Romans 6:1-4
What then shall we say? Shall we persist in sin that grace may abound? Of course not! How can we who died to sin yet live in it? Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.
This is another section of Paul’s writing that has been… Confused… By some parts of the historical church. What I just read was the first couple of verses from chapter 6 which actually precede our reading. But it sets up the entire reading much better for us. You see, as I said there were people who have distorted this in the past. And we have not escaped from that distortion completely today.
The major point of distortion was that if we sin more, that would mean more of God’s mercy would have to be given to us, and that would be a good thing. Do you see the mistake there? Yes God’s mercy is available to us whenever we sin, we are also called to live in holiness. We are not called to live in the depths of sin as a way to call on God’s mercy.
No, as the last verse that I quoted says, “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death”. What has died? Sin is supposed to have died! Baptism is, at once, a death and a rebirth. Or to use more evangelical language baptism is a death and a being “born again.”
Our reading from St. Paul this weekend closes with this verse: “Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”
This is why we can never say that we should “sin, and sin boldly” as I have read some people have said in the history of the church. No, we have to die to ourselves, to that part of ourselves that still holds on to sin.
It comes down to one single question, really. Who do you live for? If you live for yourself, you are going to stay in sin.
Now, everyone is going to continue to fail to overcome different temptations. What trips you up, may not trip me, and the same is true for all of us, with different things. And, believe me, there are temptations that trip me up. I would never claim I have come to some sort of perfection.
However, if you live for Jesus, you can overcome temptations. Will you do that perfectly? In some areas, yes. In some areas, unfortunately, probably not. But that is what the forgiveness of Jesus is for. It is not for doing wrong so that God can forgive us.
At the end of this same chapter, St. Paul says: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”.
Too many people seem to be taking sin lightly. How can I be judgmental like that? Let me ask you another very pointed question: how long has it been since you have been to confession? If you take the issue of confession lightly, you are probably taking the issue of sin lightly as well.
But, you protest: I do not have any big sins! But what about the habits you have where you consistently go back to the same temptations and allow them to rule you, instead of you ruling them. Do you want to gain power over them? The answer to that lies, in part, with the sacrament of confession.
This is Paul’s purpose throughout this chapter. In the middle of the chapter, he writes: “Freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your nature. For just as you presented the parts of your bodies as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness for lawlessness, so now present them as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.”
We are destined, as the reading says today, to be raised from the dead in Christ by the glory of the Father, so that we might live in newness of life. This newness of life is freedom. Not a freedom to do as we wish, but a freedom – a true freedom – to do what is right. That is the only freedom that matters.
I know in a week, we will celebrate freedom in this country. The freedom won on the fourth July, but the freedom that is so often spoken of in our society today is not about the freedom to do what is right. No, it is the false claim of freedom to do what you want. And that leads to the kinds of selfishness and sin that is destroying our society.
Why is it destroying our society? Because it is not… true… freedom! What did I just say true freedom is? It is the freedom to do what is right. But in a society that has forgotten what it means to be acting rightly, it becomes very difficult for us to stand in the truth.
Listen to these words from the first president, George Washington. They come from his farewell address to the nation: “and let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion – whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
This is the freedom that St. Paul was talking about today. Again, I quote: “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”
We must put to death the power of sin as best we can, individually and societally. We must master these powers of sin and death, individually and societally. But, it can only be done if we yield to the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is my last homily that I will give to you as your pastor. … I am not leaving, as I have written in the bulletin. Neither am I retiring. But this week will see a change for me. I agreed to the change willingly for the good of the parishes – all of the parishes. But one thing I have not given up is my zeal for the truth of the gospel.
I may not have the title pastor after this Tuesday, but I will still be a priest. I will still be with you, and I will still call you to the holiness that I know you can live in. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on all of you, so I know you can live for Christ. I know you can live a life of faith, hope, and love. And I am glad that I can continue to walk that path of holiness with you, until the day we rise into the new and eternal life that Paul spoke about and that Jesus promised.