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I get it. I really do. I’ve been baptized, and I am a child of God. I’ve been instructed in the faith. I believe that the Bible is the inspired, infallible TRUTH. I know the difference between right and wrong. I know what I should do and shouldn’t do and I want to do what is right before God.
But I don’t get it. I really don’t. Why am I such a failure? It’s pathetic.
When I know I should keep quite I open my big mouth and when I know I should speak up I don’t say a thing.
I know what I should do but it’s like an all out war with myself to actually do it. And I know what I shouldn’t do, but its like, ‘yea, why not?’
I know that I should read my bible to get to know God’s Word and I should pray, but man, I’m busy, gotta run. But it amazes me how easily I make time for lots of other things not nearly so important.
I know I should tithe on my income and believe me, I want to, but when the time comes I just can’t let go of it. But when I see something I want, I can’t believe how easily I fork it out.
It’s ridiculous. It’s disgusting really. What’s wrong with me?
After they finished the Passover meal in the Upper Room, Jesus led His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. Knowing all that was about to take place and that the time had come for His passion and suffering for the sins of the world to begin, He asked them to keep watch while He prayed. And they fell asleep.
It wasn’t that they didn’t want to keep watch. They loved Him. They wanted to please Him. “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33). They just couldn’t keep their eyes open. (Some of you will be able to identify with them by the end of this sermon.)
When Jesus came to where He had asked them to keep watch and found them sleeping, He said, “The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Mat.26:41).
St. Paul was not among those disciples. And yet he would learn the same lesson. “The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” Or as we heard him put it, “I have the desire to do what is right but not the ability to carry it out.”
I’ve read that people who have been paralyzed by an injury or a stroke have the thoughts and desire to move an arm or a leg or to speak, but it just doesn’t happen. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” How frustrating?
So, what’s going on here? Why this disconnect between the DESIRE AND DEED?
It wasn’t always like this you know. When God made man in the beginning, He made Him body and soul in perfect harmony – tov meoth – “very good.” Every single little part and piece of the universe all worked together in perfect harmony just the way that it should.
Adam and Eve had the desire to do what was good and right before God, and the actions followed EFFORTLESSLY. No struggle, no battle, no disappointment.
They were truly FREE. They were FREE to NOT SIN. And they were also FREE to SIN. And we know what they did with their ‘FREEDOM.’ They sold their freedom to the serpent for a piece of fruit that was pleasing to the eye. And once they sold their freedom, there was no getting it back. They couldn’t buy it back or earn it back. They were no longer FREE. They were now CAPTIVES, PRISONERS to the inner desire to do what God has forbidden and NOT DO what God had commanded.
And if that was the end of the story, we might well have been able to say that they lived ‘HAPPILY.’ We couldn’t say, ‘HAPPILY EVER AFTER.’ But they would have been ‘happy’ because both spirit and flesh, desire and deed, were acting together in perfect harmony. Completely opposed to God’s Word and His will, but none of that really matter to them any more. They were ‘happy.’ They were ‘by nature sinful and unclean.’ But they were perfectly satisfied with that.
And they would have died ‘happy’ if only the Lord God had given up on them. If only He had given them over, and written them off, and moved on to another garden or another planet.
But “He called to the man.” The Lord God spoke His creative word into the darkness of Adam’s prison and THERE WAS LIGHT. And He did the same with the woman.
And suddenly, they were NOT HAPPY. They were NOT HAPPY with themselves and they were very much NOT HAPPY with God. Why couldn’t He just leave them alone? Why did He have to make them feel GUILTY? Why didn’t He just let them enjoy their ‘happiness?’ They weren’t hurting anyone, except every future generation down to you and me.
Every once in a while someone will ask me if God wants us to be ‘happy.’ It all depends. If you mean, ‘happy’ as a prisoner of the devil, the answer is ‘no.’ There’s no love in that. And the bible never says that God is ‘happiness,’ but it does say that God is ‘love.’ No, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Rom.7:12). EVEN IF IT MAKES US FEEL BAD.
But if you mean, ‘happy’ that God has not written me off and chalked me up as a loss but ‘purchased and won me from all sin and the power of the devil,’ if that’s what you mean by ‘happy,’ then ‘yes,’ God wants you to be ‘happy.’
So, this inner struggle that every believer experiences is, in itself, a sign to us that the Holy Spirit dwells in us and that God has not given us up. There is another Spirit dwelling in us that is opposed to our own spirit.
