Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, July 2, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio. You can hear a podcast of the sermon on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.
Now did the good become death for me? Absolutely not, but it was the sin, so that it might be shown as sin, through the good produced death, so that the sin might become extremely sinful through the commandments. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I myself am fleshly, having been sold under sin. For what I produce, I don’t understand. For what I want, this I don’t practice, but what I hate, this I do.
But if what I don’t want, this I do, then I agree that the law is good. 17But now it’s no longer I who produce, but the sin which dwells in me. For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, there dwells nothing good. For to want is present with me, but to produce the good is not. For the good that I want I don’t do, but the bad that I don’t want, this I practice.
But if what I don’t want, this I myself do, then no longer am I producing it but the sin that dwells in me. So I find it to be a law, when I want to do the good, that the bad is present with me. For I rejoice in the law of God with respect to the inner person, but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner to the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched person I am, who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Jekyll and Hyde
I think I’ve probably mentioned this before, but let me say it again. I really enjoy musical theater. I’ve got a bunch of cast recordings in my office, and I’ve already bought my season tickets for the Broadway series, beginning in the fall. And since I enjoy it so much, I figure it’s something I can share with Maggie. And so, when Debbie and I think it’s appropriate, we take her to see different shows. For example, she’s seen Into the Woods and Mary Poppins and Grease, just to name a few.
Well, a couple of years ago, down at the Benedum, they had a show that I’d seen years ago back in Indianapolis and that I really enjoyed called Jekyll and Hyde. I’m telling you, the music is wonderful. Anyway, I thought that this was one of the shows that Maggie would enjoy, and since Debbie really didn’t have any interest in seeing it, my daughter and I had a date. We both got all dressed up, she wore one of her piano recital dresses. We drove downtown, got to our seats and watched the show. And outside of one scene that Maggie didn’t want to see and so she kind of buried her face in my jacket, I think she had a great time. Of course, buying a stuffed crab as a souvenir and a box of Crunch and Bunch didn’t hurt.
Of course, this musical is based on the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And even if you haven’t read the book, I think most people have seen some kind of movie, even that one when Bugs Bunny turns into a monster after drinking this stuff. And so I think most of y’all know the plot. Dr. Jekyll develops a formula intended to isolate the evil found in all of us. And when he tests it on himself, he becomes Mr. Hyde, the personification of everything that’s wicked and cruel. And even though at first, he kind of likes changing back and forth because there are all kinds of things that he can do as Hyde that he won’t do as Jekyll, eventually, he feels frustration and despair, especially when the transformations start happening without him taking the formula. And by the end, Jekyll gets to the point where he seems to lose all hope that he’ll ever be able to be the person he wants to do be. Now, that’s the story in a nutshell.
And I’ll tell you, I think that’s kind of how we feel as Christians, sort of like Jekyll and Hyde. I mean, I think everybody here knows something about what’s right and wrong; in fact, I believe that’s pretty much the case whether we’re Christian or not. And as believers, good night, we know that we should be treating other people with respect and kindness; at the very least, as followers of Jesus Christ, we should be nice to one another. We shouldn’t call people names. We shouldn’t bully those who don’t have our power. And I think we’d agree that tweeting counts. I mean, Jesus said love one another as I have loved you. And loving one another means that there’s a lot we should avoid doing and a lot we should set as a priority, you know, like building one another up; right? Dah. Now, we all know this stuff.
And yet doing it, well that’s another matter, isn’t it? I mean, knowing doesn’t mean doing. And so even though we know that what we’re saying or doing is going to hurt a person for whom Jesus Christ died, we say or do it anyway. We share the gossip or we laugh at the joke. We walk pass the woman holding the sign and we ignore those in our world and our country and maybe our neighborhoods who lack what we consider basic. Man, we even grumble and complain about the government taking action, even though we know no one else is going help and I certainly include the church in that “no one else.” In other words, often we fail to live up to what God has called and equipped us to be. And then to make matters worse, we come up with stuff to justify our failure. And although a few people have done this so long that they’ve developed callouses on their consciences or have become so creative and self-serving in their interpretation of Jesus Christ and the love he commanded that they can make every nasty thing they’ve done or loving act they’ve left undone sound spiritual, I don’t think that’s the case for most of us. I mean, even if we’ve gotten comfortable running with the crowd, doing what’s easy and popular I believe we still feel something when we consider that one day God may hold us accountable for the pain we’ve caused and the help we’ve withheld. And you know, it’s amazing, I think some of those feelings are the same kind of things felt by our friend, Henry Jekyll. I mean, I believe there are times we feel frustrated, even angry at ourselves, because, my gosh, we know better. It’s not that we’ve never been told, what we should and shouldn’t do. It’s all over the place in the Bible. And yet, when push came to shove, we screw up all the time.
