Romans 8:1-11

It’s Time To Get Off

July 16 2017

            Wentworth Presbyterian Church, one of the first churches I served when I graduated from Seminary,   had a unique Merry Go Round, which was also a Teeter Totter, in front of the building that served as the Fellowship Hall .  The Merry Go Round / Teeter Totter had a 20 foot,  large metal pole cemented securely into the ground with a ball bearing mechanism on top.  Smaller metal poles cascaded towards the ground from the ball bearing mechanism and a wooden bench was attached to the metal poles.  It looked something like a May Pole with metal poles cascading from the top instead of ribbons – and bench at the bottom.   

It was a Merry Go Round in that it would spin round and round. Someone  would push it until it would spin at a high rate of speed and then jump on. It was also a Teeter Totter in that as it spun round and round it would also go up and down, thanks to the ball bearing mechanism the poles were attached to.

            Needless to say, the kids in the Church and the community, nd even some of the adults, loved riding the Merry Go Round / Teeter Totter. One day I stopped and talked to a thirty year old man who had moved away from Wentworth but was passing through town and just had to stop and swing awhile like he had done as a child. 

            The Wentworth Merry Go Round / Teeter Totter was popular with many folks. Like most rides of this sort, however, there were problems with it. First of all, the ball bearing mechanism would have to be oiled, the metal painted, and the bench repaired periodically. In fact, the Church’s Insurance agent would cringe every time he saw it!  Then, as you might expect, there would be times one of the and would want off.  The problem would be that would not be able to stop the Merry Go Round.  Usually it would take an adult who was not riding to come to their rescue – grab on to the bench or one of the poles – and pull back to make the Merry Go Round stop. 

            Can you imagine how it would feel to be stuck on such a Merry Go Round / Teeter Totter?

Maybe you would start slow, pushing with your feet to gain more speed until you finally are running. Then you would jump on to the spinning Merry Go Round / Teeter Totter, going round and round and up and down, and holding on for dear life. At that point maybe you might feel that you are stuck on the Merry Go Round. The centrifugal force of the spinning Merry Go Round would be threatening to throw you off, but you wound be holding on for dear life to the metal pole in front of you because you would be afraid of what might happen to you if you fall off. Round and round, up and down, the Merry-Go-Round / Teeter Totter would spin, and you are stuck — caught between wanting to get off and unwilling to let go. You might wish for someone to come and grab hold of the rail and stop the ride, but feel that no one was going to come to your rescue. 

            It would be a pretty helpless feeling, wouldn’t it?

The thing is that this feeling of being stuck on a Merry Go Round or Teeter Totter might be an illustration for the way you are living your life.

Maybe you feel stuck in habits and behaviors that you know are wrong – or maybe you feel stuck in a lifestyle of a lack of commitment to God – just coming to Church but not really feeling that it’s making a difference in your life.  Or maybe you feel like you’re doing pretty good – better than most people – but deep down you know that there is very little joy in your life and that you are really rather bored with your life and even your faith. Maybe you feel that the same things keep happening over and over, day after day, and you can’t seem to do anything to keep them from happening.

Round and round – up and down – your life goes – and you might feel that you are stuck – wanting to get off – wanting to make some changes in your life – but not sure how to do it. You might wish that someone would come along and grab hold of your life and rescue you, but feel that there is no one who can rescue you from the spinning whirling life you’re stuck in.   

            Being stuck on a Merry Go Round or Teeter Totter can seem to be a picture of many peoples lives.  Stuck in old habits and old ways of doing things, wanting to change, wanting to “get off the ride” so to speak, but not knowing how to do it.

            Does that describe your life?

Do you feel stuck on a Merry Go Round or Teeter Totter — caught between being thrown off and holding on for dear life?

            If so, you are truly not alone.

Paul recognized the same dilemma when he lamented in Romans 7:19:

“For I do not do that good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do”

Even Paul felt like he was stuck on the merry-go-round.

When faced with such a predicament you might want to rationalize it by saying  “but I am only human!” as if that is somehow supposed to explain and exonerate you from this plight. The thing is that you are only human — and your humanity is exactly the problem.

Paul recognizes that in today’s text from Romans 8 when he acknowledges that we all “live according to the flesh.” Yea – if you feel like you are stuck on a Merry Go Round or Teeter Totter – stuck in old habits and old ways of doing things — wanting to change — wanting to “get off the ride” so to speak, but not knowing how to do it – maybe caught between being thrown off and holding on for dear life – you are truly not alone – for that’s how Paul felt — and that’s how everyone feels.  The truth is that everyone has times they are stuck on the Merry Go Round because everyone is stuck with what Paul calls “the flesh” – or the desires to do things against God’s will or the desires to just live life like we want to live it instead of being bothered with how God wants us to live it.

