Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 8)

Text: Romans 6:23
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Two sides to every story

When reading an article in the newspaper or after watching a news report on TV have you made the comment, "Thereís more to that than weíve been told. There must be another side to this story"?

A story with two sides is the one about Helen. Helen was a youth counsellor in her congregation. She was doing a part-time university course, and she loved to work among the young people. She was full of energy and ideas, and everyone loved her and enjoyed her sense of humour.

One morning as she was out jogging; she was killed crossing a road. The newspapers reported the tragedy of the accident and its effect on her family. The TV cameras focused on the grieving parents and interviewed Helenís older brother. No one will forget the pain that was felt by her family and the grief of the young people with whom she worked.

But there was another side to this story about a young life cut short. Helen's Mum and Dad, brothers and sister found each other as they shared their grief. For some reason there had been a rift in Helenís family. Family members had gone their separate ways and had dropped out of the church. Helenís death had brought them together again and they found strength in each other, and they rediscovered the peace and hope that comes from knowing Jesus and his promises of life forever. They knew that Helen loved Jesus and now they could understand why. They witnessed the love that the young people whom Helen had worked with had for her and through Christís love in those young lives rediscovered their love for one another as a family.

The grief and the sadness was only half the story. There was more. There was also a renewed faith in Jesus and the rediscovery of what it means to be a family. You see there were two sides to the story.

Itís true that there are times when we canít see the other side of the story. We are so engrossed in what is happening in our lives, we are so critical and negative that we canít see anything else. We become so preoccupied with everything that is wrong with our politicians, and all the things that we think should be done differently and more effectively by our local council. We get so uptight about what we think the leaders of our congregation and the congregation itself ought to be doing and they are not, that we become so depressed about it all and can only see one side of the story. We donít see the good things that are happening and the fine effort that politicians, community and church leaders are doing.

We can also be very hard on ourselves at times.
We look in the mirror and we donít like what we see.
We consider our personalities and dislike our short-tempers, our impatience, our overly critical nature and our unwillingness to give of ourselves.
We think of the failed relationships, the things we have taken on and made a mess of, the failure in our eyes to be a good mother, father, son, daughter, friend, employer, worker.
We donít like the way we have treated others.
We get so upset and down on ourselves. We can be so negative about ourselves that we no longer see that we have been specially made by God, that God's love for us is everlasting. We feel like a grain of sand on a wide open beach, insignificant amongst the mass of humanity, and forget that God knows each of us personally and individually and loves us in spite of our flaws.

In his letter to the Romans Paul talks a lot about sin and how we are slaves to sin and what it does in our lives. He deliberately uses the word Ďslaveí because he wants to get across the idea that it is something that controls us, binds us, rules over us to such an extent that like a slave we are unable to free ourselves from it. Even our best intentions and most noble and generous acts of kindness and generosity are stained with sin.

Paul talks about the control that sin and evil have over his life. He says,
"I am sold into slavery with sin as my master. I don't understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I donít do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. Ö I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I canít make myself do right. I want to, but I canít" (Rom 7:14, 18,19 NLT).

You can really feel Paulís dilemma here when it comes to the power of sin in his life. When he says, "When I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong" (Rom 7:21 NLT) we know what heís talking about. We know what the right thing to do is but we donít do it.

To be sure, there are times when we sweep our sin under the carpet,
and deny that it has any impact on our lives or that of the people around us,
but whether we take our sin seriously or pass it all off as just a part of human nature, the fact remains, we are all sinners. We are all in the same boat as Paul says, "All have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard" (Rom 3:23 NLT) and then the finale
"the wages of sin is death".

How did you feel when Paul started off today saying, "Do not let sin rule the way you live Ö. Do not let any part of your body become a tool of wickedness, to be used for sinning" (Romans 6:12-13)? In other places Paul gets very specific about what these sins of the body are Ė anger, hateful feelings, insults, lying, anger, sexual sins, greed, jealousy, lust, rage, quarrelling, envy, drunkenness, and the list goes on. And then he concludes, "Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience" (Colossians 3:12).

It would take a brave person to say, "You donít have to worry about me, Paul. I not only know what the right thing to do is but I also do it". As soon as we hear Paul say, "Do not let sin rule the way you live" Iím sure your reaction is much the same as mine and itís the same as Paulís, "I know what I ought to be doing, but somehow I just canít do it".

But if thatís all Paul had to say about sin then we would be doubly miserable. Sin condemns us; it brings death and hell.

But Paul goes on. He has only told us one side of the story. There is another side. He says right in the middle of the reading, "Thanks be to God!" In an abbreviated way, Paul gives recognition to the fact that sin no longer has the power to have control over his Roman readers and over us. "The wages of sin is death, but (and here is the other half of the story) the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).

Every now and then in his writings Paul pauses and exclaims, "Thanks be to God!" When he is talking about his own personal battle with sin he cries, "Oh, what a miserable person I am!" and then suddenly breaks out with "Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord!"
When he is talking about death and how its threatening power has been broken by Christís own resurrection he shouts,
"Thanks be God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!"

When the apostle is talking about how powerless he is in the face of sinís destructive force over him, and he calls out, "Thanks be to God!" he is saying,
"Thank you, Father, for still loving me even though I am so weak when it comes to sin.
Thanks for letting Jesus die on a cross and take with him all the sinful words I have ever spoken and deeds I have done.
Thanks for giving me the promise of life in heaven.
Thank you, Father, for bringing me into your family through baptism and assuring me of your love even though I have let you down so badly.

Thatís whatís so good about the Good News of the gospel. We deserve Godís anger and punishment for our persistent sinfulness, but instead we are given a free gift - Godís love and forgiveness and eternal life in Christ Jesus. No wonder Paul breaks out shouting, "Thanks be God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!"

But you know, sometimes we need others to help us to see that there are two sides to the story. Isnít it true that every so often we can become so bogged down in the negative side of life,
the troubles that we are facing,
the conflict in which we are embroiled,
the sin we are battling,
the illness confronting us,
that we don't see the other side of the story, that is the love of God at work in our lives. It does happen that we can't see the love of God through the fog of our problems and troubles.

When sin leaves a path of destruction behind as friendships and partnerships lay in ruins and we are left feeling helpless under the weight of guilt,
when we try to justify our bad behaviour and lay all the blame on others,
when all these things are weighing down on us we don't need someone to add more accusations and more guilt,
we want someone to be to us like Jesus was to those who were rejected, depressed, sick and caught up in sin.

We want to feel the love of Christ through a fellow believer who can accept us as beloved children of God in spite of our weaknesses and failures. Just as Jesus could embrace a leper or a prostitute and accept them as people who needed his love, we need people who can be "Christ" to us and embrace us when we are the least likeable.

And just as we want someone to be "Christ" to us so we are called to be "Christ" to others. This means not standing in judgement but letting the other side of the story shine through us, letting the gospel, the love of God
lift others up, encourage them,
assure them of God's forgiveness and love and of your acceptance and understanding,
enable them to see themselves as people loved and treasured by God,
offer to help them even though your human nature is screaming at you to ignore them.

Living the gospel is really hard work. When "hugging a sinner" really repulses us and we would rather be doing anything but this, you can bet that this is what the love of God is calling you do. At this point the gospel really becomes challenging. We will fail. We will let sin rule us. We will offend, ignore, and become slaves to our sinfulness.

But thanks be to God! It is only through Jesus Christ that we are forgiven, renewed and then recommissioned to tell the other side of the story and hug the sinner.

NLT=Holy Bible New Living Translation 1996 Tyndale House Publishers

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
26th June 2011
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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