Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 20)

Text: Romans 7:18, 24,25
ven though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it. Ö What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death? Thanks be to our God, who does this through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Putting out the Garbage

Picture a couple living in a well to do neighbourhood. There is nothing unusual about them and their behaviour apart from one thing - they hoard their garbage. Now it isn't as if the garbage isn't collected by the Council in the suburb where they live. No, a truck comes past their place once a week, but it never collects anything from in front of their house. They could quite easily fill up two rubbish bins with their weekís rubbish and put it out by their front gate on Tuesday mornings, but they never bothered to do so. They didnít even make any special trips to the rubbish tip. They just stowed all of their rubbish in and around his house.

It was all done rather systematically. Empty bottles and jars, some of them broken, empty cans, were thrown out into the garage. There they cut and hurt the husbandís feet when he went out there to change a fuse, or to find the tool he needed to do a job around the house. As for the newspapers, magazines and old paper wrappings they were piled in the ceiling, under the roof where they were a constant fire hazard. The old scraps of food and leftovers were put away in cupboards, where they rotted and stank. The rooms of the house were cluttered with discarded containers and plastic bags and boxes, so that there was little room for anything else.

The furniture, what you could see of it was all dusty, the walls grimy, the curtains were always closed. There was a terrible smell - the place generally was thoroughly disgusting and unpleasant. It was cockroach heaven.

But what was so amazing was that from the outside you would never have guessed that this couple hoarded all their rubbish. They kept the outside of the house painted and clean. The wife spent hours out in the garden and kept it neat and tidy with flowers growing in the garden beds, the bushes and lawns were trimmed. The couple were always neatly dressed and people talked about what nice neighbours they were. The neighbours often commented to each other that they couldnít wish to have nicer people living next to them. People never suspected that the inside of the house was a stark contrast to the outside.

It's hard to say why this couple let this happen. But it seems they were too proud to admit to anyone that they produced garbage. They believed that if they exposed their garbage to where everyone could see it, people might think badly of them and refuse to associate with them. And the longer they left the garbage in the house, the bigger the pile of rubbish grew, and the more they thought they had to keep up their no-rubbish image, the harder it became. The more garbage they were stuck with, the more they became fearful that people would think badly of them. So they never put it out.

And people never guessed what they had inside. The only snag was that they could never invite anyone home. They never wanted to get too close to anyone because they were sure that the smell of their house was also in their clothes. And so in spite of keeping up appearances they lived lonely lives.

You might have concluded that this story is a little bit far fetched. It is hard to imagine that anyone would choose to live like that. And yet it does happen. Not only does it happen we do hear of people hoarding up garbage in their homes and living amongst the cockroaches and flies feeding on the filth. It also happens that people pile garbage in their hearts like a hidden treasure.

In fact, I would be so bold as to claim that we all store up garbage inside where no one else can see it. Some of us hoard the broken bottles and sharp tins of anger and bitterness, ill feeling and resentment deep in our minds where they cut deeply and hurt not only other people but also ourselves.

Others store away hatred, envy, rivalry and bundles of greed and jealousy in the ceilings of their souls where they readily catch fire are flares up all kinds of ill feelings toward other people.

Some of us lock away our fears, our shame and our guilt in the cupboards of our minds where they rot away and spread their foul infection of hopelessness and despair.

Still others of us clutter up our lives with busy schedules, work, and leisure activities to the point where we donít have time for the simple things in life and the people who really mean the most to us. We fool ourselves into thinking that everything is okay. We don't like to admit that in reality on the inside everything is a mess.

We don't like it when we are shown that we really have only been pretending that everything is all right. We donít want people to know that beneath our clean cut, pious exterior there is mess that we need to recognise as being unhealthy and do something about cleaning it up.

The Apostle Paul talks about the strong power that sin has in our hearts and lives in his letter to the Romans. He doesnít beat about the bush or cover up the fact that sin is a very powerful force in him. He might be an apostle but still the unsightly garbage of sin is hidden inside of him. As you listen to what Paul is saying, see if his experience is anything like yours.

