Monday, June 23, 2014

Sermon on Romans 6:1-23, for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, "Baptized Into God's Greater Story", Part 1

Note: The following sermon is part 1 of  a 13 part series on Romans 6-14, adapted from the Series "God's Greater Story" by Rev. David Schmitt of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Have you ever caught your reflection in a window? You saw your image transposed on a busy scene on the other side of the window, or perhaps behind you? Maybe it made you seem small and insignificant; maybe it made you seem larger than life. Today you’re invited to catch your reflection in the waters of Holy Baptism, as St. Paul pictures our new life in Christ Jesus, begun in baptism, and how it draws us into God’s Greater Story. A story that pulls us in from various places in life. Some of us are struggling with loneliness or depression. Some have just started a job, while others are going away to college. Some may be celebrating joys, others may be carrying sorrows. Regardless of where you are in life, where you’ve been or where you’re going, God has brought you to this place. Today, He asks you to stand here and look through a window and to see your reflection and place in God’s Greater Story.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is a missionary letter, written to a church that Paul had never visited. Paul may not have known these people but he knows their God and he pictures for them the way God works in the world. Paul narrates for them the greater story of God. He trusts that when they hear that greater story, they’ll catch their reflection in the glass. They wouldl see how God has brought them into something greater than their lives in 1st century Rome, and we’ll see how God brings us into something greater than our lives in 21st century Maui.
Starting at Romans 6 this week, we’ll read to the end of the letter over the course of the coming weeks. Today, we begin with God’s work in baptism. The way God joins us to the power of the resurrecting Christ. Then, we’ll focus on God’s greater story, God’s greater people, and God’s greater plan for you, as we follow this sermon series on Romans. Come. Listen. Watch, as God makes you part of his larger story. Catch your reflection in the glass. It will change the way you live in God’s world.
It may catch you off guard that we begin a series on the book of Romans in the middle—Romans 6. It would be much easier to start at the beginning. To hear Paul, introducing himself to the Romans, and then to follow the natural flow of the letter. But sometimes that’s the way God works in the world. Often we show up in the middle of an on-going conversation. We overhear people talking and, over time, we discover who they are. Our family in Christ. When you were born as an infant, God timed your entry into a world already fast in motion. You didn’t know the people who passed you from person to person at the hospital, and poked and prodded you, washed you and bundled you warmly. Over time, however, you recognized voices and put together stories. Strangers became family and a simple gesture could remind you of love. At first you mostly listened and learned, but gradually you learned to speak and join in the conversation.
In a similar way, God’s work did not start with you. You arrived in a story in progress, when you were born by water and the Spirit into God’s family. You were not there in the very beginning. God alone existed. He existed before anything else was made. And God alone created this world out of nothing. We read last week in Genesis 1-2, about all the works of creation that God called into existence, and last of all, man and woman. God made Adam and Eve and brought them into his story.
So we come to God’s story, late in the plot. The story began with God’s perfect creation, the crisis began with the first sin, and a world of sin and trouble followed. But God was faithful to generation after generation, and He kept calling people back to Him, pulling them into His story. Making it a story of salvation or rescue, as He time and again delivered His people from their sin and its punishments, and gave them His promises to hold onto like a refuge in a storm, or a lighthouse in the midst of a crashing sea. We arrived late in the plot, 2,000 years after God revealed Jesus Christ as the center and source of our salvation or rescue. We call Him Savior, because He died on the cross to carry our sins far away, and He rose to new life so that He could make you His new creation. The climax of the God’s Greater Story, and the resolution of the crisis in the plot centers on Jesus Christ our Savior. In baptism, you were crucified, buried, and raised with Christ Jesus, so that God has made you a new person. While we’ve arrived late in the plot, the story is not yet over, as Jesus has promised that He will return one day, and come to judge the living and the dead, and take all believers in Him to be raised with new bodies and to enter the completed new creation of the new heavens and the new earth.
Paul describes this moment of our rebirth in baptism, our entry into the story, most clearly when he writes, “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.” Dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. That is what you are. Paul asks us to take a deep long look into the reflective pool of baptism. In those reflective waters we learn to say, “I am dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” We repent of our sins, confessing them as wrong to God, and watch our sinful nature be plunged down into the waters of baptism, and to be drowned and die with Christ Jesus on the cross. “We were buried with Him by baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” And as our sinful nature drops daily into that watery grave, so we behold a new man and a new woman rising to live before Christ Jesus in newness of life.
Let’s mediate for a moment on those words. In the opening chapters of Romans, Paul has described sin with power and force. Sin enslaves, sin imprisons, sin rules over us. Paul says consider yourselves dead to that sin. Paul describes God in Jesus holding even greater power and love. God created all things, God rose from the dead, God now reigns in the glory and wonder of heaven. God sends his Spirit among his people, God frees, God lives, God brings about a marvelous new creation. Paul says, consider yourselves alive to this God in Christ Jesus. Dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. For Paul this is baptism.
