Saturday, July 29, 2017

Year A, Proper 12, Romans 8:26-39, Sighs to deep for words

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

One of my seminary professors told us about his father's prayers.  He had a way of praying as though God was standing in the next room, so conversational and natural were his intercessions.  The professor went on to relate how one day they had taken his father out to Charlies Cafe in downtown Minneapolis, an upscale restaurant there.  His dad said grace. before their meal.  When they lifted up their heads and looked around they noticed that everyone within earshot had been moved to pause in their meals, and bow their heads as well.  Such were the prayers of this faithful servant of God.

I've always envied those people who can pray that way.  It's not that I don't pray.  I'm paid to pray.  It's part of my vocation as a pastor.  Prayers of the Church during worship- which I'm comfortable doing spontaneously, or using prepared prayers.  And then of course there are all those occasions when one is called upon to pray for ones parishioners.  In our home we routinely offer prayers before meals.

But often, away from the demands of my profession, words escape me in my prayers.  Sighs seem to be the norm.  Deep groans from my inmost being.  Sometimes the moaning of one's soul as though gasping for air.  

I find myself drawn into a life of prayer without words.  Bypassing the head, and communicating with God directly from the heart.  This is deeply private for me.  It is a sacred place that I have never been able to let others into.  Holy Ground.  A soul singing, often  in lament.  I'd speak more specifically about this, except there is a fear, a vulnerability, a risk that I am unwilling to take.  If someone knew, and critiqued this practice, or worse, derided it, it would be a violation.  And I'm not willing to risk it.

The Spirit intercedes for us.  To put it differently, prayer is a two way conversation and sometimes it is God that not only takes the lead, but draws us into a holy conversation that we cannot enter by ourselves.  

There is another side to this prayer without words.  Whenever I get too verbal in my prayers I cannot help but ask God to answer my prayers in very specific ways.  God has often not taken my advice. In the end, when the dust has settled, I am aware that though the course of my life was not as I had charted, it was an answer to those prayers.  God had a better idea.  

Often too, are the occasions when the circumstances that compel me into prayer are simply beyond words.  Some of that comes from shear exasperation.  The events in Washington this last week surrounding health care legislation are a prime example.  Sigh!  Be careful what you ask for. . .

And then there are the times when I simply do not know what to ask for.  I pray a lot for my children.  And speak very few words.  My hopes, my dreams, my concerns for them all pale in comparison to my love for them.  This I hope is reflected in those prayers without words.  Sigh.  

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nestled in a divine embrace we coo like babies at their mother's breast.  A soft and gentle murmuring of our souls in the arms of God as we are fed from her very being.  All that we need for life is there, a mother's gift of herself to us.  Those arms are an extension of the womb's embrace that never lets go.  

