The Fifth Sunday in Lent, 29 March 2020
A Sermon on Romans 8:1-11 by Samuel David Zumwalt
Romans 8:1-11 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
DYING TO RISE: SPIRITEDLY
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
You Can’t Get There from Here!
When I was a nineteen-year-old having just completed my freshman college year, I was employed for the summer at a farm and ranch center. Occasionally, I was sent to deliver liquid fertilizer and feed to farmers and ranchers. Now, this was long before the days of GPS, and even the paper maps available in the pickup truck did not have the level of detail one needed to get to where I needed to go. Because these deliveries were going directly to farmers and ranchers at work in their fields, they had to give clear directions to the office manager so that he could give clear directions to me.
If the directions were not accurately given or were not accurately received, I would invariably learn where the old saying came from: “You can’t get there from here!” Since there were no cell phones and none of the company pickups had Citizen Band radios, it would mean backtracking to the nearest country store that had a pay phone in order to call for more information.
To understand why St. Paul begins our reading as he does, we must backtrack to the end of Romans chapter 7. There Paul writes: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”
Paul has laid out already that the mortal body is captive to sin, and that is why it is mortal. We must die, because we do not fear, love, and trust God above all else. Paul is bringing forward what he has previously written that, on one’s own, you can’t get there from here. He means that God must do all the work of saving us through our Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection. God’s Son Jesus has died on the cross out of God’s great love for all sinners. God wants none to be lost and all to be saved.
Christ Jesus Gets You There from Here!
To get to salvation, we have to be moved from objective justification, which means God sent His Son Jesus to die for the sins of all people of every time and place, to subjective justification, which means to be baptized into the Lord Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. Paul has already told us this in chapter six. Here, he emphasizes that the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, brings us to that new birth from above that our Lord Jesus described in John 3:5. You will remember that St. Luke gives us St. Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, where once having made clear that his hearers are responsible for the crucifixion of the One whom the Father has raised up as both Lord and King, they ask Peter what they must do. He answers: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (2:38-39). We Christians die to rise spiritedly!
So, then, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Baptized into His saving death and resurrection, Christ has set us free by taking upon Himself our sin and our death. He has freely given us His life and righteousness (His right relationship with the Father) as a gift. Christ Jesus has, by His saving death, gotten us there from here. We have the Spirit. We are not guilty!
But, as Paul has laid out for us at the end of chapter 7, we are still stuck in these mortal bodies from which comes out of the heart all manner of evil in thought, word, and deed. This body must die. But we Christians don’t have to act on our evil desires. We don’t have to kill when we are angry or fail to protect when someone attacks our neighbor. We don’t have to steal or hoard when we covet. We don’t have to speak ill of or damn with faint praise our neighbor. We don’t have to act out on or keep on feeding impure thoughts towards our neighbor. And so forth. Setting our minds on the things of the flesh results in death. To continue to walk by the flesh will lead to spiritual death. That is why everyday the baptized must drown the old Adam or Eve, the old sinner, through repentance.
Holy Baptism is not magic. It is a way of death and life. But, when the devil throws your sins in your face and wants you to despair, you can point to your Baptism as God’s Word spoken to you. You have been crucified with Christ and have been raised to new life in Him, life in God’s Spirit.
The Holy Spirit Will Guide Your Getting There!
In these uncertain days of the coronavirus, the media have stoked our fears with a daily disease-and- death count both around the world and in our country. You may remember that gross old journalistic dictum that says, “If it bleeds; it leads.” In other words, bad news sells in every type of news medium. People slow down to look at car wrecks and anytime they see flashing lights. People are attracted to movies, shows, and sports that offer violence and horror. Bad news certainly sells!
The wonderful gift, yes, the Good News of our Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection is we know that the death of these mortal bodies is not the end. Yes, even Spirit-filled Christians don’t want to die even though we know Christ has promised we are going to get there. I often say, “I know where I want to go, but I’m not ready to catch the next bus.” Nevertheless, I know someday I must.
So, we are on the way there to our bodily death and to our bodily resurrection. We will not dwell eternally as disembodied spirits. We will be raised in bodies that cannot die, will not feel pain, will not grow old, and will not ever have to cry, grieve, or say goodbye again. Our Lord Jesus has promised us very clearly at the end of the Greatest Story Ever Told. Look at Revelation 21 where Christ Jesus promises to make all things new. He gives us a word about the last things – eschatology!
So, then on the way to the getting there, that Christ Jesus has secured for us through our Baptism into His saving death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit is working to guide our getting there. How does He (the Holy Spirit) do that. He calls us out of the world through God’s Word. He works through the same Word that comes from outside of us and through His Visible Word, namely, the Word joined to the earthly stuff of water, bread, wine, yes, mouths that proclaim God’s judgment and the Good News (through which faith comes), yes, even through the hands that pour the water, sign Christ’s cross on us, and serve the very Body and most precious Blood of Christ in the Host and in the Cup.
