Thursday, March 05, 2015

A Read-along of Romans, Chapter 7: "For that which I do I allow not..."


We have a snow day, this morning. In the old days, that meant pajamas until late morning. After that, my father would send us out into the cold white so we could sled, play, and build snow forts with friends. Afterward, we would come in to warm up and dry out...and enjoy a lunch of tomato soup and grilled cheese. At least, that's how I remember it.

Now, as an adult and a priest, I look out at the cold white, pray for those who must make their way in this weather and ponder the hit the budget at the church will take as yet another snow storm requires the plow guy and hit crews to clear the prodigious amount of walkways and parking lots our parish maintains for the good of the order (and the well-being of our parishioners and ministry/thrift shop clients). It is also a day to catch up on preparations for teaching, for our vestry retreat on Saturday and for the impending "pilgrimage-in-place" that is Holy Week at St. Peter's.

What better way to start than with prayer and reflection on scripture?

And so, with a cup of Irish tea, and my great grandfather's study Bible in hand, we embark on a reflection of a particularly important chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans. Chapter 7 is the point at which Paul hits his stride. Up until now, he has been working hard to get us all on board for the journey he intends to lead us on into a deeper awareness of our being part and portion of the Body of Christ. Abraham as our titular progenitor is our common root, and the model of faith credited as righteousness. He predates the Law, and thus both Jew and Gentile can be encouraged to look to him for an open mind and heart. Yet, with the Law and the new life of Christ looming before us, suddenly we are going from "we are all related" in God's love to "well, how then shall we live?"

My Great-grandfather James Earnest Converse's Bible
Paul's first maneuver in the chapter is to make sure those under the Law understand that while they know sin from it, and that through sin, death; then they are also made alive as are the Gentiles through the resurrection of Jesus the Christ who by his incarnation, death and rising to life has put sin, death and the Law to rest so that life in God for all might hold sway. That's good stuff, but we still have to struggle with sin.

In that struggle, Paul is offering just one of many rhetorical turns that turn this letter from a simple apologia into a work of art and spirit. Here, he both throws himself under the sin bus while at the same time offering his example as a model of understanding for our entrance into a new life in Christ:

"For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy and the commandment holy, and just, and good." (verses 9-12)

Paul walks in front of us through this bogland of muddy, sinful sinkholes and probes with his own self the depths of how far we have fallen from our primary relationship with God's will for us. Even with the rules in front of us, rules which we strive to follow to their very letter, we still mess up. With that messing up, then, death reigns; even as we observe that the commandment is all that and more, we still know now more than ever just how much we fall short of the goal and how far off the mark we really are.

How are we going to deal with this challenging and depressing state in which we find ourselves? Paul cries out for/with us:

"For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh," dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." (verses 18-20)

That's the place we find ourselves quite often, yes? We know the good, and may even intend it; and yet, (as Paul opines) there dwells in our members the impulse toward sin.

God's love is universal, as is God's grace; and yet Paul offers that we all turn from it, too often. And thus, as in Abraham our model, we find another commonality...that sin dwells in each and every one of us.

Who shall deliver us?

"O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." (verse 25)

Stay tuned...a solution to our brokenness is coming. You are just going to have to wait a bit for it, as it dwells in the chapters to follow.

God's peace, all....and stay as warm and as safe as you are able today.....

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