This is my body, this is my blood, given, shed, for you.  It is our umbilical chord, never cut, always the source of our life.  Love divine, all loves excelling.  And from this there is no letting go.  Sigh!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Year A, Proper 11, Romans 8.12-25, Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43, The good and bad of it.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
God is gracious and merciful.
And too often, we humans are not.
Today’s Gospel lesson offers a glimpse into a common response of humans to the presence of evil in the world.  Just eliminate those people who you consider to be evil.
Often this has resulted in ethnic ‘cleansing’, otherwise known as Holocausts, the systematic destruction of entire peoples.
The most famous instance of this, of course was THE Holocaust.  An estimated 6 million Jews were killed in places like Auschwitz.
Unfortunately, this is but one example of the horrors of genocide in our world.
Stalin purged the Russian population of those perceived to be dissenters, and though exact  numbers are not available, estimates are that as many as 20 million died, largely in the gulags, or concentration camps.
This one strikes close to home for us because one of the groups that was targeted by Stalin were the German Lutherans that lived in Russia.
Pol Pot in Cambodia killed nearly 2 million.
The list could go on and on.
One of the parts of our own history that we don’t like to admit relates to Native Americans.
That one is more complex.
It was not just a program of genocide carried out by a few rulers, but a massive death toll that was the result of a variety of causes, from disease to war. 
Whatever the intent, a huge percentage of the native population died as the European settlers carved out a place for themselves in North and South America.
And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’
That there is evil in the world is a fact no one can dispute.
What to do about it is where we and God are different.
To our minds, eliminating evil seems like the logical solution.
And so we have these instances of genocide that occur throughout our histories.
And remember, in each case of genocide, it was viewed as a “solution”, a fix to societies problems.
The Nazi’s called the elimination of the Jews in Europe “The Final Solution”.  They thought they were doing the world a great service by eliminating the Jews, whom they blamed for many of the problems they were facing.
And though we don’t like to admit it, the death of so many Native Americans was a ‘solution’ for us as well, as it made room for the settlement of North and South America by Europeans.
One of my memories from childhood was during the American Indian Movements demonstrations at Wounded Knee in South Dakota.
My boss, at the grocery store where I worked as a box boy, was complaining about the Indian protests.
I replied “Well, we did take their land.”
Her response was that “It would have been a great shame to leave this wonderful farm land to the Indians. 
The solution was to gather them up, and send them away.
We have not entirely overcome this sentiment in our country, either.
We solve our society’s woes by gathering people up and locking them away.
The United States incarcerates people, that is sends to prison, a higher percentage of our population that any other nation in the world.  Race plays a role in that.  And treating drug addiction as a crime as opposed to a disease also plays a role.  Remember, we are still engaged in a “war against drugs”.
The human solution to all evil, continues to be the elimination of the evil doers.
Which is why this Gospel lesson should be so striking to us.
God’s response is grace.
Should we gather up the weeds and destroy them?
And Jesus response was:
“No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.”
When I remember my Grandma Michealson two things come to mind.
First of all, I remember her sitting at the sink pealing apples for apple pie, a particular treat when we came home to visit.
And second I remember asking her about a little saying that she hung on her kitchen wall.
“There’s so much bad in the best of us, and good in the worst of us, that it hardly behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us.”
This is the thing.
The reason you cannot eliminate evil by eliminating “evil” people is that there is both good and evil in all of us.
Luther called this “simul justis et pecattor”.
We are, at one and the same time, both saint and sinner.
And you cannot eliminate the one without the other.
And so rather than risking destroying the good along with the bad, God’s response is to allow both to exist side by side.
Lest the good be eliminated with the bad, God offers forgiveness and pardon.
Of all the images of the judgment, the one I prefer is that of separating the wheat from the chaff.
Chaff is the husks that surround the seeds that must be separated during harvest by winnowing or threshing. 
That’s why farmers use combines.
The grain of wheat is gathered, and the chaff is separated from the grain and blown out the back of the combine.
But what is so appropriate about the image of the chaff and the grain, is that ever plant has both.  Every seed is surrounded by the chaff. 
You don’t have some plants that produce seeds, and other plants that produce chaff. 
And so I believe it will be with each of us at the time of judgment.
There will be a purification.
The chaff will be blown away.
And the seed gathered in.
Still, we struggle.
We struggle in the Church.
Shouldn’t this, of all places, be a gathering of ‘good’ people?
Too often it seems as though it is not.
We have all sorts of disagreements, and the temptation to consider some of our brothers and sisters to be ‘the evil ones’ is great.
We cannot avoid wanting to gather together with those we agree with.
I mean afterall, that’s why there are so many different  Churches.  Purity.  Homogeneity.
And attempts to live together in spite of our diversity often fail.
I got a phone call this last week.
The woman on the other end of the line introduced herself and then inquired:  “Are you Missouri Synod or ELCA?”
“We’re and ELCA congregation.”  I responded.
“Uggh!”  was her reply.  “Uggh.”But then she went on to tell her story of financial hardship and ask if we had any funds to help her.
I have to confess.
I wanted to respond with my own “Uggh.”
Instead, I politely told her that we were a small congregation that did not have an assistance fund and left it at that.
Lutherans have become very divided over the years.
And today one of the things that divides us is whether or not we will associate with non-Lutherans.
Politics divide us.
Social issues such as homosexuality or abortion divide us.
Race divides us.
Economic status divides us.
Our understanding of theology and church practice divides us.
How do we deal with disagreements.
By each going our own way.
Separation is the solution.
“No”, Jesus says. “let them both grow together”.
There’s good and bad in all of us, and one day that will all be sorted out like the weeds from the wheat, or the chaff from the wheat.
But for now, we stand together, in spite of everything.
Can Democrats and Republicans worship together?
Or those who disagree on homosexuality or abortion?
What about different races, or the rich and the poor?
What about the differing theological positions or different practices within the Church?
Must we round up those who differ from us and send them away?
Or is there room for all of us at the foot of the Cross?
Standing together lest we eliminate the good with the bad.
Our human tendency is to seek out those with whom we agree, and to separate ourselves from those we deem to be “evil”.
God’s response is, and always will be grace.
There’s so much bad in the best of us, and good in the worst of us, that God has chosen to love all of us.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Year A, Proper 10, Isaiah 55.10-13, Matt 13.1-9,18-23, "Wait for it"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
