In today’s reading from the Epistle to the Church at Rome St. Paul tells us, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I grew up outside Baltimore, was ordained for the diocese of Maryland and served there eight years. We moved to Asheboro in 1974. Asheboro is a hosiery mill town. The mills closed the week of the 4th of July and everyone who could left town. I served there six years, and I came to appreciate the hard work and the generous spirit of the mill working people.
St. Paul tells us of two ways to live. One way is the way of wages. That way of wages focuses on what we get. The other way is the way of free gift. The way of free gift focuses on what we give. Most of us most of the time live in the way of wages, the way of barter, the way of exchange. As the seven dwarfs marched off to work in Disney’s 1937 musical Snow White they sang what many of us hear as, “I owe, I owe, so it’s off to work I go.” We work to get what we need to live.
That can become a mindset. “You get what you pay for.” “There’s no free lunch.” And it’s not just on the job. What wife has not said to her husband, “We need to have the Smiths over. We own them.”
A way of wages mind set influences our understanding of God. Many of us at some time in our lives come to understand God as a God of rules. In adolescence those are frequently rules of behavior we don’t want to follow. As in the Christmas song about Frosty the Snowman, God “knows when we’ve been bad or good” and he punishes when we’re bad.
We have to spend much of our lives in the way of wages. We do need to work; we need to eat, we need to maintain ourselves and our families, and we also need to be able to help where there is need. St. Paul says to the church at Thessalonica (3:10) “if any would not work, neither should he eat.”
But the way of wages can be too easily twisted into a way of getting and keeping all we can, for ourselves alone. It can become greed, which is a sin. We can seek to charge what the market will bear and then try to manipulate the market. There is a place for human law and there will always be a place for law as long as we have human sin. ““The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
St. Paul shows us an alternative to the way of wages – the way of free gift and eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Our very life is a gift, a free gift of God. You don’t have to have difficulty having children to know well that children are a gift from God. The love we have for one another in families and in friendships is a free gift from God.
As we grow we change our understanding of God. We give up the notion of a judgmental and punitive God and to begin to accept the reality that God is love.
We learn that God is love in the First Epistle of St. John (4:7-11) “ Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. 8 He that loves not knows not God; for God is love. 9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
That is Bible truth, a Bible truth that calls us to a new understanding and to new action. If God loves us unconditionally, who are we to refuse to love ourselves with God’s love and to love others with God’s love. We all misbehave. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but in Jesus Christ, by Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are forgiven sinners. We no longer have to do the same old thing again and again looking for a different result. We can do some new things; we can take some risks, risks to love, to share, to give.
One place to begin is in our families. In our families we benefit from natural love. So I invite you to think and to pray to see new ways you can show God’s life-giving love in your family relationships, And then when the loving God shows you the way, act on the knowledge the loving God gives you. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors and love our enemies because frequently they are the same people. Think and pray how you can grow peace and love among the people you know, and then act to grow peace and love. Our situation requires us to live much of our lives in the way of wages. But when the opportunity to live in God’s way of love and life opens for you, take it.
For “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.