Three older guys were sitting around talking about what would happen on the day of their funerals. They were contemplating the question: what would you like to have someone say while standing over your casket. The first thought for a bit and said, “I would like to have people say that I was such a devoted husband and father and that I left a lasting legacy of love of family with my kids.” The second thought a moment and said, “I want folks to talk about how kind and generous I was–how I was willing to remember those who were less fortunate and care for them with dignity.” The third man thought a moment and said, “That all sounds well and good. I want someone to stand over my casket and say, ‘Look! He’s moving!’”
The underlying message of course is, “I don’t want to die!” Death is not something we look forward to especially in our younger years, but I have known more than a hand full of people who have been ready to die–who wanted to die. I remember my grandfather who died of cancer one day coming home from radiation, feeling the effects of it burning his insides, and crying out, “Why is it so hard for a man to die?” Death would be a release for him. My other grandfather who lived to be 97 also was more than ready for death as his body no longer cooperated with him and he found it difficult to get around. Death once again would be a release. Whenever we have a birthday at our Senior Service, I usually joke and say, “I refuse to sing ‘and many more’ at the end of Happy Birthday, and believe it or not, more than a few are glad that I don’t. As bodies age and become more weary, some welcome death as freedom from what haunts and hurts them in life.
If you have experienced this with others or experience it with yourself, then you can grasp what St. Paul says as he begins chapter 7 of the book of Romans, “Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime?” Paul may be referencing a well known saying in ancient Judaism that is very, very similar, “If a person is dead he is free from the Torah and the fulfilling of the Commandments.” When you die, the Law no longer has authority over you because, well, you are dead. Just like at the end of chapter six when Paul was saying that sin no longer has any power over you, he is now saying, neither does the law have any power over you. You are no longer bound by it.
Paul then uses an analogy from marriage to enhance his point. He says in verse 2, “Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. 3Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress.” Paul is helping us see how the law works and then how it is removed by death. A woman or man who is married is bound by the law, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” If a woman or man sees someone outside of the marriage, then he or she is committing adultery. However, if a spouse dies, then that person’s husband or wife is now free to meet and marry another person. They will not be considered an adulterer if they did that because death ended the marriage and the law no longer applied.
Paul then shows how this applies to his point regarding the life we have in Jesus Christ. Verse 4 In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. Now, the analogy isn’t perfect. The law didn’t die. We did. In the last chapter, Paul showed how that through our baptism, we mystically became linked to Jesus Christ so that whatever happened to him happens to us. Because Christ died on the cross, we also died. If we have died, then we are no longer under the law. The law has no effect on us. However, Paul also pointed out that just as Christ was raised, we too have been raised. We now live a resurrection life, and in that resurrection life, we have been freed so that we can bind ourselves to Jesus and bear fruit for God. This means we live for God. We seek God. We seek to honor and please God by doing His will.
And, of course, we find what God wants and desires when we read the law. We see that God wants us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We see that God wants us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with Him. We see that God wants us to follow the Ten Commandments. But why did we have to die to them. Why did we have to be free from being under them? This is the part that to many doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So, Paul tries to explain that.
Verse 5 While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit. I don’t know how many of you have watched the movie Finding Nemo, but I thought of a scene in that movie when I read Paul’s words here. If you are a parent, this will resonate very deeply with you. There is a scene where Nemo, a young fish, goes to school, and his teacher takes the class to what is known as the drop off. Now, Nemo’s dad, Marlin hears about this and is none too thrilled. For Marlin, the drop off is where predators can easily come and take fish. Nemo’s mom was eaten near the drop off. Therefore, Marlin swims out to the drop off and tells Nemo that he's going to take him home from school. Nemo of course rebells and gets very, very upset. Nemo refuses to go with Marlin. So Marlin keeps giving him order after order after order. Nemo refuses to obey. Nemo even swims towards a boat. Marlin keeps saying get back here right now. Nemo refuses. Then Marlon says don't touch the boat. Nemo pauses a second, just a second, gives his dad that look every kid has given his or her parent, and then touches the boat. There was something deep within Nemo that was rebelling against the commands of his dad. There was something deep within Nemo that was refusing to do what he knew was right.
