This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jerry Tankersley is preaching, “The Spirit Is Life” from Romans 8:9-11. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV. This is the 1st Sunday in the Season of Lent.
Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:9-11
THE SPIRIT IS LIFE
One of the most powerful stories of the Bible is found in Genesis 2. It is a second creation story. The text says that the Lord God formed the man Adam from the dust of the ground and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and Adam became a living being. This was the wind of God, the breath of God, the Spirit of God that hovered over the chaos on the first day of Creation. This Spirit was the source of all life.
This was the Spirit that breathed life into the people of Israel and empowered their history and the blessings the people received. Ezekiel the prophet was carried in the 6th century B.C. into a valley of dry bones where he saw the remnants of the people of Israel dead in exile, in Babylon. It was at this moment that the prophet questioned whether or not Israel had a future. She had lost everything. The Lord placed the question before the prophet. “Can these bones live again?”
Ezekiel was commanded to speak to this valley of dry, dead bones. As he proclaimed God’s Word, the bones began to come together until a body had been reconstituted, yet the body was without life.
Ezekiel proclaimed the Word from God to the dead corpse. As he did so, the breath of God came to dead Israel. The people were resurrected on the stage of history and lived again to do the will of God. Israel had a future.
What was seen by Ezekiel was the creation power of the Lord God. Creation was dependent upon God’s Spirit. Remove the Spirit from the body and man returns to the dust. But blow the Spirit into the body and life bursts forth. Remove the Spirit of God from human empire and all the symbols of greatness and power return to the deserts and ultimately to the museums of antiquity.
This was the witness of the N.T. The same Spirit of God overshadowed Mary and her womb was filled with the life of the Son of God, Jesus, the Savior and Lord. The child was the second person of the Holy Trinity.
Jesus was fully human, but also fully God. The same Spirit that called the creation into being, which journeyed with Israel across the Sinai desert leading in a cloud by day and a fire by night, was the source of Israel’s life. This Spirit dwelt in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle and later in the Jerusalem Temple.
It was this Spirit that became incarnate in Jesus, full of grace and truth. The Word became flesh and moved into the human neighborhood. It was this Word and Spirit that filled Jesus, anointed him for his mission, empowered his mighty works; spoke with authority through him, and which called the corpse of Jesus from the tomb on the third day. It was this Spirit that breathed upon the gathered disciples on Easter evening and they received the Holy Spirit.
It was this Spirit that called forth the church on the Day of Pentecost and empowered its witness from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The witness of the Spirit was that God had acted to raise his Son from the dead as an act of the beginning of the New Creation. Paul wrote to Corinth, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; “the last Adam, Christ, became a life-giving spirit.” 1 Cor. 15:45
To confess Jesus as Lord was the result of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. To be the church in mission was of the Spirit. To be born anew of the Spirit was to be a Christian, one who walked in the Spirit, manifested the fruit of the Spirit, and the gifts of the Spirit.
The reality of the life of God, the Spirit, came to dwell in the believer’s heart. The Holy Spirit came to dwell in the new temple of the Spirit, the body of the believer and of the body of Christ, the church.
Paul wrote to the Roman church, “But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” Roman 8:10-11
This is the miracle that C.S. Lewis captured in THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. Remember that Narnia was a land where it was always winter and Christmas never came. Yet the good news had been heard. Aslan, the Christ Lion, was on the move. Warmth was coming. Spring time was melting the snow. The rivers of Narnia looked a lot like Niagara Falls this week. But the ice was breaking up. The white witch who had placed Narnia under her cold spell turned many of the residents of the land into stone statues to be stored away in her castle.
She believed she had defeated Aslan when she killed him on the Stone Table, the altar of sacrifice. But in that moment in which the traitor Edmund was set free of his traitorous act, time began to run backwards and Aslan was alive on the third day.
One of the first things he did was bound over the walls of the witch’s castle. Taking the earth children with him, he began to breathe upon the statues. As he did so, the stone cracked and crumbled. Color returned. The statues awakened from their sleep. Once again they were fully alive and energized in ways they had not been before the witch touched them with her magic wand. As Aslan breathed upon them his Spirit rested upon them and filled them. They too were raised from the dead.
In MERE CHRISTIANITY, Lewis spoke of the gift of biological life we have all received, but also of spiritual life. He captured our text with these words, “A man changed from having Bios to having Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man.
And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumor going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.” Book 4, chapter 1.
I love statues and what the sculptors intended to say. In thinking about the words of C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, my imagination drew me to Rockefeller Center in NYC. In 1937 the statue of the Greek Titan, Atlas, was placed in the plaza across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in mid-town Manhattan. That was the year of my birth. It is a bronze statue and it is 45 feet tall.
Atlas stood there, as many objected, looking like Mussolini the Italian Fascist dictator during the 1930’s until he was hung by his own people near the end of WW 11; some said that Atlas was made to be as Mussolini imaged himself. Atlas stood as a weight lifter with every muscle of his body flexed. His muscles were huge. His arms and broad shoulders were stretched out. In his arms and shoulders he held the heavens and the earth. For 77 years he has held the cosmos on his shoulders. With any imagination we might ask, “How long will Atlas’s strength endure in holding heaven and earth together?
The juxtaposition of Atlas in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral poses profound theological questions about the nature of reality. Who holds the cosmos together in his arms? The Cathedral witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. His strong shoulders and arms were stretched out on the cross in an act of self-sacrificing love. In his story we are told that the love of the one triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, created and holds the cosmos together.
In a real way, Atlas represents humanity in all of its political, economic, and cultural pride and power working hard, straining every muscle, holding on for dear life. At any moment the human experiment might collapse and the statue and all of heaven and earth as we have known it may crumble. May crumble like the statues of Saddam Hussein, or Lenin, or Hitler.
Inside the Cathedral there is a small statue of the boy Jesus at about age 10. He stands behind the altar. In one of his hands he holds a globe of planet earth. He stands with a gentle smile on his face effortlessly holding the orb in the palm of his hand. The juxtaposition of the statue of Jesus with the 45 ft. Atlas straining to hold heaven and earth on his back poses the question to us of who holds and sustains the creation.
Bruce Larson, in one of his books told of seeking to help a high powered executive let go of his need to control the world. He led him to see the statue of Atlas straining to hold the world with all his might. Then he took him across the street to the Cathedral to see the small statue of the boy Jesus holding the orb of the earth without strain in the palm of this hand. Larson asked the man to choose between Atlas and Jesus. To seek to be Atlas for the rest of his days would destroy him. To follow Jesus was the way to peace. The decision was his. Surrender and live; or labor in one’s own strength and die.
The Cathedral across the Plaza witnessed to the Spirit of the Christ as the source of all life, as the one who breathed life into being. One Easter Sunday St. Patrick’s was jammed with people. As they opened the huge doors of the Cathedral for people to exit, Atlas was framed in the middle of the open doors. The people were reminded that they were entering a world that would weigh them down without surrender to Jesus.
