Sermon, June 25, 2017

Sermon.06.25.17

St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Genesis 21.8-21; Psalm 86.1-10, 16-17; Romans 6.1b-11; Matthew 10.24-39

 

Let’s review for a moment. When we are justified by faith we stand in a right relationship with God – as Paul says, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Romans 5.1b-2; NRSV). We further noted, “In the presence of God’s glory, we begin to understand, to envision, God’s original intent for our life. We catch a glimpse of what, and of who, God would have us become” (Sermon.06.18.17). This is a call to transformation – to transformed living such that we become more like Christ. Our suffering is for a purpose – it produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and, as Paul says, “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5.5; NRSV).

In the remainder of chapter 5, Paul reminds us how sin entered the world through one man, Adam, and with sin came death. Just as death came through one man, the free gift of life – eternal life – comes through Jesus Christ. Adam’s sin brought condemnation, but Christ’s act of righteousness, his obedience which led to death and the resurrection, brought justification to all who believe. Paul further stressed that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5.20-21; NRSV). This is truly the good news, the Gospel truth, which is cause for our rejoicing! And this sets the context for today’s lesson.

Remember, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” So, Paul begins by asking, “What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound” (Romans 6.1; NRSV). If God’s grace always exceeds the effects of sin, and God’s grace is always and everywhere desired, shouldn’t we multiply God’s grace by continuing to sin? Couldn’t we schedule “sin parties” on Saturday night so we can confess and multiply God’s grace on Sunday? We could have sex, drugs, and rock and roll! We could bill it as a Saturday evening service in preparation for Sunday and watch our attendance soar!

Well, lest you get too excited, Paul answers his rhetorical question by saying, “By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” (Romans 6.2; NRSV) We are called away from sin into “newness of life.” Listen closely to Paul’s reasoning:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6.3-4); NRSV).

 

When Paul says “buried with him,”, the Greek word employed is synthapein which literally means “co-buried” (Haslam, Chris. http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/apr12l.shtml). In our baptism, we share Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Colossians 2, Paul tells us that we come to fullness through Jesus Christ: “For in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him” (Colossians 2.9-10; NRSV). Paul further tells us, “When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2. 12; NRSV). We are not to continue in a life of sin; the glory of God raised Jesus Christ that we might walk in the newness and fullness of life.

In Romans 6, Paul continues to make his point, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6.5; NRSV). “United in him” is conveyed by the “Greek synphytoi, literally grown together, as when a young branch is grafted onto a tree, it grows together with the tree and is nourished by it [NJBC]” ((Haslam, Chris. http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/apr12l.shtml). This image of grafting may call to mind John 15.5: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit” (NRSV).

Let’s look a bit more closely at the idea of being raised with Christ that we might walk in newness of life. Here Paul is employing Old Testament imagery. Deuteronomy, Joshua, Kings, Chronicles, and several other Old Testament books contain references to “walking in his ways.” The ethical connotations of this phrase are evident as one reads a paragraph of Moses’ farewell discourses from Deuteronomy:

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your Godthat I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish . . . I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30.15-20; NRSV).

When young, we want to walk in our own way, to fulfill all our dreams and fantasies; we are fully convinced that we are free, that we are really living. When, and if, our ethical reasoning matures, we discover that we are not really free; we come to realize that we are enslaved to sin. We realize we are incapable of truly loving ourselves, let alone our neighbor or God. Our old ego-enslaved self must die that something new may be born. In baptism, we die and are reborn. This is Paul’s message in the closing paragraph of our reading from Romans:

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6.5-11; NRSV).

 

The old self has died that something new may be born.

This does not mean that we no longer sin, for we do. A close examination reveals that we sin daily; we are called to daily repentance. In the sorrowing of repentance, we experience God’s grace and receive newness of life.

Amen

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