The apostle Paul quotes his would be accusers, “What should we say then, should we continue in sin so that grace may increase?” Paul emphatically responds, “May it NEVER be! How can we who have DIED to sin continue to live in it?”
What does this mean? How have we died to sin? I certainly don’t feel like sin is completely dead in me?
This sermon explores Romans 6:1-14 and connects Paul’s metaphor of baptism as being united to Jesus’ death and resurrection to the mystic path and process of spiritual growth. Enjoy!
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Is it just me, or is anyone else tired of rain?
There has been so much rain that I’ve had water seeping in the lower level. I had to pull back the carpet and run a fan and the dehumidifier. Last weekend I had just gotten everything dried out, and then it started raining again on Monday, and the water started coming back in.
I finally realized that my gutters were clogged and there was a waterfall pouring down right into the foundation.
So, I put on a hooded rain jacket, got my extension ladder, and climbed up to the top of the second story. The downspout was clogged through the curvy part, so I had to take it apart.
It was just like a cartoon. I took out one screw. A little stream of water shot out the side in a nice arc. I took out the screw on the other side and another stream shot out.
Then, I took out the third, and front screw. Before I could even react, all the water from the gutter, collecting all the rain from the roof in all directions, shot straight down the inside of my sleeve, down my body, and thoroughly soaked my jean shorts and underwear. SWOOSH!
Did I mention that I was two storied up on an extension ladder?
Wow, that was cold.
I tell you this story for two reasons:
First, I think it’s hysterical and I just wanted to tell it.
Second, I think it leads into our text. Today, the Apostle Paul talks about baptism. Sometimes the truth of the Gospel hits us like this shocking flood.
Let’s dive in and see.
This is our third week in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. If you’ve missed the last two weeks I invite you to check out the Carry On podcast and the sermons are all online.
Paul has been building an argument where he is trying to convince his readers that it is not necessary for Gentiles to follow the Laws of Moses in order to be authentic followers of Jesus.
This is flat out heresy to those people who grew up with the traditions of Moses and saw Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promise to the Jewish people.
Many people accused Paul of being an anarchist and a libertarian, because he makes wild claims like this one at the end of chapter five. He says, “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”
By the way, this was our slogan when I served a church in Las Vegas. Oh, yeah, we had lots of opportunity for grace.
At the end of chapter five he poses one of the questions that his adversaries often raised against him. People would say,
“What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin order that grace may abound?”
I mean, come on Paul. Without rules and regulations, people will run amuck. Maybe we should just do what ever we want. Aren’t we just giving God more opportunity to be gracious?
I love how Paul responds. He uses this Greek phrase, may genoito. Loosely translated, it means, HECK NO! May it never be.
And here’s the key to Paul’s argument.
“How can we who died to sin go on living in it?”
Died to sin.
Let me ask you this. How many of you feel like you have completely died to sin; that you live a completely sinless life?
Here’s my big question today. How Do We Die? What does Paul mean.
He uses baptism to explain our death. He paints this picture.
In our baptism, we have been buried with Christ. That means we died.
Before our baptism there is this old self that is enslaved to sin and death.
Jesus conquered this power when he died on the cross.
We have been united with Christ in his death and in his resurrection. We have been raised to walk in the newness of life.
That is what baptism is all about.
My wife found this meme on Facebook yesterday.
“So today, in church, a guy in a dress tried to drown me. And, I kid you not, my family just stood there taking pictures.”
Now, that’s funny. But think about this. How much “old self” is there in this precious little baby? It seems strange that she needs to die.
Here’s an important thing to remember. Baptism isn’t a one time deal. It isn’t like you were a completely dirty rotten sinner, the Old Self, before you were baptized, and then, after you were baptized you have become this completely enlightened, sin-free person. Come on, if you’ve raised kids, you know that’s not true.
Baptism is a process.
It is a daily practice of dying to the old self and living in the power of Jesus’ resurrection.
Martin Luther said that we are simultaneously sinner and saint. Always working this out.
Some psychologists and spiritual directors use this language. Rather than old self and new self, they talk about the false self and the true self.
The true self is who God has created us to be, with all our gifts and the inherent image and likeness of God.
Yet, as we grow, we wrestle with a messed up society and we construct this false self in order to survive.
There are four basic ways that our false self can develop.
There is self-importance. This often develops among those who have been born into privilege or have worked hard and come into privilege.
There is self-protection. This is the natural result of fear. We know that other people are dangerous, so we are willing to take any measure of violence necessary to protect what we believe we deserve.
Then, on the flip side, there is self-loathing. Many people have grown up in a world where they are told they are worthless. Sadly, this is often the result of religion.
Finally, there is self-indulgence. Sometimes this is a self-medication to escape self-loathing, other times it is the result of self-importance and we gorge ourselves on luxuries.
In invite you to take a breath here. Which version of the false self is alive and well in you today?
When Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” I believe this is what he means. We are invited to die to this false self, so that we can walk in the true self, the self that is completely dependent only on the love of God.
This is what our baptism, our daily dying and rising, is all about.
There’s another word for it: Growing Up.
It is part of natural human development. We begin life needing the Law, needing clear rules of right and wrong. We need a strong tribal identity.
Then we grow into adolescents and we are confronted with a the complex world with so many different kinds of people and so many different cultures and we construct the false self to survive.
We move from dependence to independence.
Then, here is where the Gospel hits us like a shock. In order to move to a place of humble interdependence, we have to die. We have to take the way of the cross and acknowledge that the world is bigger than we can understand, that God’s love is wider and deeper than we can imagine, and that we are all connected in this amazing mystery.
This is a process.
It is three steps forward and two steps back.
An the Holy Spirit is flowing through the whole thing. Helping us to grow up.
I close by offering you this simple, daily prayer.
Kill me. Each day we are invited to wake up and die to the false self.
Fill me. Each day we are invited to breathe in the sweet air and be washed in clean water of God’s Grace and the power of God’s Spirit.
Spill me. As we are filled with God’s love, through Jesus Christ, we overflow that love to everyone we meet.
This is our baptismal identity. May we walk wet this week and leave the footprints of God’s love everywhere we go.