What if the Christ lion were to bound into Rockefeller Plaza and breath upon the statues, the buildings, the empires, the financial clout of international corporations, and even NBC in all its struggles to tell the truth and to entertain?
Atlas carried the weight of the world. Sometimes we do also. A year or so ago I heard on Pandora a new Judy Collins ballad. Judy is one of our best folk singers. She sings about things that cause us to feel the pain of human existence and the joy of life. The tract that I heard was entitled, The Weight of the World. Many times while riding my stationary bike I have listened to her sing about her brother Michael being sent off to war in Iraq as a late teen. At last the Army sent him home again in a flag draped coffin on a cold December morning. She sang,
“The weight of the world, too heavy to lift
So much was lost, so much was missed
It doesn’t seem fair that any innocent boy or any girl
Should have to carry the weight of the world.”
This is a folk ballad for a generation that watches American Sniper and reads about the trial in Texas of the soldier who killed him on the shooting range. This is the weight of the world, along with all the burdens we carry. And we are all afflicted by this weight in ways that we are not aware.
We cannot walk through this world without being burdened by its weight. I do not know what weight you are carrying in your soul this morning. It may be the weight of a distant memory, a family loss, a disappointed dream, an awareness of brokenness. It may have bent us over and drained our dreams, and shattered our hopes. The weight may have frozen us in place and we may have become paralyzed by its pain.
But the good news of God witnesses to THE SPIRIT OF LIFE! Sometimes the Spirit blows like a gentle breeze through our lives. Other times it blows like a powerful wind. This is the Spirit that causes us to remember that Jesus carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. He carried the cross to the hill where the weight of human sin and lost-ness buried him.
But then just as quickly, we hear and believe the gospel truth. The Spirit of God the Creator/Redeemer spoke and breathed New Life into the corpse of Jesus and he was alive again.
When we lest expect it the living Christ bounds into our lives as we have been frozen in place by the law of sin and death. Through his Word the Spirit nudges us, convicts us, woos us, leads us, breaths upon us, and moves us from the domain of the exhausted Atlas’s to the domain of the Spirit of Life.
The mysterious and beautiful truth is that the Spirit of Life comes to dwell within us. Renewal comes from the inside because our bodies have become temples of the Holy Spirit. He then gives life to our mortal bodies.
The Spirit within us stirs hope that even as Jesus was raised from the dead, so shall we in this present time, but also in the fullness of time, in the joy of eternal life.
Like Nicodemus, we discover that we have been born anew of the Spirit, from above. We begin to walk, sometimes to run, experiencing a new joy and love. Then roads of darkness upon which we are surrounded by the heavy fog of loneliness, anxiety, and fear, come upon us. In those times we discover that there is a God and it is not us.
Isaiah was right, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:27-31
This is the work of the Spirit of Life who inspired the Apostle to write, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Phil. 4:13
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
This is a podcast of the 7pm Ash Wednesday Worship and Communion service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Kathy Sizer is preaching, “Dead to Sin: Alive in Christ from Romans 8:1-8. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV.
(no text, audio only)
This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jerry Tankersley is preaching, “My Tug of War” from Romans 7:5-25. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV. This communion Sunday and Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday.
MY TUG OF WAR
It is very important that the Christian disciple know his or her inner heart. What was so winsome about the Apostle Paul was that he knew the brokenness of his life and his inner vulnerabilities. He wrote, “I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.”
“I am of the flesh”.
What he meant was that there were dimensions of his self that were so broken that if allowed to act could still destroy him. We do not know what the Apostle’s thorn in the flesh was, but we do know that it brought him low and kept him dependent upon the grace of God. It may have been some besetting sin that had never been removed.
Growing in spiritual maturity awakens one to these inner dynamics of the self which Paul called “the flesh”. “The desires of the flesh”! How would one characterize these desires?
In several places Paul listed the “works of the flesh”. The lists of these works are impressive. I suspect that they might be found in some of our personal dairies or journals. They are those aspects of ourselves with which we find ourselves in an inner “tug of war”. Some of the works of the flesh are these: “fornication (sexual immoralities of all kinds), impurity, idolatry, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing,” (Galatians 5:19f); “covetousness, murder, deceit, craftiness, gossips, slanderers, haughty, boastful, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless,” (Romans 1:28ff); and “greed, abusive language from your mouth” (Colossians 3).
At the very moment we think we do not have to struggle with these issues within us we have deceived ourselves. Therefore, I have to guard my mind, my thoughts, my soul, my heart, my tongue, every part of my body. External powers can inflame my inner desires and make me aware that there is an internal “tug of war” going on in me.
This is why entertainment is so dangerous for our internal thoughts, fantasies, and imaginations! Why has the paper back romantic novel, “50 Shades of Gray”, sold millions of copies around the world, even though literary critics say it is poorly written? “Time Magazine” this week, with the release of the movie, says that the book appeals more to women that to men. Women get their sexual fantasies stirred more by the written word than by the visual in movies. Men like the visual. When men want to see pornography they primarily go to their computers or magazines. Women read and imagine.
One of the most trying parts of living in the dormitory while in university and trying to be a Christian was the wall paper in many of the rooms. “Playboy” was just taking off and the centerfolds lined the rooms. It was difficult to walk into a fellow students room, to hang out without having my eyes on the wall hangings. The hormones were flowing in my blood stream. I was a healthy boy. The testosterone was overflowing on our campus.
When I first came to Laguna one of our male members wanted to take me to his barber in Huntington Beach. He thought my hairstyle needed to be redone. It needed the dry look. I had enough hair on my head in those years to work with. But beyond that his barber was a former Playboy centerfold. So we took delight in taking the pastor to be worked on by the Playboy centerfold. I went as a sheep to be sheared.
She was a nice person. Then she and her husband moved to cutting hair at their home. I walked into their home for a cut one day only to see the original pictures done in Laguna Beach just down the street from the church. I realized that I needed another barber for the sake of my soul. Now I just go to Rudy across the street. Each time he finishes my cut he says, “Jerry, once again you are perfect.” He is the same one who also reminds me that the devil never takes a day off. Last week he said it again to me: “You are perfect, but the devil never takes a day off.” A profound word of truth.
Did you know that sexual pornography is one of the chief addictions of our time? Many Christians confess that pornography is a major issue for them. Once one is exposed to it and has experienced the rush the next time around it will take more to satisfy. The addiction begins and grows. I know of pastors who were fired from their churches because of the history of their visitation to porno links on their church computers.
But it is not just pastors. Men are vulnerable from every walk of life and profession. To become addicted to pornography leads to dissatisfaction in the marriage bed. Not just for men, but also for women who long for a mixture of money, sex, and power to sweep them off their feet, seduce them, and cause them to lose touch with reality.
Ironically, the Apostle Paul had come to understand that the source of his internal “tug of war” was his desire to keep the law of God. He confessed that the law of God was God’s revelation. It was good, holy, and just. The 10 commandments were not evil, but in meditating on the law Paul discovered that the commandments stirred up sin within him.
