“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
- Romans 6:11
As Paul reminds us in today’s reading from Romans, Christ is the center of our lives; God in Christ makes us alive. How is this so?
Christ is the center of our lives because we have been united with him in a death like his and therefore united with him in a resurrection like his. Death and despair and all the fears that loom in our lives and in this world right now have turned out not to be the final story. Our Pac Man session just bleeped out “game over” to us, and then we discovered that we’re still, somehow, miraculously alive.
And more, Paul tells us that we are now dead to sin. Gone are the dark ages of sin and sturm und drank, that is drama and difficulties without end. That just sounds more dramatic in German! Gone, too, is the need to believe that we have to figure it all out by ourselves, and muscle through every difficulty as individuals or communities. Now, the apostle Paul tells us, we need to consider ourselves alive to God in Christ Jesus.
So let’s consider what being alive with God in Christ might look like:
Well, we know it doesn’t suddenly make us more perfect than anyone else. There’s plenty of evidence of that when we look at ourselves in the mirror. Plenty of people fall away from Church and congregations in fact when they realize the Church is as full of imperfect people, if not more so, than all the rest of the world. So being alive to God in Christ doesn’t make Jesus-followers – us Christians – any more perfect than anyone else. But perhaps being made alive to God in Christ might make us more willing to admit to our imperfections; to our work-a-holism, our stress-eating, our tendency to think we are better or more “right” than anybody else. Maybe being alive to God in Christ might make us want to be more humble, knowing God loves us imperfections and all. Yes, maybe being alive to God in Christ might make us more humble in our human journey through this world.
And perhaps being alive to God in Christ might build in us a hunger to serve. We talk about this a lot, don’t we?
Do I have enough to eat as a Christian? Then perhaps being alive to God in Christ might build a desire in me to see that others who have little or nothing in this world are given food for the day and equipped to better take care of themselves for the days and years to come. That’s why Redeemer is active with FAMILY of New Paltz, and one of our members helped to link computers being donated by a company to FAMILY of New Paltz in order to help them create a vocational lab, where volunteers help women and men get equipped to fish for a lifetime.
Sure, Hunger and Homelessness is one of our focus areas through which we carry out our congregational mission to Share Christ’s Welcome, but it is the knowledge that God in Christ has made in us a new creation that gives us the energy to serve. We’ve probably heard the phrase “my get up and go has got up and went.” Yet for us as Christians we will discover that our get up and go comes back to stay when we humbly serve others first, as Christ first served us. So maybe being alive to God in Christ means journeying humbly and serving others lovingly.
And there’s more to being alive to God in Christ: Being alive to God in Christ will likely make us want to do what is right even when it is unpopular with some of the people around us. Maybe that’s why Jesus says that neighbors and families will turn against one another. Jesus isn’t saying that he desires for people to be turned against each other, he is simply naming the truth of what happens sometimes when the Light shines in the darkness.
For example, when light shines in the darkness of prejudice against people of different faiths, some folks stand up and try to change the hatred, replace it with love. I’ve told some of you about the Jewish and Muslim women who take tremendous risks to meet weekly across the borders of their countries in order to get to know one another and to build bridges towards lasting peace. There are many Christians and people of other faiths trying to do similar interfaith healing work in this country, too. Some of their family members and friends criticize and ridicule them for this peace-building work, but these women in the Middle East and folks here in the United States persevere and I am convinced it is because Light has been planted in their hearts that cannot, once the lamp has been lit, be again put out.
This is the same reason we as a congregation are learning about how to support the Refugee Coalition of the Hudson Valley. Yes, Diversity and Equality are one of the focus areas of our mission to Share Christ’s Welcome, but it is because God in Christ lives in us that we see that all people in this world are our sisters and brothers. It is because God in Christ lives in us that we see God’s sacred calling to us to care for the least and lost, the marginalized, the widow, the hungry and the poor.
This week major faith leaders from the Pope to the Dalai Llama sent out a joint message encouraging the building of interfaith friendships as essential to the roadmap of lasting peace. If ever there was a time to risk suffering for the sake of shining a broad beam of love into every corner where hatred and misunderstanding lingers in this world, that time is now.
Some days I think we stand on the brink of madness right now in the world, and sin is always waiting to swallow any one of us up, bringing us into the arms of despair and hopelessness. Yet because God in Christ, by Christ’s sacrificial mercy on the cross, is alive in us, we do not need to lose hope.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can look deeply into the scriptures, knowing God is revealing God’s own self for the saving of this world and us. Empowered by the Holy Spirit we can look deeply into our hearts, knowing that God knows our weaknesses and sin better than us, and we have been freed of every shame. Empowered by the Holy Spirit we can grow as individuals, and as a congregation, looking ever towards the cross to understand how to share the truth that God is alive in Christ, even in these broken vessels we call ourselves. Then we can join the giants of faith who have gone before us, and those who live even now, and proclaim that the time for peace is here. The roadmap for love is being written by God into our very DNA; being written by God who is alive in us through Christ.
The world has always needed the gospel, and the gospel has always needed messengers of peace who will stand up and speak out about God’s amazing power to change lives and the world for good. And not surprisingly, this can lead to families and friends and congregations and even entire societies disagreeing with each other. The truth hurts sometimes.
Yet we persist as people of faith. Precisely when the storms of the world grow largest and darkest we step to the cross so as to step into the eye of the storm. We cannot end the storms that have always and will always rage until the end of time. Yet strangely, precisely at the world’s darkest moments in history, Light seems always to be giving birth to Light. As Christians we call this the work of the resurrection.
I’ve recently been re-reading some of my grandfather’s sermons, written over a half a century ago. In one that I came across this week, my grandfather noted that even as the dictator Napoleon vanquished the British, who had been Europe’s last hope against this tyrant, over in a little village in Poland, just as Napoleon was at the height of his power in 1809, a little boy named Frederick was born. And Frederick Chopin would become known as one of the world’s great composers. That same difficult year in England William Gladstone was born, who would arguably become one of the world’s greatest statesmen who ever spoke in Parliament, and one of the greatest Prime Ministers. Also in 1809 in Germany Mendelsohn was born, and also in England an infant Charles was born, who would revolutionize the world with his theory on the origin of the species. And here in the United States Abraham Lincoln was born. (The Rev. Dr. Lauri J Anderson, from “The Word in the Wilderness,” Collectanea)
The resurrection work of God in Christ simply does not give up! And when times seem darkest we can be sure that God is already working new life in countless corners of this world. And it is this same resurrection work that makes it possible for God in Christ to live in you and me.
So we do not lose hope, even when times are dark, even when friends and families and neighbors fight with each other. The Light will win out in the end. And we are all called to be servants of the cross and of this One Eternal Light; with every day, every breath, and every action we take, no matter how imperfect they may sometimes be. Our faith, and assurance is in God’s work through Christ.
Thanks be to God. Amen.