Pastor’s Blog: The Old Adam and the Old Eve

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9).

Lutheran Christians are rather skeptical of holiness movements, because the old Adam and the old Eve, the old sinner in each of us, is at his or her worst when he or she gets religion. The problem for human beings is not that we are naturally immoral, which can be fixed by a strong dose of morality (read that as sanctimony or self-righteousness). Our problem is far worse than what we do and don’t do. We are born dead in our trespasses, in bondage to sin, and we cannot free ourselves. We need a Savior always.

The Pharisees in the New Testament were wonderful people in the outward sense of things, when the Olympic morality judges are raising their score cards for a good performance. They were more than tithers with their money and did well by widows and orphans. They studied both the written and the oral Torah (the books of Moses and their oral interpretation). They were there when the doors were open. They dressed well and, as an old friend in Texas used to say, had pretty ways. I’ve never known a church treasurer who wouldn’t give her or his eye teeth just to have a church full of Pharisees.

And yet our Lord Jesus was hardest on these, precisely because on the outside they looked really good, but, on the inside, they were full of dead men’s bones. Out of the heart always comes all manner of evil, especially when we are being so religious for public consumption.

I remember the congregation where my first true love attended. I went with her and her family every Sunday night for a year and some Wednesdays, too. I really was smitten, because the preaching was terrible legalism. And, as nice as the people could be outwardly, there was a very strong dose of the Pharisee culture in that place. (If the truth be told, and it must, there’s quite a bit of that in every congregation…even the liberal ones…you just have to know what is thought immoral in a church.) When a young girl in the church became known as having been publicly a bad girl, i.e., everyone knew about it, she was demanded to stand before the whole church and confess her sins that they might forgive her. She walked out. And it must have hurt her parents and grandparents badly…not just that everyone “knew” but that she was now publicly shamed.

Some of the kids in that congregation were quite incensed by this episode, because they knew which of the saints were known for cheating people in business and which slept around a lot and were known to drink privately. The church was against alcohol, dancing, and a host of like sins. But the little town, and not a few in the church, bore a strong resemblance to Jeannie C. Riley’s classic song, “Harper Valley PTA.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOefY-wjA7U

Satan, the father of lies, loves it when the old Adam or old Eve gets religion, because as long as the old Adam or old Eve thinks he or she is becoming more moral, then Jesus is needed as little more than a teacher of morality. Getting religion can make for a fine bunch of Pharisees, but “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” All sin. All!

Every day the old Adam and old Eve must be drowned in the waters of Holy Baptism. He or she brings nothing to salvation, not even cooperation with the Holy Spirit, because every one is born dead in his or her trespasses. Dead sinners cannot do anything, which sort of blows out of the water any notions of prevenient grace and other do-it-yourself-religious ideas. The dead can do nothing. No inviting Jesus into our hearts. No making the next move. This is why the Holy Spirit is constantly calling us through the Gospel to the very place where the old Adam and old Eve can be joined to the saving death and glorious resurrection of God’s incarnate Son Jesus. The new birth is God’s saving work in Holy Baptism. He creates a new child of God where there was none before. No little souls in heaven waiting for bodies. No. The child of God is newborn.

Everyone needs Jesus every day. Apart from Him, we remain in bondage to sin and unable to free ourselves…no matter how morally beautiful we make ourselves for public consumption. It’s like all that Botox and make up that gets used on corpses to give a life-like appearance. No. All the people I have loved and seen in a casket looked dead and not at all like they were asleep.

Some of us have been badly hurt and even betrayed in life by those we love or loved. Anger is a secondary emotion that can do tremendous damage to everyone around us, especially the most vulnerable. Anger is not evil. God made anger as a safety valve. But what we do with anger can be most evil, especially when we think of ourselves as the holy one and the betrayer as the unholy one. Things don’t happen in a vacuum. We are all born in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We come from family systems that bear the marks of sin. The old Adam and the old Eve are never gone completely until we draw our last breath in these bodies of death. As Elmer Fudd used to say, “Be vewy, vewy, careful!”

One of my favorite choruses from one of my favorite singers says: “A heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter, you become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there, wrapped up in a trap of your very own chain of sorrow” (John Prine, “Bruised Orange”). A lot of truth there if you have held on to anger. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5S3M2UsGjG8

All sin. Everyone needs a Savior every day…especially the Pharisees who are so convinced of their own holiness. The Law of God is meant to show us our need for a Savior and how we have looked for the love of God in all the wrong places. God’s love is only there at Calvary at the foot of the cross bearing the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus. And, dear ones, the ground there is level. To Pharisee and notorious sinner, the Holy Spirit sings: “Come home, you weary ones, to Jesus, Friend of sinners.”

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. And on all of us!

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

szumwalt

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 42 years and in May 2018 celebrated the 37th anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry. He is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity (www.societyholytrinity.org). In 2004, Pr. Zumwalt moved with his family to Wilmington from Texas, where he served for 23 years as pastor of small, midsize, and large congregations.