The Apostle Paul knew all about internal stresses and strains. Indeed, his internal life was filled with tug of wars between various aspects of his self. As a self-righteous Pharisee who was dedicated to obedience to the law of God, he had developed what many would have called “religious pride” at his accomplishments.
Saul of Tarsus was circumcised on the 8th day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. For him his pedigree and hard work had allowed him to climb the ladder of success in the Jerusalem establishment (Philippians 3).
No doubt his religious dedication and success had led many people to admire him, but for others to fear him. One gets the impression that Saul the Pharisee would have been focused on external appearance and the maintaining of image. He would have been like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who stood in the Jerusalem Temple praying and thanking God that he was not like other men. He fasted; he prayed; he tithed; he was kosher; he was observant; and felt himself to have accomplished his objectives. Not only that, in the service of God he was determined to bring the followers of Jesus to justice.
On the road to Damascus to persecute the Jewish Christians, filled with fuming hostility toward those that he knew were in the wrong, he was encountered by the resurrected Jesus Christ, blinded, and knocked to his knees. He had been wrong.
From that moment Saul began his long journey in the power of God’s grace and forgiveness. He came to see himself as the chief of sinners. His love for the law of God, the 10 commandments and traditions of Israel continued to grow. But the revelation of Jesus Christ to him caused him to see the depths of his souls condition in a new way.
The law that had been a source of pride to him became the truth that broke him. In meditating on the law he had discovered another law at work within him. The law of sin emerged in and from his heart. The commandment, “you shall not covet” caused him to covet. Sin increased. But the good news was that as sin increased, God’s grace abounded all the more. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, he had been set free from the law of sin and death. But the inner tug of war between sin and grace that were both in his heart often brought him low as he realized that he would never be perfect in this life. He would always be on a spiritual journey toward eternal life.
In Romans 7:6 he wrote, “While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.”
I Am of the Spirit
This was the truth of the Tug of War. The tug of war was within the divided heart of the Apostle. This is also the foundation of our inner struggles. Paul cried out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:24-25).
C.S. Lewis’ character, Eustace, in the “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, represented the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Eustace was a nasty boy who made everyone miserable. He was so nasty that his inner disposition became visible. He was turned into a dragon. I told the story a few weeks ago. It was not until Aslan the Lion “undraggoned” him, peeling the dragon skins from him, that his humanity was restored. The Lion threw un-draggoned Eustace into a pond of waster, washed him, and healed his raw, shriveled skin. Then he re-clothed him and restored him to the others who sailed aboard the Dawn Treader.
The narrator made the point that Eustace had become a new person and was much easier to get along with. Yet, he was not perfect. He could still be wearisome and irritating. But no one said a thing about that because, as the narrator said, “the cure had begun”.
This is why Jesus is so important for each of us. Paul proclaimed the gospel of God. This good news placed Jesus, the Son of God, at the center of all reality. He was the one who created all that there is. He was the Lord in whom Abraham believed and who had reckoned Abraham to be righteous by faith, apart from works. He was the Lord who journeyed with Israel out of Egyptian slavery toward the Promised Land. His was the glory atop Mt. Sinai. His was the voice that gave the 10 commandments to Moses. His was the glory present in the face of Christ. He was the transfigured one on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John. It was the voice of his Father who said to the frightened disciples, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!”
He was the one whose death and resurrection made atonement for our sins. His blood reconciled us to the Father. He purchased our salvation. He was the one who breathed upon his disciples the Holy Spirit. He was the one who empowered the mission of his disciples. His was the peace that calms our worries and fears. He is the one who will bring us into eternal life without condemning us. His is the love from which we cannot be separated. And Jesus, our Savior and Lord, is the only one who can resolve, reconcile, and heal our Tug of Wars.
It is to his Table that we are invited this morning. Here his Spirit surrounds us, fills us, renews us, forgives us, and works for the wholeness of our lives. He is here! Come, eat, drink, live in the name of the one triune God –– Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Kathy Sizer is preaching, “Freedom of the Law,” from Romans 7:1-6. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV.
(There is no manuscript–audio only.)
Romans 7:1-6, NRSV
1Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime? 2 Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress.
4 In the same way, my friends, you 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. 5 While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.
This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jerry Tankersley is preaching, “Freedom Is Just Another Word…” from Romans 6:15-23. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. This morning we are reading from, “The Message”.
Romans 6:15-23, The Message
FREEDOM IS JUST ANOTHER WORD…
The Bible is a Freedom Story. The Old Testament is the story of Israel’s liberation from Egyptian Slavery. How we remember this story and from what perspective we interpret it is of great importance. The Exodus story can be read as a major putdown of the evil Egyptians who were oppressing the Jewish people. As we read the Exodus story we need to remember Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which he spoke of the compassion of God for all people and nations, a God who sends his rain upon the just and the unjust, who calls us to pray for our enemies, and to be like God in showing mercy.
Dr. Christopher Leighton is a scholar and Presbyterian pastor whom I came to know through our Inter-Faith Dialogues with American Jewish leaders. Chris works for an interfaith institute in Washington D. C. (Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies). He just wrote a review of the new movie called Exodus: God’s and Kings. In it he said that God is presented by Ridley Scott as a xenophobic, petulant and vindictive child who is only for the Hebrews and takes all kinds of vengeful acts against the Egyptians for their unwillingness to do the deity’s will. “To advance his Chosen People, this God apparently does not hesitate to behave like a moral monster.” (See ICJS.org for the source of this quote.)
Chris called the movie, and the Bible, a dangerous story that ought to have a warning label on it. It could lead to anti-Semitism and misunderstandings of who the God of the Bible is. Christopher Leighton is a wise Presbyterian pastor and good friend of the American Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities.
Yet, the Bible is a story of the oppressed slaves of Egypt who were set free to journey to the Promised Land and to live within the blessings of freedom, justice, and righteousness. It is the Bible’s Exodus story, or salvation story, that has inspired the vision of freedom in western civilization. But if one reads the story from the Egyptian perspective it is threatening, confrontational, and disturbing to the well being of their land.
The Bible’s liberation story came to fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Jesus story was just as confrontational to first century Israel and to the ruling Romans.
Jesus began his public ministry in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. He read from Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19
In his following sermon Jesus said that this text had been fulfilled in the congregation’s hearing. What he meant was that he was Israel’s Messiah who had come to complete the liberating work of the kingdom of God. It was the Year of Jubilee, the 50th year in which debts were to be cancelled, lands restored, slaves set free, and liberty proclaimed for a new beginning within Israel. God’s Savior had come and creation and history would never be the same. The work of setting right the cosmos had been inaugurated by the Spirit anointed One, Jesus the Christ.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8
The religious authorities were threatened by his words because they called into question their privileges within Israel.
The Apostle Paul wrote to Corinth, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17.
