Sermon, July 2, 2017

Sermon.07.02.17

St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Genesis 22.1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6.12-23; Matthew 10.40-42

 

Paul begins the lesson for today with the statement, “Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions” (Romans 6.12). “Therefore” tells us that Paul continues to set forth his argument. Let’s recap a few key points. First, we are justified by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; when justified, we stand in right relationship with God — we stand in God’s grace. Second, just as sin and death entered the world through one man, Adam, the gift of eternal life comes through Jesus Christ. Third, having been baptized, we were baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection so that “we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6.4; NRSV). And fourth, in that we walk in newness of life, we must consider ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6.11).

If you are looking for a good book, I highly recommend N. T. Wright’s Paul for Everyone: Romans Part I and Part II. I have gained many insights from Wright as I have worked on this series. I especially like his treatment of Romans 6.12-23 which he divides into three sections: The Call for holy Living, the Two Types of Slavery, and Where the Two Roads Lead. Let’s briefly look at each of these.

If we are “dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ,” our lives should reflect that fact.  Hence, Paul issues a “Call to Holy Living:”

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6. 12-14; NRSV).

 

What does Paul mean by “members”? In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul says “the body does not consist of one member but of many” (Vs 14; NRSV). He goes on to speak of the hand, the ear, the eye, hearing, sense of smell, the head, the feet, etc. As members, he includes not only parts of the body, but also faculties and functions.

When Paul speaks of “instruments of wickedness” and “instruments of righteousness,” he is employing military terminology – literally meaning “weapons of wickedness” and “arms of righteousness” (Haslam, Chris. http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/apr13l.shtml). In that we have been redeemed, we are no longer to use the members of our bodies as weapons of wickedness in service to sin, but are to use them as arms of righteousness to promote the kingdom of God. For example, we are not to use our minds to plot revenge or to exercise malice; we are to use our minds to promote peace, goodness, and wholeness. Sin is no longer to exercise dominion over us – as Paul says, and note the future tense, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

To further illustrate the idea that sin will no longer have dominion over one who is baptized, Paul next compares two types of slavery – slavery to sin and disobedience and slavery to obedience. This addresses the fundamental question: What or whom do we serve; who is our lord and master? Slavery was a very common practice when Paul wrote the letter to the Roman church; people would have readily understood his references to slavery. Although slavery is not a part of our society, we can still get an idea of what Paul is driving at if we think in terms of being enslaved to addictions such as drugs, alcohol, sex, tobacco, gossip, fake news, or the meanness, greed, and nastiness we currently see in so much of politics. Our world order reflects our slavery to sin and disobedience.

In a recent “op ed” piece in the Washington Post (June 27, 2017), David Ignatius asked: What happens when the whole world becomes selfish? Ignatius observes, “The politics of national self-interest is on steroids these days. For global leaders, it’s the ‘me’ moment.  . . . Despite body blows to the European Union over the past few years, France and Germany, the two dominant players, retain the conviction that their destinies involve something larger than national self-interest. Fear and nationalism have shaken Europe but not overwhelmed it. An enlightened center is holding at Europe’s core.” One might ask – For how long? Ignatius concludes, “The politics of selfishness may seem inevitable in Trump world. But by definition, it can’t produce a global system. That’s its fatal flaw” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/what-happens-when-the-whole-world-becomes-selfish/2017/06/27/8caae1dc-5b5c-11e7-9fc6-c7ef4bc58d13_story.html?utm_term=.29cbd5828b33).

Addressing the baptized, those who stand in God’s grace, Paul continues: “But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6.17-18; NRSV).

Paul reasons we will serve one of two masters – either sin or righteousness, either Satan or our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps you may be thinking, “But what about freedom?” The issue of freedom enters in to our choice as to which one we will serve, and if we choose righteousness and our Lord Jesus Christ, we can serve only to the extent that we are the willing recipients of God’s grace – as Paul says, “You, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” Paul says: “I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations (that is, the weakness of the flesh). For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification” (Romans 6.19; NRSV).

Where do the two roads lead, the two types of slavery? Paul is very clear – the road of sin leads to death, but the road of obedience to God leads to sanctification and eternal life. At the close of this passage, Paul further addresses the topic of sanctification noting it is an advantage: “But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6.22-23; NRSV).

What is this advantage of sanctification? How does it take place? Sanctification is “the realization or progressive attainment of likeness to God or to God’s intention . . . It may be regarded both as a status conferred by divine grace and as a goal to be aimed at” (Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 4, p. 210). Some denominations maintain that sanctification is a “second work of grace,” a distinct event, which may at some point follow one’s conversion, the “first work of grace.” I think most who experience sanctification, experience it as a process. Event or process? Perhaps it would be more accurate to think of sanctification as a process punctuated by moments of intensity or greater awareness of the transforming work of the Spirit’s presence.

Sanctification takes place, as Paul notes, by presenting “our members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.” The presentation is daily. We might think of the presentation of our members as a daily offering to God.

We need to remember our experience of the love of God, to remember our faith. We need to remember we are baptized in Christ and dead to sin.  We need to remember to choose righteousness. When we hear “remember your baptism,” we are not called to remember the event of our baptism. We are called to remember that we are dead to sin and alive in Jesus Christ. When tempted, we need to remember our baptism. Martin Luther once said when he was beset by worry, stress, frustration, and temptation, he would say, “Baptizatus sum!” (“I am baptized!), and he would experience a calming presence. We might do well to practice that!

Sanctification takes place as we respond to God’s love, as we live into God’s love. Sanctification takes place as we remember we are God’s holy dwelling place, and as such, God is to be granted access to every room, even our locked closets.   Amen

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