First Lesson: Genesis 22: 1-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 13
Second Lesson: Romans 6: 12-23
Matthew 10: 40-42
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Hundreds of years ago in the land which is today Belgium lived a couple of brothers named Raynald and his younger brother Edward. When their father died, both brothers believed they were entitled to succeed him as Duke. Edward and Raynald’s armies engage in battle, Edward’s army wins, and Raynald is sent to prison. Edward hatched a particularly devious plan for his older brother. Edward built a room for Raynald within his castle Nieuwkerk Castle. Edward even made Raynald a deal “As soon as you’re able to leave this room, you will regain the dukeship and all your earthly possessions. Edward’s offer seemed almost too easy; the room contained no outstanding features (the windows and doors were normal sizes), they were not locked, barred, or even guarded. Nearly anyone would have been able to escape from Raynald’s room.
Raynald had one problem though; he was fat. Raynald was so fat, wiggling through these doors even when wide open was next to impossible. The solution would be Raynald just needed to lose a little weight then the duke ship would be his. Here’s what made Edward’s plan so devious though, every day he would see large quantities of the most tempting/least nutritious foods to Raynald’s room that he could imagine. Because of Edward’s staff’s cooking, Raynald was the rare prisoner to gain weight. People would accuse Edward of cruelty to which he would merely say “My brother is free to leave at any time.” Raynald would spend the next ten years of his life in Edward’s room. Raynald would never develop the willpower to overcome the greatest of temptations. Edward dies in battle and Raynald is released but dies within a year. Raynald knew the way out of prison every day, yet he just couldn’t set himself free.
Freedom is something that the Apostle Paul struggled with in his life. Paul gets converted to Christianity. Paul starts seeing God as he had never seen him before. Paul saw God reaching people even in the midst of the doors in which they struggled. So last week, Paul wrote to the Church in Rome that Baptism is a sign of God’s faithful promises given to you even as your life has its various twists and turns. Not everyone liked this message. Some people thought Paul was making things way too easy. People need a little “Do this, don’t do that” or so everyone thought.
There is such a thing as too much freedom. The year was 1987; Former Colorado Senator Gary Hart seemingly had it all. Hart was known for being compassionate, intelligent, charismatic, and good-looking. Hart was known for appealing to the political center. Gary Hart had lost at the 1984 Convention to Walter Mondale and 1988 was seemingly Gary Hart’s year. Shortly after announcing his candidacy though rumors began to spread about Gary Hart. Gary Hart supposedly like women more than a married fellow should. When Gary Hart was asked about the allegations, he responded “Follow me around. They'll be very bored.” Such an offer should have led to a better behaved Gary Hart. Just like Raynald in the presence of the enticing food. Hart could not control his passions. Gary Hart’s presidential campaign would end in media-exposed scandal just a short while later. Stories like the rise and fall of Gary Hart and Raynald’s illustrate why too much freedom can indeed be a dangerous thing.
Paul’s audience in the Church in Rome recognized this. Laws are a good thing; Laws are the reason that drivers don’t go 100 miles an hour in school zones. Laws in Paul’s life were what previously separated the faithful and the unfaithful. Raynald and Gary Hart’s lives could have been so much better if they possessed the ability to say “No.”
So Paul’s message for Today seems to go against all common sense. Paul seems to be giving people “too much freedom.”
Romans 6:14 “You are not under the Law, but Grace.”
Why might Paul say such a thing? Why might Paul give such an easy way to some many badly behaved people?
Daniel lived every day of his life in fear of death. Daniel grew up on Los Angeles’ Southside. Daniel’s family had been part of the same street gang for generations. Daniel’s body is marked with scars and gang tattoos. Gang-banging was who Daniel believed that he was born to be. Daniel didn’t believe that his life could be any different than those who came before him. Daniel’s life was tough. Daniel would go to bed every night afraid that he might die via drug overdose or shooting. Daniel was convinced that if there were a hell, he would be going there.
Daniel’s life changed when he started hanging outside the local Lutheran church. Daniel’s reasons for hanging outside the church were simple; throw the cops off his tail. Daniel overtime noticed something about these church people; they didn’t chase him away like everyone else because of who he was. They invited him even to attend Bible studies and worship. Daniel snickered at first. Daniel soon realized that these people were different. They weren’t running like he was from everything they had previously done wrong. Many of them were even unafraid of death, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Daniel came to see like in the case of Raynald and Gary Hart that what has power over you today does not necessarily have power over you tomorrow.