To the Galatians he wrote, “For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” Galatians 5:1, 13
To the Romans he wrote, “But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. Now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:15-23
So, when we read the Bible’s salvation, liberation story, we read it with care. If the Bible sees the human problem as one of slavery to the principalities and powers of this present darkness, it tells a powerful story about our liberation from the powers of sin and death by the revelation of God’s love in Christ. It tells the story of the God of love who sent his Son to set us free from our bondage through the self-sacrifice of his own life at the cross. At the cross, the devil, the one who is a murderer and a liar from the beginning, was publicly unmasked for what he is.
At the cross, God in the life of his Son, bore the curse of God upon human sin. There, in the blood of his Son, God acted to reconcile us to him self and us to one another. God acted to set us right and to begin to restore the Paradise that he had intended from the beginning.
Dividing walls of hostility were broken down. Those who believed in this good news were incorporated into a new humanity to live at peace and in justice. This people made up of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free people, male and female, were brought together into a spiritual temple empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a light to the nations and to make peace. Through their sharing in God’s mission the people of God were called to be a freedom loving people.
At the cross, Jesus purchased us with his own blood. Therefore, he owns us. In slavery to Jesus as our Lord we have been called to be truly free. In service to Jesus our true humanity is being restored. O the difference this has made in a world that has many different visions of freedom, but which in seeking to make them work ends up in deeper slavery.
The Bible’s Vision of Freedom is profoundly spiritual.
A people may be delivered from Egypt by a mighty act of God, but that will not guarantee their freedom. The people of Israel still carried in their souls the spirit of slavery. They were slaves in the way they thought and framed their lives. Freedom in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land created anxiety and fear. They wanted to return to Egypt and to the security of being slaves. They missed the foods of Egypt. It took 40 years in the desert before they were spiritually free enough to enter Canaan. A whole new generation that had not known slavery in Egypt was required before Joshua could lead them into their future.
How many years did it take for the followers of Jesus to understand and to live into the freedom that he proclaimed and won for them at the cross? How many centuries has it taken the Christian church to understand and to live into the fullness of God’s good news of spiritual and social freedom?
The Bible’s Vision of Freedom is profoundly social.
How many years has it taken for America to live into the freedoms of what the founders proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence? Freedom has been a long time in coming. Both spiritual and social freedom comes slowly and yet dramatically. Just when we think we have it, it slips from our hands, and we revert to the slavery of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
The great theme song of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s — “We Shall Overcome. We’ll walk hand in hand; we shall live in peace; we are not afraid; One day we shall overcome.” It was a song of hope, of promise, of faith in a coming day of freedom in which all God’s children would live together reconciled by the claims of justice and righteousness. But that freedom has been a long time in coming for both blacks and whites.
Not all the freedom songs of the 1960’s expressed such hope. Kris Kristofferson, a Rhodes scholar, ex-army helicopter pilot, singer, song writer, and film actor traveled across the United States drinking and doing drugs, lost in the cultural scene of drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll. During those journeys he wrote a classic of the country/folk genre of music. Janis Joplin made the ballad famous. It was entitled, “Me and Bobby McGee”. The rhythm was haunting and the chorus was branded into the mind of the chaos of the “Freedom movement” of the late 60’s.
It went like this:
“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose. Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”
Tragically, Janis Joplin, who seemed free only when she was on stage wailing her songs, finally overdosed in 1971. In her cry for freedom she gave herself to a destructive bondage that finally killed her.
Bobby Dylan had it right: “You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed You’re gonna have to serve somebody, It may be the devil or it may be the Lord But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
I thought about this freedom music while watching the movie Selma. Every American ought to see the movie. It is a dramatic telling of the longing and search for political and spiritual freedom in America. It was a freedom inspired by the faith of the African American church and its gospel music. Its setting was 1965 Selma, Alabama, and the March from Selma to Montgomery, the capital of the state where George Wallace was governor and Lyndon Johnson was in the White House in Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the emerging leader of the Civil Rights movement with the cry for equal Voting Rights for Whites and Blacks.
I think the central symbol of the movie was the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Highway 80. It crossed over the Alabama River. It was named in honor of Edmund Pettus who served in the Confederate army. After the war he was one of the founders of the KKK and helped develop the policies of segregation and Jim Crow for the purposes of controlling the liberties of African-Americans.
On the Selma side of the bridge were the marching African-American folks on their way to Montgomery to non-violently protest the denial of their political liberties. They were marching for justice and freedom a hundred years after the Civil War ended that set the slaves free, yet, not totally free.
On the other side of the bridge were the representatives of the white dominate establishment, the Selma police. The police represented more than the criminal justice system. They represented the privileged, ruling establishment, the white power racist culture that was standing fast against the threatening change this march might mean for America. On that day in 1965 the police nearly beat to death the whole crowd of non-violent marchers seeking to leave Selma on their march for Voting Rights and full citizenship privileges. It came to be called “Bloody Sunday”.
The white churches were silent. Many mainline churches across the South, including the largest Presbyterian churches, were not allowing African-Americans to worship along side “whites” in their sanctuaries. Their elders lined up at the church’s front doors and refused entry to those seeking to pray on a Sunday morning.
In 1963 ML King, Jr. had written his Letter From a Birmingham Jail. In it he had spoken as a prophet to the church in the South. It had by-in-large refused to speak to and live into the Bible’s freedom story. In many ways this dilemma remains in the Christian church in America. Somehow we had thought that the issues of racial justice and freedom had been overcome. In the last few months we have seen that there is still much work to be done.
In many ways the Selma story was the Bible’s story of freedom. Israel’s Exodus story was the story of confrontation between Egypt’s gods and Israel’s God, Yahweh. Yahweh was on the move to miraculously deliver his people through Moses. The New Testament Exodus story was again a mighty act of God in Jesus to deliver the nations from their bondage to sin and death.
Freedom is a profound work of sanctification.
I believe holiness is the destiny for all those who have been set free in Christ. The end of the journey is eternal life. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
I’ve had some tears this week with the death of Jack Schirm whom I baptized last year at 90 years old. The tears broke forth in me as I was trying to prayer the scriptures early one morning. I had received the news that Steve Hayner, President of Columbia Theological Seminary, in Georgia, was near death. He passed away on Saturday afternoon at 66 years of age from cancer. He and his wife had posted news over Caringbridge for the last several months.
In the latest post after his passing she shared a parable that a friend had written about a retreat experience Steve and he had shared. They went on a Trust Walk together. Steve was blindfolded and his friend gave him the words of direction from behind him. He reminded Steve that he had guided him through the thicket of a forest. It was one step at a time seeking to dodge the branches and thorns.
At last they arrived at the edge of the thicket. Before them was a level field of grass. The man doing the guiding told Steve to take off running even though blindfolded. Steve trusted his friend’s words so he did just that. He ran with his arms waving. He ran and he shouted in complete joy.
