Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Have you ever wondered why there's evil in this world?” That's the question that a Jehovah's Witness missionary posed to me a few years back. It was about 8 a.m. on Saturday when I answered the door. I was still in my pajamas, didn’t have my glasses on, and could only make out their fuzzy outline. “Have you ever wondered why there is evil in this world?” It’s a fair question. Look around. The world seems to be falling apart. The coronavirus is spreading. The stock market is plummeting. Hardly a day goes by where we don't hear about someone rejecting the faith. Cancer continues to spread. Death continues to rear its ugly head. Politics are just as divided and angry as ever. There are fires, famines, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, even swarms of locusts. “Have you ever wondered why there is evil in this world?”
Paul addresses that question in today's reading from Romans. He writes, “sin came into the world through one man and death came through sin so death spread to all men because all sinned.” There's your answer. Why is there evil in this world? Because you’ve broken this world. Because I've broken this world. Now Paul's not directly writing about us. He's writing about Adam, the first man God created in the beginning and placed in the Garden of Eden. Adam and his wife Eve had one command from God. One rule they were supposed to follow, “eat of any tree you want, but don't eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” And what's the one tree they decided to eat from? That's right. God had told them, “on the day you eat of it, you will surely die.” Why is there evil in this world? Why is there death and pain and suffering? Because we brought it onto ourselves.
Now, you might be mad at Adam and Eve for that. And that’s fair. Their choice led to sin, death, and all the pain and evil you see around you in the world today. You think you would have done something different. You would have actually listened to God and kept His command. That’s a great sentiment, but it’s most definitely wrong. Today, you have the benefit of hindsight, but at that point, you would have given in just the same. If you want proof of that, if you want evidence that this is our fault, that we cause the pain and suffering and death that we experience, you don't need to look anywhere but the past. Is there anyone from the pages of the Old Testament still around today? Anyone outside the Gospels who's still alive, still walking the world somewhere? How about any name you know from history? Plato? Socrates? King Tut? Genghis Khan? Alexander the Great? Napoleon? George Washington? Anyone? From Adam to Moses, from Moses to David, from David to Mary and Joseph, fom Paul and the apostles down to us today? Everyone dies. In the very next chapter of Romans, Paul reminds us “the wages of sin is death.” People have died, therefore they must have sinned.
Now, don't hear what I'm not saying. I'm not saying that there are certain sins that God will kill you for. I'm not saying that you can sin so greatly that God’s just gonna wipe you off the face of the planet. I’m not saying that if something gos wrong in your life that God must be punishing you for a specific sin. That’s not how God operates. However, there are natural consequences for our actions. And when we sin, when we separate ourselves from God, we are separating ourselves from the source of life itself. And when we break with God, we break with life and we earn death for ourselves.
That Saturday morning, I was still a little groggy, and yet somehow I still caught them off guard. “No. I've not wondered why there's evil in this world. I know myself. I know Scripture. I know the truth. Sin, death, and evil is my fault as a fallen human creature.” Now, I didn't put it as eloquently as that, as you might imagine, having just climbed out of bed. But I still caught that person off guard. They had not been trained for that response. We live in a broken world of our own making. Through Adam's sin, through his trespass, many died, which led to judgment and condemnation that leads to death. Paul lays it out very clearly—very logically—in our reading this morning.
But we’ve skipped over the exception and have to come back to Him. Who is the one human being who has gone through death and yet is still alive in both body and soul today? Jesus! On the one hand, you have our sin, our trespassing God's law, and on the other hand, you have Christ and the free gift of grace and forgiveness that he offers. Yes, Adams trespass led to death for many. But how much more did Jesus free gift lead to grace and that gift abounding, all the more. Adam’s sin led to condemnation and death for all of humanity. And yet Jesus free gift leads to justification and life for his own. The reality of the gift that Jesus gives to you means that this world's brokenness—the disaster, disease, and death—is not where we're left to sit in squalor.
We still live in a world that’s not right, a world that we have broken. And yet God is at work through His Son in us to make this world right. That means we should live in this world to be God at work in this world. We should become engineers to make cars safer, and doctors to give healing medicine, and farmers to feed the hungry, and well-drillers to provide water for the thirsty, and take on all sorts of roles in order to bring about God's kingdom—God’s way of justice and righteousness—to this world.
It also means that we have personal work to do. Not only do we have the world's problems to handle, we have our own. This is, perhaps, the harder task, taking time to examine your life, recognize and root out sin, and replace it with a God-pleasing thought, behavior, or action. That’s in part what this season of Lent helps us to do. It helps us to remember. For those of you who are able to join us on Wednesday you heard again these words: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Remember your mortality. Do you remember the results that your sins have in your life? Your sin earns you death. We don't try to eliminate our sin for the sake of making ourselves look good in God's eyes; that wouldn’t work out very well. Rather we strive to do away with sin in order that God may be glorified. We fight against that sinful nature because we know that it's not how things are supposed to be. It's not how we are supposed to live. It's not what brings God glory.
You know your sin better than I do. And while, as a congregation, we are better than we have been, there are still a number of things that we need to work on both individually and together as God’s people. You are quick to judge and to condemn. Leave that work for God. You hold grudges and refuse to forgive. So get rid of resentment and offer to others the same forgiveness that you have received. Your self-righteous anger flares up when someone does something that offends your sensibilities. So break down your pride and arrogance, and in humility consider others better than yourselves.
We could talk all day about sin, and even specific sins. We could talk all day about the judgment that you and I deserve for our actions against one another and even to ourselves. But when we work to eradicate that sin in us, we are doing the work of God. When we rest in Jesus and in his gift to us, when we fight against our tendencies, our inclinations, our desires, our so-called “God-given” rights, we help ever so slightly to do away with sin, to make this world a better place, to squash a portion of Satan's plan. Because the free gift that Jesus gives is not like our sin. Our sin is empty and hollow and powerless. Yet the gift of life that God gives in His Son is strong and solid and powerful, and He will work in you to accomplish His will. Yes, through Adam's sin, we are all made sinners, but by the One man's obedience, by Jesus’ life and death and life again, many—you—will be made righteous. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell