Romans has proven to be a pretty heavy chapter of the Bible. No, it doesn’t actually weigh more than any of the others (a chapter like Genesis is significantly longer), but Paul is swinging away for the fences, holding nothing back.
In Chapter 6, Paul introduces one of my favorite emotions, tactics, etc.: sarcasm.
“Should we go sinning more so that we would get more grace?”
[You can almost see Paul raising one eyebrow a la Sheldon Cooper or Phil Keoghan.] “No, duh!”
But the thing is, Paul wants his hearers, his readers, his church to understand that because they were baptized into Jesus Christ, that they were baptized into his death. Because they were baptized into his death, then they will also be raised with him.
We are baptized into the teachings of Jesus.
We die with Jesus.
We live again with Jesus.
Paul says, “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God” (Romans 6:9-10). And Paul adds, we get to live again, too!
It’s not quite flamboyant but it’s powerful. It’s almost taunting. That’s the way John Donne took it in Sonnet X:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Or, the 21st century American translation: “Nani Nani Boo Boo! ‘Death, we’ve got you!'”
Many of us here today have been baptized. Maybe we remember it, or maybe we don’t. We, or someone on our behalf, embraced the teachings of Jesus, and said that we would do our best to live and grow in the ways that Jesus taught. And Paul says we should be empowered to live boldly.
It’s the equivalent of the superhero motif where we find out our secret powers and we then undergo a transformation to doing good, fighting crime, dodging bullets, and leaping tall buildings in a single bound…
To love our neighbor.
To fight anger, evil, and oppression.
To sacrifice of ourselves for the good of others.
Easy enough, right? [Note the raised eyebrow – SARCASM!]
But when it comes to the three steps Paul lays out, baptized, dying, and rising again, the baptized part sounds easier.
How many of us want to die? It’s not a normal human inclination. Tomorrow, a bunch of us will go see a film, Self/Less, about a guy who wants to live forever, who wants to perpetuate his own pleasure. We use products and operations to make our faces seem younger, exercise to make our bodies last longer, cut foods out of our diet to extend our lives. We want to live.
And yet, Jesus and Paul both show up and ask us… to die. In fact, they tell us that we would be better off if we would die. That by dying to ourselves, we would find true life. So, today, I want us to consider what it would look like for us to die to ourselves.
We come today to celebrate the life and faith of Blandford United Methodist Church. We come to reflect, to remember the times of laughter and joy we shared, and to embrace the hope we have in the resurrection of Jesus. Let us reflect on our lives and what Jesus means to us.
Moment of Silence
O God, who gave us birth, You are more ready to hear than we are to pray. You know our needs before we ask, and our ignorance in asking. Give to us now your grace, that as we shrink before the mystery of death, we may see the light of eternity. Help us to live as those who are prepared to die. And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that in living or dying, our life may be in you, and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us from your great love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
A Reading from Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
A Reading From Psalm 84
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty.
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.
Now, normally, I would share some words about the person who had passed away, or family members would share. I hope that we will take some time to reflect on our own lives, and to consider how faithfully we are living out our lives in prayer, presence, gift, service, and witness through our church.
[Moments of Silence]
The truth is that our lives are a mixed bag. Sometimes, we get it right; sometimes, we don’t. A church made up of people is obviously going to be a mixed bag, too. We often fail to bring our best to church because we expect that everyone else here has it all together. We don’t have to ‘fake it’ here, because shouldn’t those other people have it together, too?
Of course, we shouldn’t fake it! But that doesn’t mean that in church, we should stop working to extend grace to everyone, including ourselves.
As I reflect on the church we have, I see a place where those who are ignored elsewhere are welcomed, where children are valued, where the hungry are fed. But I often wonder, if we reflect over these last moments as our dying ones: are we living like we are free from sin and death because Jesus died for us?
That’s the funny thing about movies about people who have died but who hang around. They see the way they impacted people’s lives for good or bad. Whether it’s Scrooge seeing the world with the Ghost of Christmas Present or some contemporary romantic drama about a teen lying in a hospital bed, examining the world around her, it’s a narrative possibility for change provided by the story.
So, how would you live differently?
What difference would you make with your time, your money, your energy, your affection?
Are you living a life that shows God how much you love God? With, again, your worship, and your gifts, and your tithe, and your witness?
Ironically, I’ve prepared quite a few sermons for people I never met before. Often, their family wants (very badly) for me to know how much their deceased loved one loved God. But you know what’s sad? The number of people who want a minister to do the funeral who want to convince me that their loved one was good.
Paul says, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” It’s not because they were good.
I’m not good.
You’re not good.
But too often we settle for subjective variations on good (or better, best) instead of considering the amount of time that we really spend in relationship with the God of the universe.
That takes faith, hope, and trust. Which makes me think of the committal of the deceased into the ground. In our order of worship we read:
Almighty God, into your hands we commend ourselves, in sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amidst things they cannot understand, help them to trust in your care. Bless us and keeps us. Make your face to shine upon us, and give us peace.
Now to the One who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of God’s glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Whoa! Those are words of comfort, but they’re also a battle cry, a modus operandi, a reminder that God has us, God has sent us, and we are to live … fearlessly.
Think about that. You’ve been forgiven. You’ve been baptized. You’ve died. You rise again to a new life now and later.
Paul says we should rise to live full lives of service and love, and await the resurrection in confidence and courage.
How will you live? Amen.