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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sermon from July 6, 2014

The Burden Lifted

& Romans 7:14-25a

Jesus said, “Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11: 28)
Our bodies need rest to recuperate and reinvigorate. We need to rest to get ready to go back at it.
God who made us, body and soul, placed us in a world where there is night and day, times for rest and work. Since creation God has ordered things so that there is a day of rest, a day for us to pause from labor and meditate on Him and His promises.
As our bodies need such rest, so also our souls need rest and rejuvenation.
The Epistle reading for today describes the struggle, the fight within, from which we need rest. Like a boxer who gets a breather between rounds, so a Christian needs rest from the contest going on in his or her soul.  Romans 7 is about that contest, that fight, that struggle.
St. Paul says, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:22-23).
All of us Christians can relate to this internal tension he describes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).
So we struggle. We do the things we hate. We act out of anger or frustration with our coworker, family member, or neighbor, instead of out of love.
We get to the end of a day and realize how little we’ve got done because we were lazy or distracted and didn’t do the work we should have.
We speak without thinking and out comes hurtful gossip or immoral words. Or we don’t speak up quick enough to defend our neighbor’s reputation or defend the truth. Only later do we think, “I should have said something.”
And so when we do, or think or say these things we hate, our conscience aches.
Your conscience is a good thing. It’s one way God gets his point across to you. It is a good thing when the conscience of a sinner gets burdened, because it leads you to repentance.
I say conscience is good, in principle. But like everything else about us, it is imperfect. Sometimes it is just plain wrong. It gives out false signals. Sometimes our struggle is over false guilt and false shame.
For example, you can get to feeling guilty for not being what others expect you to be. The people around you may expect you to be a certain type of parent or a certain type of student or a certain type of citizen. If you let them down, you may feel bad and guilty about it.
But really, such expectations do not necessarily need to be your problem. It’s more likely the case that they need to learn who you are, and not assume who you are. It’s rude of them to expect you to change to fit their assumptions. We need to learn that it is God’s Word that determines what is right and what is wrong, not the opinions of those around us.
But each of us knows of times when our conscience was bothered and it was right. It was doing its God-given purpose of showing us our sins. It was making God’s Law real and pertinent in our lives.
Sin makes Guilt. And guilt is no fun, it takes away peace. It can drive a sinner crazy. Guilt prevents you from enjoying life, from functioning properly. It keeps you from being a good neighbor and serving the Lord whole-heartedly.
So what to do with guilt? I want to list some options:
1).        Fret. You can just keep stewing over it. You can keep going over and over in your mind what you did wrong and how shameful it was.
As I say that, you can probably imagine how wrong that sounds, especially since there is such an easy solution to that in the forgiveness of Jesus who died for your sins. Yet many, many people, many Christians, go years, decades even, fretting over their guilt. They go around feeling inadequate, unworthy, despicable. We pray that they would hear the Gospel and believe it.
2.)        Give up. You could just abandon the fight. Avoid the struggle. Just stop caring. Do whatever it takes to push the conscience aside so it doesn’t bother anymore. Drink more. Indulge more. Sin more. When you bend the conscience enough it breaks and once broken it’s not so sharp, not so burdensome. Then you will feel free from the struggle. You can go on with life. It’s as easy as falling off a log. No worries.
But even as I say that, you can see that conscience is a good and blessed thing. Because when it is broken or gone, it’s terrible. All that is left is lawlessness and godlessness.
3.)        Work to fix it. You can work to overcome your shortfalls. You can focus on fixing your guilt and shame, and in so doing you can prove yourself to be better than your past sins and guilt. Prove yourself to whom? Mostly, prove yourself to yourself.
But then you will have to work constantly. There will be no rest – no stopping . . . until you crash. No peace; No joy in life.
Let’s turn back to the Epistle reading of the day:  St Paul describes this struggle going on within himself. He painfully describes his ongoing battle, wanting to do good, but doing instead the things he hates to do. He concludes: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 7:24.
And then He answers His own question with this powerful response: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).
“Thanks be to God!” Those are the words that resound in the Christian life.
If you are one who frets, turn your gaze away from yourself and from all the worries and see the victory over sin and death that God has given you through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Let your thanks to God fill your life with joy and peace.
If you are one who has given up on the struggle with sin, Thanks be to God! He hasn’t given up on you. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Our Lord continues to invite sinners, “Come to me!”
If you are one who works ceaselessly, addictively, and restlessly, Thanks be to God that He has rest for your soul through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hear that Gospel Jesus preaches:  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He lifts your burden. In your struggle remember His promises. Remember the promise He made at your baptism. He forgives you, so He can accept you. Remember the promise He makes you at His table. “My body was given, so you’d be forgiven. My blood was shed so you’d have life – holy and eternal.
In this way, let Christ teach you what life is all about. Our view of life is warped by selfish desires. Our work ethic has been lost along the way. Work has come to be viewed as bad, as something to avoid as much as you can. Recreation is valued as that which life is all about. You work so can get to the weekend, you put in your time, you put in your years with the only purpose in mind is the day when you can stop and retire.
There is a time for work. That’s how we serve each other and society.
There is a time for rest. That’s to restore strength so we are ready for what comes next.
So likewise there is a time for the conscience to struggle.  This is necessary for us lest we become lazy in our sins.
There is a time for peace in Jesus, hearing His gospel of forgiveness and taking our rest in Him.

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