The Rev. Paul J Cain
Seventh Sunday after Trinity, 10 July 2016
Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Perhaps you’ve heard this uncomplicated approach to telling the Good News about Jesus, Romans 3:22b-24. 22bFor there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus… This is short. Two and a half verses are easy to memorize and remember. In this short section of Romans 3, we can present law, showing how every person falls short of perfection, and Gospel, the Good News of redemption, justification, and salvation by God’s grace as a Gift!
Today, I have an even shorter passage to help you be prepared when someone asks you about the hope that you have in Christ Jesus, Romans 6:23. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This verse doesn’t take much explanation to make it clear to an unbeliever. Everybody knows what wages are. We are all too familiar with death. For our daily labor, we expect our wages to come in the form of a check, without too many taxes taken out. We earn money for our work. How about works of evil, of sin? What should people expect to get on Judgment Day when they cash their check for their works of sin—of thought, word, and deed, action, and inaction? That’s right. Eternal Death.
This is not mere physical death—mortality is our inheritance from our first parents, Adam & Eve, a consequence of the fall into sin. That sin has spread over all the earth to cause pain, heartache, and the unanswered question, “Why?” September 11th. Tragic car accidents. Senseless violence. War. Disease.
Of even more importance are the eternal consequences of our temporal sin. Sin is the work. Eternal death is the payment. Failing to keep God’s will perfectly is the offense. Hell is the consequence. It’s enough to give you goosebumps. That’s the law showing you your sin, doing its work.
There is hope—for all of us are sinners, deserving eternal death. The Gospel is on its way. The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. The Gospel is a gift. One hardly needs to say it’s also free. But perhaps we do. It’s hard to accept a free gift. We want to pay the person back, give them a gift in return, have them over for dinner in exchange. We want things to be even—fair.
It’s like the man who was on a business trip across Wyoming. With towns so far apart, the choices of gas stations are sometimes limited. On the way to a conference, the man filled up his car at a gas station and paid at the pump. The technology was new. He took the receipt, and not looking at it, put it in his wallet to record later. On the way back from the conference, he happened to stop at the same gas station, filled up his car, and paid at the pump. He took the receipt, and not looking at it, put it in his wallet to record later.
When he got home, he pulled out all his receipts to save them for when the credit card bill came. “How much was that gas?” he wondered. The fill-up on the way back was $13.50, the receipt said. Then he looked at the first receipt. “Card error,” the receipt said. The technology was new. No amount was given. Seven point three gallons delivered. Nothing was charged to the card because of the machine error.
Even though it was long distance, (remember when we worried about the cost of long distance?) the man called the gas station. Thankfully, the phone number was on the receipt. He wanted to make things right, to pay for the gas he got for nothing because of the “pay at the pump” error.
The manager said they kept track of “drive offs,” when someone pumped gas and then intentionally or unintentionally didn’t pay. After looking in the book, she said there was no record of a “drive off” that day. A few moments later she said, “You know, Grace was on duty that morning. She has this habit of paying off the unpaid “drive off” charges just to keep the books balanced.”
The man was stunned. “I don’t know what to say…. Tell Grace, thank you.”
It is hard to receive a free gift. Yet, that is what God gives each of us in Christ. It is delivered by the Holy Spirit through the Word, through Holy Baptism, through the means God has promised to use. And through Holy Baptism, Christians have the “death” thing over with. 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
The wages of sin is death, we read. Christ took that check we earned for our sin and He cashed it. He died on the cross. He rose again. He took the punishment so that we wouldn’t have to. And He gives us eternal life. The promise is yours as well.
5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
20When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
This is the message you can share the next time you have opportunity. No one can earn salvation by a perfect life. Even one sin spoils any attempt at perfection. The consequence of that is death—eternal death in the lake of fire of Hell. But that need not be the destination of all. We have hope to share in Christ—hope that is eternal life because of a free gift to us. That’s the truth of the Gospel, even if it is hard to accept. It is true. And it is true comfort in the face of death.
23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In 1958, when this building was new, our chancel cross was backlit blue with neon. Not only is blue beautiful, but it has meaning. Blue is soothing and comforting. In heraldry, it stands for truth. It is the color of spiritual love, fidelity, anticipation, and hope, a liturgical color for Advent. The LCMS cross is now blue. Blue is also the natural color for water and sky. Because of that, blue can also remind us of Holy Baptism and our hope of heaven itself. We can also celebrate the gift of heaven in Christ and the restoration of our lit cross with LEDs on this day in 2016 when we celebrate paying off our parish hall expansion mortgage.
And so we renew our congregation’s public confession: The Bible is the only error-free authority for all teaching and practice. The Lutheran Confessions are an accurate presentation of what the Bible teaches. Jesus is the center of the Bible, Holy Scripture and the only Savior because of His cross. God the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel alone in Word and Sacraments to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify people in that faith and life.
23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.