Welcome to this service of Morning Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Pentecost, June 28, 2020. We’re so glad you’re here!
Download a copy of the liturgy so you can pray along: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1A-iGo0c0tuNJAI7HlyAF2TsgUluVj5sy/view?usp=sharing
You can also find the text to the sermon below the video.
“No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.” (Romans 6:13)
The grace of God changes everything. That’s the essence of what Saint Paul is saying in our reading from Romans this morning. The living God has acted in human history in a truly decisive manner. Therefore, think and act and live accordingly, says Paul. Because the grace of God changes everything.
It’s where our reading from Romans begins this morning: Therefore. In other words, what Paul is about to say is premised on what he has just said. And what he has just said is that baptism, that great sacrament of initiation into the Christian life, is a death and resurrection: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead…we too might walk in newness of life,” (6:3-4).
Baptism is the beginning of a new life, says Paul. Prior to baptism you are one person, after baptism you are new person. Such is the effectiveness of God’s grace. It’s as if your whole life was lived in a dark room with no windows and a door that was locked from the outside. And then suddenly one day quite unexpectedly someone from the outside unlocks the door, enters into the room, takes you by the hand and leads you outside where for the very first time you discover colours, sounds, smells, and tastes that you never knew existed.
Even this image doesn’t quite get at the depth and reality of the change that God has effected in the life of Christians so Paul simply says, “Look, you were dead and now you are finally alive.” Paul wants Christians to know exactly what they were saved from and what they have been saved for.
So, how does Paul describe what we have been saved from? Well, he uses the language of sin, a lot. What is sin? Most of you are probably thinking of either bad things that you’ve done or good things that you ought to have done but didn’t. In other words, we sin and what we need is forgiveness. That’s all true. But there’s another way of understanding what sin is and it comes to the fore here in Paul’s writing.
For example, he talks about sin having dominion, or ruling, doesn’t he? He also talks about sin as something that you can present or offer yourself to. He also says that sin demands obedience and enslaves. So, you see, for Paul sin isn’t just something that we do it’s also a power that is active in the world and what we need is to be set free.
And that’s precisely what Paul says God has done in Jesus. Once you were slaves to sin, he says, but now in Christ you have been set free. Sin no longer has dominion over you. You owe sin nothing. And that’s really good news because the way of sin is, not great. Whereas the way of God is, far preferable.
Paul contrasts these two ways. Sin makes you uncritically obey your desires but Christ helps you master your desires and make them obedient to God’s will. Sin uses you for the purpose of wickedness but Christ uses you for the purpose of righteousness. Sin drags you deeper down into the dark but Christ raises you up to the light. Sin stifles your life and makes it smaller but Christ energizes your life and makes it bigger. Sin distorts who you are but Christ makes you more fully who you are. Sin makes you a slave but Christ makes you a child. Sin is an oppressive tyrant that doles out death but Christ is a liberating Lord that bestows the free gift of eternal life.
When we were living under the power of sin we didn’t even know we were slaves to sin or that we needed saving. In that windowless room we knew not what lay outside or if there even was an outside. But now that Christ has unlocked the door and entered into the room and taken us by the hand and led us outside, now we can look back and know what he has saved us from and we can look ahead and know what he has saved us for. Paul is saying, “Christians! God has saved you from sin for God.”
Now because of Jesus a new moral horizon has been opened to us that was previously unimaginable. Before when you were dead you were totally helpless and had no choice but to obey sin but now that you are alive in Christ you can present yourself to God and obey him instead. So Paul tells Christians, don’t place yourself at sin’s disposal any longer rather place yourself at God’s disposal. He has already changed you for good now let him use you for good in the world.
We live in a time that is ripe for change. Our world is hungry for real, genuine, transformation. Wealth and power are increasingly consolidated in the hands of just a few. Ordinary families are struggling while multi-billion dollar organizations find loopholes to avoid paying taxes. Police forces are increasingly militarized while a disproportionate number of black bodies are sitting in prison or laying lifeless in our streets. Partisan politics is turning family and friends into enemies. We don’t even know how to speak to one another anymore. We’ve forgotten how to disagree well. Instead we berate, denigrate, misrepresent, and cancel those we disagree with. The system is broken and the world is hungry for change.
Who will bring about this change if not God? Who will offer themselves up to this change if not the church? Christians we can no longer afford to apathetically put ourselves at sin’s disposal. God has changed our lot in Jesus Christ. Now is the time to put ourselves at God’s disposal. Now is the time to resist sin and obey righteousness. Now is the time to say no to death and yes to life. Christ has set you free now is the time to live like it. Consider what Christ has done with you and become more fully who he has made you to be. The world needs it.