And if knowing this causes us to be frustrated with ourselves, man, it’s got to lead to some real despair as we approach God. I’ll tell you, speaking for myself, sometimes I’m a shamed even to look in his direction. Because even though I may have neatly justified the comment I made and the pain I’ve ignored, I know in my heart of hearts, God isn’t stupid. He knows. He knows what I said and why I said it. He knows what I could have done and why I didn’t do it. He knows. And what’s worst, I know he knows. And because of that, if I were sitting on his judgement seat, I’m not sure I’d look down on Ed Rudiger and say, “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.” Man, I don’t do this kind of stuff I want to but for whatever reason I don’t; I know it, and I know God knows it too. I’ll tell you, I know how Jekyll felt at the end of the story.
And you know, I think the passage we just read shows that Paul understood this too. And you know, I don’t believe he can get much more personal than he did in these verses. I mean, instead of talking about “them,” he used the pronoun “me.” In other words, this was his story, and I think if we’re honest with ourselves, I think most of us can see ourselves in there as well. My goodness, just think about what he wrote. He really nailed our nature, didn’t he; you know, how we know right from wrong, how we know what Jesus wants us to be, and how we know exactly the kinds of things we should be doing and saying right along with the times we should sit still and shut up. My gosh, we know this already. And yet, and yet, we don’t do it. We don’t do what we know is right, and instead, we do what’s easy and what’s comfortable and what’s popular, in other words, stuff that’s more often than not wrong. And if the callouses aren’t too thick, we feel guilty about it. Now, Paul wrote that this happens because of sin, that sin has become so much a part of us that it’s like our very flesh and bones. And that sin is like a gorilla in a room or like the formula Jekyll made; it’s so strong that we do what it wants. It’s kind of like Flip Wilson used to say when he was Geraldine; the Devil or better sin makes us do it. And that’s just the way it is; that’s just who we are.
And if that’s all there is, I have to agree with Paul. The only thing we can say is “wretched person I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” I mean, if this is it, if this is all we have, then I don’t think we can expect anything better than frustration and despair. Man, we have no hope.
But, of course, that’s not how Paul ends this passage nor should we. Because after everything else, after all the failures, after all the weakness, after all the words we’ve said and the works we’ve avoided, there’s one thing left. And here it is: “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” You see, that’s it. We’ve disappointed our God. We’ve disappointed our neighbors. And we’ve disappointed ourselves. That’s just the way it is. And although we can probably do better than we’ve done, we’re just not able to be perfect no matter how hard we try. We’re never going to be everything God created us to be. And brothers and sisters, no matter what we claim and no matter how good we are at deceiving ourselves and others, we’re never, I mean, we’re never going to live as though Christ is first in our lives. It’s like someone asked, “If you were arrested for being a follower of Jesus Christ, would there be enough evidence to convict?” Talk about frustration and despair. But you know, having said all that, “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
I’ll tell you, that’s just as true as everything else. Do we fail to be everything God created us to be and to do everything Christ commanded us to do? You betcha. But you know, “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And when we look in the mirror, do we know that we could be more kind and compassionate and that we could better show our faith in tangible ways, you know, like how we spend our time and money, that God is at least in our life’s top ten? Yes, sir. But remember, “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And as the world watches, can we show more love to our neighbors whether they live next door or on the other side of the world and can we be a little nicer to our brothers and sisters in Christian? Without a doubt. But let’s never forget, “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” because he did something we couldn’t do. He made us righteous in his sight.
And if we believe it, maybe some of the frustration and despair we feel when we think about how we always seem to fall at least a little short, maybe it’ll turn to praise as we think about God and all he’s done for us. And maybe it’ll turn to humility as we look into the mirror. And maybe it’ll turn to acceptance and compassion as we reach out to others. You see, although it won’t erase our weaknesses, knowing that we’re loved by the Father and redeemed by the Son and inspired and empowered by the Spirit, well, that can make an enormous difference in what we feel and how we live.
Of course, this isn’t how Jekyll and Hyde ended. You see, the only way Jekyll could escape his bondage to Hyde was to die. And that’s what happened. But for us, “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” our death isn’t necessary, at least not right now. Because without our permission or help, Jesus has already died for us and we now belong to God. And through him, whatever frustration and despair we might feel can be changed to praise and humility and acceptance. And even though we’ll continue to be less than we may want to be and feel as though we’ve let ourselves and others down, God’s love for us, well, that just won’t change.