The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, 5 July 2020
A Sermon on Romans 7:14-25 by Samuel D. Zumwalt
Romans 7:14-25 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles
14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
SUMMER MUSICALS: THE MUSIC MAN
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Looking at a different summer musical each week is not about entertainment. We are after a deeper engagement with the Word of God as it opens the dark places in our lives so that the Light of the world can remove what does not belong and restore us to whom we are meant to be.
Trouble in River City
Meredith Willson was born and raised in Mason City, Iowa, a small city located on the Winnebago River just off Interstate 35. After leaving home, Willson attended what became the Juilliard School and was a flute and piccolo player both in John Philip Sousa’s band and the New York Philharmonic conducted by Arturo Toscanini. He began composing music for films including Charlie Chaplain’s The Great Dictator and William Wyler’s The Little Foxes. He is best known for his award-winning musical The Music Man, which opened on Broadway in 1957. The first movie version in 1962, which starred Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, had its premiere in Mason City. A replica of the movie set is a tourist attraction in that city of 28,000 residents.
The lead character in the musical, Professor Harold Hill, is a traveling salesman who pretends to be a graduate of the conservatory of music in Gary, Indiana. His typical approach is to go to a town, convince people they need a band for their kids, collect money for instruments and uniforms, and skip town, usually after having stolen a young woman’s heart and virtue. An old friend has settled in River City, and Hill pumps him for information, looking for an angle. When Hill learns there is a new pool table in town, he begins to draw a crowd by warning people of the dangers associated with pool. It’s a slippery slope from the pool hall to the depths of hell.
With all the passion of an old fashioned tent revivalist, Professor Hill warns: “One fine night, they leave the pool hall, Heading for the dance at the Armory! Libertine men and Scarlet women! And Ragtime, shameless music that’ll grab your son and your daughter with the arms of a jungle animal instinct! Mass hysteria! Friends, the idle brain is the devil’s playground! Trouble, oh we got trouble, right here in River City! With a capital “T” that rhymes with “P” and that stands for Pool.” With this willing captive audience, it’s easy for Professor Hill after that.
He sells the parents a vision of a great marching band for their boys: “Seventy-six trombones hit the counterpoint, while a hundred and ten cornets played the bridge. to the rhythm of “arch”, “arch”, “arch”, all the kids began to march and they’re marching still, right today!” Oh, what a vision. Instead of trouble in River City, there will be a disciplined band of boys in their streets.
Professor Hill meets Marian the librarian, who also teaches piano lessons. She sees right through him from the beginning and checks on his fraudulent credentials. Meanwhile, Hill describes to his friend the kind of woman he prefers: “No wide-eyed, eager, wholesome, innocent Sunday-school teacher for me. That kind of girl spins webs no spider ever… now, listen boy… a girl who trades on all that purity merely wants to trade my independence for her security.” Then he sings, “I cheer, I rave, for the virtue I’m too late to save. The sadder but wiser girl for me.”
But Marian falls in love with Hill when he helps her younger brother overcome a lisp. She begins to believe in him and sings: “There were bells on a hill but I never heard them ringing, no I never heard them at all till there was you.” Despite himself, Harold Hill falls for Marian, and now he’s in trouble. How can a man with no musical training teach music by a “think method?”
Every human being loves to have something new. The townspeople look forward to what special items might be delivered to their homes by the Wells Fargo Wagon. They sing: “O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ down the street. Oh, don’t let him pass my door! O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ down the street I wish I knew what he was comin’ for.” And that wagon brings all those new musical instruments and uniforms. Now Professor Harold Hill really has trouble in River City. He’s in love. He’s a fraud. And he can’t leave town before he is arrested.
Somehow, Professor Hill’s band is able to play a beginner’s version of Beethoven’s “Minuet in G.” All the parents are so proud of their kids that Professor Hill is finally off the legal hook. And the movie version ends with Hill’s vision having come true as a gigantic band marches out of the City Hall and into the streets playing: “Seventy Six Trombones.”