It was a parable that brought comfort to Steve’s wife and family. She said that Jesus had always led them and that they had learned to trust the providential caring of our loving God and the assurance of his Word. When Steve passed he ran into the fullness of joy, set free from the powers of sin and death, to live into eternal life.
This is our journey. The freedom of God promises to lead us into the fullness of joy and into eternal life in the New Creation.
Is “Freedom” just another word for nothing left to lose?
No, freedom is the biblical word and truth revealed in Christ that leads us to trust that we have everything to gain in the fullness of time. To this way we are called to commit ourselves.
Freedom is just another word for the coming New Creation for which we long, struggle, sacrifice, and stand in the Spirit of Christ.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Steve Sweet is preaching, “Need a Reminder?” from Romans 6:11-15. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV.
This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jerry Tankersley is preaching, “Baptized into Christ” from Romans 6:1-11. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from Peterson’s, The Message. This morning we are celebrating communion.
THINK OF IT THIS WAY
“So your must consider (reckon) yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:11
Last week I was on the table in my physical therapist office. We have been at work since the end of December on my upper back, neck, and shoulders. I have discovered some disconcerting things about the joints and muscles in my shoulders and neck. In the process of my focus on the old and the new hip I had forgotten that I have other parts of my body that demand attention. To neglect them causes them to become dysfunctional and painful.
My therapist was asking me to stretch in ways that my shoulder muscles had forgotten. Even my brain had difficulty in giving commands to my shoulder, arm, and elbow. I could get my arm to cross my body, but I could not keep my elbow close to my side at the same time. The elbow wanted to reach out in another direction. It was like trying to keep your right arm and elbow tight to your body while shooting a bow and arrow, or like driving a golf ball down the center of the fairway.
The therapist reminded me that our muscles and joints have memories of past use. If they have not been regularly used through rigorous exercise, they forget how to respond to the brains commands.
In the summer of 1995 I was doing a study leave for a couple of weeks at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. It just so happened that John Huffman and I were there at the beginning of the British Open. We walked the course with some of the great professional players of the time. They made playing golf look so easy and simple. Watching Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Ray Floyd play a pre-Open 18 holes to celebrate Palmer’s retirement, I came to believe that I could step out onto the New Course and do exactly as they did, swing smoothly, keep my eyes on the ball, hit the ball exactly where I chose.
It did not take me long to discover that my body did not have the coordination to step to the tee, address the ball, keep my head down, and watch it sail down the middle avoiding the rough and the deep sand traps. Nevertheless, during that time my game improved dramatically. It was great fun.
As I thought about it more I remembered watching Tiger Woods practicing his drives for hours on the driving range. I remembered watching Steve Ballesteros, the great Spanish golfer, training himself how to lift a ball out of a sand trap without carrying all the sand onto the green. He practiced for well over an hour on one type of swing. I was comforted to watch Nicklaus take 10 strokes on the 17th hole to get his ball out of the deep trap. Literally, these great players had devoted themselves to years and thousands of hours in practicing their swings. No wonder they were so good. I was discovering what Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his book. He argued that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve excellence in any field.
Well, with all the practice of a lifetime I would never be able to play the game of golf as they did. Let’s face it, they were gifted with eye-hand coordination, with determination and the brains that made all the difference. Nevertheless, they had to think through their swings and train their bodies to make the right moves.
Those who have accepted their powerlessness over alcohol and drugs and embraced the program of AA with its 12 Steps for spiritual recovery know that there is something called “stinking thinking”. Stinking thinking may lead a person to drink and use again. To stay clean and sober the addict needs to learn a new way of thinking about life, about God, about others. It is through working the 12 Steps that a new way of thinking begins to retrain the body and soul so that the desires to relapse are overcome.
A new way of thinking is foundational, but to learn it and to reinforce it will require going to meetings, having a sponsor, and of dealing with matters of the human soul and spiritual longing. The program will reorganize ones life and relationships. It will call you to a serious moral inventory, to face yourself and the wreckage you helped create and then to seek to make amends, and to forgive. It is a slow process of thinking through, feeling through, and living through a lifetime of unproductive thinking. It is the journey into spiritual maturity and love.
The Apostle Paul was saying something like this in his letter to the Romans. The Christians who had been baptized into Jesus Christ had received a new standing or status in relationship with God in Christ. They stood in the grace of God by faith in Jesus. They had received a new identity. By virtue of their being baptized into Jesus they had become identified with the death and resurrection of Jesus. They had died to sin in order to be raised to new life in Christ. The old self had been crucified with Jesus so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. Romans 6:6.
He used the word “reckon”. It was a bookkeeping term. It meant adding up the numbers and discovering the sum of all the numbers in the list. To do this took a mental action. It required one to “think” through the facts in order to discern the will of God.
“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ.” Romans 6:11
“When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.” THE MESSAGE.
In my early college years I made a serious commitment to being a disciple of Christ. To help me out it was suggested by one of my friends that I enroll in The Navigators Bible Memory program. I did so. That program began with a small pack of memory cards with important Bible verses for the new Christian to memorize.
The Navigators understood what young Christians were up against in the world. From the time we are born the world seeks to shape and form our thinking about reality and about what will make us happy. I had already learned at the university that many of the students were in hot pursuit of not just information or knowledge. Even though the university was in a dry county where alcohol was not sold, there was plenty of booze flowing through the student body, and especially in the fraternities and sororities. So it was with the pursuit of sex. It was not far from Animal House.
For a young person seeking to hold his life together in the midst of the pressures to be free and to succeed it was a test. I remember that our first year accounting finals were coming up. The fraternities had all the exams with the right answers in advance. I was invited to cheat in order to succeed. I became so discouraged. By God’s grace I decided I would risk failing the final for the sake of maintaining some sense of my own integrity. If I had not been memorizing those Bible verses I likely would have caved in to the pressure to go along. Thankfully I passed.
Thankfully indeed! I learned just enough to support myself as a bookkeeper in a small hi-tech firm during the first two years of seminary. That course allowed me to flourish in God’s call upon me.
I am so grateful for two of the scriptures I memorized by the time I was 19.
“How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word. I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.” Psalm 119:9-11
“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
Those scriptures shaped my character enough to give me some way to think my way through early temptations and trials, and to secure me from ruining my life with wrongheaded actions. And you know what, the issues have never gone away. The temptations have just become more sophisticated and subtle. I am still seeking the mind of Christ every day as I seek to consider myself as dead to sin but alive to God in Jesus Christ.
I believe that the Apostle was calling the believers in Rome to understand that Jesus had called them to the way of life, to the way of flourishing, rather than to the way of death.
So often the faith is interpreted as a series of rules or laws to be obeyed for the sake of being righteous and sinless. But Jesus and Paul called disciples to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and to forsake the destructive power of anxiety, worry, and fear. God knows what we need, therefore, trust God and trust one another. Die then to self striving for personal glorification. Come alive to the use of God’s gifts.
