Third Sunday after Pentecost, July 3, 2011
For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:22-25a
“Don’t eat your candy until we get home,” my mother warned as I clambered into the backseat of our VW Bug after church. I stared longingly at the small roll of candy in my hand. It was mine. I had earned it for knowing my memory verse, and here my mother was being a spoilsport about it. It was hard enough not to eat it during worship, and now she was depriving me for an additional 20 minutes. Not fair!
Did I listen? Of course not! What five-year-old can resist a colorful roll of Life Savers candy in her fat little fist? I still remember quietly opening the package and popping one of the sweet fruit flavored candies into my mouth. Savoring the goodness and success of my stealthy move, I was taken quite by surprise when my father hit a large bump in the road–so surprised in fact that I sucked that forbidden treat right into my throat where it lodged neat as could be. I tried swallowing and then coughing, but that only seemed to make things worse. My mother turned around and saw my growing alarm and guilty face, along with the open roll of candy on the seat beside me.
“Stop the car, George! NOW!” she cried in alarm.
I think she was out the door before the Bug coasted to a stop, dragging me forthwith from the seat and thumping me soundly and repeatedly on my back. Between my coughing and her therapeutic whacking, the “evidence” spat forth onto the asphalt. I don’t remember what happened next other than the sense of relief felt by all three of us, but I’m pretty sure she confiscated the remaining candies.
I was captive to sin, to my own childish cravings for that coveted candy and to my impish impatience. Of course, I was in no real danger of dying–the hole in the Life Saver was truly a life saver, but I had to be rescued from my own wretched willfulness. This sort of rescue definitely demands much more than candy.
Yes, friends, the dilemma Paul is talking about in this week’s epistle starts early in life and moves swiftly from candy to more costly and caustic conflicts between good and evil. We Christians know what is good for us; we can grasp cognitively the notion that we should be slaves to righteousness rather than sin. As Lutherans we learn to die daily to our human nature and its whims, but that doesn’t mean the battle is over. Temptation is literally a heartbeat away, and no one is immune from the siren song of sin.
Paul recognized this struggle within his very self and was bold enough to share it openly and transparently. That gives me great hope. So does the fact that other great pillars of faith–Augustine, Luther, Mother Teresa, to name a few–were well acquainted with this struggle in their faithful journey. They did not give up, they kept going, and like Paul, they knew exactly the source of their rescue–Jesus Christ. As Eugene Peterson translates Paul in The Message: “He [Jesus] acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different” (Romans 7:25b).
Yes, Jesus is our “Life Saver”–not just for as long as it takes a small piece of candy to melt, not just for a day, or a year, or a lifetime, but for all eternity. Jesus understands the contradictions and temptations we face each day, the tug-of-war between the life of faith and lie of living for the self. If you are weary, if you are burned out, if your faith is wavering, do not despair. Jesus is calling you to come to him, to walk with him and learn from him how to live, to really live. Jesus offers rest from distractions, hope and healing for the hurting, and instruction in how to live in grace and true freedom. Following “the way” of Jesus does not lead to choking, unbearable burdens and temptations, but to true freedom, purpose, and meaning. This is good news that people need to hear.
Blessings on your preaching and teaching this weekend.
Sharing the Story
Here’s a link to the history of Life Savers candy. The story begins in 1912 and continues to this day. It is interesting that this candy “saved” candy maker Clarence Crane’s business by boosting his summer sales when shipping chocolate was impractical.
Consider showing clips from the 1997 film Liar Liar, starring Jim Carrey. The story is about a habitual liar who ends up having to tell the truth for one full day. Connect a scene or two from the movie with the epistle lesson from Romans and Paul’s admission that he does the very thing he does not want to do. Ask youth to share their experiences, concerns, and hopes.
Bring a life preserver ring and some individually wrapped Life Saver candies. Talk to the children about how the life preserver works, and then tell them the history of the candy (see above). Ask them if they know what to use to keep from drowning in sin and despair. Show them a picture of Jesus and remind them that Jesus is a much better life saver than any candy, any life preserver ring, or lifeguard at the pool.
Photo by Amanda Munoz used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!