And it’s a battle between the two. “I see in my members another law waging war against the laws of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”
By the way, this ‘war’ is one that UNBELIEVERS simply don’t have. If your unbelieving friends don’t seem to have the same kind of frustration with themselves that you do, that’s why. So, don’t ever tell your unbelieving friends that if only they were baptized and came to church they’d be ‘happy.’ Baptism is the intrusion of God into an otherwise ‘happy’ and perfectly contended life. Baptism marks the beginning of a daily and lifelong struggle to crucify the sinful nature.
When the baptized in Christ come together in God’s House, what’s the first thing that comes out of our mouth? “We are by nature sinful and unclean…we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed.’ “What a wretched man I am.” Doesn’t sound like ‘happy’ people at all.
It’s pure coincidence that this reading should fall on the weekend that we celebrate our ‘Independence.’ But it sure does make for a nice little ‘sermon illustration.’ This is the time for celebrating our FREEDOM, freedom which WE won by OUR victorious battle against a foreign power. This is the weekend to get pumped up with patriotic fervor and remind ourselves that there is no adversity that we cannot cure and challenge that we cannot overcome. And all of that is just fine in the ‘civil realm.’ And it’s what makes this a great nation.
But it doesn’t transfer over to our life before God. And we have a hard time with that. We can’t just leave it where St. Paul leaves it with, “what a wretched man that I am.” “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” It’s the American way to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and overcome every obstacle. We must rescue ourselves.
We’re told that Jesus wants us to be VICTORIOUS CHRISTIANS and here’s a program for you to follow and 40 days of workouts that will make you strong and if you follow it you can ‘live your best life now.’
And we try these things because we think we should. But then at some point along the way, it all starts to feel like one of those bad parties where everyone acts like they’re really enjoying themselves, but no one really is or at least you’re not. But you don’t want to let on that you’re board with the whole thing, because it seems to be working for them. Maybe there’s something wrong with me.
It’s a waterless pit.
And so, you either keep playing the game in hopes that it might get better, OR you get disgusted and loose your faith, OR you hear a still, small voice say, “Come to me. All you who labor and are heavy laden. I will give you rest.”
THE ANSWER TO OUR PROBLEM DOES NOT LIE WITHIN US. IT LIES OUTSIDE OF US.
There is One in whom there is no confusion between will and act, between desire and deed. His will is HOLY, HOLY, HOLY. And He has the ability to carry it out. And what He does is in perfect harmony with what He wills. What He wills is to do the will of the Father. He is ‘very good.’
Listen to Him as He kneels in the garden right about where the 1st Adam stood. The 2nd Adam is doing what the 1st Adam failed to do. “Not my will by Yours be done.” Isn’t that what we all say in our prayers every morning as we begin a new day. “Not my will but Yours be done, Father.” But we do not have the ability to carry it out because the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak and all we’re really want is to be ‘happy.’
BUT THERE HE IS, STANDING IN OUR PLACE, TAKING OUR LIFE INTO HIS. “FATHER, NOT MY WILL BUT YOURS BE DONE.” HIS SPIRIT IS WILLING AND HIS FLESH IS STRONG. HE ENDURES THE THIRST, THE HUNGER, THE MOCKERY, THE HUMILIATION, AND THE NAILS, EVEN THE NAILS. “FATHER, YOUR WILL BE DONE.”
ALL HE REALLY WANTS IS “REST FOR YOUR SOUL.” And He is able to carry it out and He has done it.
The “rest” that Jesus offers is that Sabbath rest that is all about what we don’t do and all about what God does to us, and for us.
It’s the ‘rest’ that replies to our Confession of sins, not with penance that we must do, but with Absolution that blots out your sins in His holy blood,
It’s the ‘rest’ calls to you through the Gospel that says, “I know where you are and I see your LABOR and I have taken your BURDEN onto MYSELF and I am HEAVY LADEN with your sin so that you may be FREE OF IT.
It’s the rest that He gives to you ‘because of the blood of my covenant with you…” The covenant once sealed with the blood of sheep and goats and bulls, but now with His own blood, given to you to take and drink along with His body to take and eat.
With this rest, Jesus answers our deepest prayer, “Who shall deliver me from this body of death,” saying, ‘I WILL.’
“I will set your prisoners free from their waterless pit.” Set free from captivity to this body of death to live forever in the body of Christ.
To which we reply, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.’