Sunday, November 2, 2008

Free From the Reign of Death

Romans 6:12-23
"But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life."

Dear Christians. Dear redeemed servants of Christ. Now being free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. You are free from the law and the reign of death. Your life is now and forever in the resurrected Christ. You were once a slave to the law, with all its accusations and demands. You are to have no others gods – make no idols in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth or in the waters below. Never are you to misuse the name of the Lord your God, always remembering the Sabbath by keeping it holy. At all times honoring your father and mother. You shall not murder, commit adultery, or steal. Nor shall you give false testimony against your neighbor, not coveting your neighbor’s house or anything that belongs to him.

This all sounds fairly simple. This sounds like a manageable set of instructions. We know these commands, they are simple to recite, and remember. It may seem easier to keep track of than ordering a drink from Starbucks. Ordering a latte, macchiato, or mocha would not be so hard if the sizes were not expressed in a foreign language. After all, what is a vente and grande? What happened to small medium and large. The Ten Commands would certainly seem easier than tax season. These simple commands, so easy to check off. I doubt anyone has recently made an idol recently out of gold, to worship him in the middle of the night with chanting and demonic dancing. We’ve done fine with going to church! Don’t have to worry about murder, adultery, stealing, or even about my neighbor. After all, we might not talk to them that much anyways. So we are in the clear, so it would seem.

Yet the law condemns. It does not encourage, comfort, or confirm any semblance of peace. The gods we’ve set up may not be carefully crafted golden idols in the form of ancient Greek gods. Yet our gods are anything that supersedes the Lord as our source of comfort, security, and salvation. Do we often place more trust in our mutual funds for our future than the everlasting security of the risen Christ? Have we turned a blind eye to our neighbor’s needs? Even that one day when you shoveled his walk, how nice to imagine he might see you and think you’re a decent person. Who knows maybe he’ll ask you over for supper and return the favor if you’re lucky? Any investigation of even our more charitable, seemingly unselfish acts are often wrought with self interest. In the end our work stays on earth and does not ascend to the heavens that God might congratulate us on a job well done.

Our mortal bodies we have twisted and contorted into instruments of unrighteousness unto sin. The perfection demanded has turned to mockery and frustration in light of the impure sexual thoughts of the good looking woman in that new movie out last week. In these mortal bodies, with flesh that God himself took on, we have rendered our bodies rather as servants of sin. This master enslaves its victims through all wiles, lies, and deceptions. He is no more than a liar, only with death and hell to offer. In this slavery you were disobedient with your bodies and whole selves – alienated from God – yielding your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity. You have come up short of the perfection demanded by God’s unyielding law. You have indeed fallen short of perfection. You have not been a perfect mother, father, son or daughter. You have not been a perfect employee or student. Self interest motivates us often times morning til’ night. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We have not been God’s perfect and obedient creatures.

So Starbucks and tax season do not demand perfection when it comes to successfully ordering a double caramel macchiato with low fat whipped cream or having your return down to the penny. The law however, does demand perfection. You cannot screw up this or that. You cannot ask for a redo, another size, more whipped cream, room for sugar, or cooled with ice. With your return you cannot ask for an exemption from this or that, or a special allotment for dependents or a handicap. The law is a one size fits all policy.

And the policy of the law – the fate of an unfaithful servant is death. The curse of sin comes through one man - Adam who disobeyed God in the cool mist of that morning in paradise. Saint Paul wants us to know what benefit we reap from being slaves to sin, slaves to things that we are now ashamed of. He seems to be indeed laughing at the futility of sin, the utter worthlessness of it, given that we have been delivered and are now under grace. "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!" - Paul says. Dear Christians does this mean that we no longer fall into sin? Certainly not. But as slaves to righteousness in Christ, with a heavenly master who eternally loves us, and who dearly desires our hearts and bodies we are free to live in holiness.

In the death of Christ you are freed from slavery to sin and God’s perfectly divine law which you did not perfectly obey. These things brought death and nothing good. We have died in Christ, who bored our infirmities and sins, taking them to the grace. As he rose so shall we – spotless, innocent, and free as he. Ressurected, blessed, and holy as he. The law will not save you and sin no longer reigns over you.

You are free to be servants of God. Indeed you have now been made a servant to His righteousness for He has bought you with a price - with the death and resurrection of Christ, the Son of God. Saint Paul declares that you count yourselves dead to sin but alive in Christ Jesus. Saint Paul does not say that you are recuperating from sin. He does not say that you are in a hospital bed with a broken and diseased body. Sin is not like being sick and being nursed back to health by a helpful Jesus. He is the author and perfector of our faith. He completely and perfectly and willingly bore the sins of the world as the lamb led to the slaughter. He is therefore also the perfector of death. Your complete and utter death to sin took place in the Lord’s crucified and buried body. Saint Paul says you are DEAD, DEAD, DEAD – DEAD TO SIN. This life – this righteousness in which you now find yourself is in Christ, and He is in you.
You are now under grace. To be under this grace is to be under the cross – or more accurately risen also from it – free from the reign of death. The law from which you were delivered offered no escape from the power of sin and death. You were incapable of your own deliverance because you are weak in your natural selves. But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. This teaching – this freedom – this righteousness are the gifts of the blessed Jesus Christ who through baptism and the blood of the cross makes you blessed and holy.

Free of the reign of death from God’s unyielding law puts you in a blessed and holy service to God. Saint Paul writes, "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness." Slavery immediately brings to mind for most the institutional, race-based system of injustice that plagues our country’s history. Yet the faith which makes us slaves to Him is the source of our Christian freedom. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. This Christian freedom and service to God finds its expression in service to neighbor and vocation. Christ compels us to offer the parts of our bodies, our intellect, our will, and service indiscriminately to others. We have a God whom so dearly desires that we love each other – forever caring for each other – continually offering ourselves up. Asking nothing in return – expecting no favor from our neighbor or even our closest family member.

Our bodies we are to offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. This is the holiness given by Christ that we might live as resurrected vessels. The service and new life in which we find ourselves is not motivated by the law with its perfect and complete demands but by the risen Lord who perfectly and completely fulfilled it. We are dead to sin – born of the Gospel – purified by God and brought to eternal life. As we carry on in our earthly lives, it is the Word of the Lord that sanctifies us – doing all that it promises. This sweet Gospel of the crucified and risen Christ ultimately has its way with us. Crucifying our sinful flesh, which always expects something in return for our charitable acts. Crucifying our human will which strives to justify itself on its own accord. Crucifying our mortal bodies which sought slavery to impurity and to ever increasing wickedness. But now count yourselves dead to sin. Not injured, not recuperating, not mildly affected, not hindered by sin. But DEAD, DEAD, DEAD to sin and the reign of death that rides with it.

Since death no longer has reign over your body, rend yourselves over to the Lord your master. He has been crucified and raised so that you might also live eternally in His glory. In our fallen world you are no longer slaves to sin, death, and the devil but holy saints of righteousness. Count yourselves completely and utterly dead to sin, not recuperating, reconfigured, or reconditioned but redeemed, resurrected, risen from death, and reconciled to the heavenly banquet. The declaration of your death today is the pronouncement of your place in this paradise. And you have become slaves to God who adores you. Who gives all things to you – body, blood, righteousness – all that is His. And like a jealous and watchful master he stops at nothing to hold and keep you. This is why he himself made a servant of himself to win you back. The foolishness of sin is what resonates from the words of Saint Paul. And the foolishness of sin will plague you until your departure from this earthly life. Yet the living God in the Divine Service today counts you dead, dead, dead, to sin and eternally alive in a risen Christ. Amen.

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