“I Don’t Understand” Romans 7:15-25

“I Don’t Understand” Romans 7:15-25

Way back in the past.
Back before kids and cancer,
back before Bri and I getting married,
I had a friend named Eddie.

Eddie was and is a great guy.
Through time and geography
we have grown apart,
but at one point I considered him my best friend.

Eddie and I both liked to write songs on the guitar.

We took that shared passion
and teamed up
traveling around to coffee houses
playing the songs we wrote,
telling people all about Jesus,
and dreaming of making our own records
and maybe getting paid
to do this thing we love someday.

Somewhere in the midst
of all our coffee house shows
and open mic nights, Eddie got an idea.

Now this was back
during the first rush of excitement
around shows like American Idol
and America’s Got Talent.
People were looking for opportunities
to showcase their talent,
and so Eddie thought it would be a good idea
to rent a big auditorium in our hometown
and put on a talent show.
And, of course, he recruited me to help.

And it was a good idea,
just not as well attended as we would have liked.
I think, in the end,
there were about a dozen acts
and that included Eddie and I.
And maybe double that number
in people who came to watch the show.

Never-the-less, it was a fun night.
And the talent on stage was good,
especially for our small hometown.

Towards the end, a young girl,
maybe a sophomore or junior in high school,
took to the stage to belt out with gusto
Amazing Grace.

For some this nigh-immortal John Newton hymn
is the soundtrack of their lives.
For others,
when this classic hymn
comes up on rotation in worship,
have to fight to keep from rolling their eyes
into the back of their head.

Love it or hate it, we all know it.

Sing the first verse with me would you:

🎵“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind but now I see.”🎶

We all know it right?
We have sung it in worship services
and at funerals.
We’ve all heard it droned out
on a single set of lonely bag pipes.

So why, all these years later,
do I remember a small town talent show
rendition of this hymn?

Was it because she had a stunning voice?
No. She was good and had a lot of talent,
but it wasn’t her voice.

And she didn’t do anything out of the ordinary with it,
like setting it to the tune of
“House of the Rising Sun” or “Gilligan’s Island.” Nope. It was just a straight up singing of the song.

What stuck with me,
what sticks with me to this day,
was the altering of one word in that first verse.

We just sang it.
We all know how it goes.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
Except when she sang it on that night,
the words went like this.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
that saved a child like me.
A child like me.
Apparently “wretch”
was not a word she was going to sing
or ascribe to herself.
And I’m sure she was a very pleasant person.
Like, I don’t think anyone would look at her
and think… “Wow! That girl’s a wretch!”

But she did what we all do, right?
When we wake up in the morning
and look in the mirror,
barring some form of mental illness,
we don’t see a wretch.
We don’t see a despicable or contemptible person
We see a good person
doing their best to make it
in a world that doesn’t often make sense.

But “wretch” is the word that John Newton used,
and it is the word that Paul used in Romans 7. “Wretched man that I am!
Who can rescue me from this body of death?”

Paul has spent the better part of 7 chapters
driving home the point that all of us, to a person,
are sinners.

He has made sure that we know everyone is guilty,
and therefore everyone is equal,
and so we don’t have to find a way
to pass the blame to someone else.

And over the last three chapters
Paul has sought to help us understand
the reality of why things are the way they are.
Why it is that our faith in Christ
doesn’t instantaneously take away
our bent towards sinning.
Bringing to light the battle that is being waged
between our physicality and our spirituality.

In the first half of chapter 7
Paul explains how the law of Moses
given to the ancient Hebrews
was never meant as a way to salvation,
as the religious leaders of his day supposed.

But rather that the law
was intended to expose sin,
to let us know what is sin and what isn’t.
What it is that we do, that is the fruit of our idolatry.

A lot of what Paul has talked about
has been at stand off range too.
It hasn’t been overly personal.
But here starting in verse 15
Paul gets a bit more intimate:

“I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want,
but I do the very thing I hate.”

Paul shifts from straw men and generalities
to himself. “I” do not understand.

The great war that rages inside of us
between the flesh and the spirit,
raged inside Paul as well.
And I find that incredibly encouraging.

When I first felt the call to ministry, I fought it.
I thought I was the worst sinner on the planet
and so unworthy of God’s love,
that there was no way God could use me
in ministry.
I thought surely there were plenty of other people,
people far better than me,
who God would use
before ever putting me in the lineup.

And then I started getting to know Paul.
Paul the great apostle.
Paul the great missionary to the gentiles.
Paul the writer of 13 of the 27 books
of the New Testament.

Paul who preached Christ crucified
wherever he went and to whoever he met.
Thrown in prison?
Paul shared Jesus with the prisoners
and the guards many of whom
believed and were baptized.

Paul proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ
when he was brought before
Roman governors and magistrates.
Paul, who when the opportunity arose
demanded a trial before the emperor himself,
and I am pretty sure he shared about Jesus
during that meeting as well.

With all of that on his resume,
its easy to forget that Paul
once went by a different name. Saul of Tarsus.