This is not the church I signed up to serve, when I went off to seminary back in 1984.
I’m not talking about Peace Lutheran in Otis Orchards.
I’m talking about the whole Church, the ELCA, but more than that, Christianity as a whole.
A lot has changed since I loaded up my family and drove from Gig Harbor, WA to St. Paul, MN to enter seminary.  So much has changed, that it seems like this is an entirely different church than the one I anticipated serving when I went to seminary.
Karla and I were charter members of Agnus Dei Lutheran Church in Gig Harbor, at the time.  Agnus Dei was a new congregation of our church that was started in 1980, about the same time that Peace in Otis Orchards began.
It was an exciting time in the Church, especially for young people like Karla and I.
We were thrilled to hear that a new congregation was being developed in Gig Harbor when we graduated from PLU and we knew that we wanted to be part of it.  With youthful idealism and boundless energy we jumped at the opportunity. 
Let me pause right here for a moment.
When I say that this is not the church I signed up to serve, I’d like to point out one thing that is different. 
As recent graduates of PLU, and with both of us having worked as Bible Camp counselors, we showed up at Agnus Dei’s first worship service at the local elementary school gymnasium already committed to not only joining this congregation but to becoming leaders of the congregation.
And the thing was, we were not unique.
That day there were many like us, though we were the youngest couple, but there were many like us eager to be part of this new congregation.  Young families, professionals, enthusiastic, and incredibly optimistic.
I quickly became involved as a worship leader and council member, serving as one of the first congregational presidents.
Karla volunteered as a secretary, and served in a number of other ways, as well.
It all seemed so natural, a perfect place for us.  And there was nothing about it that seemed surprising or different.
What a different world we live in today.
Can you imagine what it would be like if today, a young couple in their early twenties showed up at the door, not only fully committed to becoming part of the congregation—but equally committed to becoming leaders of that congregation?
And not only were we ready to be part of it, we were ready to devote a significant amount of time and energy to it. 
I just wish that once in my ministry I might experience having a youthful, energetic young couple like Karla and I were show up and be part of the congregation.  But that was then, and this was now.
That was thirty seven years ago.
The Church was still riding the wave of the Baby Boomers coming of age. 
In 1984 the Lutheran Churches that became the ELCA had a campaign to start even more congregations:  “Fifty more in ‘84” was the name. 
We’re not starting new congregations like that anymore.
And young people are not showing up at church on Sunday mornings primed and ready to become leaders of the Church.
The world has changed.
And some of us are wondering “what happened”? 
One of the things that happened was that in 1962 the birth control pill came out and Lutherans started having fewer children.  So by the time the ‘80s came about there were simply not nearly as many young Lutherans to fill up the pews.
But another thing happened as well.
The Church and its message has become increasingly irrelevant to the lives of many of our youth.
On a day like today, you are much more likely to find those young couples with children at a soccer field, than a church.
It’s simply the way that it is.
And the Church as a whole, like our congregation is in decline.
I sometimes get depressed and discouraged about it.
I search for something to give me hope.
One of the scripture passages that have spoken to me over the years is the lesson from Isaiah that we read this morning:
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
This is the hope that sustains me.
If we simply are faithful to the proclamation of God’s Word, it will accomplish that for which it was intended.
As you know, I’ve been trying to use Facebook as a means of getting the Word out there into the community. 
I post sermons on the congregation’s Facebook page, with short summaries, and then ‘boost them’ by paying to have them distributed throughout the community.
So for example, the last one I boosted reached 1,867 households. 
The hope is that if we just keep putting it out there, the Word itself will accomplish that for which it is intended. 
That sounds easy enough.
But it’s never that easy.
 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
Jesus makes clear that there are all sorts of things that can get in the way of the Word taking root and bearing fruit.
All sorts of things.
Jesus speaks about the evil one snatching away what was sown in the heart. 
God’s Word is not the only word out there.  There are many messages being shouted out in the world that are drowning out the message of the Gospel. 
I’m spiritual but not religious.
People hear, but do not understand, and soon the message they heard is gone.  Just like that.
And then there are those who quickly embrace the Word, and are overjoyed, but they fail to go deeper, to put down roots, and when life doesn’t go as they would like, they lose heart and fall away.
For still others, there are simply so many other concerns in the world, that there simply is not room for God.
And it goes deeper than that.
It’s not just that God is being pushed to the periphery of our lives, is that for many people today, they just don’t see the Church and “God”, dealing with the issues that truly concern them and that make a difference in their lives.
If I were to identify one major difference between my wife and I, and our children, it would be this:
When we looked at the world and all its challenges and problems, we saw the solution as coming from God and therefore committed ourselves to the Church.
Our children are more likely to see the challenges that face our world and look for solutions to them in the sciences, in education, in political activism, in technology, and other such places.
Rather than being seen as being part of the solution, often today, the Church is seen as being a major part of the problem. 
There is good reason for thinking this.
In a world that cries out for change, the Church has too often been an advocate for maintaining the status quo.
I could rattle off a bunch of examples of this but let it suffice to say that many people today would echo Ronald Reagan’s words, only in response to the Church.
Reagan famously said, “Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem.”
Likewise, many in our world today would say that “religion is not the solution to our problems, religion is the problem.”
The entirety of the Biblical witness is that God is actively engaged in our world, and offering to us a solution to the ‘problem’, and we see that solution as being the problem.
And yet the truth is that neither science, nor technology, nor will any other human endeavor be able to do that which only God’s grace can do, and that is to redeem this fallen world.
And so we continue to speak the Word, and take comfort in the fact that as seeds sown in good soil, that Word of the Gospel will germinate and grow.
There is a period of time, when you just can’t see it. 
After you plant the garden, there is a period of waiting before the seeds send up their sprouts and break the surface.
Perhaps, that is where we are today.
Standing back, looking at the garden, newly planted but still bare soil, and wondering when the time will come that the new growth will emerge.
It’s this waiting that we are not good at.
We live in a world that expects immediate results.
But God is not about immediate results, but lasting results.  And that’s worth waiting for.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Year A, Proper 9, Romans 7.15-25a, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, Come to Me