He says: "I am Ö a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do: for I donít do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate. Ö Even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it. I donít do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I donít want to do (Romans 7:14,18,19).

Those are very strong words. Paul was an apostle of the Lord. He knew everything there was to know about Jesus. He was baptised, was given a divine call to go and preach to every corner of the world and tell the Good News of Jesus. In spite of every set back and trial imaginable Paul had been faithful to his mission. I am sure people must have admired Paul for his commitment and his strong faith. Maybe parents pointed out Paul to their children as an example of what it means to be faithful follower of Jesus, and yet we hear him say, "I am Ö a slave to sin" (Rom 7:14).

What was Paul's experience is ours as well. Even though we regard ourselves as faithful Christians we are still addicted to sin, and by addiction I mean, there is nothing we can do to clean out the garbage of sin. We just keep on doing it. Paul is very strong on this point - he is a slave to sin. Even though he knows what is right and desires to do right, he finds he is so addicted to sin that he canít help himself.

This slavery to sin has terrible effects in our lives. It hampers, even destroys, our relationship with other people. It cuts us off from God and his love. It makes us feel guilty and ashamed of the garbage that we have stowed away in every nook and cranny of our hearts. We stow our garbage away inside and clutter up our souls, to the point when there is little room for anything else. In fact, as long as the garbage stays there, it infects everything good that we do - it ruins our good deeds, destroys our good relationships. Just as garbage fouled up the home of that couple the garbage of sin fouls up our lives. Sin stinks.

Has your experience been anything like mine? Some kind of sin hangs like a cloud over your whole life. Itís there in your thoughts during the day, itís hard to focus on what we are supposed to be doing, we toss and turn at night. Something we have said, done or failed to do and has ended in hurt and as much as we pretend that the whole thing means nothing to you, it will not go away until you have owned up to it and something is done to clear out the garbage and make a fresh start. Until that happens we too are are "slaves to sin".

Paul knew the power that sin had in his life. He knew what a hold it had on him. There was no way that he could empty out all the garbage out of his life. Paul concludes, "What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death?" (Rom 7:24).

Doesn't all this sound familiar to us as well? We might have every intention to live the new life of Christ and to avoid every kind of sin and evil. No sooner have we made this fine resolution than, we run right into trouble.

You know what I mean.
An argument flares up, angry words are spoken;
we say things that hurt;
we act as if Christ were of no consequence in our lives.
We know what is the right thing to do but we donít do it." This whole situation can be very depressing. Who will rescue me? Paul asks.

But itís interesting to note that Paul even though he is hit with the seriousness of his sin, he doesnít give up. He focuses his attention on the victory that Christ has won for him. Listen to what he says: "Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord! ... There is no condemnation now for those who live in union with Christ JesusÖ"

It is only Jesus who can clean the garbage out of our lives.
It is only Jesus who is not put off by the horrible smells and the filth of sin.
It doesn't matter what kind of sin you have been involved in, Jesus is not put off by what you might consider an "unforgivable sin".
He isn't put off by lives so out of tune with God's will that they are hardly recognisable as lives belonging to God.
Jesus isn't put off by our failures.
And Paul knew that, and he wants us to come to that same realisation and shout with relief Ė
"Thanks be to God Ė who does this through our Lord Jesus Christ!"

Jesus invites us to come to him. To own up to the sin that infects our relationship with others. We may think we are in the right and we may well be in the right, but Jesus invites us to come to him and repent of the part we have had to play in the the breakdown of a friendship. Jesus invites us to come to him and own up to the many times we have ignored God and his ways - our worship has been half-hearted, our prayers have been infrequent, our love for others has been lacking. Jesus died for people just like you and me. Through his death on the cross he cleans out all the garbage in our lives and gives us a clean new start, not just once or twice, but everyday. "Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord".

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
23rd September 2007

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