Sunday’s sermon: All Things New

Text used – Romans 6:1-11

  • Y’all … I think we may have finally made it to spring in Minnesota!!! (One week before Memorial Day weekend … what people tend to think of as the unofficial start to Sheesh.)
    • Kids had soccer yesterday – their last soccer game of the season – and it was the first game that wasn’t horrible to sit and watch because of the weather
      • Clarification: watching the games themselves has always been fun … the weather we had to endure while watching … not so much
      • Sporting the fruits of that finally-springtime weather in my lovely sunburn right here! → I’m one that’s usually pretty good about making sure I’ve slathered the sunscreen on – on my kids and myself – but clearly I’m out of the habit because it didn’t even cross my mind yesterday.
        • Out of the habit because it’s been SO LONG since we’ve really been able to be out enjoying the beautiful weather!! → Spring has been a long time coming this year. I mean, it felt like we were waiting … and waiting … and waiting for that renewal that comes with green leaves, longer days, and warmer temperatures, right? It felt like things stayed grey and brown and dormant for a long time this year. I felt like we were waiting a long time for that new life to spring forth.
    • And it was hard, wasn’t it? As the cold temperatures continued to drag on … as the snow continued to fall … and those steel-grey, wintery clouds that continued to block out the sun … it was hard. It was hard to wait. It was hard to hope. It was hard to remember that such a thing as “spring” even existed.
      • Started to feel a little bit like we were living in C.S. Lewis’ land of Narnia before the defeat of the White Witch – a land in which it is, by Lewis’ own description “always winter. Always winter and never Christmas.”[1]
      • And yet here we are … finally on the warmer … sunnier … greener side of things, surrounded by new life.
  • Feel the push-and-pull of living with the current reality as well as the desire for new life and what that means in our Scripture reading this morning
    • Paul’s explanation of the crucial nature and meaning of Christ’s resurrection to the Christian church in Rome → wraps life and death and resurrection, sin and grace and mission all together in one theological package → As is his norm, Paul packs a lot of theology into a few verses. So let’s unpack it a bit.
      • Question at the beginning of today’s passage feeds in from what comes before it at the end of ch. 5 (section titled “Grace now rules”): Many people were made righteous through the obedience of one person (Jesus Christ), just as many people were made sinners through the disobedience of one person (implication: Adam). The Law stepped in to amplify the failure, but where sin increased, grace multiplied even more. The result is that grace will rule through God’s righteousness, leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, just as sin ruled in death.[2] → So following this explanation about grace increasing in response to sin – that line about “where sin increased, grace multiplied even more” – Paul then begins our section today with this follow-up question: So what are we going to say? Should we continue sinning so grace will multiply?[3]
        • Makes sense, right? More grace must be good, so if we follow his logic from the previous section, that means more sinning … right? → Paul is not taking any chances with word choice here – makes his point abundantly clear
          • Gr. “continue” = active sort of word – word that carries connotations of persisting toward a goal → Paul isn’t just talking about the uninvolved ways that we wait for things to happen. This is the kind of continuing that is intentional. Should we intentionally continue to sin?
          • Gr. “multiply” = combination of two words, both of which mean many, much, more, etc. → Should we intentionally continue to sin so that there will be more and more and more grace?
      • But of course, Paul answers his own question – text: Absolutely not! All of us died to sin. How can we still live in it?
        • Scholar: The main thrust of chapter 6 is to head off any misunderstandings about the relationship between sin and grace. … Just because the power of grace outstrips the power of sin is no reason to sin. When my son was in preschool, he accidentally spilled an entire cardon of milk on the floor. He was devastated by his mistake. So as I mopped up the floor, I reassured him that everything was going to be just fine. I said, “Look! Now the whole floor is nice and clean!” He turned to me and said brightly, “Hey! Maybe I should spill on the floor more often!” By no means! Just because God in Christ Jesus has the power to make things right is not an invitation to do wrong.[4]
      • So then what does that entail? → Paul continues dialogue about basic tenets of Christian belief
        • Baptized into Christ Jesus
        • Christ died, was buried, and “was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father”[5]
        • Because our baptism binds us to Christ, “we too can walk in newness of life”
          • Expands this idea of “newness of life” → Paul makes it clear that once faith has become a part of who we are, we are changed. – text: This is what we know: the person we used to be was crucified with him in order to get rid of the corpse that had been controlled by sin. That way we wouldn’t be slaves to sin anymore, because a person who has died has been freed from sin’s power.[6] → Whoooooo! That is powerful “The person we used to be was crucified with him in order to get rid of the corpse that had been controlled by sin.” It’s a powerful reminder of where that path of following sin leads us: death. Period. Without Christ, this is a death that is The End. → especially powerful when we think about when this passage is most often read