Far Worse Than We Think
There’s always trouble in a River City like Wilmington, but the trouble is far worse than we think. It’s not a figment of our imagination, not a scam by oily preachers selling pie in the sky. All of us, yes preachers and hearers, are sold to sin. Like the townspeople in the River City of The Music Man, we fear, love, and trust in people and things that cannot be god. When our gods don’t deliver what they cannot, we childishly become angry and blame it on the one true God.
Now, prior to Holy Baptism, it is perfectly understandable that a person doesn’t know she or he is sold out to sin. It’s like not being aware of a malignancy until one goes for medical tests and receives the bad news. The unbaptized may use psychological terminology or even the language of luck to describe a series of bad choices or “unfortunate” events. The unbaptized might even use the language of addiction and assume that some sort of medical intervention or some kind of behavioral modification will provide the answer. Yet, among the baptized, because of the odious nature of the word “slavery” in our present hypersensitive context, one will rarely hear even Christians talking about being slaves to sin. Bondage? Well, that’s familiar from the liturgy and a trifle less offensive. But sold out to sin? Enslaved by sin? Aren’t the baptized free from sin? NO!
The wages of sin is death, and none of our false gods or this-worldly visions will save us. We need God’s Son Jesus, who lives the perfectly obedient life none of us can live and dies the innocent death none of us can die for us and our salvation. If we are buried with Him in Baptism, we will have a new life that begins here and goes on forever. But St. Paul warns us that the old sinner in each of us clings to this life and keeps trying to remain in control. Only Christ can save us from this body of death with its will that remains hostile to God. I need Jesus. You need Jesus.
Better Than We Can Imagine
This weekend is a time in which we citizens of this land give God thanks and praise for the gift of our country. Many of us with more American Indian blood than a well-known senator from another state don’t know when those ancestors first emigrated here from Asia. But some of my dearest and oldest memories are of an immigrant grandmother from Germany and an immigrant grandfather from Sicily. They came here with dreams of a better life than the one they left behind. Here, they found love, formed families, and were grateful to be citizens of this land.
Year after year, people of every color and a myriad of tongues come to America seeking a better life, a place where dreams can come true with sacrifice, hard work, and discipline. Most of these do not understand the privileged children born here, who have been taught by a sordid, revisionist history to hate this country, yes, children poisonous to the safety and security of neighbors. If they hate this country so much, why don’t they immigrate to the very places others left behind?
This hatred of country, this hatred of authority, yes, this hatred of God is a thinly-veiled hatred of self. Indeed it is part and parcel of the old Adam or old Eve, that unregenerate old sinner in each person that must and will go into the grave and not return. Dear ones, I visited the remains of the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau and saw the Russian barbed wire and machine guns at the Hungarian border in the summer of our nation’s bicentennial. I remember the poll tax booths on the courthouse lawn in my adopted hometown and heard the news on my bedside radio the night Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. I remember those terrible nights in the Parkland Hospital emergency room when the carnage from hateful, drug-and-alcohol-fueled violence arrived in ambulances followed, then, by hours and hours with grief-stricken parents. Dear ones, there is a cancer in the human heart and mind that steals, kills, and destroys. It is called sin!
St. John Paul II suffered under Soviet oppression in work camps. He warned the Church about Marxism. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner in Soviet work camps. He warned this country about Marxism at a speech given at Harvard. To those who would try to destroy this country with Marxist revisionist history and mob violence, every faithful Christian must say NO!
This will never be a perfect country, but it is a wonderful country with a history of overcoming slavery here and tyranny throughout the world. This is our home, American Christians. Love her.
In The Music Man, Professor Harold Hill went to River City with the highly-polished, cynical idea that he could dupe townspeople out of their money and women out of their virtue. He was selling a materialistic, this-worldly paradise that offered the scratch to an itch in the soul. Each parent dreamed of having and being more and wanted the same for their children. Hill offered them easy solace for their fears and packages from the Wells Fargo Wagon for their hopes. And, even today, the worst politicians in their quest for power offer a Marxist utopia that has and will always only bring hell on earth. If you doubt that, research the places it has been tried. Yes, hell!
