Choosing our Master
Rev. Randy Quinn
For the next few weeks, we will be reading
from the central section of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. In many
ways, the letter is his letter of introduction. It is how he presents
himself to them before he meets them. He tells them who he is, who he
believes God is, and how God has made a difference in his life – and
what he thinks God is doing in their lives.
In this particular section of the letter, he is explaining how sin and
grace and law are inter-related and how the interaction between them
informs the way we live. Our passage for today takes a closer look at
how sin has shaped our lives in the past and how grace is making it
possible to live differently.
One pastor I know tells about moving into a
new house. The next door neighbor asked that he only drive north on the
alley that separates their houses. The pastor thought it was a rather
arbitrary rule she made up one day when she was mad about something; but
he also thought there was no harm in complying. He wanted to be a good
neighbor, after all.
It wasn’t long before he learned that going
south was much more convenient for him. It was not only longer to drive
north; it also put him on a one-way street going the opposite direction
when he was leaving his house.
For a while, he went north out of a sense
of obligation, sometimes grudgingly. Then one day he saw the neighbor’s
son playing ball outside on the driveway. Any runaway ball would have
caused the boy to run into the alley. But traffic was not visible from
the north. Nor could a car driving south up the alley see him playing.
Going north in the alley gave a good view to both the driver and the
young boy – averting a potential tragedy.
Now the new pastor drives north down the
alley for two reasons. He does so to be cordial and compliant, but more
importantly he does so because he wants to. The results are the same,
but now his heart is in it. He no longer has to think about it. He
doesn’t even want to try going the other direction.
It’s a similar situation to the one Paul
describes in our text for today. Our sins are forgiven, he says, and
therefore we no longer want to sin. It is not because we are now
perfect, but because we now desire to please God. Once we lived by the
rules, now we live by grace.
Paul uses an image that would have been
clearly understood in his day, the image of slavery. Slaves were
prevalent in his society – in fact, some of the church members were
probably slaves. They knew that being a slave meant you have no choice
in what you do or where you go.
Paul is suggesting, however, that even
those who are not slaves have “masters,” people or rules who define
their behavior. It’s simply a question of who our master is, who it is
that makes the choices in our lives. That part is still true today.
Do you follow the latest fashion trends
when you buy clothing? (Of course you do, because there isn’t anything
else to buy! There was even a recent trend toward thrift store
Do you buy a car that will make people
notice your vehicle? (Even if you’re buying it for the utility of it,
we are aware of the statement we are making with the cars we drive.)
How many parents find themselves on the
soccer fields or in the bleachers at ball games because that’s where
their children are playing? (We really don’t have a choice; we’ll be
there if our kids are there.)
Even when we think we’re “free” to make our
own choices, we live within a particular set of parameters set by our
society. Paul reminds us, however, that we are God’s children. God has
forgiven our sin and adopted us into the family.
We are baptized and welcomed as heirs with
Christ. The result is that we are no longer slaves to those other forces
in life. In fact, we are free! And as a free people, Paul invites us to
choose to obey God.
We are God’s children. Our baptism is the
seal of proof. But we have a choice about how we will live. We can
continue to live in sin, as people who are enslaved to the things and
masters who surround us, or we can choose to obey God.
It’s very much like the story of the
conversation between the Cherokee Grandfather and his grandson.
“A fight is going on inside me,”
Grandfather said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight between two
wolves.” The young grandson listened intently.
“One wolf is evil, unhappy, and ugly. He is
anger, envy, war, greed, selfishness, sorrow, regret, guilt, resentment,
inferiority/superiority, false pride, coarseness, and arrogance. He
spreads lies, deceit, fear, hatred, blame, scarcity, poverty, and
divisiveness. That wolf lives in me.”
“The other wolf is beautiful and good. He
is friendly, joyful, loving, worthy, serene, humble, kind, benevolent,
just, fair, empathetic, generous, honest, compassionate, grateful,
brave, and inspiring. He is resting wholeheartedly in a deep vision
beyond ordinary wisdom. That wolf also lives in me.” The grandson paused
in deep reflection of what his grandfather had just said.
Grandfather continued, “The wolves inside
me are in a battle. This same fight is going on inside you; and inside
all human beings as well.”
The grandson paused in deep reflection and
recognition of what his grandfather had just said. Then he asked:
“Grandfather, which wolf will win this war?”
The elder Cherokee replied, “The wolf that
In baptism, we are given the opportunity to
recognize the two wolves at war within us. One is the wolf of grace. It
is a gift that is given to us, a gift that promises blessings and
abundance in life. The other is the wolf of sin. It lurks at every
corner, even when we are trying to do good – especially in those times.
Some of the people in Rome had been feeding
the wolf of sin. People do that today, too. They let the forces of the
world direct their lives. In response, Paul points out the fact that sin
always leads to death.
Grace, on the other hand, leads to life.
That’s why it’s so amazing!
Today, Paul invites us to remember whose we
are. We are children of God. Therefore, he says, we feed the wolf of
grace. We nurture an attitude of grace. We live our lives in obedience
to God – because we want to please God.
Sin no longer holds sway over us.
Thanks be to God.