Monday, June 30, 2014

Sermon on Romans 7:1-13, for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, "The Resurrecting Christ", Part 2

Note: The following sermon is part 2 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. Last week we began our sermon series on Romans in chapter 6; how we have been Baptized into God’s Greater Story through Jesus’ death and resurrection. We learned that we are dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. This gives us a new identity in Christ Jesus, where we live not under the law, but under grace. Paul explains in 7:4, where Paul says, “My brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” We now belong to Jesus Christ, who has been raised from the dead and now raises us to new life also. He is the “Resurrecting Christ,” who in the power of His resurrection continues to raise us from the dead.
The power of Christ is found all throughout Romans. Consider how he opens the letter: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus . . . [who] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (1:1 and 4). Paul serves Jesus Christ, the ruler of all things, declared to be the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead. Paul then states the main theme of his letter: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16). Paul’s letter is all about power. The power of the gospel to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. Finally, consider how Paul closes the letter, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (16:20, cf. also 15:18-19). God’s power is at the beginning of Paul’s letter, at the end, and all the way through. The power of the resurrecting Christ brings life and salvation to all people.
And why wouldn’t it be? Paul, himself, had met the resurrected Christ and, in meeting Him on the Damascus road, Paul discovered Jesus to be more than just the Christ who had risen from the dead. He was also the resurrecting Christ. When Jesus appeared after his resurrection, he changed lives – Mary outside the tomb mourning, Thomas in the room doubting, Peter out on the lake fishing. Individuals raised from sorrow and fear and discouragement to life. And last but not least, the apostle Paul. Christ appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus and raised him to life. Paul now proclaims this power to all people, to the church at Rome and to us today. Paul turns our eyes to Jesus, for Jesus raises us to life.
For the church in Rome, Paul was concerned that people were looking to the law as a source of life. Israel believed in God’s good law. It was a design for life and they couldn’t imagine their relationship with God apart from it. They turned to that law, seeking to obey it, in order to have life from God. Unfortunately, they were so focused upon the law that they lost sight of Christ. We can easily do the same, when, for example, we bring our children to church or Sunday school just to build good morals, respect, and good behavior, but our focus is not on their faith in Jesus and the growth and depth of that faith. Plenty of youth are walking away from churches in their teen and college years, and may even be model citizens, but have missed the importance of a lifelong growth in their faith in Jesus, and the power of Christ to continue to transform all their life. If being a Christian and going to church was just about being a good person, they may soon conclude that they don’t need the church for that. Or if their faith comes under fire and they don’t have the depth or foundation to withstand it, they may also walk away from their faith. But the church’s aim is not mere good behavior—but a living faith solidly built on Jesus Christ, the One true God. It’s that we might know that no amount of good behavior on our part can save us or please God, but that we are lost without the saving death of Jesus Christ.
The law is holy, the commandment is holy and righteous and good. But the law is not an end in itself—for if it were, the end the law leads sinners to is death. Rather, the law is the wrecking ball that clears away the dead and rotten stuff of sin, and paves the way for Christ’s resurrecting power—the Good News of the Gospel, to rebuild our lives in Jesus’ image. To create in us the new life of the Spirit. The victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death—that good news—is the real end. Or as we heard last week in Romans 6, that the “end” of sin is death, but the end of God’s work of making us holy, or sanctifying us is eternal life. Or in Romans 10:4, Paul tells us that some will try to gain righteousness on their own by the law, but that Jesus is the “end” of the law for righteousness, for everyone who believes. The law’s power terminates with our death in Christ Jesus—but by faith in Him we are raised to new life.
What’s the practical importance of that for your daily Christian life? Paul writes this letter to be sure that no one sees the law without seeing Jesus. Because Paul knows the terrifying power of the law. The power to awaken our sin and hold us captive till death. God’s law is good but our lives are not. Holding on to the law without Christ is like holding on to a knife as it cuts you to death. The law has a condemning power. Paul writes that it arouses “our sinful passions.” When you hear what you are not supposed to do, you end up wanting to do it.
Did you catch in the reading that sin is opportunistic? It seized the opportunity through the commandment to produce coveting in Paul. He didn’t know what coveting was until he was told not to covet and then sin awakened and created all kinds of coveting within him. Coveting is the greedy or lustful inner desire to wrongfully get or have something that doesn’t belong to you. It’s the precursor to things like stealing, or sexual temptation, or scheming to take possession of what’s not yours. Sin is also opportunistic in deceiving and killing us. It takes the power of God’s law, which was meant for our good and our blessing, and it turns it against us so that we are cursed and die. Sin pulls the pillars out from under God’s design, and brings the law toppling down on us. This is why clinging to the law apart from Christ is deadly.
For this reason, Paul points us to Christ. The One who dies while holding on to us. Buried with us under the rubble of our sin and self-destruction, Christ burst the bonds of death and rose to new life. Christ saw us in our sin and offered his life for our salvation. He died under the condemning power of the law for you. Through his dead body Jesus Christ sets you free.
As Paul writes, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ.” Baptized into his death, Christ puts to death the condemning power of the law. By his death, Christ brings you to life. Set free from the law, we no longer live with the dread of its crushing judgment toppling down on our heads, but rather we live under the gracious canopy of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus. We live not under law, but under grace. And under grace there is no judgment to befall us, but only the gifts of the Spirit to pour down on us, and fill us with a new life and new obedience not motivated by fear, but by the love of Christ.
            Paul describes this life dedicated to God as a life of true freedom. As Americans, we think we know all about freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, academic freedom… the list goes on and on. In fact, in America, some even believe that they have the freedom to rewrite the laws of God and create a different way of living in the world. For many Christianity feels binding. It’s filled with rules and regulations. You can’t just live however you want.
So, some Christians celebrate a freedom from God’s good design. A distinctly American freedom from the laws of God. Take God’s good design of marriage or human sexuality. They redefine it to fit our present day. People presume to redefine the ways of God for our 21st century world. God is always kept loving and good, but His love and his goodness supposedly set us free us to be whatever we want to be. Old notions of sin and punishment and the law of God are discarded so we can live in the freedom of the American dream and claim that God is loving toward us and good.
But does God give us the freedom to become our own “lawmakers” and re-write God’s laws? Is it truly an American notion that freedom should know no bounds? I cannot find an example of such a freedom. Cross borders from a free country into an oppressive one—say from South Korea into North Korea—and you may very well have left your freedom behind, and entered a place where your freedom is in serious danger. Test the bounds of gravity by flying off a cliff, and you will find that you’ve left your freedom behind. Rob a store, and despite all your protests “But it’s a free country!”—they will still cart you off to jail. Freedom is a precious thing, and our soldiers know it well, that freedom didn’t come for free. Liberating people from oppression often comes at great cost. Guarding freedom from those who would take it away, requires determination. And freedom is easy to lose.
Our American attitudes about freedom would seem strange to the apostle Paul. The law of God is not something you can redefine. The law is God’s. It is part of God’s design and it has been built into creation. You can delude yourself that it doesn’t exist or that it doesn’t matter to God. But in the end, you will be held accountable to God. Paul wants you to know that you are not alone. God does exist and rules over all creation. He has set his law in place and everyone will be held accountable to it before him. But when God claims us in the death of Christ, He sets us free from the condemning power of the law and raises us to new life in Christ.
Christ stands there, on the edge of Paul’s letter, ruling over the world and raising people to life in him. The death of Christ was not the end of the story for Paul. It’s just begun because of the resurrection of Christ and His continuing power to raise us to new life in him. Hear it again: “Likewise my brothers, you have also died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God” (7:4). All eyes are on the resurrecting Christ. It’s not just that He frees us from the condemning power of the law but He also forms us by his Spirit to live as a people for God. In him, our lives are shaped by the Spirit and take on the shape of the goodness of God’s law, God’s ways,  and God’s people in the world. But it happens not through the threat of punishment for disobedience—which is the way the law works when sin is in the picture—but it happens through the pouring of the Holy Spirit into our lives—which is the way the Gospel works.
            We’re invited to live in the power of the Resurrecting Christ. Though we do not see him now, we know that he is risen and ruling over all things. His law is holy. His commandments are holy and righteous and good. In him, we have died to the curse of the law, in his body crucified for us on the tree. In him, we have been raised to a new life in the Spirit. And we are only now beginning to experience the first fruits of faith in the kingdom of God. That new life is grown organically from His Spirit, and the imagery of Scripture is of plant growth—slow and patient—not the imagery of microwave meals and instant results. Though you may never be aware of the pace of growth or of the changes the Spirit is working in you, we should never be focused on ourselves, but rather on the power of the Resurrecting Christ, who is the Son under which we grow! Amen.*/