Here, as the Hebrews writer reminds us, we have no continuing city. Our hope in Christ is not for this life. But here men and women marry. Most become fruitful and multiply. Here we raise the next generation to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind. Here we love our neighbors by doing good work and saying No to evil. Here we are baptized into the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection and learn from Him to bear His gentle yoke. Here we pray for our enemies and care for the wounded and the helpless. Here we lift up to everyone the Lord God’s vision of how it will be when He makes all things new at the last, a vision that is far better than any of us can imagine.
Do not hate yourself or this country, dear ones. Do not fall for the schemes of the old evil foe, who always finds charming fools like Professor Harold Hill to do his nefarious work and to walk in his demonic ways. The old Adam or Eve inside must be drowned daily through confession and forgiveness. It is a lifelong struggle from the moment of our Baptism until our Baptism is complete when we take our last breath. St. Paul understood that. He reminds us only Jesus saves!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
Summer Musicals: The Music Man
“O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 617).
Romans 7:14 “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.”
St. Cyril [5th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “The will of the Spirit is one thing, that of the flesh is another. These two will fights against each other and can never reach agreement. Man is carnal, but the law is spiritual. How then can the law ever become tolerable to those who struggle so hard against the sickness of sin? There is wisdom here, for if a man is carnal he is in some sense captive and reduced to the condition of slavery” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Romans, 191).
Romans 7:15 “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
Origen [Late 2nd – early 3rd century Bible scholar in Alexandria, Egypt]: “Here Paul shows that even the man who is carnal and sold under sin may try, by the instinct of natural law as it were, to resist evil, but he is overcome by sin and is subdued unwillingly. This often happens, for example, when someone decides not to react to provocation, but in the end his anger gets the better of him and he gives in to it against his will. In other words, he gets angry when he does not want to get angry” (191).
Romans 7:19 “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
St. Ambrose [4th century Bishop of Milan, Italy]: “Do you think that anyone with a knowledge of sin can avoid it?” (194).
Romans 7:21 “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.”
St. Cyril of Alexandria: “If sin inheres in my flesh and corrupts it, it may well be that the law offers help and gives advice, but even so it does not set me free from sin. Yet for those who are bound by the weakness of sin, it is hardly enough to know that they should be doing better; what they need is the strength to do what is right and in accordance with the law” (195).
Romans 7:24 “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
St. Ambrose: “We have a physician – let us follow his remedy! Our remedy is the grace of Christ, and the body of death is our body. Let us therefore be exiled from the body lest we be exiled from Christ. Even if we are in the body let us not follow what is of the body. Let us not neglect the rights of nature, but let us prefer the gifts of grace” (197).
- Do I understand that my Baptism is the beginning of a lifelong struggle against the sinner in me?
Table of Duties
Certain passages of Scripture for Various Holy Orders and Positions, by Which These People Are to Be Admonished, as a Special Lesson, about Their Office and Service
To Workers of All Kinds
“Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free” (Ephesians 6:5-8).
To Employers and Supervisors
“Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him” (Ephesians 6:9) (Luther’s Small Catechism).
- Pray for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.
- Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
- Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend the responsibilities of being a worker and a supervisor. How a Christian makes a living is a matter of vocation, a calling from God. Since the commandment against stealing speaks as to how one makes a living and how one treats the neighbor in the sight of God, what do these quotations from Ephesians 6 add to the conversation about vocation?
- Set aside time daily, preferably first thing, but when you are able to focus, to hear the Word of God, to reflect upon that Word, and to ask the Holy Spirit to grant you grace to be shaped by and conformed to that Word. Daily Bible readings may be found at www.stmatthewsch.org. If you haven’t previously done so, please ask for a new devotional booklet when you return to corporate worship or when you drive through to receive the Body and Blood of Christ this weekend. Daily lectionary readings are on p.189 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Year Two, Week of 5 Pentecost).
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”