and being drawn to do what is wrong?
  2. What, from your understanding of Luther's theology, did the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther have in common, regarding their understanding of sin?
  3. Paul ends with a word of hope. How does that address his inner conflict?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. How has the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ set me free?
  2. What do I appreciate most about the freedom I have as a Christian? As an American?
  3. How am I using my freedoms in way that blesses others?
  4. What hopes do I have for my church, or my country, and the influence it can have on the world?