Paul says that the law actually generates this within us. The power of sin works so deeply that we come to desire the things we know we shouldn’t. The power of sin works so deeply that when we hear “Thou shalt not!” something in us says, “You can’t tell me what to do!” And so, our rebelliousness bears rotten fruit.
Ah, but if we are dead, then we are no longer under this influence. If we are dead, the law no longer can hold us captive. If we are dead we no longer bear this kind of fruit. And if we have been joined to Jesus, we are no longer slaves to the written code–the written law, but instead, we are now resurrected to new life in the Spirit. We are dead to the law and alive in Christ! Bound to Christ! Serving Christ!
And we fall in love with Him and what He has done. We remember how He poured out His life for us on the cross of Calvary. We remember that He served His Father who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. Our heart is touched to the very core by this news of what God has done for us, so that we seek to please Him in all that we do. We live for Him. When you love someone, that’s what you do. Period.
Now, why is this important? Let me take a few minutes to show you why. In our culture today, there is a line of thinking when it comes to marriage that says, “You must find your soul mate.” What is encapsulated in that thought is that there is one person out there who will love you and cherish you–who will complete you and bring you happiness and joy. People search for such a person, and when you begin dating someone and falling in love with that other person, you actually experience such feelings. It’s a wonderful sensation, but those of us who have been married for quite some time know, it eventually fails. It disappears. When the realities of life catch up, and people discover that each person has wants, needs and desires that the other person can’t fulfill, oftentimes people get disappointed, angry, frustrated, and down on their marriages. When I don’t get the same kind of fulfillment I got early on in my marriage, I start thinking that I’ve missed my soul mate, and maybe I should look for another–so goes the thinking. Divorce attorneys make a killing off of this line of thought because it is inherently self-centered and selfish. It’s about getting what I want out of marriage, and if I don’t get it, I go find someplace else where I will.
There is a similar thing that happens when we seek salvation through following the law and its demands. Because, once again, we are seeking our own self-interest and our own desires. I want to go to heaven, so therefore, I’d better do the right things, be a good person, and stay out of trouble. But a couple of things happen. First off, we don’t reckon the power of sin, and even though we know what is right, even though we know the law says, “Thou shalt not...” we find ourselves wanting to do those things the law tells us not to do. We find ourselves slipping into breaking the law time and again. And so we do one of three things: one: we just stop trying and give in. This removes any sort of guilt from us. Two: we become depressed and anxious, knowing we never can do enough. Three: we convince ourselves that we are indeed following the law and it is only those people out there who have the problem, not us. In each of these things, we fail at accomplishing what was intended because we are acting with self-interest.
But, if we have died to our self; if we have experienced death with Jesus on the cross; if we find that we are saved by sheer grace–by nothing that we do but by all that Christ has done–then we approach things differently. We know that Jesus has poured Himself out for us. We know that He has loved us with an unimaginable love. We know that love will never fail us, so we fall in love with Him. We no longer live for ourselves, but we live for Him. We seek to please Him. And we know that He revealed to us the things that he delights in. We know that it brings Him joy when we love one another as He loved us. We know it brings Him joy. And this now affects all our other relationships.
For we no longer simply live for what we want and expect in those relationships. We no longer expect fulfillment from our spouse; or our government; or our church; or our friends; or our job. We know we get those things from Jesus. Therefore, we begin to delight in loving our friends and family to bring them joy; to bring them happiness; to bring them comfort and peace. Our delight comes from serving instead of getting. And we don’t get frustrated when our love is not given back to us like we think we deserve. Because we know that no one is perfect. We aren’t perfect. Our spouses aren’t perfect; our governments aren’t perfect; our jobs aren’t perfect; our churches aren’t perfect; our families aren’t perfect. The only perfect one is Jesus, and it is in Him that we live and move. And so we become forgiving because He forgave us. We become caring because He cared for us. We become loving because He loved us. This is what happens when we die to our selves with Jesus and then are raised to new life with Him and are joined to Him. This is what happens when you fall in love with Jesus. May our hearts do just that. Amen.