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Pentecost 4A Sermon
Romans 6: 12-23
July 2, 2017

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Anytime anyone talks about feeling like a slave, they are treading on shaky ground. In our country, slavery was part of a horrible institution whereby people from Africa were forced onto ships like cattle, brought thousands of miles, and then were bought, sold, and owned as property strictly because of the color of their skin. Families were torn apart to further dehumanize slaves. Whippings and other punishments were handed down quite liberally to break the spirits of those who were being made to be ultimately loyal to their masters. It was a dark reality in the history of our nation, and in these days people are viewing the founding people of our nation with less respect because many of them owned slaves.

In the history of the world, though, slavery has not always been a black and white thing. Jesus and Paul both lived in times where slavery was part of their lives. Often, a person was sold into servitude, like an indentured servant, or because their debt had gotten out of hand. Other times it was because one kingdom or empire defeated another and many of the people were enslaved as part of the victory. Slaves have been owned because of their race, gender, social class, country of origin, religion, and many other factors.

Regardless of the circumstances, slavery is the same thing – living as the property to someone else without rights or privileges or power to do as that person wants. Being in bondage or subject to the power of something or someone outside of oneself – that is what slavery boils down to. Not exactly a topic that we want to think about today, and over the next two days, as we focus on the independence and freedom that we enjoy as citizens of this country. But it is ironic that the father of our country, George Washington, and the writer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, were so intent upon getting out from under the rule of England while they had no problem owning human beings to work their farms and plantations – Jefferson owned about 200, and Washington over 300! The fact of the matter is, no matter how much we value freedom, we can all find ourselves participating in some kind of slavery.

Paul knows this fact, and focuses on it as he shares a message of love and grace with the Christians in Rome. For Paul, sin doesn’t have anything to do with the actions that a person does which break the law. Sin is that power that keeps us from being totally free. Sin is that inescapable force which traps us until it is too late for us to be able to do anything about it. We give ourselves in to it, surrendering ourselves to the reality that we will never be perfect, we will never escape the power of sin. Sin is the slavery to which all humanity is beholden.

Now, Paul points out that we have been liberated from this slavery. Baptism frees us from this slavery to sin. In baptism, our slavery is killed off so that all that is left is a good and right relationship with God. The only problem is, we never quite get out from under sin’s thumb. In our New Testament Epistle reading next week, we will hear Paul’s words in the 7th chapter of his letter to the Romans, where he goes on to say that he does not do the good that he wants to do, but he does do the evil that he does not want to do. Being helpless in the face of the power that seeks to rule our lives is what slavery to sin is in a nutshell. We ourselves can never break away from those chains, no matter how hard we try. We can never rule our own lives.

This is why Paul talks about presenting ourselves to God as people who have brought from death to life. It is a call to surrender to God instead of thinking that we can rule our own lives with any measure of righteousness and peace. By Grace, we have been set free from the bonds of slavery to sin. Does that mean that we are free to try anything that we want to find fulfillment and happiness in life? As Paul says, “By no means!” Being set free by God, we are called to surrender ourselves to slavery to God’s love and grace, knowing that as we allow God to direct our lives - to have power over us – that our lives are made more complete and content. We are free from the mantra of, “What’s in it for me?” to focus on being part of God’s loving presence in the world to build up relationships and community as God has called us to do. The challenge is, freedom in our nation has come to be likened to individualism, greed and a turning inward on ourselves. America the Beautiful, as we sang earlier, has been replaced with a patriotism which becomes religion for some. Surrendering to God is not part of the faith or theology for many American Christians these days. And that itself is a form of slavery …

The good news in all of this is that God’s grace and love never gives up on us! We wake up fresh and new every morning with the capability to surrender to God; to remember our baptisms when that slavery to sin was broken, and ask God how we can respond to that wonderful gift in our lives. Too many worry about what they are doing to be good enough to receive that final reward of heaven after we die. Paul says to all of us that the wages of sin is death … but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. No, we don’t have to earn the destination; it has already been assured to us by our loving God. So, we now can focus on the journey! We can focus on how our lives will be lived as slaves to the one creating, redeeming, sustaining God who wants us to be instruments not of sin or of wickedness, but of love, righteousness and compassion.

Shane Claiborne is a co-founder of a faith community in Philadelphia called, “The Simple Way.” Listen to his words, which I think are a wonderful restatement of Paul’s message for us today: “There’s something powerful that happens when we can connect our faith with the pain of our world. We are concerned not just with going to heaven when we die, but with bringing God’s kingdom down here. That means figuring out how we can be a part of the restoration of our world. As we look at our neighborhood, what does it mean for us to pray the Lord’s Prayer, that God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven? We pray and act for that every day because we believe that God’s kingdom is coming and we want it to come.”

I am glad that I am a citizen of this country, but I am infinitely gladder that God has claimed me as a child, saved me through Jesus, and called me to discipleship. That changes the freedom that I enjoy. That changes my focus from self first, and getting myself to some end time destination, to sharing love the gifts of life with people with whom I share this journey. Thanks be to God that we have this promise and this gift, and that we have the opportunities to surrender to God’s love every day that we rise out of bed. Amen.