Hello, my name is Julia, and I’m a sinner.

Hi, my name is Julia, and I’m a sinner.

I can’t tell you how often I want to say that sentence in my day to day life.  Hi, my name is Julia, and I can’t do everything right.  Hi, my name is Julia, and I really have trouble asking for help.  Hi, my name is Julia, and I just can’t seem to get a handle on my mouth most days, or on the facts.  I mess up a lot.  I say angry words.  I get self-righteous.  I ignore poor people.  I wish I could ignore other people’s feelings.  Hi, my name is Julia, and I’m a sinner.

Maybe it should be, “Hi, my name is Julia, and I am a human.”

Because this is one of the hardest, and one of the most heart-gut-soul recognizing passages in all of Scripture, for me.

I remember the first time I read this passage.  I was a new Christian, blindly trying to figure out what the heck I was supposed to do in order to pull off this being Christian thing – I had a vague sense that it had to do with reading my bible from cover to cover.  So, that’s what I did.  I started at page one – Genesis 1:1, and read through it.  Page by page, word by word.  At one point, about a year in, I made it to Romans, and I read this passage.

7:15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
7:16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.
7:17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
7:18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.
7:19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
7:20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
7:21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.

And I felt two things:  the first was… relief.  Oh, my God!  There I am!  You know me!  I wanted to look up and find someone standing there and say, like when you find yourself by surprise in a photo album or in the newspaper – look!  The first person who you see, Look!  It’s me!

But then, almost immediately… terror.

Because most of the time, in those sad years in my very early adulthood – I felt most days like a ragdoll whose stuffing has come loose.  A patch of hair here, a dangling thread there.  If someone had come by and tugged on one, I imagined I would have just unraveled across the floor.  My life was headed in a direction I didn’t understand, and wasn’t happy about.  I was angry.  I was a tumble of pieces haphazardly glued.  I was arms and legs, a brain – but maybe, it felt like not much of a soul.  So I protected myself with toughness and ambition, with some smarts and a bit of sharp humor.  Because when you feel like the stuffing is showing, you got to back it up with something, right?  Got to distract from the truth a bit?  And the terror – because if I knew this passage was true, then surely someone else would know it, too…

I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do the good that I want, but the bad I do not want is what I do.

Paul’s words are not just for himself – a Pharisee, the perfect – no, he’s speaking for all of fallen humanity before experiencing God’s grace.  This is the cry of the human soul.

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate!  Oh, how I wish I could understand why being human is so hard…

 

We are not children – who, out of ignorance, can’t be held accountable for our actions.  No, we know what to do, we just can’t seem to do it.  What’s worse, the closer we get to doing right, the harder the temptation.

We have a number of AA groups that meet in our churches – some of you are personally familiar.  The striking thing of AA is its simplicity, the humility.  All it takes, is admitting that you are powerless in the face of your addiction.  You surrender yourself to a higher power.  You confess your mistakes and find welcome and support in the company of others, who celebrate the small victories.

“I’m not going to use today.  Tomorrow I might, but not today.”

The sin that Paul describes in this passage: it’s like a modern medical metaphor.  It’s like Paul is talking about a virus that lives in our bodies until it’s activated by stress or poor diet or some other trigger.  Sin isn’t just a behavior that Paul – and we – can choose to do or not do.  It lives in us, resides in us, like a parasite living off a host.  It will not stop being destructive, will not cease killing the person it’s in until it’s removed and replaced by something stronger – the spirit of Christ.  “Romans 8:11.

Have you ever seen the movie A Beautiful Mind? John Nash, a brilliant and tortured physicist, suffers from schizophrenia, a mental illness that confuses, frightens, and challenges him and his family.  At one point in the film, John – a genius in his field who has never doubted his own abilities – assures his psychiatrist that he will deploy his intelligence to cure his own illness.  “You can’t reason your way out of this,” his doctor replies, “because your mind is where the problem is in the first place!”  We can only be rescued from without.

And that’s the truth that scared me when I read it, I think.  Fro not only was it scary to see myself written on that page… God knew that about me.  God knew and knows, that even in our best actions, sin flourishes.  Not only in our failings – not only when we’re at our worst, but even when we’re trying our hardest.

That’s hard medicine to take.  We’re not – even the apostle Paul was not – entirely able to save himself.  We can’t save ourselves.  Only a truly humble person – someone who can say, “Hi, my name is…”  can be on the path toward that salvation, that liberation, that help.

Because of this, we can know: if the problem were weakness of human will, then reconciliation would require nothing more than a little more willpower.  Jesus would be something just a bit better than a good life coach, someone who could help us keep our resolutions.  The gospel of Paul reveals that in Jesus Christ, sin is defeated in every setting, if we only trust God to do so and stop trusting our own selves to do it.

That’s the power of this passage – doing the right thing apart from God’s grace is a losing battle.  And, we are not alone in the struggle.  That’s the problem – we act like we are.  That’s the problem – we stop reading at Romans 7:21 – we stop at

 

7:21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.

 

And we get caught up in the fear, the intimidation of being perfect and don’t read the blessed rest, which says:
7:22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self,
7:23 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.
7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
7:25a Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord

 

Who will rescue me?  God in Jesus Christ.  This is the promise.  WE can not do this alone.  We can not do this without God.  WE can not do this without one another.  I can not do this without you, and you can not do this without me because we are brothers and sisters in Christ – we are the body, and the body can not function without its many parts.  We may have stuffing poking out of our seams, and we may be raggedy, but we are rescued from our raggediness by Jesus, who particularly cared to save the broken and battered ones.

 

That’s what this table – this place of grace, forgiveness, reconciliaton, and nurture – is all about.  This is where we find assurance and pardon for all things, over and over.

Because I will need grace from you, in this coming year.  And you will want it from me.  Perhaps we can come to this table together, this table where we admit our humanness, and ask once again to be fed so that we can grow to be more like the Divine together.

 

Grace, grace, all is grace. Let us simply do our best, in the power of the Holy Spirit and by the grace of Christ.   Let us live out our call to confess our humanity and to offer it up to become sacred – as Paul did, as Jesus taught us – let us say who we are, and then remember the most important part, whose we are.  I do not understand my own actions!  But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!!!

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