Sermon, July 16, 2017


St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Genesis 25.19-34; Psalm 119.105-112; Romans 8.1-11; Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23


Last Sunday I emphasized that Romans 7 is an interlude addressed to the Jewish Christians in Rome; it is Paul’s effort to clearly set forth the place of the Law in God’s plan of salvation. We also noted Kierkegaard’s three stages of life: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. If we were fully capable of living in accord with the law, i.e., in the ethical stage of existence, we would be righteous, but alas, we are unable to do so. We live a divided, broken, fractured existence – individually, socially, nationally, globally! We long for healing and wholeness, and we frenetically search for it in all the wrong places. Is it any wonder that most live lives of despair? Paul captures this sense of despair when he says, “Oh, wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death” (Romans 7.24; NRSV)?

One who has reached this existential crisis is confronted with a fundamental choice – to remain in this state of despair or to make a leap of faith into the religious stage of existence. Kierkegaard further divides the religious stage into Religiousness A (pagan religion) and Religiousness B (Christianity). True salvation comes through the mercy of God; try as we might, we are unable to meet the demands of the Law of God. Our rescue comes through Jesus Christ our Lord! As Paul proclaims, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7.25a; NRSV)!

As mentioned previously, when one moves from the aesthetic stage to the ethical stage, the aesthetic aspect of life is not abandoned. The aesthetic life is transformed and increasingly brought under the influence of the ethical. Likewise, when one moves from the ethical stage to the religious stage, the ethical stage is not abandoned. By the grace of God, the ethical stage is transformed and brought under the realm of the religious. This transformation is a process that takes place with considerable struggle. Paul notes this struggle at the close of chapter 7: “So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7.25b; NRSV). But as Paul immediately notes, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8.1; NRSV).

Let’s back up for a moment, and come at this from another direction. In Romans 6, as you may recall, we focused on Paul’s call to holy living, the two types of slavery, and their associated outcomes. We are either slaves to sin, or slaves to God; slavery to sin leads to death while slavery to God leads to sanctification and eternal life.

Sometimes people think that we are born finite (mortal) and we strive to become infinite (immortal). As we are created in the image of God, we are both finite and infinite; we are a strange and glorious admixture of the finite and the infinite. The fundamental choice of life is which we will choose to maximize? Will we choose the finite (enslavement to sin) and suffer death, or will we choose the infinite (enslavement to God) which leads to sanctification and eternal life? Remember Paul’s closing words in Romans 6: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Vs. 23; NRSV). In Galatians 3.10, Paul tells us, “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law’” (NRSV). Paul is quoting Deuteronomy 27.26. As you may recall, ancient covenants stipulated blessings and curses.

Now we turn to the pivotal point of Paul’s letter to the Romans – chapter 8. Paul begins with the conclusion to a long argument – “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Vs. 1; NRSV). This is the Gospel; the good news. It is cause for rejoicing and celebration! The curse does not apply to those who are in Christ Jesus. Why not? Paul sets forth a few reasons in verses 2 – 8. N. T. Wright (Paul for Everyone: Romans I) compares the structure of Romans 8.1-11 to the slow opening of a beautiful flower; as the flower opens, we see more and more of its intricate detail and beauty. Let’s look at these reasons.

First, there is no condemnation, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8.2; NRSV). In our baptism, we have been born anew into the life of Christ Jesus; we are no longer subject to the law of sin and death.

Second, there is no condemnation, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8.3-4; NRSV). Notice how this further opens the first reason; this tells us how the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free. Christ emptied himself and took on the form of human flesh, and in that flesh fulfilled the demands of the law which we are unable to meet. In so doing, he condemned sin in the flesh and opened the way for those who believe in him to have access to life in the Spirit.

Third, there is no condemnation, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8.5-6; NRSV). If our minds are set on the things of the Spirit, we experience life and peace. As Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” ( When our flesh is at war with the Spirit, there can be no peace. Paul continues, “For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8.7-8; NRSV).

Paul next reminds the Roman Christians, and by extension, us, “You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8.9; NRSV). In baptism, we receive the sacrament of new birth, and in the prayers for the candidate, we pray, “Fill them with your holy and life-giving Spirit” (BCP, p. 305). In 2 Corinthians 5.17 (NRSV), Paul tells us, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!” The Spirit of Christ lives in us. As Paul proclaims in Galatians 2.20, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (NRSV). And as Paul notes, “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8.10-11; NRSV).

Of our own power, we are unable to meet the demands of God’s law, to live in righteousness with God and our neighbor. But as we permit the Spirit of God to work in us, as we experience the process of sanctification, we come to know life and peace.  Grant, O Father, “that we may know and understand what things we ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them” (Collect).  Amen






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