A pharisee of pharisees.
A zealot of the law.
A Hebrew of Hebrews.
After Pentecost,
when these Christians started popping up
by the hundreds and thousands all over the place,
he didn’t think,
“Wow, what a great new thing God is doing” -,
no, he formed a posse.
He rode out and found those Christians
and he watched them being put to death
with a smile on his face.

Paul did a whole lot of bad
and a whole lot of good.

But what saved me
from continuing to fight my calling
was one verse in I Timothy 1:15:
“The saying is sure
and worthy of full acceptance,
that Christ Jesus came into the world
to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.”

Paul recognized that,
no matter how far he had come,
that the battle inside was still happening.
And, at times I am sure, intensified.
But if Paul was already the “foremost sinner”,
then I couldn’t be.
And if God used Paul
to proclaim the gospel to the world,
then surely God could use me as well.

And here is the beautiful part.
Just like I found comfort and grace
in the reality that one of the greatest disciples
was in the same boat I am in,
we can find that encouragement in each other.

When we all sing Amazing Grace together,
when we confess that it is grace that saves us
in our wretchedness,
we are acknowledging our sameness.
We are acknowledging that, in this struggle,
we are not alone.

Parents,
remember when your kids would have playdates
or you’d meet their friends
and you’d see how the friends behave,
and their behavior
would cause you to breathe a deep sigh of relief
because “it’s not just your kid”
that behaves that way?

Or you talk about getting together with a new friend
and you’re really happy
because your getting together at their house
because you know,
that even if you spent all day cleaning
there would still be clutter
and it wouldn’t be perfect.

And then you get to that friend’s house
and there is clutter everywhere…
and you see you are not the only one
with that issue.

It is a sort of camaraderie.
We are so relieved when we discover
that we are not alone.
When we discover that someone else struggles
just like me.

That’s why a lot of grief counseling
happens in groups.
Everyone there is experiencing something similar.
Some kind of loss.

That’s also why 12 step programs
work for substance abusers.
You can feel very much alone in your struggle,
but the moment you walk through the door
of the meeting you realize that everyone there
has a similar problem.
You are not alone.
From billionaires in their mansions
to the homeless in the streets,
we are, all of us, connected by the struggle,
connected by our brokenness.

And that may seem
like a weird way to connect with people,
over our brokenness, over our struggles,
but it really isn’t.
In fact it is needed and largely lacking today.

It is a rarity today for people
to do anything but represent
the best parts of themselves.

You don’t get onto Facebook
and write about how wretched you are.
No. Today we take 100 selfies
until we get the right shot
at the right angle that makes us look the best.

When Michaela was little,
we would do mini photo shoots
in our living room each month
to capture her growth over the months and years.

I remember getting lots and lots
of compliments and likes on those pictures
when I posted them to social media.

And they were beautiful.
And Michaela’s smile was priceless.

It was also fake.
In reality,
she had been in the middle of a temper tantrum,
and I just decided to shoot the pictures anyway
and I shot so many,
that I was able to find one or two in there
where it actually looked like she was smiling.

That’s what we put out there.
We put out the things we feel good about.
And others absorb that
and start feeling even more alone
because everyone they know
is having a great life with no struggles.

It’s great to accentuate the positive.
But we cannot eliminate the negative,
as the song would suggest.

Because the experience
that is common to humanity,
the one that connects us all
and lets us know we are not alone,
that we belong to each other,
is our brokenness,
the struggles we all face everyday,
the struggles we can and should
be facing together.

Early on in the Methodist movement,
the people, that is the Church,
were organized into small groups.

Larger groups called societies,
smaller groups of 12 called classes,
and finally bands of 4 or 5 people
of the same gender and marital status.

The entire purpose of the band
was to get together
and confess specific sins to each other,
to talk about their struggles,
individual and shared,
and to encourage one another.

This is a practice we lack today.
A practice that our world, frankly, needs.
Otherwise our isolation grows.
We hide our struggles
until they cannot be hidden anymore and we fall,
and it’s a shock to everyone.

We wonder how it could happen.
How it could go so far.
But it’s easy to continue doing
what we know we shouldn’t do
when no one else really knows it’s going on.
When we fail to share the difficult parts of our lives
with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
With those who could help us bear the burden
and encourage us to keep fighting
to do what is right.

So the next time we sing
about God’s amazing grace,
and how it saved a wretch like me,
take half a second,
look out of the corner of your eye
at the people around you, and remember,
we are all broken here,
we are all the same in that regard.
Some of us just do a really good job of hiding it.

Wesley advised those small groups
to meet regularly and ask one another,
“How is it with your soul?”

And maybe, friends,
we would do well to ask the same –
of ourselves, and of those around us.

And as we model honesty
by sharing not only our own joy
but our brokenness,
we will create opportunities for ourselves
and for others to be forgiven and made whole.

To get past the place where all we can cry is
“O wretched person that I am”
to the place of joy and healing
through Jesus Christ.
In whose name we all give thanks. Amen? Amen.

Sermon Audio

Romans 7:15-25

Grace Cubed Podcast

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