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. How does Paul’s letter to the Romans emphasize the power of Jesus Christ? Romans 1:4, 16; 15:13, 19; 16:20. Why is the resurrection of Jesus Christ the power for the Christian’s new life? Romans 7:4-6; Phil. 3:9-11; 1 Peter 1:3; 3:21.
  2. How were the lives of Mary (John 20:11-18), Thomas (John 20:24-29), Peter (John 21:15-19), and Saul/Paul (Acts 9:1-22) transformed by the risen Jesus Christ? How does sin or fear still cling to your life, and why can you confidently turn it over to Jesus to handle?
  3. Why is the Law—even while it is good and holy, and given by God—not the way by which we find life? Romans 7:8-13; Galatians 3:10-14. Is this because of a defect in the law, or some other problem? Why is moralistic Christianity pursuing the same dead end? Why are good works unable to help us before God? How deeply is sin ingrained in us? Where should our faith be focused instead? On whom?
  4. At the same time, we do not reject or abandon the law, but it does its proper work, to prepare the way for the Gospel. What new life in us is created by the Gospel—the good news of the Resurrecting Christ?
  5. How is sin “opportunistic”? What is it looking for an opportunity to do? Romans 7:8; 11; Galatians 5:13; cf. Matthew 26:16; Luke 4:13; Ephesians 4:27. How does this reality make it deadly to live under the law, rather than under grace? Romans 6:12-23; 7:11.
  6. How does a life lived under God’s grace bear fruit by obedience? Galatians 5:16-26. How do we use and maintain our freedom? Galatians 5:1, 13; 1 Peter 2:16; Jude 4.
  7. How has Christ rescued us from our self-destruction under the law? What does our participation in His death, via baptism, mean for our relationship to the law? Romans 7:4. How is our growth in our new life more like a growing plant than like instant meals? 

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