Sermon; Proper 7A; Romans 6:1b-11
Two weeks ago we closed out the liturgical cycle with Trinity Sunday. Last week we moved into Ordinary Time with the sending of the disciples to proclaim the good news, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. In Mtr. Jane's sermon she pointed out that this world was full of bad news, but went on to give us any number of ways we can do those very things the disciples did – proclaim, cure, cleanse, and restore.
Last week I also discussed with the kids why we use different colors during the church year. Wrapped up in that little talk was the difference between the liturgical cycle and Ordinary Time. The liturgical cycle – Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost – is focused on various events of Christ's life. From his birth to the giving of the Holy Spirit, liturgical time is event-focused.
Ordinary Time is different. First, it's called that because the weeks are counted in ordinal numbers – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Sunday after Pentecost, or Proper 6, 7, 8, 9, and so forth. Second, it doesn't focus on the events of Christ's life, but on the life of Christ's life. It's focused on learning to live with Christ, building our relationship with him, and growing as disciples. Which is why the color of the season is green, to symbolize growth.
We have come out of the liturgical cycle into Ordinary Time. A little over two months ago we celebrated the Day of Resurrection and Jesus' victory over death and crossing over into new life. At the Vigil that morning we baptized Carl Neve while also renewing our own baptismal vows. We once again promised to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers. We once again promised to resist evil, repent when we sin, and return to the Lord. We promised to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ, loving our neighbors as ourselves. We promised to respect the dignity of every human being. And as a physical remembrance, we were asperged with holy water, recalling our own baptism into Christ's death, resurrection, and crossing over to new life.
It is into this new life which we are sent. Last week Jesus sent the twelve disciples out to proclaim, cure, cleanse, and restore. This is also the beginning of our new life in Christ, for we are also called to proclaim, cure, cleanse, and restore. And today's gospel makes clear that this is no easy task. But instead of focusing on today's gospel passage, I want to focus on the Epistle reading, because in this section of Romans, Paul is reminding us that we are made new. And because this passage from Romans sums up baptism, the main liturgical event of our lives, beautifully, this is a good place to begin our journey with Jesus.
“Should we continue in sin?” Paul asks rhetorically. This question is to advance his argument begun earlier in Chapters 3 and 5. What he's attacking is a creeping belief that if we've been baptized into the family of God, then, ultimately, it doesn't matter what we do because we are saved. Another way of putting this is, “The bigger the sin, the bigger example of God's grace.” David Koresh was preaching this kind of life. But, as one commentator put it, that's a shallow understanding of our baptismal transformation.
Our baptism into Christ's death and resurrection, however, isn't simply a get-out-of-jail-free card. Our baptism into Christ's death and resurrection doesn't give us free reign to do whatever we want, like some spoiled child who knows he or she will always be bailed out of trouble. Our baptism into Christ's death and resurrection doesn't permit us to compartmentalize our lives, living one way on Sunday, but a very different way Monday through Saturday.
Our baptism into that death and resurrection should bring about a primary change in our lives. Paul says that through our baptism we are dead to sin. Not that we are sinless, but that our baptism has destroyed that which has power over us. Before our baptism we were enslaved by the sin of the world. We were enslaved to a human definition of how the world should be – defined by force, revenge, and a me-first attitude. This was, and is, the sin of the world.
But our baptism changes us. We are transformed into a new way of being. We are, like the Israelites, living in a new country after having crossed the Jordan. We have been, like Christ, resurrected into a new life. Like the Israelites earlier, and like Christ before us, we have crossed through holy water into a new land, a new way of being, and into a new existence. The old ways of being have no hold on us, no claim to us, no shackles upon us.
Like the Israelites who could not go back to slavery, and like Jesus who can no longer go back to a life bound up in physical time and space, our baptism creates a new reality for us. Like slaves who died could no longer be controlled by their master, we are also dead to sin, being freed from its dominion.
That doesn't mean we don't sin, we do. It's what humans do best. But we should understand that sin has no dominion and no power over us. We should also recognize the need for repentance when we do sin. “Will you repent and turn again to the Lord?” All of this means that we avoid the shallow understanding that Paul is arguing against in today's Epistle reading – should we go on sinning so that grace may abound? Of course not, because this new, post-baptismal life requires seeing and living in new ways.
Like Israel before us, we have crossed through holy water.
We have been baptized into Christ's death.
We are now living, and will be resurrected at the end of the age, into a new way of living.
We have been claimed by God and are living in a new country.
We have been called to proclaim, to cure, to cleanse, and to restore.
We are called to live unordinarily in ordinary times.
Let us then follow Paul's admonition and Christ's calling and live our lives as if our baptism really matters.