The poor in spirit will receive the kingdom of heaven. Those who mourn will be comforted. The meek will inherit the earth. Those hungry and thirsty for the righteousness of God will be filled. The merciful will receive mercy. The pure in heart will see God. The peacemakers will be named the children of God. The kingdom of heaven will belong to those persecuted for righteousness sake.
Therefore, build your life upon the word of Christ and in the storms and stresses of life, you will stand, you will flourish, you will be truly free to love. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly. John 10:10
The world whispers into our thoughts that we are going to miss out of something if we die to the old life and seek a new life in Christ. Holiness makes a person miserable and intolerable. But Jesus calls us to die to all that destroys and to wake up to true happiness.
St. Augustine refused to be baptized into the new life because he was convinced that as a young successful lawyer in Rome he could not abandon what he called “licking the earth.” His pride, his success, his sexual lusts and promiscuous lifestyle had enslaved him. o he tottered between saying “yes” or “no” to God’s call upon him. The preaching of the Bishop of Milan, Ambrose had him under conviction. But to be baptized into Christ meant he would need to die to the old for the sake of coming alive to Christ. What he did not understand was that saying “no” to sin and “yes” to Christ would be the beginning of the abundant life.
He finally said “yes” to the call of Christ and was baptized. What began was a life that would be used to write the theology of the church for the next 1000 years. And he became a bishop in North Africa. Out of his service he found fulfillment and true joy. Looking back there was little to regret. There was deep meaning, purpose, love, and joy.
What was it that Jesus had modeled and to which he had called his disciples? It was to have the mind of Christ that was characterized by self-sacrificing love, to the way of humility and servanthood, to an obedience to the will of God that promised eternal life in the kingdom of God, to a life in fellowship within the community of the church. Yes, to a life of flourishing in the way of the cross, in the way of dying to sin and being raised to life.
This morning we come to the Table of our Lord. Here we die to sin and come alive to all that is good and which grows life.
Think of it this way!
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jerry Tankersley is preaching, “Baptized into Christ” from Romans 6:1-4. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV. This is the Baptism of our Lord Sunday.
Matthew 3:13-17; Romans 6:1-4
BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST
John the Baptist suddenly appeared on the radar of the authorities in Jerusalem. He was baptizing in the Jordan River. He called the nation to prepare for the coming of the Lord by publicly confessing their sins and by being baptized in the waters of the Jordan. People from around Jerusalem and Judea came out to see and to hear this new prophetic voice. Many were baptized in the river. Among them was Jesus of Nazareth.
When Jesus waded into the waters of the Jordan, John hesitated. He said to his cousin, “I need to be baptized by you.” Jesus insisted that this was the beginning of something more than John understood. In this act of obedience Jesus was beginning his public identification with the sins of the world. The greater baptism would be his obedience to being the sacrificial offering upon the cross in order to save humanity from its sins.
As Jesus came forth from the waters of the Jordan, the heavens were split open and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. A voice came from heaven and said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Mt. 3:16-17
This was his identity. Son of God! Israel’s Messiah! The Lamb of God! The Suffering Servant!
Following his encounter with the resurrected Jesus, the Apostle Paul was blinded and was led into Damascus. Within a few days his vision was restored. He was now a believer. The one whom he had persecuted was his Messiah. He believed the good news of God, was baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. He began to proclaim in the synagogues, “He is the Son of God.” Acts 9:20 All were amazed at this turn around in Saul’s life.
Something important had occurred in Paul’s life. Being baptized into the reality of the kingdom of God was a life transforming new beginning. It was the gift and the empowerment of a new spiritual beginning.
I was baptized when I was 10 years old at the First Presbyterian Church of Amarillo, Texas. The story began when our neighbor invited my sister and I to Sunday school at First Pres. I was not very happy about going to Sunday school. I was puzzled by the visit of the pastor and elder to our home. It was in the summer of 1948. My mother drove my sister and I to the church and we were placed in a line of people who were baptized. As we drove away from the church my mother asked me, “Do you feel any different?” I answered, “No, am I supposed to feel different?” I was annoyed by the question. The upshot of the matter was that I had become a Presbyterian.
Nearly 10 years later in my early college years I had a spiritual awakening and chose a new baptism in a small Bible church. This time I was submerged. I went down into the waters and came forth publicly identified with Jesus Christ. I felt the Spirit was calling me to some form of ministry.
It was not until I was in theological seminary that I began to seriously reflect upon this call and my baptism. As a group of seminary students we were coming from everywhere in our understanding of the sacrament of baptism. One day in systematic theology class a light bulb turned on in my brain and I remembered that I had first been baptized in the Presbyterian Church. I had discounted that experience. But now, sitting in the Pasadena classroom, it was as if I knew I was a Presbyterian and that God was calling me to serve in our denomination. In mysterious ways God’s providence had led me from the age of 10 to that moment of identity affirming call. The sense of peace that came over me was profound. I have never looked back in my commitment to the Presbyterian family.
In 1977 I was commissioner to the GA of the Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. During the meeting I heard the name of Francis Pritchard called out as a retiring missionary from South East Asia. That was the name of the pastor who had come to my house when I was 10 and who then baptized me. My Dad refused to be sprinkled with water. He insisted on full immersion. Pastor Pritchard took our family to the local Christian Church on another Sunday afternoon. There he immersed my Dad in front of the family. It was a moving experience. I knew that my Dad needed a good washing. He got it. He came gasping out of the water and the memory of it was branded in my soul.
During the 1977 GA I saw Pastor Pritchard walking toward me. I stopped him and introduced myself to him. Sure enough he was the pastor that God had placed in my life as a child to claim me for Jesus. He had gone the whole way with my family by helping us to move toward the reality of God in our lives. He was retiring to California. I asked him to visit us in Laguna Beach. I invited him to preach. I learned that his wife had been run over on a busy street in Southeast Asia. He had remarried. He and his new wife had lunch with us at our home. God made that connection for me and I cannot tell you how stirred my soul was. I am still in awe at the wondrous grace of God at work through my hometown Presbyterian church. I knew this was my spiritual family and I was so thankful for it.
In the last 40 years of my life I have baptized many infants and adults into Christ. At another GA in 1991 a young man approached me. I did not recognize him. Then he told me that he was the son of a former associate pastor of ours. I had baptized him when he was a baby. The memories flooded through my mind of my own experience. We were members of the family of Jesus Christ. Jesus had been at work in mysterious ways in our lives!
Each time we see a baptism in our worship we are invited to renew our baptismal vows. The Apostle Paul used the truth of baptism to interpret the beginnings of the Christian life. He wrote,
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death.” Romans 6:3-4
BAPTIZED INTO HIS DEATH
This is indeed a mystery. Paul believed that in the waters of our baptism into Christ we became identified with the death of Jesus in that we died with him to sin. For Paul, Christian baptism was the event in which the death of Jesus transferred us from the kingdom of spiritual darkness into the light of the kingdom of God’s light, grace, and freedom.