Gnosticism, one of the earliest heresies of the Christian Church, claimed to have special knowledge. Contrary to God’s Word where God calls His creation very good, Gnosticism declared that matter is bad. On the one hand, this led to the kind of denial that the Word became flesh in God’s Son Jesus. On the other hand, this led to the kind of denial that what we do with our bodies matters. Gnosticism is among us today when Christians deny that the Holy Spirit works through the earthly stuff of water, bread, and wine. Gnosticism is also among us today when Christians deny that the Holy Spirit will abandon those bodies remaining in constant rebellion against God’s Word. Paul makes clear that a mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. Martin Luther writes in his Smalcald Articles: “… The Holy Spirit does not permit sin to rule and gain the upper hand in such a way that sin is committed, but the Holy Spirit represses and restrains it so that it does not do what it wishes. If sin does what it wishes the Holy Spirit and faith are not present” (The Book of Concord: Tappert Edition, 310:44-45).
Brothers and Sisters, we have a different story than the world’s story. In these days when fear leads and death sells, we hear the Lord of the Church saying clearly: “Do not be afraid!” It is vital to immerse ourselves in the Word of God and prayer daily, especially when our neighbors are losing hope and acting like animals stuck in the fight or flight mode of being. Yes, there is a time to fight as we are doing with our prayers and good works. Yes, there is a time to flee, as we are doing with our safe sheltering in place. But the Lord God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is in charge. We are His!
For those of you on the frontlines in the battle against the coronavirus: thank you! For those of you on the home front teaching children, caring for neighbors, and keeping the faith: thank you! As you are able, make your way to receive the Lord’s true Body in the Host or call upon us to bring the Host to you. We can do so safely. Ours is not a disembodied faith. The Holy Spirit works through external means of grace, the Word and Sacraments, to guide us all the way there… safe and home at last!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
Dying to Rise: Spiritedly
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen (The Daily Prayer of the Church, p. 986).
Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Origen [ Early 3rd century Bible scholar and theologian in Alexandria, Egypt]: “After having taught what conflict there is in those who are caught in the struggle between a mind which lives according to the law of God and the desires of the flesh which lead them into sin, Paul now goes on to talk not about those who are partly in the flesh and partly in the Spirit but about those who are wholly in Christ. He declares that there is nothing in them worthy of condemnation” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Romans, 200).
Romans 8:5 “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh …”
St. Clement [Late 2nd – early 3rd century Christian theologian in Alexandria, Egypt]: “It is possible to think of those who have just recently been instructed in the faith and who are still little ones in Christ as carnal, for he calls those who have already believed by the Holy Spirit spiritual and those newly taught and not yet purified carnal. He speaks of these latter as carnal with good reason, for like the pagans they still mind the things of the flesh” (207).
Romans 8:10 “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”
St. Augustine [Late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius, Algeria]: “Paul calls the body dead because it is mortal. Furthermore, it is because of this mortality that the lack of earthly things troubles the soul and arouses certain desires, to which the man who serves the law of God in his mind does not submit and sin” (212).
Romans 8:11 “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “Therefore do not let your body live in this world, so that it may be made alive in the next one! For if it goes on living it will die, but if it dies now it will live forever. This is the case with resurrection in general. We must first die and be buried, and then we shall become immortal. This has already been done in baptism …. The man who is dead to this life is thus the one who is most truly alive” (213).
1. Am I entirely willing to die with Christ that the Holy Spirit may raise me to new life in Him?
Confession (from Luther’s Small Catechism)
HOW CHRISTIANS SHOULD BE TAUGHT TO CONFESS
Again, he shall say: “Do you believe that this forgiveness is the forgiveness of God?”
Answer: “Yes, I do.”
Then he shall say: “Be it done for you as you have believed. According to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Go in peace” (Luther’s Small Catechism).
1. Pray daily for every unbaptized child, youth, and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.
2. Pray daily for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship with you next weekend as part of striving to “encourage spiritual growth in others.”
3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend how the Holy Spirit works through the Word and Sacraments to give us the mind of Christ. Ask how in our daily remembering of our Baptism the Holy Spirit grants us grace to think spiritedly. How can Paul’s words to the Romans become a great encouragement to strive to “pray daily?”
4. If you haven’t signed up to serve in one of the many worship ministries of our congregation, please do so as part of striving to “serve at and beyond St. Matthew’s.” God is calling you, and your neighbor needs your service!
5. If you are a confirmed member or an inquirer, set aside time every day to read God’s Word as part of your striving to “worship weekly and read the Bible.”
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”