Living a New Life with Christ
Sunday, May 21, 2023
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner
Dear friends, grace, mercy, and peace to you from God and from Jesus Christ, our Risen Savior. Amen.
We are celebrating and offering our blessing to our high school graduates today. They (You) have probably already made some important decisions about the next steps in their (your) lives. By now, they’ve (you’ve) decided “What comes next”, whether going to university, getting a job, heading to a trade school, or taking a gap year to explore and grow, and figure some more things out. There’s a lot to celebrate as you stand at this significant threshold in life. Whether we’re 18 or 81, one of the questions so important to ask ourselves in each stage of life is “How will we show up in whatever situation or stage of life we are in?”
The truth is, it takes more than eighteen years to figure out how best to show up in a lot of situations in life. It takes time and practice to learn the nuances of love and friendship, how to deal with different personalities and even how to fight fair. And, how to figure out who you are and what gifts God has given you to share with the world. Some of us are much older than that and still trying to figure it out. Of course, we never do this on our own. We learn in relationship and community.
When I was a kid, I was part of a tennis camp every summer. I loved playing tennis, even though I wasn’t very good. I was small (pretty scrawny, really), and didn’t have a love of power. Because of eye surgery when I was young I didn’t have great depth perception either. So, it was always a wild card whether I would hit the ball long or short. But, I loved tennis mostly because of how the director of the camp showed up with us every time we were together. Dave could have been having a really hard day personally, or the weather could have just been awful, the courts could be soaking wet, but every time he came on the court he’d say with a huge grin on his face, and light in his eyes, “The grass is green, the sky is blue, it’s a GREAT day to be alive!” His hope and optimism were sometimes surprising but never sappy, nor did he offer this mantra conditionally. He was the first one to notice when a kid was having a hard day and would be there to listen. Empathy was his superpower. He was the kind of guy that made it abundantly clear that it’s not what you do in life, it’s how you do it. And he was the kind of guy that made it possible to believe that there was always a life-giving, life-affirming way to live, no matter the circumstance.
There are also plenty of voices out there that make it hard to tell what leads to life and what leads to death. Now, I’m not just talking about physical death. I’m talking about all the ways we interact with the world and ourselves that make us and others less than who we really are – ways that sin has its way with us. I realize sin can be a loaded term that gets defined by a few individual acts. But that way of looking at sin is both too narrow, and sometimes misguided. Father Richard Rohr offers a helpful definition of sin when he writes, “Sin is not so much personal moral failure as it is humans trying to validate themselves in a world where there is no completely solid place to stand.” It’s the way we humans can bite on the lie that life is a zero-sum game, that destiny is somehow set before we even start, or that if we are to be happy someone else has to suffer. This happens on playgrounds as kids clamor for popularity (as if there is only one way to measure relationships), or in society as adults strive for power and influence, sometimes, unwittingly, at the expense of the innocent or the marginalized. This dead-end game often shows up in the form of racism or classism or sexism or all the other “-isms” that exist in our relationships whether we’re aware of how they’re operating in our lives or not.
These dead ways, what Paul called the power of sin, can also look like other things too. It can be that still small voice that tries to convince us that we’re not smart enough, or good enough, or strong enough to do what is in front of us, or when we believe that if a little of something is good, more is always better. The reality is that we often follow these ways because they sometimes feel good, or they’re easier, or that our whole society has adopted this system that divides and sorts, and feels impossible to buck that system when we’re just trying to make it through the week.
In my work with young people over the years, I have been inspired and convicted by their desire and demand for a better world than this. Young people I’ve worked with often believe and act to make our systems more just, our policies fairer, especially for those that are on the margins (probably because they are nearer the margins in many ways themselves), and they do it wholeheartedly and without apology. The voices of young people is just one of the ways the kingdom of God breaks through the cracks of our world.
Our reading picks up in the middle of Paul’s writing on the power of sin and the power of being saved from sin through faith in Christ. Just before our reading starts, Paul writes something that changes everything about how we are to show up in the world as Christians. Paul writes, “Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation to all, but Christ’s one act of righteousness (his self-giving death on the cross), brings a right relationship with God and new life to everyone.” (Rom. 5:18)
It’s not just young people who are called into this vision. By the grace of God, and through the power of the cross we are given a different system by which to live. A way that doesn’t start with us and our brokenness, but starts with what God does for the world before we even arrive on the scene. By God’s grace and forgiveness through Jesus’ death and resurrection, new patterns of life enter the world.
Paul acknowledges that even after Jesus’ death and resurrection, both powers are at work in the world. But it is the power of God’s forgiveness and love that is always the odds-on favorite because Christ’s death sets a new power loose in the world. It’s a power that gives life and does not take it away. It’s a power that unleashes love and forgiveness without regard for sin. It’s a power that unites people in community, and sees the good in each of us. It’s a power that calls us to show up in the world in ways that shares this new life with everyone – especially those who have been trampled on and trapped by sin. This power doesn’t flee from sin, but confronts it with love. It even has the power to raise us from the dead. We are part of this power when we are baptized into Christ, when the promise of new life washes over each of us and the power of sin is drown. “We are no longer slaves to sin”, Paul says. “For when we died with Christ (in baptism) we were set free from the power of sin.” Whether we’re 18 or 81, when we ponder “How will I show up in the world today?” Christ shows us the simplest way – with love, grace, and forgiveness. Without fail, it will lead us and others to new life. Thanks be to God. Amen.