I love July 4th. I love to see houses adorned with the Stars and Stripes, to hear stories of small town parades, and I love – I mean I love – to watch fireworks. I become like a little kids all over again ooing and awing with every burst of color. I am thankful to live in a nation where a dream is still possible and freedom still claims the day. But, I recognize that not everyone claims the same kind of freedom and joy that defines my life.
Max Lucado tells a story that I want to share with you. It comes from the young days of his ministry and invites us into a very personal encounter. He begins; Let me introduce you to Leo. I used to eat breakfast at a Cuban restaurant near my house. It was a brief, brisk walk and a good opportunity to think out my plans for the day. My thoughts were interrupted one morning, however, by a spry, unabashed old gent sporting a golf cap and dirty work pants. (He didn’t look his sixty-six years.)
“You a student, son?” (I guess he saw my Bible and notebook.) “I’ve got some college textbooks for sale.” I followed him into an empty house cluttered with lamps, books, end tables – all for sale. He was moving, he explained, “I need to get rid of this stuff.” One topic led to another. Soon we were sitting and talking, Leo with his questions about the pope, the Bible, and “souls”; and me with my questions about Leo.
His history was colorful: “a depression kid”; sold franks at Yankee Stadium and programs at Madison Square Garden; a taxi driver in Miami. Yet although his life was full of experience, his face was void of joy. He spoke of how “you can’t trust nobody no more. It’s a hard world.” When I tried to leave, he insisted that I stay. He was hungry for conversation. His fifth and last child had just left home. He said nothing about his marriage, though family portraits covered the wall. “I want to move . . . somewhere,” he mumbled.…. To Leo, life was very real. To Leo, life was very empty.
Maybe, it was unfair that I asked such a painful question, but I asked it anyway: “If you could live life all over again, would you?” He looked at me and then at the floor. “No,” he said sadly. “I don’t think so.” It’s hard to be without light in a dark world. (1)
The story has a tragic flavor. We want to live lives of joy. We want to live lives of meaning. We long know peace and happiness. We want to know real freedom. Not just a Fourth of July kind of freedom with flags and fireworks – but the kind of freedom that gives us hope, faith, and that beckons us to get out of bed and step boldly into life. This morning we heard our focal passage read in four languages. It is a powerful reminder that the quest for freedom is not limited to these shores and calls us to something beyond a waving flag and a summer picnic with ice cold watermelon. This morning I invite you to discover a freedom that will last well after the final firework has faded from the sky. . It is the kind of freedom that Leo missed, the kind that promises you light in a dark world. It is the freedom you can only find when you are alive in Christ
Our passage emerges from the heart of the Paul’s letter to the young church in Rome. It was a church that faced a world much like ours emerging context. Paul wanted to church to know the strength of faith that could offer them the strength they needed to live out their faith in the midst of a culture they looked on them with doubt. Paul begins our focal passage with that incredible rhetorical question. 1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? The reality is that some actual raised this question. They wanted to see the grace of Christ abound. Paul wanted the hearers of the letter to be clear. So, without a pause he answers; 2By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Last week I mentioned the role between baptism and identity. We hear the same theme echoing in this passage. Paul wanted to make relationship between baptism and the choice to identify with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. How we identify ourselves matters. You can see its importance in every culture of the world. We see it in the carefully placed brass rings used to extend the neck of women in a hillrtibe people living in Northern Thailand. We witness it when we see people claim tattoos, either the ones used by African tribes to show the journey to manhood, or the ones used in our own land to identity you with a particular group or place. We see it when we look at someone’s left hand and see a ring – instantly identifying the person as someone committed to another. Identity matters. Paul wants it clear that our identity is born in our relationship with Christ both in his death and resurrection. It is a Kingdom focused identity. Lesslie Newbigin once said that if you do not see the kingdom it’s because you are facing the wrong direction. One must do a U-turn -- the literal meaning of the Greek word for repent. For any of us "walking dead," baptism is the moment in time when we get our new ID, the card that says we are "the alive in Christ." (2)
