Sunday, June 22, 2008

Romans 6: 12-23 - Guest Blog Preacher, Rev. David Schultz

Pastor Schultz is pastor at St. John's Lutheran Church, Fenton, IA and my good friend.  I have posted this sermon (with permission) because pr. Schultz  does a great job of making Paul's words understandable. 

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the Name of the Only True God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Slavery. The word dredges up images of chains and punishment, whips and work. To be a slave is to be out of control, to have our lives in the hands of someone else. Someone else tells us when to get up, and when to lie down. Someone else tells us what to eat or what to wear. Someone else tells us how to live, and perhaps chooses when we die.

We really don’t know slavery like Paul and the Romans did. We have likely never met a slave or former slave. The concept of being owned, like property, is repugnant to us. That repugnance is in large part due to other words of Paul: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)

In Paul’s day, everyone had slaves, if they could afford them. Slavery was punishment for particular crimes, the cost of loosing a war, what happened when crops or business failed. A slave really had no rights, no recourse from his master. He could be treated like livestock or a beloved pet, depending on the will of someone else. He could be a field hand, sunburned and dirty. She could be a house-servant, clean and mild-mannered. But, no matter what, they were under their master.

Paul uses the image of the slave many times in his writings. It was as much a part of ancient life as shifts and paychecks are a part of ours. Paul uses the image of the slave, he says, because he was speaking in human terms, because of our natural limitations.

Slaves to sin

Perhaps we can’t identify with the term, slave, outside of history books or movies. Certainly, the image does not come to mind when we drive past a road crew or get food from a waitress. But we can understand the loss of personal control that a slave would feel.

Think of the drug addict or alcoholic. Is someone addicted to meth in control anymore, or is the need for the drug the master? A meth addict will do anything for that drug, even abandon their children, let them starve. A sex addict will spiral out of his or her own control, for pornography, or a further experience. A food addiction is where a person cannot stop eating, or else cannot get themselves to eat, either struggling with obesity or anorexia. We could talk about thrill seekers and adrenaline addicts.

We could talk about pride. We don’t think about being enslaved to pride, but this is true as well. “This can’t be happening to me,” we might think, about a thousand things. But there is nothing in the universe that can guarantee, that what happens to one human being, cannot happen to another. Pride is incredibly controlling of us, making us do things that otherwise we could never imagine doing, and in a right mind, would never want to do.

I came across an extreme example in the news, just the other day. An Afghan farmer is in massive debt, dating back decades. Crops don’t look good this year, so he is selling his six year old daughter into an arranged marriage, an extreme act, no matter what the culture.

Did he not feel any shame, (the reporter) asked, about marrying off his six-year-old? No, he said, the real shame would have been to have his creditors knocking at his door, embarrassing him in front of the village. Your daughter, (the reporter) persisted, how does she feel? "Oh, she's happy to be solving her father's problems," he said. (

Now, we might look at this farmer, as much a human being as anyone here and feel proud of our culture or society, that we do not allow such things. But, if we are honest about our pride, we have our own problems. How many divorces come from pride, where one partner simply will not live up to the marriage vow? How many of our children suffer emotionally, physically, spiritually from those divorces? If our civilization collapsed as much as it has for this Afghan farmer, to what extremes would our pride drive us?

Sin always has a cost, for us, for our families and neighbors, for our planet as a whole. Many Burmese have died because of the hubris of their ruling generals, but even here in the United States, we have our deadly pride, even it is not as high a price. Ask those of New Orleans, just as a recent instance.

We have been slaves to all kinds of sin. What has the cost been? For all of us, the wage of sin is death, the death of family bonds, the death of false expectations, the physical death that we all face, whether we want to or not.

Slaves to God

Paul takes a strange turn for us here. We might expect a turn to freedom for the captive, liberty for the slave. We expect, that somehow, some way, we are put back in charge, masters of our own fate, captains of our own souls. We are freed! Now, go away and mind your own business!

When we come to religion, we like the idea of a smorgasbord. “I, the consumer and connoisseur of faith, come and take a little bit of Protestantism, a little bit of Roman piety, a touch of this, a lot of that.” We come and take bits of this and that from the table of spirituality, because then we master what we take, what we like. Sin of pride, again, right? Because if we pick and choose what we like, then we don’t loose control, not even to God. That is a message that we like, that we expect. A religion that changes for me, so I need never change.

But that is not Paul’s message. It no where even enters the picture. We are never autonomous agents, we are never masters, in this text. Here, either sin is master, or God through Christ is master. Either we belong to death, or we belong to life. Here is resistance against the cruel master, sin of every shade, that gives us such pain. But here we flee from the whips of one master, into the arms of Another.

Here is the green pastures, not of self-centered freedom, but of being sheep led by the Good Shepherd. Here is the return home, after a long and pride-defeating journey, to the loving arms of the Masterful Father. We aren’t given our own mansion, but only a room. We are sent out, like the seventy disciples, like Jeremiah, with words we do not always want to say, words that can bring death to the body, but life to the soul, words that kill our prides, but bring righteousness to the needy.

We have no liberty here, to go our own way, but obedience to a new Master, slaves of God. We are purchased men, women and children, purchased by the blood, sweat and tears of the Master of the House, Jesus Christ. Our life comes at the cost of His death. And that death and resurrection changes us, daily kills our sins, our prides, our addictions.

Does it matter as much, whether we are field hands or house-slaves? Does it matter, that the labors we are called to work in are different? Whether king or president, we bow to the true Ruler, Who was crowned with thorns for us. Whether housewife or business executive, we labor for more than our families or paychecks. Whether police officer or civilian, we answer to a Higher Authority. We are not in control, we are not the Master, God is.

And Who is this Master? Our Master lived in obedience for us, when we were in rebellion. Our Master creates and heals us, despite our wars and destructions. Where we knock down, or are knocked down, He lifts us up. Where we go astray, He returns us, carries us home. Where we die, He brings to life.

And that is a Master, that is well worth having in charge.

In the Name of Jesus, our Master, Amen.

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