"By No Means"

Romans 6:1-11; Romans 8:24-28

Rev. Dr. Lisa Rzepka

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Introduction to Worship. Today is the second of three weeks, in which we are taking a brief trip through. Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  This letter is Paul’s most systematic approach to his theology of God. As I mentioned last week, the letter is dense with unfamiliar language and concepts about the ways of God. The word “Theology” literally translated means “God words” or “words about God.” Which is why included in your bulletin is the Rami Shapiro quote: “The God of your understanding is just that: the God of your understanding.  What you need is a God just beyond your understanding.”
That’s why we gather week to week, is to explore together the God who is just beyond our understanding.

Next to the quote is the Hindu symbol of Shiva Nata-raja; the Hindu god of creation, preservation and destruction.
In our Wednesday Bible Study, we are reading the book Holy Envy: Finding Faith in the God of Others; which brought the existence of this symbol to my awareness. 

Scripture Intro Romans 6:1-18. Last week we read from Romans chapter 5. In chapter 5, we heard Paul say that we are justified by faith apart from works and therefore, we have peace with God.  In other words, no matter how much we have sinned, God is continually taking our messy relationships and trying to reconcile us to Godself and to one another.

At the end of Romans chapter 5 Paul concludes that “where sin multiplied, grace abounded all the more.”  With much Sin, there is much Grace! Doesn’t that sound like good news?  The more we sin, the more God forgives! 

Paul’s proclamation “Grace abounds”  prompts the question:  “Should we continue to sin in order that grace may abound?”

Paul says, “By No Means” which some theologians interpret as, “Hell NO!” However, Paul’s rejoinder has not put an end to the belief that justification by grace is an “easy road to righteousness.” 

French philosopher Voltaire allegedly said: “God will forgive, [because] that is His ‘business.’”

And, 20th century poet W. H. Auden said: “I like committing crimes. God likes forgiving them. Really the world is admirably arranged.”[1]

I remember being asked at Montreat Youth Conference, why be good when we know God forgives us? 

Read the whole report – Paul might say. 

And so, our reading continues with Romans chapter 6, verses 12-18. 
My reflection will end with the prayer from Romans 8:24-28.

Listen again for a word from God to each of us this morning.

12 Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body
        so that you obey its evil desires. 
13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness,
but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to [God]
       as an instrument of righteousness.
14 For sin shall no longer be your master, 
       because you are not under the law, but under grace.

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 

16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—
  whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, 
  or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 

17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, 
you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.
18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

The Word of God for the People of God.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

The language of slavery is repellant to many of us…Even if it is slavery to righteousness. We, in America, still live with the ruinous effects of chattel slavery – where an enslaved person is owned forever; bought and sold like property. Our contemporary notion of slavery and freedom are very different than Paul’s. Freedom is understood in our context as freedom for self-determination, freedom from restraint. The casting off of all restraint is maximum freedom – we tend to think. In our contemporary American culture, freedom carries the implication that humans are autonomous individuals whose purpose in life is to maximize personal freedom.

Yet, for Paul, maximum freedom is the casting off of all evil and the unreserved submission to The One who is good. There is no middle ground. 
There are only two choices. Only two choices? How hard can that be?

Slavery choices reminds me of a story I read about the development of the typewriter.  In the 19th century, when typewriters were invented, it was discovered that if you hit the keys too quickly, one after the other, they would stick and jam the machine. To remedy that issue, the keys were arranged in such a way that the typists would slow down. 

Two centuries later, most of us still type on the same keyboard layout.  Even though we work on computers that can take signals 50 times faster,  we are slaves to a system developed in the mid-1800s. There are other keyboards available, but it would take time to learn and adapt – and it’s easier not to change. 

Sometimes Slavery is more comfortable than freedom.  Sometimes we are not even aware of the Sin to which we are enslaved. Some have likened our slavery to Sin to having an addiction. An addiction is doing something that seems pleasurable, at first, but the Sin eventually takes over and has the power to destroy.  

If you can’t immediately identify with the concept of addiction, consider various types of addiction: Chemical Substances, smoking

Addiction to behaviors: think of eating disorders, anorexia, bulimia, over-eating for comfort, other addictive behaviors are gambling, sex, shoplifting, to work, exercise, over-parenting – can you think of any others??

In his book, Recovery: The Sacred Art, Rami Shapiro says almost everyone is addicted…to the delusion that life is controllable.

In his words, “[The delusion] It means constantly struggling to maintain the illusion that you are controlling [your life].   It means lying to yourself all day, every day, insisting with enough effort, you can get life to do whatever you want it to do. It means having to mask your failure at controlling life by blaming others - your parents, your spouse or partner, your children, your colleagues, your friends – for your failure [to control] life events.”[2] 

We dull the pain of failure with alcohol, pills, television, overwork, or however you choose to numb yourself. Shapiro says we are addicted to the idea we can play God. That’s the Sin of hubris. Anyone familiar with the 12 Step Program is aware that step 1 is knowing you are not in control and step 2 is giving Oneself over to a Higher Power. Submission and obedience. 

Paul says: Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to [God].
An addict gets up every day and has to consciously decide to stay in recovery… I’ve had many addictions in my life – including the delusion of control.  Thirty-two years ago, I gave up an addiction to cigarettes. And, I have to tell you, there are times when I still think, “A cigarette would be good right now. And then I remember, wait…I quit.”

Paul reminds us that in our baptism…we died to our Sin, and every day we when we rise, we need to renew the decision to follow God – the God shown to us in Christ Jesus. That is one of the critical symbols of baptism, the dying to Sin, and being raised to new life.  We are not chattel slaves, we have a choice.  We choose to follow the way of God in Christ and in so doing, we intend to be God’s instruments of righteousness, obedient to the ways of goodness over evil. 

And - By no means – will we continue to Sin so that Grace may abound. As instruments of righteousness, we join The Lord of the Dance in all that is True, and Good, and Whole – so that God may bring to fulfillment all that God intends for the world. And when Sin threatens, we can have confidence in Romans 8:

24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words…28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. In that we place our faith and trust. Amen.

[1] Talbert, Charles H. “Romans: Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary” (Georgia: Smyth & Helwys), 175-176.

[2] Rami Shapiro, “Recovery - the sacred art: The Twelve Steps as Spiritual Practice.” (Skylight Paths Publishing), 2009, p. ix.