Dear brothers and sisters,
apostle Paul could have been rather small figured and his speech not skillful, but these words written by him to the church in Rome are the sharp sword of the Word of God. On one hand, Paul sharply and decisively reminds us of our sin and does not water down the devastating consequences of living in sin. On the other hand, Paul brings to the Christians in Rome the beautiful, sweet and intimate words of the Gospel that gives comfort, hope and acceptance. As usual with Paul, our text today is only 5 short sentences, but they are full and decisive. So, let us walk through this rich orchard of the Word of God.
Paul addresses the Christians in the capital city of the Roman Empire “brothers”. Today, our age is busy with all kinds of equality, but it is just empty chatter and a stock of hay. Our ancestors knew it better: “All men are created equal…” There is no equality without being created and no brotherly love to each other without the example of the loving Father. Our fathers knew it better what brotherhood is, at the foot of the cross rather than our wishy-washy age that bows to mankind. But still, Paul´s word “brothers” carries much more. In the modern time, we see ourselves equal in the terms of equally relating to each other or live and leave the other alone. That is the modern indifference and loneliness. But Paul´s word “brothers” is not such coolness. Paul´s addressing the Christians in Rome as “brothers” is a deep and intimate calling of care, relationship and love. There is not the modern indifferency. Paul is passionate to care and he worries for those whom he loves and wants them to hear the saving Word. It is a mission to serve, a mission and care to get them the Gospel. There are those, who are to receive this precious gift and the one through whom it is being received. There is the difference of life and death. Paul does not “let them be”, he does not “leave them alone”, but dearly loves them and wants them to be warned, comforted and saved by the Word. Brotherhood is not only equal, but it cares, loves and speaks the Word of the Truth.
Paul reminds the brothers in Rome that “we are debtors”. To whom? Paul causes a scandal still today and would be rejected by our age again. To whom do we owe? “…not to the flesh”, that means, not to ourselves, we are not the cause, we are not to take any credit. If it were us, if it were to the flesh, we would die. (Romans 8:12) We are debtors to Christ who took the punishment for our sins upon His scarred back, carried the wood to Golgotha and hanged all the weight of our sins on the cross. To Christ I owe, because He paid the ransom I am to pay. To Christ bleeding on the cross you owe because there is the nail of your sin crushing through the bones of the Lord suffering the pain, the mocking and spits that you deserve instead of Him. For you sin, as I sin, you and I deserve to die. The criminal on the cross, that is you or me, we deserve to die – not the One, who did not break any of the Commandments.
But those, who are debtors and beggars, they (i.e. the brothers in Rome and all brothers in Christ) have received not the spirit of slavery to flesh, the self and the sin, but the Spirit of adoption as sons who cry to God “Abba! Father!” The verse 8:15 describes so fully the life of a Christian: Simul iustus et peccator. At the same time justified and a sinner. At the same time, you are adopted by Christ when you are baptized into His name, but at the same time you live in this sinful time and in this stinky pit of the world and you can fall back into the slavery to your flesh and fall back into fear. Remember, fear is the human state when man is separated from God, when the sinful man comes close to the Holy One. Just remember the fear of Adam and Eve after their first sin, or the fear of Moses when meeting God, or Abraham when being tested by God, or the apostles when encountering Christ who just calmed the storm. We too are no angels. We too are tempted and we too can fall back to the fear and to the life according to our flesh and then to nothing but death. We do not have to go far to see that temptation of living according to our flesh, being enslaved by passions and falling to fear and death. Just walk the streets of Prague on Friday or Saturday evening or listen to some of the conversations in the bars or have a glass of wine at an Italian place in Prague 5. What a sad and cruel place this world is! We are torn apart by our passions or our lusts or we reduce our lives to a clever exchange of pleasure and possessions. As the song goes: “Some people want to use you and some want to get used…” It does not matter if some people are using their bodies to get attention or a drink or fancy dinner or a ride in an expensive car or a house or a social status or a “trophy wife” or just want to have fun as another song declares. What a disgraceful use of God´s gift that our body is! But these passions, these sinful deeds of the body, this true slavery, lead to fear and death. And look and hear how fearful these people. They fear losing their wealth. Poor people do not commit suicide, rich people do. They fear losing their social status, that is why they desperately cultivate and fancy their bodies. They fear being alone, a single is a loser. Some years ago, an attractive woman approaching her 30s who was changing a sleeping partner every half a year told me: “You have to take advantage of it and enjoy as long as you are young, because, then, later, it is all loose and wrinkled.” I hope you excuse the naturalism of the expression, but it is a quote blatantly expressing the point and our Medieval ancestors would not be offended of this kind of language to express the despair. In that expression, do you see the enslavement by the passions of the body? Do you see the fear? Do you see the death present in the statement of the young woman? If not ruining the gift of God, the body, by this behavior, then, often, chances are, there are many sleeping partners and no loving spouse and then – there comes unhappy and lonely dying. But, let us not boast! There is nobody just, not even one as Paul reminds us! We too are tempted everyday the same way and fall back and get enslaved and would surely die.
