Friday, May 23, 2014

Chances are that if you can read this you are a person and not an animal

There was a cartoon several years ago of a man dressed in animal skins, holding up a perfect model of a large, stone wheel, showing it to other men in animal skins. The caption was, "I call it fire." Shouldn't that make everyone wonder? What would we do without fire? Having wheels would not give us cars, unless we had fire to make them go. But we have to keep fire within limits, otherwise it becomes very destructive. The same could be said for mankind. Our bodies are noble instruments, intended to be under the orders of the soul. So if the body rebels against the authority of the soul, it subverts the order of creation. The classical pagans knew this. They wrote many volumes on how to discipline the body, hoping to keep it in honorable service. But within the soul is something called the flesh. Let's repeat that. The flesh is part of the soul, not the body. It is a treacherous part of the soul, that allies itself with the body to overturn the order. It upsets lawful relationships while gratifying animal desires. Peter is warning against this when he speaks of the desires of the flesh that make war on your soul. The body is not the bad guy. It merely serves as an occasion for the bad desires. If you wait a few minutes with nothing to do, those desires appear in the soul.

We live in a culture that has put terrible pressure on young men. On the one hand it tries to convince them that they aren't needed, on the other it makes them think that their great purpose in life is to be driven to unchastity. But he must not think he is driven. He must pretend to be the Playboy, to be in control of the situation, even as he is throwing all control away, permitting himself to be dragged to whatever trough is being slopped at the moment. You would think that would make him ashamed. If it did, there might be some value to it. But after an episode of self-indulgence the young man is more inclined to brag than to confess. He blames his appetites, as if his will were not involved as well.

What can we do? Perhaps we can count on the girls to keep them in line? Think again. There was a time when virginity was prized above all. Today, at countless schools across the country, big children parade like prostitutes down the halls, throwing more and more modesty away. These children are so intensely thirsty for popularity that they allow themselves to be used by the lascivious, then boast about it. Why? What is the big attraction? Both boys and girls alike will give the same answer: we want to be cool. What does that mean? If you look at the fruits of their actions it seems to mean they want to be degenerate. There are books that say they have been victimized by society. That's silly. They are the only society they care about. They are their own victims, which means they are to blame. At home, at school, and in church they were taught right from wrong, but that did not become part of their lives. Instead the pop culture message has become imbedded in their souls, the pop culture message that says If it feels good, do it.

Chastity does not mean that you put the fire out, but that you define its limits, that you use it correctly. To be male, or to be female, is a great gift. There are a few people who have been given a different gift, a natural continence. But the largest part of mankind has the gift of sexuality, which gets led astray by another law in their members. The soul should be in charge, but the flesh is lodged in the soul, corrupting our judgment, allowing the fire to run wilder and wilder. So we indulge ourselves to the point of nausea, devour everyone and everything. The soul would limit it except for the flesh, waging war against it from within. It is a traitor. Thus promiscuity can ruin many a home. It doesn't have to be physical. The way we talk can pour oil on the fire, not to mention the way we dress, or the entertainment we select. And the sexual sins are just the tip of the iceberg. Gluttony, drunkenness, obsessions, yes, even pre-occupation with personal health are all sins of the flesh. Each such sin has its own proper misery designed to follow it. One may stop before it gets to that point, but still be harmed by a warped imagination, or strained relations with others, or a serious lack of good judgment. And if you resist well enough to overcome, pride is waiting to attack you from the rear.

My friends, we are people. We are not pigs, we are people. We show true humanity when we control ourselves. We are less human when we let ourselves be driven. It isn't enough to keep away from what Paul calls "carousing," to be free of liquor and drugs, to avoid friends who tell dirty stories, to dress modestly. All of that is a place to start. But don't think you aren't playing with fire anyway, because there is a fire inside. You can't avoid sin by just avoiding things. So we must acknowledge that we have sinned, seek God's forgiveness and reconciliation. These keep coming no matter what. If you don't feel like a sinner, consider why you laugh at a dirty joke. It is because we put human pretension side by side with our rather bestial reality. We get embarrassed. It's good to be embarrassed. That's a wake-up call. It lets us know the flesh is winning the war. Then, under God's leadership, we can prepare a counter-attack.

Look to our Commander, to Jesus. From Him forgiveness is free, and forgiveness is the ammunition we need to take the war to the enemy. He says Go, and sin no more. He really wants us to sin no more, but He forgives us first. As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. His blood blots out the record book of our sins. Whether weakness, presumption, lust, or sloth, whatever plagues us daily has been nailed to the cross of Jesus. God's Word calls us to look to the cross with repentance, to ask for mercy, and by faith to understand that God has really set us free. If you have never been baptized, seek it, you need that washing of regeneration. If you are baptized, confess your sins to God, or better yet to the pastor. The words of Absolution are real, objective, certain.

Memorize this passage: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Both the Law and the Gospel are there as simply as possible. If the flesh makes war on your soul, the Word is your best defense. After that, come to Christ's table, partake of His sacrifice, for here we have nothing less than the Body and Blood of the Passover Lamb. These are the tools of spiritual repair. And when we say "spiritual," we mean the Holy Spirit Himself is involved. If His tools are in our box, we can control ourselves, for He gives us whatever we need to keep the flesh in check. What happens then to the fire? Instead of devouring us, it warms us, and gives us energy in God's orderly way. AMEN

~Reverend Lloyd E. Gross

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