            • Reminder: we’ve been following the Narrative Lectionary for the last 4 yrs. → schedule of Scripture passages that starts again every fall and walks us through the whole story of human salvation from creation in Sept. through the life of Israel, the prophets (Advent – leading up to Christmas), the gospels after the birth of Christ, and through some of the epistles following Easter and the resurrection → However, in the Revised Common Lectionary – a different schedule of texts for each Sunday that’s used widely throughout the Church – this passage from Romans 6 is always scheduled for Holy Saturday … for what’s called Easter Vigil … for that liminal space between the horrific death of Good Friday and the resurrection joy of Easter morning. It is into the uncertainty and desolation and darkness of that waiting that we read this text.
              • Text that brings a glimmer of light into the darkness
              • Text that reminds us why we must sit with those moments of death before moving on to the new life
              • Text that, although it never actually uses the word “hope,” is utterly brimming with hope
  • Hope = theme for the conference that I was at this past week – the Festival of Homiletics: Preaching Hope for a Weary World → And after the last few years that we’ve all had – with COVID and all of the social unrest – one of the threads that kept popping up again and again throughout the various sermons and lectures was the idea of hope anyway.
    • Hope … even though we’ve all been through some stuff
    • Hope … even though the way ahead is uncertain and unclear
    • Hope … even though we are bombarded on every side by negative headline after negative headline
    • Hope … even, and especially, when we don’t feel like there’s any hope left
    • One of the sermons was by Rev. Dr. Will Willimon (retired bishop in the United Methodist Church, professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke Divinity School, author of over 60 books) → Willimon spoke about the importance of divining false hope vs. true hope
      • Willimon: Hope can be the parent of idolatry because false hope is always easier to live with than true hope. False hope is self-constructed. True hope asks of us, requires of us, expects of us.[7]
    • Later that same day, this idea of true hope was expanded on and fleshed out a little more by another preacher – Rev. Dr. Samuel Cruz (Associate Professor of Church and Society at Union Theological Seminary and senior pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Sunset Park in Brooklyn) → Cruz made a distinction btwn abstract hope and concrete hope[8]
      • Abstract hope = what Cruz called “hunky dory hope” → hope that has a far-reaching, sometimes nebulous, “pie in the sky” sort of aim
        • E.g. – world peace
      • Concrete hope = hope for things in the here and now → hope that calls us to act in the here and now
    • Both of these preachers – Will Willimon and Samuel Cruz – as well as just about every other preacher that I listened to last week talked about the importance of connecting hope and action. They talked about the way that hope changes us … the way that faith changes us … the way that interacting with Christ, that a relationship with Christ changes us. And that is exactly what Paul is talking about in our passage this morning. Paul makes it clear that through Christ’s death on the cross, a new life is available to us. – text: If we died with Christ, we have faith that we will also live with him. We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him. He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life. In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.[9] → We cannot help but find hope in this words. We cannot help but find promise in these words. But we also cannot help but find a call to action in these words. Paul makes it clear that this baptism … this faith … this relationship with Christ changes us.
      • Just as we cannot go out into the sun and not be changed (as I so graciously have illustrated for you this morning), we cannot engage in a relationship with the risen Christ and not be changed → The question is how? How will you be changed? How will you let that relationship with Christ change you? How will you take that relationship with Christ and change the world?
        • Exploring the Word Together question this morning: How can we honor this new life we have in Christ? → So indeed, let us be the word of God for one another this morning. Amen.

[1] C.S. Lewis. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1950), 14.

[2] Rom 5:19-21 (insertions added).

[3] Rom 6:1.

[4] Shawnthea Monroe. “Romans 6:1b-11 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 160.

[5] Rom 6:4.

[6] Rom 6:6-7.

[7] Will Willimon. “We Had Hoped” from the Festival of Homiletics, preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis, MN, 18 May 2023.

[8] Samuel Cruz. “Hope From the Margins” from the Festival of Homiletics, preached at Central Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, MN, 18 May 2023.

[9] Rom 6:8-11.

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