Walking in the newness of life
January 10th & 11th, 2009
“Wanted Dead or Alive” posters are part of the history of this country. Often these posters were found in the Wild West in response to such people as Billy the Kid or Jesse James. In today’s reading from Romans 6, we have the primary events in Christ’s Saving work on our behalf, his earthly death and subsequent rising from the dead, intimately connected to us through the gift of baptism. Here we see that God wants us, and dare we say even has us walking in the newness of life by being “Dead and Alive”. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11). “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father; we too might walk in the newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Our Lord, in this reading, shows us that living and dying, in a very real sense have already taken place, not only for Jesus, but also for us.
All of this was expressed and expounded upon because God’s people were being accused of making grace to easy. That is to say, if it is true as Paul says in Romans 5 that where sin abounded grace abounded all the more, then what is to keep one from saying why don’t we sin even more, after all the more sin the more grace. As a matter of fact wouldn’t people then believe that it would be “godly to sin”, for then that would allow grace to be poured out all the more. This so called cheap grace, would then lead to an increase in sin. What this response fails to understand is the utter gravity of sin, and the “so much” greater grace of Christ.
Imagine for a moment that you had two small cities side by side. In the one city the gravest problem happens to be an over infestation of Japanese Beetles. Now mind you, these Beetles are quite a nuisance, and any help toward eliminating this problem would be appreciated. While life goes on as usual, gardens and even the ground surrounding the greenery is greatly affected by these Japanese Beetles. It is heard that an exterminator from another state can handle this problem with his special chemical solution. He is brought in, takes care of the problem, and he is greatly respected in the city.
The grave problem in the second city is more substantial. There is a virus that is making its way throughout the city. Those who contract this virus are only given comfort measures, because after it is contracted they only have a few days to live. However, it is heard that there is a doctor in another state who has just developed a shot which immediately cures one from the ultimate effects of this virus.
Which of the two heroes is received as the greater hero? Of course, it is the second one. I would set before you today, that people often see sin as sort of like the Japanese Beetle problem, a nuisance, but in general life goes on. What is the effect? The solution to the minor problem while helpful, is frankly not all that earth shattering. A minimal view of sin makes a minimal view of one who rescues you from that sin. In this view the hero, the Jesus figure, is seen as good but not exactly essential. Compare this with the second city, the situation is essentially the opposite.
Paul essentially is saying that sin, that is walking away from God and others, is so ingrained in us, that the only way it can be gotten rid of, is to put it to death. After all if something is put to death, it certainly cannot affect one anymore. Essentially his response is this. To consciously sin, let it dominate my life, is sort of like being freed from prison and but shortly after saying you know it wasn’t all that bad, at least I had three meals a day. It is like saying you know that flu bug that made me miserable, at least allowed me to sleep in. You can almost see him shaking his head. Now it is true that sin is part of everyone’s life, but to have it dominate our identity no longer has to be the way of things. To replace a sin dominated life, he sets before our eyes baptism which to many seems like merely a good tradition, a dedication, a symbolic act, a good rite of passage. Yet the bible holds it so much higher than that. Notice how much grandeur baptism becomes, when he connects our baptism and therefore our life, directly to Jesus death, and so also the open tomb. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that Just as Christ was raised from the dead…., we too might walk in the newness of life. Your life, and Jesus life intersected at the baptismal font, as we were in effect connected with Jesus. Death, takes place a major one at that, but the reality is that in baptism it is a death of sin. One author wrote we can either die alone in this world, or we can die with Jesus. “But his death brings life, and it’s when we die with Him that we really begin to live.”
A teacher once asked her class to finish the sentence “Cleanliness is next to……” One young boy raised his hand an blurted out “Impossible”. Of course the real answer to that phrase is “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”. What God is saying to us through Paul is that cleanliness is not only possible; it is a reality for the one who has been connected to the death and resurrection of Christ. That sin, while a great reality, is no longer the controlling force in our lives. Sin, which leads to death, no longer has the bite it once had. It’s fang has been removed. While it still is in our life, it can’t control like it once did. You might say, yea, but I have this habit, this anger, this pet sin, you name it, and it really controls me. To that I would simply say, trust in the reality of how Christ see’s you, and who you really are. That sin, that bad habit, that addiction does not define you, Jesus has already done that.
There is the story of a little fish who heard that without water he would die. Alarmed by this, eh swam all over the place looking or water. Might it be hidden amount he rocks? He couldn’t find it. Might it be hidden behind the seaweed? Couldn’t find it. Finally, in his desperation, he turned to an older, wiser fish and begged him. Please do you know where I can find water. No need, sad the older wider fish. How can you say that? He asked I’ve been told that without water I will die. “True enough, said the wise old fish, “but there’s no need to find water. You already in it, and it is already in you? What is in you, the Holy spirit, the words and promises of God, which has been placed upon you in baptism. The reality is that Jesus Christ, who heard from his Father at his baptism “With you I am well pleased”, also looks at his believers, and says the same thing about us. . I am well pleased with you, simply and completely because I have placed my work, and my reality in you.
Some years back there was a play written by Eugene O’Neill titled Lazarus Laughed, in which he imagined how Lazarus would have lived his life after Jesus raised him. Notice the parallels between our baptismal death and resurrection in Christ. What Lazarus experienced totally change his way of life. As he comes out of the tomb, first he looks Jesus square in the eye and says, “Yes!” Then he lets out a gentle laugh. Latter in the play he sees people waste their time pursuing goals that ultimately don’t matter, Lazarus laughs. Seeing people pile up wealth they can’t take with them, Lazarus laughs. Seeing the Emperor parade around – pompously– Lazarus laughs. And even when threatened with execution, Lazarus laughs at that too. After all, he’s already been there and done that, and gotten the t-shirt. Death and being revived from it has a way of setting your priorities straight! This folks is what God is saying to us through Paul, I have ve already taken the major stuff, and brought you through it. You have already died, and been made alive.
To walk in newness of life is to walk as those “Dead and Alive”, special emphasis on the alive part. Thanks be to God, we’ve been captured in this baptismal promise. Amen.