I hope you all had a safe & blessed 4th of July celebration!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
July 6, 2014
I Need A Do-Over
Before I left for surgery, I scanned the bookshelves in my office for all sorts of medical leave entertainment. I loaded up the backseat of my car with a stack of books ranging in topic from revitalizing historical congregations to memoirs of faith to neurobiology.
I was going to return to the pulpit a much smarter woman.
Well … I got hooked on the TV show, Grey’s Anatomy, a medical drama about a team of surgeons at a Seattle hospital.
And I watched the first two seasons of it on Netflix.
I read one of the books on that stack.
And it was the shortest one.
I am sure you all have never been prouder.
All jokes about my poor taste in television aside, as I was brainstorming for this morning’s worship service, something on the show caught my attention. One of the main characters – Meredith Grey – started off the episode I was watching with a voiceover where she said, “Fresh starts: Thanks to the calendar, they happen every year.”
How often do you feel like you need a fresh start in your life? Once a year, when you turn to a new year on the calendar? Or is it more often than that?
In this section of his letter to the Romans, Paul seems to need a fresh start of his own.
I do not understand my own actions. (1)
In other words, “What did I do?”
For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (2)
In other words, “That is not what I wanted to do!”
Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. (3)
In other words, “I know what the right thing to do is and I know that I should do it, but I just cannot. I am a sinner and sometimes I cannot seem to make the right choices.”
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. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. (4)
In other words, “I can try to do the right thing, but sometimes sin wins out and I do not do what is right.”
Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. (5)
In other words, “It is not that I am a bad person – but I am a human being. If I do something in my life that I do not want to do or act a way that I do not want to act, it might not be because I am a bad person, it might simply be because I am a sinner – just like everyone else.”
Paul admits that sometimes he falls short, that sometimes he makes mistakes, that sometimes he – like Meredith Grey – needs a fresh start.
And I would be willing to bet that most of us in this church today feel the same way every now and then.
Of course, in typical made-for-TV drama, Meredith Grey was referring to the fact that she needed a fresh start from the much-older doctor she had dated that turned out to be married to another doctor who moved to Seattle and started working at their hospital.
That was not really what Paul was talking about.
But the basic premise is there: Human beings – by the laws of nature, going back all the way to the Garden of Eden – make mistakes. They are sinners. They try and they fall short. Time and time again, they have found themselves reflecting on their actions and their choices, knowing that they did not quite measure up and desperately needing to try again.
No one is immune.
As Christians, we know that we should put God first in our lives, but sometimes the daily grind – our relationships, our finances, our health and our hectic schedules – push God to the back burner.
We know that we should spend time in prayer and worship, but sometimes our other activities take priority.
We know that we should give first to others and not care about material things, but sometimes we allow ourselves to indulge.
We know that we should not covet what others have, but sometimes we compare ourselves to others and have feelings of jealousy and inadequacy.
We know that we should be humble, but sometimes we boast.
We know that we should welcome all people and not pass judgment on others, but sometimes it is easier to partake in petty gossip than to stand up for the marginalized.
We know that we should have a positive attitude and that we should let God take control of our lives, but sometimes we let negative thoughts – grief, anger and anxiety – take over.
We know that we should choose love over hate and peace over war, but sometimes we are so deeply wounded that it is simply too hard to find that love and peace.
We know that we should offer a hand of forgiveness, but sometimes we do not have the strength or the desire to do that.
Paul points out in this particular passage that we all fall short. Sin dwells within all of us and very often we just do not do the right thing.
Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a really bad day where you just stop and say, to no one in particular, “I need a do-over!”? Paul seems to be asking for one here.
The topic of the sinful nature of human beings comes up in my Tuesday morning bible study all the time. We are working our way through the letters of the New Testament and every time we finish another one, we realize that not much has changed in 2,000 years and that we – as human beings – really are not all that different from the people that Paul and other authors were writing to. As they say down south, we are all a “hot mess.” No one is perfect, we all make mistakes and we all need a do-over every now and then.
In life and in faith.
But it is okay. Because another thing that we also talk a lot about in bible study is the fact that being part of a community of faith allows us to have this do-over. We are able to hit a re-set button every week in worship or in church school or in bible study. We take a moment in every worship service to confess our sins and then to feel the healing grace of God’s forgiveness wash over us. We are reminded – when we take part in a mission project or volunteer with our youth and children or hear something in a sermon, a scripture or a prayer – what is really important in life. We come together to know God and to know one another when we break bread with both our friends and our enemies.
Do you ever feel like need a do-over?
It’s okay; God gives you one.
Paul told the Roman people that, despite their – our – sins, there was hope:
Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (6)
We are all imperfect human beings saved by the grace of God. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was not something that happened once; it is a powerful act of redemption that continues to give us a do-over every single day. Being Christian does not require perfection; being Christian allows us to let go of our pursuit of perfection and cling on to the hope that Christ gives to us that a do-over is possible.
On Friday morning, I was thinking about the 4th of July and how it really is more than a celebration of our independence in the United States; it is also a reminder of our responsibility to one another to make sure that independence happens.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (7)
Our country is never going to get all of these words right all of the time. But once a year we remember them and we say them and we celebrate them and we do get do-over; we get a fresh start to once again live out the call of our forefathers.
Guess what? God does not want us to be perfect. God wants us to cling to him in the desperate hope of the redeeming power of his grace and love. You will have days where things do not go right. You will make poor choices. You will not always live up to the example Jesus set for us in the Gospel.
But you can ask for a do-over. Redemption is possible. Grace knows no bounds.
Thanks be to God!
(1) Romans 7:15a, NRSV
(2) Romans 7:15b, NRSV
(3) Romans 7:16-17, NRSV
(4) Romans 7:18-19, NRSV
(5) Romans 7:20, NRSV
(6) Romans 724-25a, NRSV
(7) from The Declaration of Independence