The Lutheran Church of the Triune God

The Baptism of our Lord                                                                                January 11, 2015

 

Romans 6:1-11                        Wanted . . . Both Dead and Alive!

 

Dear fellow redeemed,

The lawmen in the old westerns didn’t mince words. 

*          If you were an outlaw and you were wanted for murder, you could pretty well predict

            how that poster would read underneath its depiction of your face: “Wanted . . . dead or

            alive!

*          No trial was necessary.  Your verdict had been issued some time ago. 

You were found guilty, except that you later escaped from jail. 

*          In any case, the quicker your reign of terror was brought to an end the better.

            You simply had to be stopped by whatever means possible.

*          Of course, it might not have seemed especially reasonable bringing you in alive.

            Presumably it would be much easier to kill you rather than to bring you in “kicking and

            screaming.”

*          A very similar story is told about you as a believer; one who’s been baptized.

            No trial is necessary.  No.  It’s not you who has already been judged.  It’s your Savior!

*          In fact he’s already died for you. But he’s also risen from the dead and is very much alive.

            And now, your Lord desires to see the same thing take place in you.

*          He doesn’t want you dead or alive.

            God wants you both dead and alive.  He wants you dead to sin but alive in Christ.

*          It’s all on account of your Baptism.  In the words of Paul: “So you also must consider

            yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

 

Most people in the religious world, however, are convinced that it must be one way or the other.

*          God must want you either to do some dying or to do some living.

            Either you must die because you have some sin to get rid of or you must live because

            you’ve already put your sin behind you.  You can’t major in both living and dying!

*          So let’s talk about the religious alternatives here.

            We begin with the many who are focused only on living; on hearing the Gospel with no

            Law.  The preaching of the Gospel, in their opinion, has given them license to live as they

            please since they’re no longer threatened by death.

*          St. Paul makes reference to them in the opening verse of our reading. 

            A number of parishioners in Rome had cheapened God grace by using it as an excuse to

            continue in sin.

*          The logic went something like this: “Well, if our sin reveals how great God’s grace is

            inasmuch as his grace covers every sin we do, then sinning more will only increase God’s

            grace so that we benefit from his grace even more!”

*          In other words, “let us step up our sinning so that good things may come to us!

            Two wrongs make a right!  If God’s going to forgive us every time, let’s give him an even

            greater reason to forgive us!  The Lord looks better.  We’re still saved.  Everyone wins!”

*          Well, obviously God’s grace will not benefit the hypocrite, which is why the apostle

            confronts the issue head on.  “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that

            grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

 

It’s the same question many may ask themselves today. 

*          People cheapen God’s grace by using it as an excuse to do as they please.

            Calling themselves Christian, they argue, “If God saves me by grace; if he wants me just

            the way I am, well then, I guess the way I am is acceptable, even if I choose this path!”

*          Imagine using this logic with regards to your physical health.

            You argue to yourself, “My brother is a doctor.  This gives me reason to eat whatever I

            want whenever I want. I may even drink myself into oblivion should I feel so inclined.

*          “After all, if my arteries get clogged or I have a heart attack, I’ll always have my brother

            to fall back on to perform the necessary surgery.”

*          The argument doesn’t sound so different with regards to our spiritual health.

 1)        If Holy Communion offers me forgiveness for all my sins this past week, then I guess I’m

            good for another week to continue living the same way.  Having received my dose of grace,

            I may now go out and commit the very same sin all over again.

 2)        Or if as the apostle says, “Baptism now saves you!” (1 Peter 3:21), well, I guess I can miss

            the divine service and the Sacrament a little longer.

*          If the Lord is my Savior, I don’t have to desist from this sin today, for I can always be

            forgiven tomorrow.  I’m living in a state of grace after all!

 

We may be reminded of the thinking of the lawman.

The outlaw is gunned down since it’s the easier way to come by that great reward.

*          We’ve got this idea that if we crucify our old self, as St. Paul puts it, or drown the Old

            Adam,  that our sinful flesh is going to remain dead.

            We don’t have to worry about bringing him in “kicking and screaming.”

            We may receive our reward and go on our merry way.

*          Unfortunately, as surely as the Old Adam is drowned and dies through Baptism by daily

            contrition and repentance, so does he reemerge each and every day.

*          And we must begin the entire process all over again. We die to sin. We drown the Old

            Adam.  Each time kicking and screaming is the only way he’s going down.

*          God’s grace is not intended for those who are focused on only living, that is, living with

            their sin.  Yes.  We’re saved by grace as our sins are washed away.

*          However, as surely as we’re saints so are we still sinners.

            And guess what our sin promises us. 

            In the words of James, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time

            and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

*          Focusing only on living is not a reasonable outlook, for such living is bound to come to

            an end.

 

Many in the religious world are focused on only living, hearing the Gospel and no Law.

*          Many others in the religious world are focused only on dying, hearing the Law with no

            Gospel.  They don’t think about living, for they’ve lost the will to live.

*          So, in their case, so they don’t cheapen God’s grace; they give up on his grace.  “God

            does not want me as I am” they’re thinking. “And there’s no way I’m changing things!”

*          Their view is often traced back to bad preaching, which stresses only the Law. 

            And it may have something to do with not listening very well to John the Baptist.