Basically, God takes in broken and hurting people. God saves those that no one else might dare to save. People in Paul’s day had never heard a message such as this one.
Paul’s main message of the Book of Romans is this: “Sin no matter how seemingly big or small, will lead to death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The same God that rose from the grave converted Paul on the Road to Damascus can even reach you.
Paul’s point in our lesson today is not to bless sin or call what’s life-taking to be life-giving. Paul’s point is rather that no matter how nasty the world around you might get like in the case of Daniel. Because of grace, there is always a way forward.
Final story for this morning. Kennon Callahan tells the story of a young girl named Kate. Kate seemingly had a pretty good life growing up; her parents were well-off and seemingly supportive. Kate and her family had attended a church that was known for seemingly being forward-thinking and open-minded. Kate one day at not much older than sixteen found out she was pregnant. Kate’s life was never the same. Kate’s parents disowned her and threw her out of the house. Kate’s church ultimately wasn’t as open-minded as they claimed to be. Kate’s former friends would take every chance to sneer at her when she wasn’t looking. Kate’s boyfriend wanted nothing to do with her anymore. Kate could have taken a simple way out, yet she didn’t want to do that. Kate went looking for a support system. Kate eventually shows up at a church on the other side of town from where she previously lived. Kate’s new church was nothing like her old church: words to describe it were things like stiff, rigid, close-minded. You take one look at Kate and one look at this church, it would seem to be a total mishmash. Kate wanders in one day, knowing no one. Grandma Ida Mae catches her out of the corner of her eye. Ida Mae would seem to be the definition of stoic old lady that you would have nothing but nasty to say to a pregnant teen Kate. Ida Mae called Kate over and said: “You can sit next to me.” People around Ida Mae were shocked, but what Ida Mae says “pretty much goes.” After the service, Kate was shocked as Ida Mae was seemingly the first person to be “warm” and “friendly” to Kate in weeks. Pretty soon, Kate keeps showing up at Ida Mae’s church week after week. Before long you looked at the choir, it was a bunch of gray hairs and pregnant Kate, no one thought anything of this. Kate had walked out of the door which previously held her hostage into a whole new world of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. What had previously defined Kate would no longer define her. Every time, Kate walked through that church’s doors, she was indeed a child of God.
There will probably be times in life when we feel like Raynald trapped in a cell of our own making, seemingly defeated by every temptation that comes before us. We might even in cases like Gary Hart seemingly see all our hopes and dreams crumble when we fall. Paul’s message to the Church in Rome is that in times of our stumbles, our God gives us a new path as evidenced by his death and resurrection. Daniel, the gang member, had seen death nearly every day of his life, yet it wasn’t till he came in contact with our Gospel that he saw it would not defeat him. Regardless of what her parents thought or anyone else thought, Pregnant Teen Kate would never cease being God’s child.
Doors sometimes get jammed in life as in the stories of Raynald, Gary Hart, Daniel, Kate, the Apostle Paul, members of the Church of Rome, and our Church. Because of the grace of God, these doors will soon be opened, so that Resurrection promises that one day we will be set free! Amen
 Smead, Jeffrey. J. “The Grandfather in My Bones.” Sermon Central. 21.June.2014. Web. June.27.2017.
 Wilkenson, Dave. “Prisoner of His Appetite.” Bible.org. 2.Feb.2009. Web. June.28.2017
 Breznican, Anthony. “Hugh Jackman will star as Gary Hart in Jason Reitman's The Frontrunner.” Entertainment Weekly. 27.June.2017. Web. June.28.2017.
 “Gary Hart.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 10.June.2017. Web. June.28.2017.
 Seitz, Reverend. Dr. Gregory. “Dream Giver for Dream Receivers.” The Lutheran Hour. 22.June.2014. Web. June.27.2017.
 Seitz, Reverend. Dr. Gregory. “Dream Giver for Dream Receivers.”
 Seitz, Reverend. Dr. Gregory. “Dream Giver for Dream Receivers.”
 Paraphrase of Romans 6:23.
 Callahan, Kennon. L. Twelve Keys to an Effective Church: Strong, Healthy Congregations Living in the Grace of God. Jossey-Bass Publishing. 2nd Edition (2010). Pg. 106-107.