Sermon - "A Matter of Death and Life" Audio link at http://dl.dropbox.com/u/23575548/110410Romans8.mp3
Set our minds on the Spirit, bringing life and peace to us, in the name of ┼ the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"It's a matter of life and death!" We hear that once in a while. A friend of mine once had a difficult time on the telephone with someone who wanted to come to a church service and take the sermon time one Sunday to give a presentation about the crisis of runaway teenagers. The caller was adamant. This situation of teenagers running away from difficult family circumstances and ending up in homelessness, poverty, prostitution, drug abuse, and even slavery was a matter of life and death. And it is. But what he didn't understand was that my pastor friend had a matter of death and life to address every Sunday, and it was a matter of death and life which applies to every man, woman and child in this world, not only those who run away from home. It is a matter of death and life that won't be addressed by keeping teenagers at home in their difficult circumstances. It is a matter of death and life that is only ever dealt with by the proclamation of Christ crucified for sinners, Christ crucified for us. This is a matter of death and life.
That sounds backwards, right? We think we have life. The brother of former President Jimmy Carter, Billy, when asked about being "born again," responded that he was doing well enough to be born once. And that 's what most of our culture thinks. There's one birth that matters. It's physical. It marks the beginning of our life, just like our physical death marks the end of our life. And we've bought into this idea so thoroughly that it seems crazy to say there's another life, one which starts when God regenerates us by giving us faith in Jesus, then continues into eternity, no matter what happens to our bodily and temporal life. But this is what the Bible says. It's all, in fact, a matter of death and life. Death and life, not life and death. The death comes first.
Recall with me Genesis chapter 3. When mankind enters into sin through our first parents, Adam and Eve, we enter into death. This death is part of the inheritance that each one of us receives from our parents. This sinful condition which brings death and separation from God is obvious throughout our world, from the weeds we kill to the dead animal we saw by the side of the road, to our relatives who reach the end of their apparent life span and who die. Sin brings with it death, and none of us is immune. Eventually we all become like Lazarus. We all become like the people from Ezekiel, who are reduced to bones. We live this life for now, but ultimately our life is, in fact, death. We think we'll be here for a long time. Some of us seem to be in the prime of life. And it's easy to picture many many years of unchanging health, unchanging hopes, a very bright future. But I'll guarantee you this. 120 years from now, none of us will be here. And some of us will be worn out and finished a lot sooner than that. Most of us are realistically looking at fifty years or less. This message, then, the message of the Church, the proclamation of Law and Gospel, is a message of death. We see our sin. We confess our sin. We know the wages of sin is death. And that's what we see in the law. God tells us what our life on this earth will be like, and that it is temporary. Whatever we do for ourselves, whatever we strive for, however we take care of ourselves or our possessions, it will all pass away. We try to keep God's commands and see that we can't. We try to love our neighbors as ourselves and see that we can't. And we try again tomorrow, the next day, and the next day. Yet we are unable to live up to God's perfection in Christ. And we realize we will run out of days surprisingly soon. Our dependence on the flesh, our dependence on our works, our labor, it is all striving to catch the wind, or to keep the sunshine in a shoebox in the closet. We show ourselves hostile to God, enemies to God, who rise up and depend on ourselves when our Lord has shown us clearly that we are to depend on him. It's a matter of death.
Yet this Christian life is also a matter of just that, life. When we have reached the end of our own labors, when we have seen that we are not able to redeem ourselves, when we realize that no matter our efforts we, like Lazarus, will lie down and die, then will decay like he did the second time he died, then we look to our Lord. We look to the hope that God has given us, this faith in Jesus, who has washed us from sin, who has granted us faith, who has promised that his life is a life of perfect righteousness, who has given his life over to death on our behalf, who has risen from the dead as the firstfruits of the resurrection. We look in hope to our Lord, who redeems us, both body and soul. We look to the true life, eternal life, which Jesus promises will never end, no matter what our enemies do to our bodies. We look to the sure and certain hope of the resurrection from the dead. We see that this law, the law that says Christ's death is on our behalf, the law of the Spirit, frees us from the law of sin and death. We see that Jesus, in dying for us, has proclaimed sin and death to be powerless. We see that Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, can set our minds on the life that he gives, granting us life and peace. We see that our Lord has given us a life which is pleasing to God, not because we are able to do worthy things, but because he is working in and through us.
This is the life in the Spirit. This is the life which overcomes the grave. This is the life which our Lord creates in us, not according to our ability, but according to his ability. We, like those dead and decomposed people in the book of Ezekiel, receive life by the breath of the Holy Spirit. We, like they, receive life when there's no earthly reason why we should expect to live. We, like Lazarus, are raised up by the faithful promise of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And we know that in the last day the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies. He will raise us up into immortality. Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life. We have no reason for fear. We have no reason to despair. We have no reason to run and hide. No. This matter of death and life ends in life. May Jesus Christ, the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, dwell in us richly, in the name of ┼ the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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