Romans 7:19-20 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
On Memorial Day my husband and I had an “Alexa Lunch” with our son Jeremias and his family. When we do that, we all sit around our respective “Alexa” devices and eat and talk. Usually we cover discussion material from ‘soup to nuts’ (no pun intended). On Monday we happen to talk about the difficulty of living far out of town without the ability for kids to ‘catch a ride’ to various activities. How old do you have to be to drive a moped, a this, a that…? At one point our son, with a wink at his eldest child, said: “Well, I guess it’s not illegal until you get caught.” I can be pretty sure that he was not serious because his professional days are spend watching people obey federal guidelines – but, just in case our grandson thought this was an acceptable way of thinking, I added quickly, “I don’t think that is how the law works. You have to obey it whether you are in danger of getting caught or not." William nodded: yes, he knows that.
We usually know what is right and what is wrong. Most of us have a clear idea of what it means to have a bad conscience: the recognition that something, somehow and somewhere did not go the way we thought it should have. Words were spoken that would have been better left unsaid; actions were taken that caused distress to others or even to ourselves; we are disappointed, hurt, angry.
Yes, most of the time we know even without searching the Bible and going through our Catechism what we must and must not do. We all realize natural law, the law that is written on our hearts, the awareness through our reason to know what is proper and what is not. Under the best of circumstances, the Ten Commandments and natural law are closely connected.
As Christians, and perhaps particularly as Lutheran Christians, we are keenly aware of our consistent and repeated failure to act according to what we know, what has been written on our hearts, what God has given to us as his divine will for our lives to keep us and our neighbor safe. God’s law, the Commandments as such, are not given to make us miserable but to keep us and our surroundings safe. They are like an umbrella that hangs above our lives, protecting us from all that would wash away our security, comfort and hope.
In other words: we should indeed know what to do and what not to do. Well, I am with St. Paul as stated above: my best intentions often do not get me to do what I know is right. St. Paul calls himself a wretched man and wonders who will deliver him from all that which only can lead to death, literally and figuratively. His answer: Christ; Christ alone can do that. The Apostle recognizes that his flesh (and that includes his will and action) is always too weak on its own.
I am truly disturbed these days when I watch and read how some of our brothers and sisters have chosen to say and do things of which they truly ought to know that is cannot be God-pleasing. People attacking each other because they wear or do not wear a face mask? Folks accusing churches who carefully open up for worship, of killing parishioners? Men and women actively and carelessly trying to endanger strangers with reckless behavior? Social media posts that are downright nasty because somebody wants the economy ‘open’ while you want it ‘closed’ or vice versa? Questioning parents because they are making a different decision regarding their children’s activities than you and I? None of this is acceptable. Not in the community of Christians and not ‘out there’ in the world. We know what is right and if we forget, somebody needs to remind us.
Years ago you couldn’t go anywhere without somebody shouting WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? Well, that was really never the question. The question always is: What Did Jesus Do?
He came to call us to repentance. He forgives our sins. He reminds us that without him on our minds and hearts we are lost and will be consumed by our own vices. He came to fulfill the Law because we are so miserable at doing it. He saved us from ourselves. He told us and showed us to love our neighbor – even the one who thinks so differently from me and whose life is not at all in alignment with mine. He died for that neighbor as he died for me.
As we watch the world and in particular our own nation struggle with the issues of the day, we shall remember what St. Paul knew so well about himself: on our own we always will know what is right and still do what is wrong. Without Jesus we will be overcome by that which makes for destruction and death. As we ride out this pandemic, let’s remember that! Amen