06/22/14 Sermon (June 22, 2014) “Alive to God”

posted Jul 23, 2014, 12:43 PM by David Hawkins

Scripture Reading: Romans 6:1B-11

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 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.

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.

Sermon: "Alive to God"             Rev. David Hawkins

Our scripture begins with an interesting question: “Should we continue to sin, in order that grace may abound?”

Now, in order to have some kind of idea of what the Apostle Paul is asking, we really need to have been reading all the stuff he wrote before this, especially everything that he said about sin and grace in chapter 5. Unfortunately, we don’t really have time today to cover all that ground. We probably don’t have enough time all year to cover all that ground.

But, to summarize, Paul is big on Grace. And at the end of Chapter 5, he compares the grace given to us in Jesus to the sin given to us by Adam. As Paul puts it, “Just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”

Did you hear that? It’s an amazing statement, one that we’re not really expecting to hear, especially from Paul. For just a moment, he sounds like one of those universalists, one of those crazy people who think that God’s grace extends to everybody. Let me read that again, just to make sure. “Just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”

Yep, that’s what it says, at least here in Romans. It’s a big idea, isn’t it? If through Adam, we are all condemned, then through Christ, we are all justified. If through Adam, we have all sinned, then through Christ, we are all forgiven. If through Adam we have earned death, then through Christ, we are given life.

That’s a startling thing to think about, isn’t it? That all have been justified through Christ? That all have been given new life through Christ?

I don’t know if I’m quite ready to preach that Gospel. I’m not quite ready to preach that everybody is justified, that everybody is given grace. It’s just too big for me. There are some folks that I hold onto that I’m sure cannot possibly be justified in the sight of God. There are some folks that surely, surely, cannot, should not be forgiven their sin.

Slumlords, owners of sweatshops, drug pushers, pedophiles, rapists, murderers, tyrants who use poison gas on their own people, who bomb their own cities, who assassinate their political rivals, surely, these cannot be forgiven, in the same way that I’m forgiven, right?

But that’s where Paul went, at least in Chapter 5. For him, when he says grace abounds, he really means it. Grace ABOUNDS. He uses himself as an example of grace coming to him -- a persecutor of the Christians, the one who presided over the stoning of St. Stephen -- grace came to him, even when he did not deserve it, or even know that he needed it.

Grace comes to us when we are sinners, unable to understand, or comprehend the magnitude of what has been given to us. For the Apostle Paul, grace is extravagant, wastefully extravagant, and it is for everyone.

And this is really pretty hard to wrap our minds around.

It raises all kinds of questions. And that’s how we end up in chapter 6. Paul has been preaching this message for a while now, and evidently some of the people he has talked to about it must have pushed back.

“It’s too easy,” they must have said. “If ‘the greater the sin, then the greater the grace’, then why not sin even more, to get more grace?”

I guess that question makes sense. If you’re a five year old.

Like if you spill some milk on the floor, and your mom mops it up, and you feel real bad about it, and she says, it’s OK, now the floor’s all clean, and you say, well then, maybe I should go spill some milk in the living room?

Nobody really thinks that the appropriate response to the freely given forgiveness of sins is to go right out, and sin some more so that we can get more grace, do they? I mean, honestly?

But I wonder if this question points to a deeper discomfort that all of us have about this wild idea of grace that Paul is talking about. Because, I think that if we’re honest, we are uncomfortable with this expansive understanding of grace, of the justification that is done for us without reservation by Jesus Christ. At least, I am.

Because it seems too easy, doesn’t it? It seems too pat, too simple. There should be more to it. There should be more attached to it, more expectations, more demands, more...something. Grace shouldn’t just be given out for free. Grace is too precious for that.

Christ’s death on the cross should not be thrown out into the world like grass seed, with the hope that it might grow. We need to find ways to preserve this grace, to keep it special. We need to find ways to conserve this grace, so that we’ll always have enough. We need to find a way to reserve this grace for those who are worthy of it.

Because if it’s as easy as Paul says, why should we change anything about the way we live? Why should our faith in Jesus Christ have any effect on our behavior? Why should grace have an impact on the way we act, or think, or talk, or vote, or spend, or love? If grace is just handed out like so much candy corn on halloween, then why on earth should it change who we are?

Which takes us back to our original question. What’s to stop us from sinning, if grace abounds?

Maybe it’s not such a stupid question after all. Maybe it’s more insightful than I thought.

