(watch here: https://youtu.be/7OjCkCRaKaY)
1What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
12Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
An Amish boy and his father were visiting a mall. They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and back together again. The boy asked his father, “What is this, Father?” The father responded, “Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life, I don’t know what it is.” While the boy and his father were watching wide-eyed an old lady in a wheel chair rolled up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls opened and the lady rolled between them into a small room. The walls closed and the boy and his father watched small circles of lights w/numbers above the walls light up. They continued to watch the circles light up in the reverse direction. The walls opened up again and a beautiful 24 year old woman stepped out. The father said to his son, “Go get your Mother.”
Okay, okay, probably not the most politically correct joke to lift up in today’s cultural environment…but a funny illustration of the power of transformation nonetheless! We’re closing out our 3-week miniseries on the book of Romans this morning as we head into the long season of Pentecost. Paul’s letter offers deep and rich insight into what it means to be a faithful Christian. Believe it or not, Christianity is a profound understanding of who God is and what his relationship is with us. No other religion claims God entering into the human experience so intimately as to actually take on the form of man and suffer and die as a man. This is an understanding distinctly unique to Christianity. No other religion dares to restrict God to human mortality. God doesn’t die! Or at least God shouldn’t die! Where is the hope in God dying? God can’t die! The whole universe relies on God for its existence. If God can die, then everything else can die too. And if everything else can die, then darkness wins after all. No hope, no love…no, God can’t die. And yet He does according to our belief.
But that isn’t the end of the story. Yes, God dies but He also rises again to new life. Death is not the end after all. Easter shows the world that God not only died but defeated death. Jesus did something that no other man before or since has been able to do. He went into death and was reborn into the Christ who walks among us today. And it wasn’t like he cheated death the way that many people have cheated it over the years. No, Jesus was “dead, dead.” His body was beyond physically capable to come back to life. The spirit might be willing but the body just isn’t able. And yet Jesus’ body was able to come back to life. Because Jesus is more than a man. Jesus is God too! Jesus Christ–fully human, fully God. No other religion claims such a God-man at center of its belief and this is pretty profound if you think about it.
What’s equally profound is the transformation that takes place in Jesus’ death and resurrection. How is it possible that Jesus is able to be transformed into the Christ, the one who defeats death and lives again? Some would argue that Jesus isn’t necessarily transformed as much as he is revealed. He wasn’t changed into the Christ, the Christ within him was revealed through death and resurrection. But this minimizes the importance of the body. Was the body simply a shell used to transport God? Does Christ no longer need a body then? No, Christ needs a body just as much as you and I need a body. It enables to exist in this world, to experience all the joys and sorrows that this world has to offer. Jesus died and rose to a new body…he was transformed, not simply revealed! I don’t know how it was possible for Jesus to be transformed into the Christ, the divine existing in a new body, but maybe we aren’t supposed to know lest such knowledge takes away from faith. God wants us to live by faith sometimes. In faith there is hope. In certainty there is no hope. Not that there aren’t any benefits to certainty. We need certainty in life for safety, assurance, and stability to name but a few benefits. But you can’t have hope without faith, without fully embracing the great unknowns of life and allowing God to work in your life.
Maybe we should focus less on understanding how Jesus was transformed and simply appreciate the process of transformation for what it is as a source of hope. We heard in today’s passage Paul wisely linked the Jesus’ transformation in his death and resurrection to the transformation that occurs in baptism. Just as Jesus took on a new form through his death and resurrection, we take on a new form in our baptisms. Rather ironically, we take on the form of Christ; he changes and we change into him through our baptisms! A profound mystery indeed! And the transformations are what are important, not the how and the why such transformations are possible. Jesus was transformed for a purpose—to illustrate that God can die and defeat death. More importantly, that love and hope will never die! Death is not an end, it is a beginning for new life. We are transformed for a similar purpose—to illustrate that hope and love can live in us too. Hope and love are not restricted to God alone. We can be great sources of hope and love by how we live and serve each other. That’s why Paul asserts right at the start of our reading for today, “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!” In baptism, we are transformed into the same sources of love and hope as God is.
Paul continually stressed the importance of Christian transformation throughout his various letters. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he writes, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (3:18) Transformation is a process that begins with our baptisms and turns us more and more into Christ. How do we know we’re becoming more like Christ? By the fruit of the Spirit we bear along the way of course. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul explains, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (5:22-23) Our fruit reveals the transformation.
As we close out not only this series on Paul’s letter to the Romans but also the Easter season, let us rejoice in the transformative nature of our belief. Jesus was transformed through his death and resurrection and we are transformed through the baptismal waters. We are both changed into great sources of hope and love. Let our fruits bear witness to such transformation. As we go through the transformation of our Christian faith, let us cling to Paul’s words in his second letter to the Thessalonians, “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” (3:5) Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.