God in Christ Jesus has put your old sinful identity to death in His cross, through the waters of baptism. So the way you live forward from here is not controlled by, enslaved by, imprisoned by the old identity that you have left behind in those waters of repentance and baptism. The way you live forward from here is shaped and directed by your new identity in Christ Jesus. When you look into that reflecting pool of baptism, it is the cross of Jesus, His empty tomb, and our risen and ascended Lord Jesus who stands above us, larger than life, but truly in our life, reminding us that we are a part of God’s Greater Story. We see His victory loom large over sin and death, and our light momentary struggles take on their perspective in the great sweep of Jesus’ saving work—and we realize we’re safely in His hands.
When we fall back into sin, it’s like those waters have been stirred up, and we don’t see our reflection—or like the book of James says, it’s like we’ve walked away from a mirror and forgotten what we looked like. When we fall back into sin, we’ve momentarily forgotten who we are in Christ. We’ve taken our eyes off of Jesus, like Peter when he tried to walk on water, becoming overwhelmed by the wind and the waves around us. But whenever we’re sinking down into our sin, or whenever the waters are stirred up and we can no longer see our reflection, Christ Jesus reaches down and takes hold of our hand. He cries out to the storm, “Be still!” and a great calm is restored. And when the waters still again, we see again our reflection—baptized into Christ Jesus. Dead to sin, but alive in Christ Jesus. It isn’t sin that has a hold on us, but it’s Christ who holds us firmly in His hands. Eyes on Him!
For this reason, Paul calls upon the Romans then and us today to present ourselves to Christ Jesus as people who have been brought from death to life. Jesus will put our bodies, our minds, our skills, our talents, to use as instruments for righteousness. There’s a beautiful mystery to being part of God’s story. We often find ourselves amazed at what God will do. We bring our lives to God, present ourselves to him, and God uses our lives in the unfolding of his kingdom.
A woman, dying of cancer, discovered this. Marie’s time was short. Her bone cancer had spread. She had just entered hospice. A confirmation student, Amy, came to visit her. She had been her prayer partner. Her parents didn’t think Amy should go. “Hospice is no place for a child,” her mother said. But Amy wanted to go and Marie was happy to see her. It was awkward. Amy didn’t know what to say. She was just so conscious of the fact that Marie was dying. Everything she thought about saying seemed stupid. So, she sat there. And held her hand. Marie, however, started talking. She told Amy what it meant to see young adults in church. Why she wanted to pray for the confirmation students. She could only imagine the challenges they faced.
That led to a conversation about faith. How important it was. She spoke of her hope. Even now. Her hope for that day when Jesus would return and she would have a new body, without sickness, without pain. How comforting to know Jesus, raised from the dead, returning to bring her into his new creation. In a sense, Amy’s mother was right. “Hospice is no place for a child.“ But God knows that and so God sent his Spirit to guide the conversation. God used Marie to fill that room with hope. A hope that lives even in the face of death. Marie’s life became an instrument for righteousness. A revelation to Amy of hope that lives in the face of death. In a room filled with dying God used Marie to speak about a world filled with life.
As Christians, we confess that we are dead to sin and alive to Christ. And we present our bodies to God as instruments for righteousness. As you give yourselves over to Him, there’s no telling how God will unfold your part of His greater story—how He will work through you in this world. But we’ve been set free from sin and it’s old enslaving ways. We’ve been on that path before. We were on the path of sin and death when God first called us by the Gospel and brought us into His story. But now He’s set our feet on a path that leads to righteousness and life. The one destiny—that of death and separation from God—we had earned that. This new destiny—that of life and fellowship with God—it’s a free gift of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Paid in full, given for free. True story! God’s Greater Story in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      In the coming weeks, we are going to read through the last chapters of the book of Romans, and our sermon series will focus on “God’s Greater Story.” Read the book of Romans through in one sitting (it should take less than one hour). What key themes do you pick up? What is Paul’s general message?
2.      What makes us lose sight of the fact that we are part of a story bigger than ourselves? What do we become focused on instead? How does that lead us to magnify our problems and difficulties? How does refocusing on God’s Greater Story help place things back into perspective?
3.      What does it mean that we’ve arrived “late in the story” or “plot” of God’s salvation history? How did the story begin? Genesis 1. What crisis developed in the beginning of humanity’s story? Genesis 3. How is Jesus Christ the climax of the plot and the resolution of the crisis?
4.      How did you enter the story? Romans 6:1-11. Was your entrance accidental, or when did God “write your part” into His “script”? Ephesians 1:3-6. How did you experience death and rebirth? Romans 6:3-13.
5.      How does Paul sum up the power of sin? How does he sum up the even greater power and love of God? Romans 5:12-21
6.      How does baptism reflect our new identity and place in God’s story? Romans 6. What can turn our attention from this mirror? James 1:22-25. How does Jesus’ forgiveness restore the image of who we are in Him, and in the baptismal waters of rebirth?
7.      What does this new identity set us free for in our new life lived after Him? God has a plan to use you and your life as “instruments for righteousness (Rom. 6:13). Pray that God would use you and lead you to follow His will and plan for your life.

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