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
Last week, preaching on the lesson from Romans, I said:
“We are slaves.
We are not free.
We never have been free.
Freedom isn’t the choice.
The choice is whether we are going to be in bondage to sin, which will lead to death.
Or slaves of righteousness, obediently serving our Lord Jesus Christ, loving as he commanded that we love, loving as he first loved us, which will lead to life.”

As is my custom, I posted this message on our Facebook together with a link to the entire sermon.  The response was interesting.
As typically happens, there were a number of people who responded with a “like”, 18 to be exact.
One responded with a “Wow!”
Another with a “Ha, Ha!”
Yet another was angry.
And finally, there was a young man who commented:
                “ F_____ off.”
And then he commented again;
                “F_____ off once more.”
When I see such strong responses to a message I post, my reaction is that it is striking a chord, somewhere.  Even the most negative response, that of the young man, is interesting because at some level, it touched him deeply enough that he reacted that strongly, even negatively, to what was said. 
What was the message?
That we will either be slaves to sin, which will lead to death, or slaves of our Lord Jesus Christ which will lead to life.
It’s a stark contrast.
Life or Death.
That’s what is at stake. 

Or is it?  That’s the question for today.
What is at stake?
As Paul continues to write in Romans he reflects on his own bondage to sin, and how even when he tries to do what is right, evil lies close at hand and he does the very thing he doesn’t want to do.
Then, in conclusion he asks:
“Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Death or Life?
Again that is the question.
The saving work of Christ is that which recues us from a sure and certain death as the consequence of our sins, and sets us ‘free’ to serve him in righteousness. 
That’s a bold claim.
But I don’t know whether we truly believe it anymore.
It’s not that we outright deny it, it’s just that in some ways we have become so confident in the grace and mercy of God, that we cannot believe that death and damnation are even in play anymore, that life and salvation is the universal destiny for all because of the incredible love of God.
God is for many of us, the ultimate ‘nice guy’.
The consequence is that we tend to believe that there is nothing at stake.
Historically, our theology says differently.
In the Augsburg Confession, the defining document of Lutheran theology, it is written:
Article IV: Of Justification.
1] Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. 3] This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.
Article V: Of the Ministry.
1] That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, 2] the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear 3] the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake.”

