How are you doing, halfway through Romans? I find it really challenging to preach this book, but nevertheless, we persist.
Commentary at Working Preacher is here.
Our passage this week drops into the middle of one of Paul’s arguments. It may be worth looking back to chapter 5, where it begins. In 5:20, Paul writes, “….but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more“. It’s not, maybe how I would have made my argument, but since that’s where he goes, he has to respond to the resulting claim that more sin is good business for grace, giving it lots of opportunity to shine.
“Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!”
And this gets us to the part of this passage I love. Continuing to live a life dependent on sin means you haven’t been transformed by grace. Paul’s not arguing that once you love Jesus you won’t make mistakes. He’s arguing you’ll be living under a new economy, a new realm, a new creation–one where the economy of sin and death has been replaced by life in Christ.
For Paul, when we are baptized, as Jesus was baptized, we join into his life, death, and resurrection. And if we are people who have been made victorious over death (as Jesus was) then our lives should reflect the new creation.
The image that’s helpful for me of people living under the old world (sin, death) when the new world is set before them comes from a scene at the end of CS Lewis’ the Last Battle, the final book of the Narnia series.
Aslan has destroyed the old Narnia and brought people to the new Narnia. War is no more. There is a banquet set before them. Clear skies and clean water in the rivers. And the dwarves, who have been skeptical of Aslan because of the pain of the world they’d lived in, remain skeptical and are completely unable to see where they are. They insist they are sitting in a dung filled stable, and refuse to trust in the promise of new life that is before them, and all around them.
Lucy asks Aslan if anything might be done to help the dwarves see. Aslan replies:
“You see,” says the Lion, “they will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”
This is what Paul’s trying to get us to understand. We can keep on living as if sin is the only way to live, but we don’t have to. By joining in Jesus’ baptism, we see the world differently.
Grace transforms us away from a world where we have to compete for love and favor and to a world where favor has already been granted and there is an abundance of love to share.
What does it look like to be in this transformed economy?
I worry that shame often keeps us from claiming our space in the new world of grace. If we can’t acknowledge the way sin has held us in check because shame keeps us from sharing our truth, can we claim grace?
There is a story in The Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson that sticks with me. (Read this book if you haven’t, by the way. It’s great).
“Ultimately we become what we pay attention to, and the options available to us at anytime are myriad, the most important of which being located within us. Paul, in his letter to the Romans knows this, stating flatly, ‘Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace’ (Romans 8:5-6). To have one’s mind set on something is essentially about paying attention. What do I pay attention to? Paul says that what we pay attention to doubles back and governs us. Hence our attention is deeply associated with either death or life. So much of the biblical narrative is the story of God working hard to get our attention.” (p. 48)
Thompson tells of a man who had an affair, and how the church community helped him claim new life. The pastor had the man share, before the congregation, what he had done.
My first thought when I heard that was, ‘what about the wife? How did she feel about having her husband’s infidelity come to light?’ After I freaked out for a moment, I realized that her husband’s sin was silencing for her too. How was she supposed to get support if she couldn’t talk about what they were going through? How was her church going to love her through it?
After the man confessed his sin, the pastor turned to the congregation and invited people who had looked with lust on someone (a biblical part of adultery, according to Jesus) to stand. The congregation all stood.
This is claiming the new world where sin and death doesn’t have power over us anymore. Where we can confess and be restored and redeemed in community.
“For if relationship with Jesus is as much about being known as it is about knowing, we soon learn that life with God is not about being right but about being loved.” (p. 152)
How else might this new life in Christ look in the lives of our congregations?
Where is this text taking your preaching this week?
Please share liturgy, ideas for Time with the Children, and other sermon illustrations here. Add your insight and questions.
Marci Auld Glass is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church and lives with her husband and sons in Boise, Idaho. She is a graduate of Trinity University and Columbia Theological Seminary. She serves on the boards of the Clergy Advocacy Board of Planned Parenthood, Covenant Network, and the Mission Agency of the Presbyterian Church USA. Marci blogs at Glass Overflowing and is among the contributors to the RevGals book,There’s a Woman in the Pulpit (SkyLight Paths).
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