Remember Whose You Are
Rev. Alice Kirkman Kunka
It was just so tempting; my mother was sitting at the sewing machine and there it was... the newly installed closet door that would slide open and closed. The walls of what my mother proudly called “The Gold Room” had been recently painted. In the eyes of a five year old, the sliding closet door looked very much like those elevator doors I had seen in office buildings and department stores. I could just visualize that closet door with an up and down arrow beside it. So, in a moment of sheer abandon to my desire to see this vision realized, I grabbed my crayons and began to draw what was in my mind. At first I felt like an inspired artist as I applied the crayons to the painted wall, but after my vision was complete, remorse began to set in and I cried out, “I didn't mean to!” My mother turned around from her sewing machine and said, “Didn’t mean to do what?” But no response was needed, for the evidence of my sin was on full display.
Perhaps you have your own childhood story like this, that moment when SIN is just too much to resist. My husband Bob tells the story of stealing a candy bar as a child and sorely regretting it, even some 60 years later. Just this week a friend reminisced about stealing sugar from the sugar bowl when it was rationed during World War II. She described the grainy, unpleasant texture of it as she swallowed her ill-gotten gains.
It’s a story as old as Adam and Eve and the Serpent. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Romans, talked about the battlefield within us, how we may even have the desire to do good but instead, do the evil we desire not to do.
Paul says, “I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do.” He goes on: “But if I do the very thing that I don’t want to do, then I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it is sin that lives in me that is doing it.” We all feel his pain when he says, “I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse?”
It’s no wonder that Romans 7 is the most commented chapter in all of scripture. I think is a difficult and confusing piece of scripture, and I can’t tell you how many times this week I questioned my choice of scripture to preach on! So what does all this circuitous logic mean, anyway? Theologians have for centuries debated the meaning of this passage.
Many scholars argue that Paul referred to a time before his conversion, and is actually describing the state of a person before they come to accept God’s justifying grace. But another way of looking at these verses is that they reflect the reality of Paul's life... and our own lives... even after coming to Christ. I mean, who of us has not struggled in this way? We know what is good, but that does not always lead us to doing what is good.
We Christians stand with one foot in the kingdom of this world and the other foot in the kingdom of God, and therein lies the tension. We want to do good, but as Paul says in Romans 3, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
John Wesley— which many of us will be learning about this week in VBS— talked about sanctifying grace as well as justifying grace. Being made sanctified or holy is a process that continues throughout our lives. In the meantime, we sometimes find ourselves not understanding our own actions: failing to do what we want and instead doing what we hate; willing to do what is right, but failing to do it.
I think we can all identify with this war going on within us. We start out with good intentions for a healthy diet but give into the Hot Now light at Krispy Kreme. We desire to be humble, but we can’t help but take full credit— and then some— for our efforts. We know we should stop by to visit our depressed friend, but the finale of “Dancing with the Stars” is on tonight. And those are just examples of the small ways we fail. Sometimes our failures are much deeper and more hurtful to others as well as to ourselves. And when we look back on what we shoulda coulda woulda done, we feel remorseful. Yes, Paul’s use of the word “miserable” is an apt description of what we feel.
Usually we think of sin as the ways we disobey one of the Ten Commandments, for example. But Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and author says that “while the Ten Commandments are about creating a social order (which is a good thing), it is the eight beatitudes of Jesus that offer a very different level of consciousness.” Rohr says that “obedience to the Ten Commandments gives us the necessary impulse control we need to get started in the first half of life, but the Beatitudes reveal to us a world of pure grace and abundance” for what he calls “‘second-half-of-life’ spirituality.”
Over the past several weeks a group of us here at Christ Church have been examining the beatitudes. I have witnessed in our group an authentic hunger and thirst for righteousness, a true desire to become pure in heart and seek to become peacemakers. This past Wednesday, we had a very special time of blessing one another that was amazing. We shared heartfelt, honest, loving words with each other and in the process, came closer to Christ. It was a beautiful example of authentic Christian community — the type of experience that is shared by other small groups here at Christ Church. By the way, if you would like to be part of a group like this, I invite you to talk with me and we can make that happen!
Three years ago when my husband Bob and I moved to Greensboro, we did so to be close to family. It’s been a wonderful blessing to be part of the same church as our son, Ben and daughter-in-law Jenn and their family. Some time ago, our granddaughter, Sofia moved to a different bedroom to make room for her new brother. The room was painted with fresh yellow paint. And Sofia, seeing this as a the perfect canvas for her artistic talent, decided to draw some wonderful stick figures on the wall above her bed. (I think this sort of thing must run in the family!) When her parents discovered it, they of course reprimanded her but rather than use the Magic Eraser, they decided to let the artwork remain on the wall. Perhaps they wanted to preserve the stick figures as a reminder of this stage in her development. Or, maybe they wanted the drawing to serve as a reminder to Sofia not to do it again. But to me, the artwork stands as a reminder of the love of parents for their beloved child and all she means to them, in spite of her drawing on the wall.
When we struggle with wanting to do good but fail instead, we too have a parent— a heavenly parent—who calls each of us “beloved.” And though he loves just as we are, he loves us too much to keep us that way. And so he reshapes us by offering forgiveness and hope for the future! God’s presence and power is there for those of us who are in Christ, for those of us who remember whose we are... who we belong to. God provides a solution for our conflicted state that goes right to the heart of the problem. The solution is God’s own self through Christ who shows us the depths of divine love on the cross.
So how do we claim this victory in our own lives day by day? How do we experience this power to overcome sin, to grow in our discipleship, to resemble more deeply the image of Christ?
The Good News is that ultimately, though we may have some struggles with sin, it is the Spirit within us who works together with our desire to please God. Spiritual disciplines of prayer, studying scripture, worship, meeting to “do life” together in community, and serving others are all ways our growth in discipleship can be nurtured. And that holy combination— the Spirit within us and our desire to please God—is what gives us the victory to overcome sin.
There’s a prayer by Thomas Merton, the 20th century writer and mystic that speaks to this desire to please God. So I leave you with this prayer by Merton:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.