We are justified, that is saved, by the grace of God, through faith in Christ Jesus.  AND, this faith that saves us is obtained through the preaching and teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. 
These are the means through which the Holy Spirit is given to us, and then, by the power of the Spirit, we come to faith.
It is this faith in Christ Jesus, that justifies us and saves us from death. 
We are saved by the grace of God, through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And, this saving faith in Christ Jesus comes to us by the power of the Spirit, that is obtained by hearing the Gospel, and receiving the sacraments.
All that sounds quite orthodox for a student of Lutheran theology.
But there is a further implication for us, and that is this, ‘that apart from the Church, where the Gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered, there is no faith that justifies, nor grace that saves.’

It is this last statement that has become increasingly difficult for us to make. 
Let me put it differently.
Imagine if you will, looking out the window of your house, and seeing that your neighbors house is on fire.
Would you do anything?
Wouldn’t we all immediately call the fire department, and if we are aware that our neighbors are in the house, do whatever we can to warn them, and if possible, save them from dying in the blaze?
To know that our neighbor is at risk would in almost every case result in our taking immediate action to save them, would it not?
If that is true, then the question is why are we not more concerned about our neighbors who are unchurched, who have no faith, and who are adrift in this sea of life, like a boat without a rudder?
Some of our more conservative Christian brothers and sisters get this more than we do.
Because they believe that apart from faith in Christ Jesus, there is no salvation, they tend to reach out to the unchurched with a greater sense of urgency.
They are actually concerned with ‘converting’ people.
It is rare, within our Lutheran churches, that we have adult baptisms.  The reason that is so rare is because we simply don’t devote ourselves to reaching out to those who are not part of the Church, and sharing our faith with them.
There is another reason, and that is that we simply do not know how.
You see, to “witness” is to share one’s own experience.
And for those of us who have grown up in the Church, who have always had a faith in Christ Jesus, we have no story to share of having been converted.
In “Amazing Grace” we sing “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
For most of us, though, that is not our story.  It may be our favorite hymn, but it is not our story.  For most of us, we simply grew up in the Church, and have always had a measure of faith. 

In Alcoholics Anonymous the whole program of recovery is based on sharing our stories of having been powerless over alcohol, but then, through trusting in a ‘power greater than ourselves’ to be set free from our addiction to alcohol.
And this is the thing.  Everybody in AA has not only ‘a story’ to share, but that Story. 
Our struggle as a Church is that we simply cannot relate to the unchurched because few among us have experienced what it is like to be without faith, and then to come to faith. 
And perhaps here, we simply need to pray that God might give us the words to share, and a way to relate our own experience to that of our neighbor who is unchurched.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
These words of Jesus are an invitation.
“Come to me.”
An invitation with a promise:
“you will find rest for your souls.”
Can we speak this invitation and promise to our neighbors?
For me, I don’t have a story of being lost, but now being found, but what I do have is a story of a restless soul that found no peace, except for the peace that is ours in Christ Jesus.
I’m not willing to go out and shout out to the unchurched world that they are going to hell, unless they go to Church.
But I can bear witness to that which I know, and that is that in Christ there is peace, to sooth my weary soul.
And perhaps, that’s all the invitation that my neighbor needs.  An invitation to peace.  An invitation to rest for a restless soul.
In the end, it is the Spirit that will work faith wherever the Spirit chooses.  But the Spirit works through our witness, which is why we are called to this ministry.
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
We have a common problem.  Sin.
Can we point to the one who alone can rescue us?
That is the question.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Year A, Proper 8, Romans 6.12-23, Slaves of Righteousness

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
“Freedom” is actually an illusion.
We are not free.
We never have been free.
And in fact, the more we attempt to be free, the greater our bondage becomes.
We are slaves.
The only question is “Who will we serve as Lord and Master?”
Paul writes:   “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?”
And again:  “But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification.”
You see, we will always have a Lord and Master, the only question is what Lord and What Master.
To claim Jesus as Lord, is to be set free from our bondage to sin, yet we are bound to obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ.
To deny that Jesus is Lord, is to willfully accept the reign of Sin in our lives, and to be bound to that which will one day kill us.

