Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
Bible Background I just started reading the book, “A Path Appears,” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The entire premise of the book is to highlight stories of people caring about other people and creating paths of opportunity. They write in the first pages of the book, “We decided that our focus should be on expanding opportunity worldwide, because talent is universal, but opportunity is not.” At the point that I write this, I have only gotten a few chapters in but I was so moved by the first pages I had to put it down to marinate in what people are doing all over the world. They have already highlighted at least six people that started small in giving to others in the world and have completely transformed lives. These are everyday people like you and me who have said yes to creating new life in places where it seems like it wouldn’t make a difference. One little girl raises money for water for her ninth birthday. One woman sends $250 dollars to Zimbabwe to make sure a little girl gets corrective measures for clubfoot. And that is just two stories!
I then put down my book and looked at Facebook. This was a mistake. All over Facebook, there seemed to be such turmoil. Prayers for Nepal and the death count up. Prayers for Baltimore. Prayers for the continued struggle to recognize racism and inequality. Prayers for the supreme court who get to make decisions about who can get married. Etc. What my new perspective from the book helped me to do, however, was to look for where opportunities are rising to be part of new life. Beyond the death in Nepal, there are direct ways to contribute to our brothers and sisters, financially and otherwise. Beyond the riots in Baltimore, hundreds of clergy stepped forward to protest and link arms. Beyond the courts, people tell their love stories.
It is too easy to get sucked into death if we aren’t remembering that death doesn’t win. That is what our scripture is about today. As human beings, we sin (however you define the word). I think of sin as isolation from God and turned in the wrong direction. I have heard interesting definitions of sin lately. I have heard a colleague say that sin is choosing what is death rather than what produces life. Paul might have agreed with that definition. Either way, sin is away from God rather than turning back towards God (the root of repentance to literally “turn back”). We often preach this text as a baptism text and for good reason. But if we do that, we miss that Paul is calling us to choose life rather than death. Paul is calling us to walk with God in creating paths of opportunity for people and to live fully into who we are as children of God. If we are choosing life, we don’t have time for the fear that accompanies us in this world. If we are choosing to live fully, we have to be in community and relationship with God and each other. If we are choosing life, we don’t have time to obsess about minor day to day things but to live everyday as if we are more fully human, connecting to other humans.
The bottom line is pretty clear. Christ did not just die but became more fully alive. Christ is our model. Death will not win because God is bigger than death. We are a people of life, alive to God.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” ― Annie Dillard
“The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.” ― Alan W. Watts
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” ― Mary Oliver
Romans 6:1-14 (Message) 1-3 So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!
3-5 That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.
6-11 Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. 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.
12-14 That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.
Questions for the Week
How would you define sin?
What drains life from you? What gives you life?
How can we more fully live into a life with God?