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.


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