It was like Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Paul applied Israel’s Exodus story to the Jewish/Gentile church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 10 he wrote, “Our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.” 1 Cor. 10:1-4
Therefore, Paul saw Christian baptism as a New Exodus. The believer, in the waters of baptism, died with Christ to the powers of sin and death and was buried. In a symbolic sense the believer died to sin and death.
I had to laugh at the power of one of William Willimon’s stories about baptism. He shared that a friend of his had a brother named Will who had gotten serious about being a follower of Jesus. He had decided to be baptized by his pastor somewhere in the deep south. After a violent rainstorm when the rivers were flooded and roaring out of their banks, the pastor with Will and other members of the small Baptist church gathered at the river and began to wade into the brown swirling waters. The brother was alarmed. He ran to the river to see Will up to his waist in the flood. He cried out to him, “Will, Stop! A fellow could get drowned in these waters!”
Of course, this was the spiritual point that the Apostle Paul was making. In the waters of Christian baptism we die to the power of sin and death. We do get spiritually drowned. We die. We pass through the cloud and sea! We enter the waters and shed the skins of the old man Adam.
Paul put it this way, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:19-20
C.S. Lewis told the story of the nasty spirited boy named Eustace whose inner ugliness was finally manifested in his external appearance. He became a dragon. This was fine until he realized he could not tear the dragon skins from himself. He had lost his humanity and his human community on the ship named the Dawn Treader. As he despaired, Eustace was encountered by the Lion named Aslan who said he would need to remove the dragon skin from him. He plunged his long claws into Eustace’s thick and knobby dragon skin and painfully peeled it away until at last the tiny shriveled up boy named Eustace was found and pulled forth from the core of his dragon identity. The lion took the tiny boy and threw him into a pool of water. Eustace’s skin was raw, but the water was healing. Soon the lion clothed the boy and restored him to the fellowship of his friends on the boat. He had been “un-draggoned”. (C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Ch. 7)
BAPTIZED INTO HIS LIFE
“Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4
Fourteen years ago Byron Beam and I traveled to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, just north of Santa Fe. It is the national conference center of the PCUSA. The Franciscan priest, Father Richard Rohr, was conducting one of his Wild Men retreats into which men were initiated into adult spiritual maturity by means of dying to the old and coming alive to the new. He said that cultures around the world had developed rituals of initiation for boys ready to move from boyhood to adult masculine identity. He believed that the church needed such rituals to allow male disciples to enter into a deeper discipleship in following Jesus.
300 men from around the world gathered to be initiated. The worship liturgy was based on Romans 6 and the Apostle’s teaching on the meaning of baptism. Through worship, scripture meditation, prayer, journaling, and sharing in small group fellowships we spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally worked our way into the death and resurrection of Jesus.
I will never forget the experience. Using red mercurochrome we painted the sign of the cross on our chests. We were sent into the wilderness by ourselves to reflect on the five principles of adult maturity. They went something like this: 1) LIFE IS HARD; 2) YOU ARE GOING TO DIE; 3)YOU ARE NOT THAT IMPORTANT. 4) YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL. 5) YOUR LIFE IS NOT ABOUT YOU.
After 5 hours we were invited to go to a small pond of water and to baptize ourselves anew, symbolizing that we had died in Christ but were raised to walk in newness of life. The initiation ended at the communion table outdoors overlooking the ranch. There we reaffirmed that we had passed from death to life, that we were dead to sin and alive to all that was good.
Believe me the men discovered much brokenness in their lives, sacred wounds that needed healing, many deep feelings about their birth fathers, and great need to be reconciled. There were anxieties, fears, and doubts faced. Anger and tears were expressed. Powerlessness was embraced. But whatever there was it was placed at the cross of Jesus. In the ritual of baptism a door of new life was opened. Like Eustace, many of us discovered the power of the resurrected Christ to strip us of our dragon skins, to wash us in the water, and clothe us in the righteousness of God.
In the waters of baptism we died to sin in order to walk in newness of life. Paul addressed the issue of cheap grace that his critics had suggested characterized his theology of grace: “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it.” Romans 6:1-2
One of the books I read on Christian discipleship when I was starting in ministry was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, “The Cost of Discipleship.” He argued that the Lutheran, State church of Germany in the 1930’s had made God’s grace cheap. The whole nation had been baptized, but there was little said about discipleship, of taking up the cross of Jesus, of dying to sin and walking in the way of holiness.
This is the great danger for a church that preaches the grace of God without calling baptized disciples to obedience to the way of Jesus. We preachers are drawn to grace because sinners love the message of forgiveness and the promise of God with us no matter what we do. Yet, that message does not square with the call of Jesus. The grace of God cost God the life of his own Son on the cross.
Lewis had it right in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I loved the way Lewis summarized Eustace’s stripping, washing, and restoration: “It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that from that time forth Eustace was a different boy. To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.” (Dawn Treader, p. 112)
The cure is the way of costly discipleship that begins in the waters of baptism that transfer us into the kingdom of grace that issues in a life of gratitude in response. This is how the Apostle Paul will write about our life as baptized disciples. To speak in any other way makes grace cheap and perverts the gospel.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jerry Tankersley is preaching, “Sin versus Grace: Grace Wins!” from Romans 5:12-21. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from The Message. This is the 2nd Sunday after Christmas.
Sermon January 4, 2014
SIN VERSUS GRACE: GRACE WINS
A couple of years ago I signed up with 23 and Me to have my DNA tested. All I had to do was collect a small container of saliva, mail it to the lab, and wait for the results. A few weeks later the report was sent to me. It told me about my genetic inheritance and potential health dangers and possibilities related to my genes. The FDA has now forbidden 23 and Me from passing on possibly misleading information about health risks until the regulatory process of vetting is completed.
Whenever I tell folks that my mother is still living at age 101 almost always the response is: “Well, Jerry, you have longevity on your side. You have good genes. You are likely to live a long life.” My response has been, “I am not sure I want to live as long as my mom and other members on both sides of my family if it means enduring the hardships of old age in the way my mom has in particular.”
I was mainly interested in the origins of my ancestral family. The report did not tell me anything I did not already know. My ancestors came from Northern Europe and the British Isles. From time to time I receive an email from 23 and Me seeking to connect me with a potential 2nd, 3rd, and 4th cousin living in another place.
We are aware of the great interest there is in tracing one’s genealogy and of filling out the family tree. In early America the family Bible had introductory pages upon which one could write the names of family members as far back as possible. Families have prized the family Bible and handed it down from one generation to another.
In some works of fiction the genealogy of the central characters of the story are mapped out at the beginning so that one can keep track of the story’s movement and the interconnections of the personalities and events of the larger story. Good writers of fiction create a world inhabited with persons, families, and events in a time and a place that set the boundaries for the narration. To do such work requires great imagination and insight into the dynamics of life and death.