We live in turbulent times.
There is no where that this is more evident than in our nation’s politics.
And one need look no further than the reaction to our current president, and our former president, to see the intensity of the turbulence.
He is the best president we’ve ever had.
He is the worst president we’ve ever had.
The problem is that we can’t agree on which is which.
I think that underlying this problem is our illusion of freedom.
People are free to believe whatever they want to believe.
The result of that freedom is that there is no moral compass guiding us, no common understanding of what is good, no consensus about what is right.
If there were in fact, some shared values about these things, we’d actually be able to agree about whether a particular president was the best or the worst, but we can’t. 
We are that divided.
But this freedom to believe whatever we want to believe is in fact slavery to our own natural inclination to sin.
It is in our human nature to seek that which benefits us the most.  This selfishness is a bondage, a slavery, which leads to death.
But we don’t want to admit it.
“You do realize,” God says, “that the path down which you are walking will lead to your destruction and death, don’t you?”
And our response is to claim our freedom, and to continue doing whatever we want to do, thinking that we are free when in fact we are enslaved like no other. 
There are many example of this.
When I was drinking I used to love it when Karla would be gone for a few days because I was then free to drink however much I wanted without having to listen to her complaining.
The truth is I was not free at all, I was simply blind to the slavery I was experiencing to alcohol.
Oh, and that slavery, almost killed me.
Now, I am no longer free to drink, and yet this new ‘slavery’ to sobriety will let me live. 
Slave to the bottle?
Or slave to sobriety?
One leads to death, the other to life.
That was the choice that had to be made.

Scientists warn us today, about the effects of our lifestyles on the planet and the environment.
There is little debate within the scientific community that the planet is warming.  Glaciers are melting.  Weather patterns are getting more severe.
Perhaps the world’s scientists are wrong.
As we hear the dire predictions that they are making, one can even hope, that they are wrong, because if they are right the future may look bleak for many parts of the world.
But what if they are right?
We are so enslaved to our lifestyles that it is almost impossible for us to change.  We don’t want to.  We want to be free to live as we please.  But we are not free at all.
We are in bondage to a way of living that will one day kill us.
I was part of a conversation recently in which someone was maintaining that the scientists were wrong.
Another person, my brother, responded to that person saying “I hope you're right, that the scientists are wrong, but in refusing to listen to what the scientists are saying you are risking the future of our planet.”
Think about it—
What better definition of slavery, of being in bondage, is there than this:  that we are so compelled by our sinfulness to act in a certain way that we will continue to do so even if it kills us.

And yet we are not bound to be slaves to that which kills us.
That is the point that Paul is writing about.
You have been set free from your bondage to sin, that you might be slaves to righteousness and servants of God.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We will be slaves, one way or another.
Slaves to sin.
Or slaves of God, offering our lives to him in obedience.
To be ‘redeemed’ means that we are set free from our slavery to sin, and we might serve God as slaves of righteousness.
Did you know that the term ‘redeem’ actually comes from the institution of slavery.  To purchase a slave was to redeem that slave.  And once redeemed, the slave was now under obligation to serve the new master.
What does it mean to be slaves of Christ Jesus?
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
This seems so simple and straight forward.
Except for one thing.
We remain so deeply in bondage to sin, that on our own we cannot come close to agreeing what is loving, and what is not.
Another example from our current political environment.
We consider ourselves to be a great nation,.
We are a nation that has a substantial Christian majority.
And we who are Christians, at the very least, should feel compelled to do that which Christ commanded us to do, namely to love one another as Christ first loved us.
But, what does that mean?
What does that mean with respect to Health Care?
The current debate in Washington over health care reform shows how difficult it is for us to agree on something as simple as what it means to love one another.
We can put the question bluntly.
Should our health care system be loving, or cruel?
Most of us would say, “Well, loving, of course.”
But what does that mean for health care?
Does that mean that we should have universal coverage for health care, so that everyone has access to medicine and the care they need, even if it means that all of us would have to pay for it?
Or does that mean that people should be free to purchase whatever health care options they choose, even if that means that some will not be able to afford to buy insurance?
I wonder if the proposals for health care reform would be different if those writing these laws could only do so while sitting beside a loved one in the hospital.
Our intuitive sense of what is loving is probably most evident when we are sitting face to face with a loved one in need of care.
So imagine, sitting beside your child in the hospital, and what decisions you would make then regarding their care.  Love tends to make a difference at moments like that.
I could go on and on.
The point is that issues of life and death are not issues that we are free to do whatever we want.
We are slaves.
We are not free.
We never have been free.
Freedom isn’t the choice.
The choice is whether we are going to be in bondage to sin, which will lead to death.
Or slaves of righteousness, obediently serving our Lord Jesus Christ, loving as he commanded that we love, loving as he first loved us, which will lead to life.
It should be an easy choice to make.
But it isn’t.
Our slavery is real. 
And only Christ can set us free from our slavery to sin in order that we can live in righteousness with him.