Empowered to Share: Gospel Lives

May 28, 2017
Nate Schipper
Romans 6:1-11

Memorial Day weekend informally serves as the start of summer.  This is the weekend people put their boats in the water, open their pools, plant their annuals, start wearing white pants (for some) and fire up the grill.  I love the anticipatory nature of Memorial Day – summer is here- well sort of for those of us in West Michigan, and we have a couple months ahead of long days and warm nights. 

So on this festive day, this holiday weekend, and the gathering of the faithful here at Fellowship why not dive into Paul’s letter to the Romans as it deals with…. SIN.  It may not be the first passage that comes to mind when we consider Memorial Day but I trust that God has something for us in it.  I trust that as we read together from Romans chapter 6 verses 1-11 that God will show us what it means for us to live gospel lives empowered by power of the Holy Spirit.

Read Romans 6:1-11

It bears repeating, “Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Throughout this season after Easter we have been considering how we have been empowered to share.  As a people who BELONG to God and one another, as a people who are GROWING in their discipleship to Jesus, as a people who are SERVING Christ in this world we are also a people empowered to SHARE the good news of Jesus with those around us.

For those of you who were with us last week Pastor Brian reminded us that we have been given gifts, spiritual gifts, that Christ offers to us, that Christ hands down to us by the Spirit from his place ascended at the right hand of God.  This week I want to build off his sermon.  Romans chapter 6 is an appeal by Paul to pattern our lives after the life of Christ.  It is an appeal for us to use our God given gifts as a testimony to the work of the Spirit living inside of us for the purpose of showing the love of Christ to a lost and broken world.

A couple weeks ago I saw an interesting article titled, “Soviet’s atheism failed in Europe.”  The cover photo has a picture of a priest, in his liturgical flowing robe, holding an immersed baby in the town square.  It was a beautiful and eye-catching photo.   It certainly seemed like good news, like an interesting article, which it was but it also contained a bit of a twist.  But before I tell you what it said let’s first consider what Romans 6 says and DOES…

The first thing Romans chapter 6 does is confront the natural logic of Paul’s arguments in Chapters 4 and 5.  In these chapters Paul explicitly states that the promises of God and the righteousness of God are bestowed upon us, his people, by faith.  Faith is what justifies us.  Faith is what makes us right with God not our own works, and certainly not the law.  It is by grace we are saved through faith.  Jesus does this – Jesus makes us right with God. 

JESUS IS GOD’S ULTIMATE ANSWER TO SIN.   

These two chapters can be summarized in this famous quote from chapter 5:

Therefore just as one man’s trespass (Adam led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness (Jesus) leads to justification and life for all. 

However great Adam’s sin, however great our sin, God’s grace in Christ is greater, is sufficient to forgive us and make us right with God.

So, one might say, and apparently Paul’s readers assumed, if it is all about Jesus and his work on the cross, if SIN is an occasion for GRACE then perhaps we should just keep on living in sin so that grace may abound!?

Paul’s response to this is “BY NO MEANS.”  Paul emphatically rejects this logic.  And we do too.  This would be like the Prodigal Son, after experiencing the incredible grace of his father in throwing a party and welcoming him home asking for ANOTHER portion of his inheritance to squander all so he can come home yet again. 

For those of us that have been in the church for a while we know that we are not to concisely engage in sin.  We are really good at rejecting sin and trying to help people avoid living in it.  In fact sometimes I wonder if we might be too good.  Sometimes the church is the place of judgement and a place where we hide or cover up who we are in order to put on the appearance of living “great lives.”   

Maybe we can’t relate to Paul’s readers in that way.  Maybe we know better than to keep on sinning so that grace may abound, but how often do we, LIKE Paul’s readers come to quick conclusions about what some else is saying.  Paul was correcting the false conclusions his readers were making about what he was saying.  How often do we come to conclusions about what another is saying before we hear them out?  How often do we make meaning out of another’s words or actions?

This past week I was listening to Christian Radio.  I am not necessarily a Christian radio junky, it is #2 or #3 on my car preset list don’t get me wrong.  I tend to favor talk radio- NPR or ESPN radio are up there on my preset list.  So whenever I have kids in the car, OR NPR is doing their annual pledge drive Christian Radio is up there on my list. J

Whenever I listen to Christian Radio stations I can quickly fall into judgement, I can quickly jump to unfair conclusions about the lyrics I hear.  I have a, most likely false, working assumption that all Christian songs are about me, myself or I.  I assume Christian radio music fails to point us towards God and Christ’s reconciling work in the world.  So when I listen to it I don’t just jump to conclusions based on the lyrics they sing, I actually am looking for them to re-inforce my pre-conceived assumptions about Christian radio.

This was made clear to me as I listened to a song by Jason Gray called “I will rise again.”  As I listened critically to his lyrics about rising again, I quickly began to start thinking – you don’t rise again, Christ does that by the power of the Spirit.  Amidst my judgement I recalled a book titled, “Rising Strong,” by Brene Brown that I have read excerpts from and a number of people I love appreciate.  This book seems to touch on the same themes that Jason Grays song touches on – the same power that raised Christ from the dead is available to you by the power of the Spirit! 

