Scripture: Romans 7:15-25
I do not know if you have ever noticed this, but there is a very odd side effect to summer. During the winter we are all cooped up inside, but as soon as the grass is green again, the sun is out, and the temperature warm this unique phenomenon happens. People are much more likely to say “Hey watch this . . .” and then they do something that they probably have not thought out all of the way. Usually, the results end up something like this:
The Internet has a term for video clips like those, they are an epic fail. A fail is just when we fail to do whatever we are trying. An Epic fail though is when we fail spectacularly. An example would be if a baseball player swings at a pitch and misses; that is a fail. If the baseball player misses, but swung so hard that they lose their balance and fall down, well that is an epic fail. I feel like I have to confess, that I find video montages like the one we just watched hilarious. I crack up every time, but that kind of bothers me. Because some of those tumbles and falls look like they really hurt, and it does not feel very pastoral to laugh at someone else’s pain. The other thing that kind of bothers me, is just how many clips like this are! Seriously, I think you could literally spend an entire day doing nothing but watching fail video montages. It is kind of ridiculous how prone we are to failure. What is sillier, is that we should know better. By the time that we are like twelve, we should know that one someone says “Hey watch this” or “Here, hold my drink” that there is a high likelihood things are not going to end well. Yet, we still do it or worse, we are probably guilty of sometimes being the one who says it! It is like there are two types of people in the world. There are people, who upon seeing a big red button, push it and get an electrical shock will then think, “Well I guess I should not do that again.” Then there are people who push the button, get shocked, and think, “I wonder what happens if I do that again.” If we are honest, a lot of us probably fit into that second mold.
It would seem that a large part of the human experience is failing. We fail a lot. Now in some ways this is not a bad thing. Failure is one of the best teachers. There is a scene from the Disney movie Meet the Robinsons that I absolutely love, where the main character tries something and it completely does not work. Instead of blaming him for failing, the Robinson family celebrates that he failed, because only through failing can we truly learn. However, it seems that sometimes we fail over and over and over again, without learning from our failures.
This morning’s scripture is all about failure on a spiritual level, and it is one that I can relate to all too well. Some people really love the idea of a life verse. This is a scripture that they feel really captures the essence of who they are. Often verses like Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” are the kind of ones that people pick as a life verse. If I am being brutally honest though, the verse that most describes me, the verse that connects to me the most is Romans 7:15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” I can also really relate to the way that the Message paraphrase interprets part of this morning’s scripture. This is one scripture that I think the message paraphrase does a good job at summarizing in a way that captures the essence of the scripture. Verses 18-21 of this morning’s scripture in the Message read: “I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up.” I know that I am not the only one who relates to this scripture. In their song Thankful, Christian band Caedmon’s Call sings: “You know I ran across an old box of letters, while I was bagging up some clothes for Goodwill. But you Know I had to laugh at the same old struggles That plagued me then are plaguing me still.” I think if we are all honest, on some level we all relate to this scripture. We all find ourselves struggling with the same personal demons that we have struggled with for years. When it comes to our faith, we all know what it feels like to experience an epic fail.
I do not know about you, but it so frustrating. Giving in to the temptation, committing the sin is so aggravating. Knowing what we should do and not doing it, knowing what is wrong and doing it anyway- it gets on my last nerve, because I feel like I should know better! I, we, do know better. This morning’s scripture reminds us of that, but it also reminds us that part of being human is to sin, to fail before God. When we are confronted by that truth and consider what it means to our faith, and our relationship to God, there are two actions we need to be sure to take.
First, we have to be willing to admit that we are sinners. We have a tendency to try to sugar coat sin. We try to make downplay what it really is. We might call sin a mistake, a bad choice, an indiscretion. We need to be clear about this, sin is willful disobedience against God. Sin is often a purposeful and malicious decision to do wrong or evil. As uncomfortable as it is, we have to claim that we are sinners. We have to claim that we have been wrecked by the Fall, and like Paul describes in verse 21 we have to admit that although we want to do good, evil is right there beside me. We have to claim that we are sinners, because if not we will rationalize it away. If we do not call our rebellious behavior for what it is, then we will find ways to explains why our sins are not that bad, why they are justifiable. If we do not admit to our own sins, then we might find ourselves comparing ourselves to others. We might find ourselves seeking out people who we feel are guilty of worse sins in their lives. This is one of the things that has most alienated people from churches. Christians as a whole are far too guilty of spending effort condemning other people of their sins, instead of humbly admitting to our own. The fact that the idea of having a “holier than thou” attitude exist as an idea, shows that we have messed up in this. As Christians we should not see ourselves as holier than anyone, because we should know that we know we are not perfect, just forgiven. One of the things I really appreciate about 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous is the instance that those who participate never stop being alcoholics. An AA member could be sober for decades, but they still understand themselves as an alcoholic. In the same way, even though as Christians we redeemed, even though our sins have been separated from us as far as the East is from the West, we have to understand ourselves as still being sinners. We have to understand that we will still have a sinful nature waging war inside of us. Even if we have managed to (somehow) go years without sinning, we would still need to see ourselves as sinners in need of a savior.
Being willing to admit that we are sinners is important so that we can fulfill the second step, which is we have to be willing to confess our sins. If we are not willing to name how we have turned away from God, then we are unable to seek reconciliation. In order to seek forgiveness for our sins, we must be willing to confess them. We have to be willing to tell God what we have done wrong, ask for forgiveness, and then repent. Repent means to turn away from, to leave behind, to “go and sin no more.” One of the hard lessons to learn in our faith, is that repentance, true repentance, is a process. I wish it wasn’t. I wish it was as simple as saying a prayer, making a firm decision, and then never falling into a certain temptation again. The truth is, that we will fail and we will epically in our faith, but each time God will still be there. Each time, God will forgive again, and each time through the grace of Christ we will step back on the road to repentance. When faced with this sinful nature, we are not helpless. The same struggles that plagued us then might plague us still, but not all of them. All of us have who are in Christ probably have sinful behaviors and sinful desires, which we have truly repented from. That we have turned our back on and never gone back to. It might have taken awhile, but we did. This is a reason to have great hope, because with God all things possible, and we can have hope because we know repentance is possible.
We all came here today as sinners, and chances are most of us came here today with unconfessed sin in our lives. The good news, is that we are in the right place. As we celebrate the sacrament of communion we are reminded that Christ invite to his table all of those who love him, and thank God that includes sinners as well. About seven years ago there was a one hit wonder kind of band called Rush of Fools, but they had a very powerful song called Undo. In that song they sung, “ I focused on the score, but I could never win; trying to ignore a life of hiding my sin. To label me a hypocrite would be only scratching the surface of who I’ve been known to be. Turn me around, pick me up. Undo what I’ve become. Bring me back, to the place of forgiveness and grace. I need you, I need your help. I can’t do this myself. You’re the only one who can undo what I’ve become.” Friends, the good news today is that we are invited to the place of forgiveness and grace. Through the sacrament of communion we remember and we re-experience God’s love for us. We remember that because Jesus died we are forgiven, the penalty of our sins has been paid in full, and the record of them erased. May we remember that this sacrifice of Jesus, proves God’s love for us, and may we remember that no sin, no wrongdoing can ever separate us from that love.
If today, you feel like you are losing the war within you, and the sinful nature is winning then may you be able to ask God to undo what you’ve become. May you know that God will forgive every single one of our epic fails. May we all be willing to confess our sins and may we seek repentance. May we claim the promise of deliverance from sin, and may our proclamation be the same as Paul’s in verse 25 “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.”