*          We hear that he proclaimed “a baptism of repentance” and conclude that he came

            preaching only the Law and sin.  We often forget to listen to the part about him preaching

            a Baptism “for the forgiveness of sins.”

*          And that’s when we may be led to believe that the Christian life is only about contrition

            and guilt.  We become relentless in our efforts to turn over a new leaf. 

            But it always seems there’s one more leaf; one more step to completing our act of

            repentance.

*          We must die a little more, for we’re still feeling guilty, like we haven’t done quite enough,

            and time is running out.

 

Especially susceptible to such thinking at times may be the elderly.

*          You make the observation that your life is winding down and therefore that the next few

            years will serve as your final chance be someone special in the life of a given loved one.

*          As time progresses and your gifts in your opinion diminish, you begin to lose your

            incentive.  And as your life or your health takes a sudden turn, you may even become

            ambivalent about whether you continue living or whether you’re taken home.

*          At best you’re feeling torn.

 1)        Perhaps your husband has died this last year.

 2)        Or it’s looking likely that you’ll soon have to move and become shut-in.

 3)        Or you’ve developed chronic pain in a certain joint or muscle and you’re making more and

            more trips to the doctor.

*          Sometimes we feel torn, like we have little reason for living.

            Maybe death would simplify matters for those whom we love most dearly.

 

We may consider it somewhat disturbing at times the fascination some people have with death.

*          The Walking Dead is horror television series based on a comic book.

            A certain sheriff’s deputy awakens from a coma to find a post-apocalyptic world that’s

            dominated by flesh-eating zombies. So he sets out to find his family and he encounters

            many other survivors along the way.

*          I guess it’s a horrifying concept. Crossing paths with those who are both dead and alive at

            the same time; wondering whether you might be the next victim.

*          Well, let me tell you about the real fantasy.

            It’s the idea that being both dead and alive as a believer is something frightening.

*          But here’s what you should know.

            Focusing only on dying is unreasonable outlook, for when you die you also live.

*          And actually, we don’t ever have to dwell on dying, for as long as we’re living – in fact,

            every moment of our life –  Christ has a purpose for us living.

 

Let’s consider, finally, God’s alternative, as he wants us both dead and alive.

God wants you, not to specifically to end your reign of terror, but that he may reign in you.

*          We consider today’s Gospel reading, and what Jesus heard from his Father.

             “And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

*          As Christ’s Baptism marked the beginning of his ministry, we may imagine how comforting

            these words were to him.  Before he even begins to follow through he’s assured he’ll succeed. 

            He’ll atone for the sins of the world!

*          But his Baptism isn’t just about him. By God’s grace God is pleased with us through

            Baptism. Our Baptism, you see is where God’s grace makes us as his children.

            He wants you the way you are, despite your sinfulness, for he promises to overcome your

            sinfulness by uniting you with Christ’s death and resurrection, so that you might die and

            live – over and over again.

 

That’s right.  Some focus only on living.  Others focus only on dying.

*          However, the baptized may focus on both dying and living.

            That is to say, we don’t want to live so that we might only die.  

            We wish to die so that we might live.

*          And just listen to the Christian’s logic who hears both the Law and the Gospel.

            Because God has made me his child I wish to live as his child!”

             “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

*          It will no longer be my sin that has life, as far as I’m concerned.

            It will be my Savior who gives me life through his Word of forgiveness.

*          And the word sounds something like this: “Death no longer has dominion over him.

            For the death he died he died to sin, once for all.”

*          That means I don’t have to be intimidated by death, for sin’s been taken out of the

            equation.  As surely as Christ died for my sin, I will die to sin!”  (Rom. 6:8 ?)

 

Even so, sometimes we try to block death out of our minds.  All this dying is frightening to us. 

*          If it was just once, maybe we’d be halfway up for it.

            But day after day, year after year we die to sin; we live in Christ.

*          But here’s the thing, Christians don’t have to be afraid of dying, whether it’s our one

            death at the end of our life, or whether it’s our daily dying.

*          Because of what coincides with death, we don’t have to be afraid at all.

             “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was

            raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

*          As Christ rose from the dead, we enjoy a daily rising from the dead.

            Having died to sin, we live with Christ. 

            Having received Christ’s forgiveness, not only are we happy, with God’s help, to put our

            sin behind us.  We’re eager to do so.

*          Imagine! We get to live a life which is pleasing to our Heavenly Father every day in

            every way.

 

The apostle Paul, like the western lawman never minced words. 

He writes in Second Corinthians: “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). 

*          He speaks of the effects of the Law and of the Gospel.

            It also happens to be the effect that our Baptism has on us.

            On the one hand, we die.  On the other hand, we live, we receive the Lord’s grace.

*          Now, perhaps that seems to be the most unreasonable outlook of any claiming to be

            religious.  Who wants to both die and live?

*          I’ll tell you who.  The one who knows he’s wanted by God, that he’s saved not by cheap

            grace or unreachable grace but God’s grace.

*          Yes.  The baptized are bound to feel torn.

 1)        On the one hand we’re tired.  We’re not sure that we want to go another whole round.

             Maybe God should take us home.

 2)        On the other hand, we’re thinking of the many things we still want to do and the many

            ways we’d still like to serve those we love.  Maybe God should wait a little while.

*          Are you feeling torn? It’s all right. Just remember that you’re wanted both dead and alive.

             “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. 

            So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”                    Amen.

 

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   Amen.