This identifying claim of being alive to Christ is the invitation to transformational freedom. That kind of freedom that offers life in a dark world. Hear again verses 5 thru 7. 5If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul is determined to show us how to move from death to new life, and from sin to righteousness. He is aware that many of us are still stuck in doomed and dangerous patterns, and he wants us to break free of anything that can hurt or destroy us. So he begins with the question, “How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” (Romans 6:2). It’s a good question. How is it possible for us to persist in sinful behavior, now that we are baptized followers of Jesus? Paul insists that our baptism in Christ Jesus was a baptism into his death, and he says that since Christ was raised from the dead then we, too, have been raised to “walk in newness of life” (6:3-4). It really doesn’t make any sense for us to go on sinning, since our old sinful life is now dead, and our new resurrection life has begun. Problem is, we still sin. (3)
The good news is that while we still battle sin, we are no long held captive by it. It is not suppose to claim us or define it. Paul does not mean to suggest that believers are no longer capable of sinning, but rather that sin no longer has a dictatorial grasp on the believer’s life — Christ has staged a coup and now rules in sin’s place.(4) I remember that soon after we arrived in Thailand there was a dramatic failure of government and the rise of a new one. It all happened while I was getting a haircut. One government was in place when the haircut began and another was in place by the time the last trimmed hair was brushed from my shoulder. This is the way it is with Christ. When we embrace him as savior there is an instant change in the leadership of our lives. Quicker than the time it takes to get a haircut the slavery to sin is replaced with the real freedom found in Christ. This life of faith offers us forgiveness and stages a funeral from our old self….from the life that weighs us down with guilt, sin, frustration, anger…..the old self…..washed away in the baptismal waters…..from the captivity of sin….and in claiming the identifying symbol of baptismal waters we find real FREEDOM in Christ Jesus.
8Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Brad Braxton, a leading African-American scholar proclaims; When we are dead and alive, transformations are bound to occur. When we are dead and alive, we are ever reminded that the chief goal of the Holy Spirit is not excitement but transformation. When we are dead and alive, something on the inside starts working on the outside, and there will be a change in our lives. If we take seriously Paul’s words in Romans 6, every day there should be a funeral in the life of the Christian. None of us have been completely conformed to the image of God, but every day, we ought to lay to rest something that is not like God, which hinders us from having a closer walk with God. What do you need to lay to rest today? What do you need to bury today? A bad attitude, jealousy, animosity, an unforgiving spirit, doubt, feelings of shame, or inadequacy. If there is something that is prohibiting your spiritual growth, I dare you to look it squarely in the eye and say, "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Rest in peace."
At the same time that we are burying the negative, we ought to celebrate the glorious resurrection of the positive things of Christ Jesus in us. In Christ, funerals are always penultimate. Death is but a comma in salvation’s story. The resurrection is the final exclamation point. (5)
I love his imagery of the grand funeral for sin and the great celebration of the freedom we find in and through our relationship with Christ. It is time to bury anything; any attitude, any addiction, any action that separates us from God or others. It is time to bury the sin that has enslaved you and claim the joy that That through Christ we are no longer slaves to sin but free. Our focus will be on authentic liberty found in Christ – a freedom that is that not only defines our way of life but our eternity
This morning I invite you as those who are called to be dead to sin and alive in Christ to claim your unapologetic indemnity in Jesus and the freedom that God intends for you. The life, death, burial, and resurrection found in gospel story of Jesus paved the way to real freedom – real life- life now and life forever- as children of God. It is time to live as the freed people of God, a living witness a people alive in Christ.
(1)Max Lucado, On the Anvil, (Wheaton, IL :Tyndale House, 1985) pp.25-26
(2)Bill O’Brien, “Dying to Live” The Christian Century, 2005.
(3)“Fatal Fixation,” available online at http://www.homileticsonline.com/subscriber/btl_display.asp?installment_id=93000071 on July 3, 2010.
(4)Commentary from Fatal Fixation,” available online at http://www.homileticsonline.com/subscriber/btl_display.asp?installment_id=93000071 on July 3, 2010.
(5)Brad Braxton, “Dead and Alive” available online at http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/braxton_4502.htm