July 6

Our Source of Rest

On Thursday, The Toledo Blade had an article called “Watch Out as Sparks Fly on 4th: Personal use of fireworks illegal in Ohio”. The article says,

“Aside from sparklers and other small novelty items, fireworks are illegal for personal use in Ohio, although they are legal to buy if customers sign a form saying they will transport them outside the state within 48 hours of purchase. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 11,400 people across the U.S. were treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to fireworks in 2013, and 65% of those injuries occurred within a month of the Fourth of July. Eight people died from fireworks-related injuries in 2013, according to the consumer commission (The Blade, Stephen Gruber-Miller, 7/3/2014).”

We KNOW that using fireworks is illegal in Ohio, yet the sounds I heard in the neighborhood were more than simple sparklers. We KNOW that fireworks and alcohol are a bad combination, yet after a couple of beers, the relaxed feeling doesn’t recognize slower reaction times that can lead to injury.

We KNOW that the speed limit is 55 and yet there are times when we are miffed by those driving under the speed of 60. We KNOW that we are to give to the poor without condition, but we are more likely to judge them. We KNOW that we are to forgive past offenses, but we prefer to live in anger. We KNOW that we should not lie in any shape or form, but we easily rationalize the need for it.

In the reading from Romans, Paul wrote, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very things I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it (Romans 7:15-18 NRSV).”

I remember the old Warner Brother’s cartoon of Sylvester and Tweety Bird. Sylvester the cat was always trying to come up with new ways to catch Tweety for his dinner and always came up short. But there were times when his conscience was in conflict and there would be an ‘angel Sylvester’ on one shoulder and a ‘devil Sylvester’ on the other shoulder. Both were speaking into his ear. The angel would tell him what he ‘should’ do, and the devil was rationalizing why he should do the other. Sylvester knew the difference between right and wrong. The rationalization of sin is too strong to overcome.

Again Paul wrote, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Jesus Christ is the ONLY option to erase our sins. And even though we KNOW this too, we still attempt to justify ourselves through our good works.

When we begin reviewing our laundry list of accomplishments in life, who is being affirmed? Is our finger pointing to God or is it turned toward ourselves? Just like we KNOW that shooting personal fireworks in Ohio is illegal, we also KNOW that God is the resource for all that we have. But just like we shoot off personal fireworks anyway, we also take credit for God’s work.

Who was it that allowed you and me to be born in a country with the freedoms we have rather than to a poor widow in North Korea? Was your success really based on all of your own hard work or did God present the opportunities to you in the first place? And when we take the credit for all that we have, who will we blame if it all disappears in one storm, one stock market crash, or a fire? In our sinful humanity, we are quick to take personal credit for success and point fingers of blame to others when failure occurs.

Paul instructs us to be humble, acknowledging that no matter how much we WANT to do good, our sinfulness does not allow us to do it. When we do what seems to be good, we sinfully take personal credit, deflecting the worship of God. “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

In our confession of complete dependence on God, we acknowledge that we sin (at times without knowing it) and that we trust in his forgiveness without condition. The act of confession leads to peace in God’s love and mercy and it removes anger and fear.

In the words of Jesus Christ found in Matthew, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Lay the desire to redeem our sinfulness at the cross. It has already been done. Amen.