What all of this tells us is that we are members of the human family that had its beginning in the distant past. Anthropologists have suggested that humans first came to a rational awareness of themselves as related, but also different than the animal world, somewhere in Africa and then began to migrate out of Africa to other continents. Thus began human civilization and culture.
In 1994 our group visited the museum in Narobi, Kenya, East Africa where Dr. Leaky made his discoveries in the Rift Valley. It was amazing to see the visual depiction of the origin and migration of the humans.
Whatever we may make of that story of human origins, the Apostle Paul’s worldview, imagination, and interpretation of reality was deeply rooted in the Bible’s story of Adam. Paul believed the story of Genesis 1 to 3 to be historically true. The Creator had acted to create Adam in his own image and likeness. He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and Adam, or “Ground”, became a living being charged with working with the Creator to create life, to preserve life, and to live in a material environment that God declared to be “very good”.
Yet, the man was alone. He needed a helper, a companion, with whom he could live in intimate communion. In mercy God provided the woman and Adam exclaimed, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” And the two became the Father and the Mother of the human family.
The two were placed in a garden provided with the abundance of all that produced life. They were told that they could only hold on to life by walking in fellowship with the Creator. The tragedy of the story was that the two fell away from right relationship with God and with one another. In an act of unbelief, rebellion, disobedience, and pride they turned away from the Creator. The result was that they lost paradise, the Tree of Life, and were driven out of the garden to live East of Eden. The image of God within them was clouded. Conflict, violence, and death entered the human family. In losing right relationship with the Creator and with one another, the power of sin and death began to reign in the human experience. Spiritual darkness was the domain of corrupted human life.
In Romans 1 to 3 Paul described what happened. God gave up the humans to suffer the consequences of their disobedience. The symptoms of sin grew and were everywhere. In turning from God the humans lost their humanity and death became the reigning power on planet earth. The whole cosmos groaned under the slavery and bondage of sin and death. The humans were trapped without the power to rescue themselves or to set things right.
Whether or not we believe that the Adam story was historical we do not have to look far to see the working out of human sin in the human family of nations. If we did not inherit Adam’s sin by virtue of birth, with sin written into our genetic inheritance, clearly, every human who has ever lived has reconfirmed Adam’s disobedience to the will of God in his our her life decisions. Even the richest, most powerful, pious people on the earth still sin and die. The wages of sin are death.
One may write another story to explain the human condition, but the Bible’s story is as accurate as any other story humans have written. Human life with all its potential for good and well being has become enslaved. Even the moral code of the law, while pointing the way to life, has proved itself as impotent to change human nature. The law stirred up the deeper problem of human nature. It empowered sin. It taught humans that we cannot rescue ourselves. There must be help from beyond if the cosmos is to be set right and human life to have a new beginning.
This is the human condition, whether we like it or not. All people die, good and bad alike. To deny this is to refuse to face the truth of our need for what the Bible calls salvation.
The Apostle Paul wanted the Romans to know that they belonged to Adam’s family before they belonged to Caesar’s Empire. The Roman law, order, and peace bore witness to the human longing for life. And it is the same for we Americans. What our ancestors carried with them to the new world was Adam’s sin and death. Thus the destructive consequences at work in the heart of the very best of empires. And even if we settle on a new planet in some outer space conquest what we will carry with us in the midst of our knowledge, development, and technology will be the wreckage of Adam that does not know the things that make for peace.
Nevertheless, the Apostle desired that the Christians in Rome hear the greater truth, and that was that through faith they belonged to the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. The first Adam was a type of the one who was to come.
What Jesus, the 2nd Adam brought into the world that first Christmas was a fully human life. His followers came to trust that he was also fully God and Israel’s Messiah. In his life and death Jesus recapitulated the 1st Adam’s story except for sin. From beginning to the end he trusted his life into his Father’s hands. He surrendered to God in order to do God’s will.
He resisted the tempter’s suggestions in the desert that he declare his independence from God to live life on his own terms. The tempter promised to give Jesus all the power and glory of the world if he would fall down and worship. He could be the Messiah on the devils terms without suffering. Satan told him he knew how to be a success without subservience to a demanding Father.
The early church came to celebrate what Jesus modeled, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11
Paul exhorted the Christians “to let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
But in Romans 5 the Apostle argued that Jesus released into the world the power of the free gift of the grace of God. This free gift of God’s love and our entering through faith into the way of life “rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:13-14
Paul’s worldview has captured my imagination. His teaching about the 1st and 2nd Adam has provided the church with an analogy to explain the power of sin and death, but also of the free gift of grace that has led to forgiveness and eternal life for all who believe.
I love Eugene Peterson’s translation of this text. He wrote, “Here it is in nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right.”
And here is the really good news: “But sin didn’t, and doesn’t have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down.
All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.” The Message
The Apostle’s two Adams analogy reminds us that Christians are identified with them both. The rest of the Roman’s Letter flows from this great truth. We have been and still are of Adam. In this time between the already and the not yet of the New Creation, our identity is in Adam. The good news is that the powers of sin and death cannot compete with the free gift of God’s grace in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In the competition between sin and grace, “grace wins hands down.”
In this present time we have been transferred into the domain of grace and life. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
At the beginning of this New Year what we celebrate is that there has been a new beginning. We are in the 2nd Adam, Jesus Christ. His grace has found us, our sins are forgiven, and we have received the gift of life, life eternal. It is into this new life in Christ that we are called to live.
We look forward to eternal life, but eternal life has begun in the present now. We are alive to God in Christ, his Spirit has been poured out upon us. Grace has won and will continue to win until Christ carries us into the eternal presence of God and all the saints.
In this present time the Holy Spirit assures us that we have been rescued and transferred into the dominion of life. We are saints who are alive in Christ because Christ is alive within us.
In “Mere Christianity”, C.S. Lewis wrote that when we accepted the invitation of life in Christ and welcomed him into our hearts, we may have thought that we were going to undergo a cosmetic make over. Perhaps we expected the house of our human bodies and souls to be remodeled. But what happened has been surprising. When we invited the power of grace and life to reign within us, we discovered that the Lord was not satisfied with a remodeling project. No, his Spirit set about to completely rebuild us! We began to think, to feel, and to act anew. Through his Word and Spirit, he gave a new foundation; he knocked out walls, he built new balconies; he enlarged the footprint; he rewired the house with high powered electricity; he put on a new roof.
What we began to be aware of us was that he was building a palace in which he intended to dwell in the fullness of his grace and life. Being in the 2nd Adam began the long work of spiritual transformation that would lead to the fullness of eternal life.
As we move forward in the Letter to the Romans we will discover that this is the Christian life lived in grace and the power of life. Everything that Paul will write to Rome will become foundational for our own spiritual journey. I am excited about moving our preaching and teaching on the New Life in the Spirit won for us by the One to whom we now belong and who is alive within us.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
This is a podcast of the New Year’s Eve worship and communion service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Steve Sweet is preaching, “The Lord Is Present” from Luke 7:36-50. We are reading from the NRSV.