But there is the good news: We are debtors and beggars, but Christ has paid our bill of death, the Lord on the cross has ransomed us from this sinful flesh by His suffering and His blood shed for you and for me. By this amazing gift of grace, we, sinful people, separated from the holy God, have been adopted back to the loving relationship with God. We sing we have been baptized into Christ. We say we have been baptized into Christ´s name. Slavery to the flesh means the just portion of punishment and death according to the Law. Being adopted by Christ, by His love and grace on the cross, means real freedom from that slavery and as sons or children of God we receive everything that belongs to God with such an adoption.
No longer are we separated and fugitives in fear from God. Instead, we, like true children, received with love and relying and trusting our parent, are in an intimate relationship; thus, we cry to God, “Abba! Father!” What a true privilege! What a true liberty! To the God of whom Adam and Eve feared, Abraham trembled, and Moses was not able to look at, we, because of Christ´s suffering on Golgotha, can address as “Our Father”. Because of Christ´s suffering at the gates of Jerusalem, the Creator of this world who sustains this world because of His patience and meekness, adopts us to bring us back to His loving arms instead of squashing us like ugly worms. And He calls us His sons and we can call Him, with peaceful heart, “Father”.
And as adopted children of God, not only we can cry to God, “Our Father,” but also, we are received as children are – we are received to the same home and we are heirs. And as heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, we receive the same portion. On one hand, as fellow with Christ, we receive and share the bitter and sweet secret of suffering. Suffering is bitter, indeed! But remember that the battle has been won for you and for me. Our Lord took the wood on His shoulders and willingly travelled the way of passion. Christ is leading the way. He travelled your road and my road of suffering. There is no human suffering that He would have not tasted and would have not shared with you and with me. Your bitter suffering and my bitter suffering are shared with us by Christ. Do you know the intimate and deep pain in your chest and in your stomach when you worry for someone whom you really love or if you stay with that person and accompany in his/her suffering? Though bitter, there is a certain intimate sweetness to such closeness and love to someone who is suffering. This is the sweet secret that we share with our suffering Lord. The temporal life of a Christian is not a life of glory and victory. With our Lord, we are fellows in His suffering, in ridicule and meekness face to face with the power, boast and brutality of the world. We suffer in our battles with our sin, and we suffer from the terrors of the Law. Christ suffered all these that are yours and mine, opened not His mouth and had our sins nailed on the wood of the cross where the Law and the wrath of God were fully satisfied. The price has been paid; the war has been won! We are baptized into the name of Christ, we are adopted by the grace of God as His children, thus, sharing the sweet and loving secret of suffering with our Lord and by the greatest gift ever, by the greatest love of God suffering on the bloody cross, we are also the heirs of Christ´s glory: The poor in spirit shall have the kingdom of heaven, the mourning shall receive peace, and the meek shall inherit all the earth and heirs with Christ. We shall see God in eternity.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!