Finding Life

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June 21, 2020

We are in a new place following our Great 50 days of Easter – our color change helps us orient. We are in green time, referred to as ordinary time. But there is nothing ordinary about it. We have entered readings in Matthew and Romans that are challenging and perplexing – we have switched gears to following Jesus.

Last week in Romans we heard of what justification has done for us. Justification being a term referring to how God sees us. It is powerful. It is to be declared righteous. A play on the word helps us understand its meaning: justified. Just-as-if-I’d never sinned. We heard last week in Romans that through justification we have peace with God, we have access to God, God’s love is poured out into our hearts. How did we get this justification? Through Jesus Christ. When did we get it? When we were still sinners. 

God must love us a lot. 

As I ponder what we are like before this justification through Christ as we are before God it is hard to imagine. Have you ever accidentally taken a gulp of sour milk? There is an immediate reaction, detours the brain and you spit it out as fast as you can. 

Somehow, I think before justification, before God made us new and righteous, as sinners we probably were like sour milk in the mouth of God. But God did not spit us out, God kept loving us.

We took and take effort for God. But God loves us so much we heard last week: “God proves God’s love for us in that while we were sinners Christ died for us.” 

That is a lot. 

We have come today to the first half of Romans 6. We missed the 2nd half of Romans 5 that establishes that we are all sinners and God’s generosity toward us is a gift. A gift cannot be earned. A gift cannot be lost. 

This all sounds really great. 

Then today we hit Romans 6 and it's still good news, but somehow sounds a lot harder and maybe negative.

Paul says things like:

“How can we who are dead to sin go on living in it?”
“…we have been united with Jesus in a death like his.”
“our old self was crucified with him.”
“…whoever has died is freed from sin.”
“consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God.”

After all that love and justification and righteousness, this does not sound that warm and fluffy: a lot of death and a lot of sin.

Why? It has to do with us living in two realities at the same time. I know. That sounds a little SciFi, but it is true. We live and move and have our being in the presence of two realities. 

No wonder life is hard.

One of the things Paul hangs all these words of death and sin on here is baptism. This we know: water, babies. But here it is not about the water. 

There are primarily two Greek words used in the New Testament when talking about baptism: Bapto and Baptizo [Bap-teed-zo]. We consider baptism as the sacrament where the familiar of water outwardly is connected to new birth inwardly. The Greek poet and physician Nicander, in the 2nd Century offered an example of the profound meaning of being baptized into Christ through believe it or not - a pickle recipe PAUSE. 

Nicander says, “in order to make a pickle, the vegetable [cucumber] should first be dipped into boiling water and then baptized in vinegar solution. The first is temporary - bapto. The second produces permanent change – baptize - Bap-teed-zo. For us – bapto the actual dipping in baptism is temporary – a moment with the water. The second, baptizo - Bap-teed-zo - is a permanent change of rebirth. A change from the inside out. Not just getting soaked in water on the outside. New life. Union with Christ in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. As our prayer book says, this union is “indissoluble.”

In this passage Paul is referring to our union, our identification with Christ, not to the moment of baptism. The facts of who God is, who we are, and what has happened to us. Dramatic and permanent change – like a cucumber to a pickle.

The fact of being a new creation is a big deal…a permanent deal. But what is crazy is that though we have experienced this miracle, we still sin. Even though Jesus came, live, suffered, died, and rose again – sin is still here. It must be a big deal. In comes the two realities. 

The permanent change of baptism is a miracle that happens to us, but we spend our lives making decisions in our lifestyles and commitments to catch us up to the miracle. This is the difference between what we call glorification – when all that we are becomes evident in eternity in God’s direct presence and sanctification – the journey of becoming in our present experience. In our now we are catching up to who we already are in new birth who God already sees.

That means, that literally we live in two worlds at the same time: our fallen world of fallen limitations personally, and the kingdom of God where God’s rule and reign is fully manifest in us and all around us. PAUSE

Both and. 

We are dead to sin. We do sin.

Our old self was crucified with Christ. We may make choices that revive the old self.

Whoever has died is free from sin. We all battle sin. 

We live in tension. And we feel it…no wonder the Christian life is hard or at times does not seem possible or like we can do it. Or we feel haunted by vague un-answerable questions.

The Christian life is hard, but as Glennon Doyle says, “we can do hard things.”

We see two things in this Romans passage that are really helpful to us as we seek to live in our now of two realities: it is really important to know and understand the facts of the Christian life – it’s design: the why, how, where, when. Also, our choices are really important - decision making. Paul is holding a magnifying glass to this today. We are new creatures. So, when we “continue in sin,” we are betraying our baptismal promises. In the image from Nicander: Going back to being a cucumber instead of a pickle – impossible, but strangely we try…and sometimes we get traction.

We are such limited creatures. Doesn’t is sound so strange that we try and live out of the miracle of becoming justified, righteous, experiencing God’s love, living in union with God? And for what? Maybe money, momentary pleasure, seeking of fame or reputation, or accumulating possessions.

The interesting thing about us as humans is that whatever way we live it grows hatred leads to violence. Love leads to kindness. Selfishness leads to greed. Selflessness leads to generosity.

In Ephesians, another book often attributed to Paul, Paul goes so far to say that we were strangers and aliens to God before God’s gift of grace to us through Christ. And Peter says as we have received this gift of grace we have become people of God and now we are strangers and exiles in this time – to the old reality. 

Let us, as Jesus said in our gospel reading, lose our life of this passing reality and find our life because of Jesus and keep it for all eternity.