Paul continually laments the afflictions of what he calls “the sinful flesh”– but what is this “flesh” Paul is referring to? Well, it’s not merely the flesh and bones of our bodies. It is not merely even the lust or gluttony or greed or other such other inclinations that we more often than not associate with sinful living. No, Paul is talking about something far more comprehensive here. Paul is talking about that willful desire inside of you that does not trust God and is determined to run your life on your terms instead of God’s terms. You might want to call it your “sinful nature” — but I like to call it your human nature.  You see, ever since Adam and Eve there has been a desire in every human to be “like God”, to  decide for themselves what is good for them and what they are going to do instead of listening to God as He tells them what is good for them and what they should do.

If you are honest with yourself your famous last words are “I’m going to do what I want to do” instead of “I’m going to do what God wants me to do”.

Yea – you are only human – and that’s the problem.  

The thing about your flesh – or your human nature — is that it doesn’t matter how hard you try to shake it off, it doesn’t matter how hard you try to flee its hold on you life, you can’t do it. In fact, if you are honest with yourself, you don’t really want to. It is something like being stuck on the Merry Go Round, spinning round and round. You could get off if you would only let go. But you are too afraid of what will happen if you let go – so you still hold on.

What makes matters worse is that getting stuck on the merry-go-round is so easy. It always starts out so innocently. The wrong things – the things that pull you   away from God — always look so appealing — so compelling — so tempting – so good. Temptations in life – the things that pull you away from God – are rarely seen as “naughty” things. Rarely will you deliberately intend to run off and be a bad boy or girl. No — the temptation always appears in what seems to be good or things we can easily justify if we listen to our human nature. The “forbidden fruit” looked good to Adam and Eve. It was not ugly or repulsive. Today you might meet the “forbidden fruit” in the promises of a career, a job, a family – anything you put above God and God’s will for your life. Just as it looked good to the eyes of Adam and Eve, it can look good to you too. You can easily convince yourself that your career is all that counts, or your family is all that matters, or that time for yourself is more important than time for God.  But when these “good things” become your ultimate concern, they will always disappoint you. They will always let you down. They will always enslave you.         

And – you can’t seem to escape. 

Or – can you?

You can – but there is only one way that you can. You can’t stop the Merry Go Round and get off – walk away – and start over – even if you want to do so. But you can get off the Merry God Round – you just can’t do it by yourself.  There is only one way you can get off the Merry Go Round — God has got to get you off. God has got to stop the Merry Go Round – bring the decisions you make that go against Him to a halt – and help you start over again. And that is exactly what God does in Jesus Christ.

Paul changes his language in verse Romans 8:9 to reflect just that fact.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, he writes.

In other words, you may be stuck on the Merry Go Round, you do not need to remain there. With a startling announcement that almost seems to come out of the blue, Paul declares,

“You, however, are not in realm of the flesh; you are in the realm of the Spirit”

 Notice the present tense verbs here – You are not in the realm of the flesh

You are in the realm of the Spirit

You might feel like you are spinning around on the Merry Go Round,  always trying to do the right thing but never sure that you can. Round and round you go, wanting to get off but afraid to let go and wishing that someone would come along and stop the Merry Go round and help you off.

Well, the truth is that God in Christ stops the Merry Go Round. God in Christ grabs the Merry Go Round – stops it — loosens the grip of sin on your life so that you can let go and get off.  God in Christ stops the Merry Go Round so you can  stop going in the sinful way your human nature leads you – and start going in God’s ways.

If you feel stuck on the Merry Go Round of following your own will and your own desires – if you feel that there is no way you can loosen your grip from your desire to do what you want to do and truly, freely live in the ways God wants you to live – if you want life with God’s purpose instead of whatever purpose your sinful human nature might find for you that will end up letting you down – God is waiting for you. God has given you the only way off the Merry Go Round of sin.  All you have to do is accept His invitation to trust Him instead of yourself and let Him take control of that spinning Merry Go Round called your life. He will come into your life – give your life a new direction – and a new purpose. You don’t have to go on spinning in the life that is controlled by what you want – you can let God help you off that Merry Go Round and put you on the path that leads to doing His will and growing in His ways.

The trick is you have to let go and trust God. You have to let God take you off the Merry Go Round of sin and set you on a new ride – one of serving Him.  You have to trust God enough to let Him help you off the Merry Go Round  of doing what pleases you and what you want and let Him put you on the path of doing what He calls you to do.

Learning to truly follow what God wants you to do is a slow process – but it begins with letting God take you off that Merry Go Round of sin and help you follow His will for your life. It will lead you into habits such as an active prayer life, active participation in the life of the Church, actively serving God in the community and actively showing God to those around you.  It will lead to these things – but it begins with letting God take you off that Merry Go Round of sin and doing what you want and setting you on the path of doing what He wants.

If you feel your life is spinning out of control on the Merry Go Round of sin and doing what you want, it’s time to let God take over.

God is waiting to help you.

It’s time to trust Him – and get off. Amen.