The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - June 25, 2017
Scripture Reading: Romans 6:12-23 
Sermon Title:  Grace not law

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     With schools letting out, graduations happening, I have been hearing freedom a lot lately.  And to be sure, I remember my days in seminary.  I longed for the day I could read a book that was not required by some class.  And in todayís reading we hear Paul talking about freedom.

     Paul was one of our early church leaders.  He was born as a man named Saul, and was persecuting early Christians.  Right after Jesus was killed, life for Christians was not easy.  It was a strange group of Jews and Gentiles, or non-Jews,  that had been following Jesus.  So once Jesus had been killed, do we go back to being a Jew, worshipping in the temple? Maybe.  But for many, not ďback to,Ē as they never really left the Jewish faith.  What about those that were not Jewish?  Do they convert to become Jewish? 

     The story goes, Paul was walking down the road one day, saw a bright light, and heard a voice, saying ďWhy do you persecute me?Ē  He was blind for a few days, and when he got his sight back he decided that he should devote his life to Jesus.  This is significant because he was one of the first people to become a Christian after Jesus was killed.  He probably never met Jesus in person, was certainly not a follower of Jesus.  Now many of us are Christians because our parents are, or were, Christians.  So soon after Jesus was killed, nobodyís parents were Christians; you became a Christian by hearing about this guy named Jesus, and even though he was killed, we believe he was the messiah. 

     After Paulís conversion, he traveled a lot, planted churches, visited early churches.  There are modern books about when he traveled, which churches he visited, how long he stayed in each one.  And when you put all of his letters together, it is possible to get some kind of timeline. 

     In our Bible, if you go into the New Testament, past Matthew, Mark, Luke and - John the four gospels, or stories of Jesusís - life you get to Acts.  This book talks about Paul, but was probably written by the person who wrote the book of Luke.  It is written in the third person.  All of the gospels were written long after Jesus was crucified, perhaps the first being written around 70.  Paul died in 67 we think, which means that all of his work was before the first gospel was written.  We think that there were some sources around, there were other gospels that did not make it into our Bible, and there were probably a set of sayings that we call the Book of Q.  But all of history is important because it appears that Paulís letters are the earliest Christians writings we probably have. 

     In those days, these early Christian groups would gather and an issue would come up.  There were no gospels to refer to, perhaps just some collections of sayings might have been available.  And the church, as an organization was not really together yet, so there was no pope or high authority to ask.  So Paul became the authority on these issues. 

     This morning we see one side of a conversation with the church or churches in Rome.  Since we donít have the churchís letter to Paul we donít know exactly what they were asking, but Paul uses this passage to talk about freedom.

     In todayís world, we tend to view freedom as an absence of authority.  The kids who just got out of school for the summer are experiencing freedom, they donít have homework to do, they can stay up later, sleep in later, do whatever they want.  Well, that is not totally true.  And those who just graduated from High School or College, big freedom.  No more exams, no more papers to write, freedom.  And there are other times in our lives when we experience that freedom.  Retirement, no longer have to get up for work every morning.  When I move as an interim, although I donít always admit it, there is a sense of freedom when I leave one church before I start working with another. 

     But in those moments of freedom, we realize that we are not really free to do what we want.  Yes, Thursday and Friday, Glenn and Collin got to do a lot of what they wanted.  But today, after church, I will join both of them at Cub Scout camp, Collin as a camper, and Glenn as a Junior leader, a Den Chief.  We will be given a schedule we must follow, we will have rules that we must follow.  We cannot get up at 8:30 and wander over to the dining hall for coffee. Breakfast is served at 8:00 and if you are not there, you donít get breakfast.  Kids do have more freedom in the summer, but we still have rules that they must follow.  High School and College grads will soon find that the work world has its own rules.  If your boss expects you to punch the clock at 8:00 in the morning, you better be there to punch in at 8:00.  If they expect a certain amount of work produced, you better produce that amount of work.  And retirement?  I am not there yet, but was down to visit my parents earlier this week.  In the month of June they have something like 18 days with doctorís appointments.  Granted this is a very unusual month, but they are not sitting around.  They had me visit for a few days, my uncle, my fatherís brother is going to stop by this weekend.  My mother has a schedule she likes, cleans the house one day, does the laundry a different day, Sunday is church.  So very few days of freedom this month for them.

     For those who choose to exercise total freedom in their lives, consequences often come.  If I were to take total freedom and decide not to give a sermon this week, at least some would probably say something.  Might be Thank You, might be that I was not doing my job.  If I took total freedom and decided to drive 90 mph down 101 on my way into town, I doubt the town police would see that action of freedom as a good thing.

     Freedom is hard to come by or maybe impossible and Paul understands this.  According to Paul, you see, humans are never not under obligation to something. Therefore he writes, "you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness.Ē  The question is therefore not whether you will be following something (or someone), but what (or whom) you will follow. Will you follow your passions or self control? Will you follow ambition or honor? Will you follow the promises you made or believe yourself exempt from those requirements? It's not a question of whether, but of what, and Paul urges Christians to be slaves not of unrighteousness -- doing whatever you want regardless of the consequences to others -- but to righteousness, a life in service to others and to God.

     And Paul tells us where this power to choose comes from.  Paul suggests three places. 1) Baptism, the place where God names us as God's own children and not because of what we have attained, accomplished, bought, or achieved, but simply because God has chosen to love us and adopt us as God's own. 2) Christian community, the company of believers who were baptized into Christ's death and resurrection and that gathers to remember and rehearse the promises of God and encourage each other in lives of righteousness. 3) Prayer in the Holy Spirit, which draws us more closely into relationship with God and neighbor and serves to remind us that we are, indeed, God's own children.

     As you move into this week, be aware of those places in which we choose.  So often our decisions are to follow the easiest way, or the quickest way, or leading to short term gratification.  I encourage you to take Paulís view for this week, viewing each decision, not as a choice between doing and not doing, but as a choice between being a slave to sin, anything that leads you away from God, or as a slave to obedience, which leads to righteousness.