Of course, in today’s world, we don’t really like to talk about our sin too much, at least, I know that I don’t. We don't like to talk about sin, unless it's somebody else's sin. Then we're more willing to talk about sin. And before we know it, talking about sin morphs into judging others, identifying the precise nature of their sin, and saying genuinely rotten things about them because of their sin.

In fact, it’s actually kind of fun to talk about other people’s sin. I was reading an article the other day that suggested that there may even be some kind of neurological connection that lights up our pleasure center when we are self-righteously indignant about something.

I know exactly what that article meant. This is why it’s so much fun to listen to talk radio. The hosts are invariably spluttering about the sins of someone, and it doesn’t take long at all to get lathered up into a full-on, self-righteous snit. And it feels so good.

In fact, sometimes -- no, strike that, always -- when I’m driving long distances I put on some talk radio and get my hate on. It’s invigorating. It keeps me awake. I have no problem believing that we could get addicted to self-righteous anger about the sins of other people. It would be an easy and inexpensive high for me.

It’s much less fun to focus our laser-like eye for sin on ourselves. It is hard to think that maybe the sins we see in other people may be our own. Addiction psychologists counsel their patients to think about the ways they talk and think about other people, and to realize that maybe the anger and judgement they feel for others might actually be feelings that they have for themselves.

It’s a humbling thought to think that a part of our self-righteousness anger about the sins of other people may in fact be a reflection of our own sense of worthlessness in the eyes of God.  Maybe that’s why Jesus says, “Don’t judge, lest you be judged.” It’s not a commandment so much as it is loving advice.

In any case, sin has become, for most of us, a hard topic to discuss. If we talk about the sins of other people, we easily fall into a trap of judging and separation, and if we talk about our own sin, we feel worthless and depressed.

It seems like maybe it would be better for everyone if we just didn’t talk about sin at all.

The problem, not talking about sin doesn’t make it go away. We all have brokenness in our lives, shame, guilt, burdens that we carry. We have all hurt someone we loved, we have all been hurt. We have all said things that we wish we could take back, we all have self-destructive loops of behavior that we wish we could change, but don’t.

The word ‘sin’ has fallen into disfavor these days, but sin itself is very much still with us.

Sin still exists, and the wages of sin is still death. All kinds of death. The sin of infidelity leads to the death of trust. The sin of lying means the death of relationships. The sin of murder leads to the death of community. The sin of pride means the death of humility. The sin of selfishness leads to the the death of compassion. The Sin of humanity is the death of our connection to God.

Sin is still real, with real consequences, whether we find the word offensive or not. We do not, and even the best of us cannot, live and think, and act in the way to which we know we are called all the time. And that is tough. And it is frustrating. And it is depressing.

But I wonder if maybe that’s where Paul is trying to go with our scripture today. Maybe Paul wants us to start focusing on stuff other than just sin.

Sin might be real, it might be persistent, but it does not have to be the controlling element of our lives.

The problem is, somehow, somewhere, we have latched onto this idea that the main point of Christianity is to stop sinning. But it’s not. The main point of Christianity is that we are forgiven our sin. The main point of Christianity is that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our sin has been taken from us, without our permission, without our help.

And that’s not just a one time deal. We are forgiven once and forever, and we are forgiven over and over again.

In Jesus Christ, that fundamental break between us and God, that awful wound of our human nature that seemed to be fatal, has been healed. We are reconciled with God, and are welcomed, not as strangers, but as family.

The sin that has consumed us, that has ruled us, is taken from us. That doesn’t mean that we no longer sin. Not at all. We all know ourselves too well for that.

But it does mean that we are no longer slaves to it. Sin, and its companions: Judgment, Guilt, Fear and Shame, not longer rule our lives.

And this is the promise of our baptisms.

Baptism is the sign and the seal of the promise that God has made to us in Jesus Christ to welcome us at this table for all eternity. It doesn't matter what our sin has been, it doesn't matter what our sin might be.

In the waters of our baptism, we die to sin. We die to fear, we die to shame, we die to death. In the same way that Pharaoh's power over the Hebrew slaves ended at the edge of the Red Sea, sin’s power over us ends at baptism. We are no longer captive to it. We need not fear it, we need not obsess over it, we need not be controlled by it.

In baptism, our sin has been crucified with Jesus Christ. Our old lives died with him. And when we rise with Jesus from our baptism,we are raised to new life, with new hope. This is the gift of baptism, that we are not only dead to sin, we alive to something better; alive to something more real than sin, more powerful than death.

In our baptism with Jesus Christ, we are alive to God.

Thanks be to God, Amen.