What made my response different to the song than the book?  Why did I quickly judge the title of the song but not the title of the book?

It was my assumptions about what the song would say without listening to it and my tendency to listen to people I know and love.  Maybe Romans 6 is a reminder to us that we all have a tendency to make assumptions, to jump to conclusions about what someone else is saying based on our own thoughts about them.

I mean no one here has ever jumped to conclusions about what someone else is saying based on the political party they are a part of, the clothes they wear, the color of their skin, their gender or age, or the church or denomination they belong to have you?

I told you about an article I read from CT.  The headline said Atheism is failing and the data that they used to support that was that in a number of countries from the former Soviet block in Eastern Europe a majority of the people that live in those countries (sometimes 80-90%) belong to the Russian Orthodox Church or the Catholic Church.  This may seem like good news, but based on their self-disclosed survey responses about worship attendance, prayer, and their spiritual lives the article concluded, “Belonging and believing but not Behaving.”  Even our headlines have a tendency to push us to make conclusions that are not as true as we might assume.

So the first thing that Paul does is correct the false logic of his readers.  He emphatically rejects that we are to continue in sin so that grace may abound.  The SECOND thing Paul does is remind us of who we are.

Paul’s appeal in this verse is repeated in a multitude of ways but could be summarized – “In baptism you died to sin and were resurrected to new life- live like you have been baptized!”

Paul is not simply telling us DO things or BELIEVE certain things, he is reminding his readers, he is reminding us of WHO WE ARE as baptized children of God.  When we recall our own passing through the waters of baptism, whenever we have an opportunity to witness a baptism like we did just a couple weeks ago, we remember who we are:

-          We are a people who belong to God – who have been claimed BY God

-          We are a people united to Christ – in his dying AND his rising

-          We are a people entrusted with the HOLY Spirit and given gifts for life and ministry

Paul is reminding us that the Christian life is not just a mental assertion of what we believe, or a list of things we are to do, it is a unification with Christ! Being united to Christ causes us to live differently!

A couples years ago I was at a retreat with some students.  The speaker was a former hockey player so he used his hockey team as his primary metaphor for the weekend.  He talked about his hockey stick as a reminder that we have been given different gifts and tools for serving the team.  He talked about his safety equipment that served to keep him safe from attacks by the opponent, and he talked about his jersey as a mark of his allegiance to his team. 

He talked about the honor it was to be able to wear the jersey, to be physically marked as a member of his team.  For him it wasn’t a burden to wear the jersey.  It wasn’t an obligation or something he did out of guilt.  The jersey for him was a privilege.

We have been given an opportunity to play for Christ’s team, to live under the protection of the Spirit and use our gifts to serve Christ as people who have been baptized into Christ’s team.   It is an honor to play for Christ’s team to be marked as His own!

Martin Luther calls Baptism a daily garment we wear by faith.  It is daily in that it is with us every day and a garment in that it marks us, it distinguishes us as God’s chosen people.   And so, our attempts to live faithful lives, to use our Spiritual gifts to partner with Christ’s reconciling work in the world is quite simply us living more fully into the identity Christ gave us at baptism.

As we consider in this season how we might be empowered to share the good news of Jesus Christ, Paul in Romans 6 is encouraging us to use our lives as a testimony to Christ.  We have talked about being courageous witnesses, being open and available to the Spirit’s work in our lives.  We have considered practicing the art of “With-ness,” and using the Gifts God has given us, Paul is encouraging us today to be gospel people.  Let your lives testify to who you are as a baptized people.   Let us adopt the words attributed to St Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel always, and when necessary use words.”  You have the honor of being Christ’s hands and feet to a lost and broken world.

On Friday a team of about 20 folks from Fellowship sat with students from Lakewood Elementary under the afternoon sun.  Our own Karen Donker honored each of these Kid’s Hope students with a “most-likely” award.  The student’s joy was tangible as Karen identified each one of them with an award like, “Most-likely to be a professional soccer player.”  “Most likely to Help a friend,” “Most-likely to win a cooking contest.”  Each kid, each a unique “most-likely.”  It was a celebration of these students and the relationship their mentor had with them.  What a joy it was for them to be identified as “Most-Likely” to do something.

You have been given a gift too.  You have been deemed by God “Most-likely to represent ME on earth.”  God has initiated a relationship with you.  God knows you.  God has given you a gift and he invites you.  He HONORS you with the opportunity to use it to represent Christ in this world.

The first Q&A of our Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”  We often remember the first part of the answer, “That I am not my own but belong, in life and in death, to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.  He has fully paid for all my sins….  Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures of eternal life, AND – AND – AND, makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

Because we belong to Christ we live for him.  You have been deemed worthy, you have been honored to represent Christ in this world – how will you respond?  How might WE respond?

Renee Krueger