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June 21, 2020

Message for June 21, 2020-“No Going Back!”

(Based on Lesson: Romans 5: 20-6:7, 11)

The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We 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.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

      On this blessed Father’s Day, 2020, we have been given a true gift in our Holy Scripture.  Paul’s letter to the Roman Church represents his most mature and developed theology.  It was Paul’s strong desire to have an opportunity to visit Rome and to preach his gospel message there.  Rome was a bustling city center, the seat of social, political and economic power and authority.  The church at Rome was comprised of both Jews and gentile converts, and Paul wanted deeply to share the message of God’s plan of salvation through Christ Jesus with this diverse population.  His Letter to the church at Rome was his means of self-introduction to a Church and people he had never met.  Therefore, it needed to represent nothing shy of his best theological work.

     Paul built his theological foundation in the Letter to the Romans from the ground up.  He began with a discussion of God’s righteous nature, and of human sin.  Sin deserves God’s wrath and judgement.  Sin separates us from the good and perfect will of God.  The law was given so that it might reveal sin, but it cannot prevent or atone for sin. Therefore, no one is made righteous under the law, for even knowing the law, no one can keep all of it.  All have fallen short.

     God, in God’s infinite wisdom, has provided a righteousness that is apart from the law—a   righteousness that comes through faith.  In historical context, Paul examines the relationship of Abraham and God, showing how it was through faith in God’s promises to him, and not by works of the law, that Abraham was accounted as righteous by God.  This paves the way for the justification of sinners, our righteousness, to come through faith in God’s plan for our salvation in the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, our Lord.  It is through Jesus, and not works of the law, that we have access, by our faith, to God’s grace-filled forgiveness.  Christ Jesus alone is our righteousness.

     The Hellenistic society of the Roman Empire was rife with philosophical thinking and discourse.  Some of the moral thinkers of Paul’s day feared that his message about God’s plan of justifying sinners by faith through grace, apart from works of the law, would create an environment in which sin would abound.  Paul takes moral issue with anyone who would draw this conclusion in our lesson today.  Paul insists, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We 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.”   In short, we are dead to sin and alive in Christ—there is no going back!

     I have done a great deal of meditative work this week utilizing the words above as my mantra—repeating to myself, there is no going back…there is no going back.  I have done so as my prayer response to the rising acts of racism we have experienced in the events of the recent past in our   country.  The first Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration honoring the end of slavery in the United States, occurred in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865—155 years ago yesterday.  There’s no going back!

     The actions of Miss Rosa Parks helped to promote the cause of the civil rights movement in our nation when, in 1955, some 90 years after the first Juneteenth, she refused on the principal of race equity to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  There’s no going back.

     The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963, had these word to say, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [men] are created equal.  I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”  Brothers and sisters in Christ, that time has come.  There’s no going back!

    In 1994, as I have shared, in the wake of the Rodney King beating and ensuing protests and riots, I was able to participate in a course on racial equality, justice and sensitivity.  I can recall hearing the instructors say to our group, “This racial violence must end—we must actively and intentionally seek to develop the changes that will bring peace to our county.”  And I thought to myself, “This is the time, there’s no going back!”

     Yet here we are, in racial tension upheaval again, actually “still” is more accurate.  We did not follow through, we did not effect a real and lasting change.  Tempers have been slowly simmering to reach this latest boil.  I am reminded that as a Christian, we are all God’s people, in all of our diversity of sizes, shapes, ethnicities and colors.  We are all saved by God’s grace through our faith in Christ—thank God.  Sin is the great and ultimate equalizer of humanity.  None is righteous—no not one.  Christ is our salvation—by his cross we are initiated into a wonderful and abundant new life.  In this new life we have a commandment—love one another as I [Christ] have loved you.  Love, not if and when it is convenient and comfortable to do so, or if you think someone is worthy of love.  That’s not what Jesus said to us.  We are to love everyone, no one can stand worthy alone—we all stand in God’s marvelous grace by our faith—dead to sin and to all acts that are not loving.  It is a new day for Christians.  It is time to start working together with the Holy Spirit to grow in love for all of God’s people.  As Paul’s message to the Romans today reminds us—stand up and be counted among those who are saved by grace and called to follow the command of Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior—a call to love all of God’s people.  Quite simply stated—there’s no going back!  Amen.