4th Sunday after Pentecost “Baptized into God’s Greater Story”
June 25, 2023 Romans 6: (1-11) 12-23
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
So, we heard in the Epistle reading from Romans 6 – about not letting sin control our bodies & lives; for we have been brought from death to life so that our lives are to be instruments of righteousness. But *what has happened to us that this should be so? What happened was …Baptism. So, let me read those verses leading up to our lesson, chp.6:1-11.
Have you ever caught your reflection in a window? It’s different than in a mirror; it’s much more subtle. Mostly we ignore these reflections, because the purpose of a window is to look out. So, for example, you’re looking out the window; it’s a nice summer day & the kids/ /grandkids are in the yard playing. Then your eyes refocus, and you see your reflection in the glass; and like an optical illusion, it looks like your image is out there with them in the yard.
That glimpse may change your mind about why you are inside & not out there with them – sharing in their fun. So, you might stop what you’re doing and go out & join them. And if you can’t go out, maybe seeing your reflection with them simply gives you a little shot of joy; because, for a moment, it seemed that you were not completely excluded from the family & fun. You were not actually out there, but your reflection reminded you = you still have a connection to a larger story.
I think this idea is part of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Thru Paul, God holds up a window for us so we will catch our reflection in the glass, that we might see ourselves joined with our family of believers back then, as well as the family of God of all time. This is what God’s Spirit-filled Word does to us. No matter who we are, where we are, or the different things that happen each of us, God’s Spirit helps us see that we are each a small part of a larger story. It’s both humbling & comforting that the world does not revolve around us & our lives. The best news is that we have been brought into God’s larger story, and that’s what shapes our living the most.
For the next 12 weeks, our Epistle reading will come from chapters 6 to 14 of Paul’s letter to the Romans. It’s a missionary letter, written to a church that Paul had not yet visited; and in it, Paul lays out a large vision of God working thru His people in the world.
Paul doesn’t know these believers in Rome personally; but he does know their faith in the One Creator & Savior, and he teaches them about the way their merciful God works in the world. As he tells them this greater story of God, he wants them to catch their own reflection in the glass and to know they have been made a part of the story.
In the first century AD, Rome was a great & modern city; but God had brought them into something even greater. God’s Word is like that; it gives another kind of sight & understanding, beyond our time & circumstances. It will change how you see yourself, and so it changes how you live with yourself & others. God’s view is that you are part of something larger than just your own life & circumstances. God’s Word worked like that back then, and it works like that now, so that WE will see how God has brought US into something greater than living in America in the 21st century AD.
Many centuries have passed since Paul first wrote this letter. The old Roman Empire ‘expired’ & is gone. Nations & peoples come & go; it’s hard for us to see that! There was a time when the United States was not; and there may come a day when it is no more. But God’s kingdom has always been, & it remains. In our day, commerce is different, technologies have changed. Yet the real spiritual/eternal needs of human beings has never changed; and so the real work of God continues.
God Himself doesn’t change; and He is still at work thru His Word & Spirit to change us; He wants to rescue & redeem sinful, enslaved humans. And so, we can consider God’s unchanging truth to the Christians back in Rome, and it will be like standing at the window and looking across the centuries, seeing ourselves reflected in what He says. God makes us part of His larger story in order to change the way we live in His world == in the righteousness Paul writes about.
So, to begin with, the HSp reminds us that in Baptism we have been brought into the middle of an on-going story. By God’s design, Baptism makes disciples of Christ & children of God; that’s how God has brought our life-story into His ongoing kingdom. It is like when you were physically born as an infant, you entered a world already in motion. When you were born, you were a new stranger to those around you, & they were strangers to you. Over time, you became a part of the larger story around you; you were part of the family & history.
In a similar way, God’s work in His Church & Kingdom did not start with you; it was already in motion. But, in your time, He has birthed you into His family, and into a timeless kingdom. This is the Gospel-story; and you were not there in the very beginning.
Before that beginning, God alone existed before anything else was made. God alone created this world out of nothing. He spoke & made the universe & planets; making the land & sea & vegetation. After preparing a world for His human creatures to discover & use, after preparing a garden as a special home, after preparing plants & trees to provide food, our Loving Creator took the dust of the earth, carefully formed it, and breathed into it His breath of life. Beyond all other creatures, God made male & female living souls, bringing Adam & Eve into His story.
After that particular beginning, God carried on His work in a pro-creative way for each generation; God brings new human souls into this life. And altho Adam & Eve sinned by disobeying Him, bringing death & the punishment of sin into the world; yet, God continued to work. In fact, God set out to work doubly-hard to maintain His creation while He would fix what man –what we— destroyed.
To fix what was so good in creation & in human life would require that the Creator Himself would have to come; & this was a job for God-the-Son. This earth & universe will be destroyed; but the Son of God made His appearance to fix man and not destroy us. Jesus’ work changes us; it brings us out of the slavery & death of sin & separation from God, and into the greater story of God’s kingdom. Being in His kingdom now is the preparation needed for the new creation to come.
So, Jesus comes to take our place under the wages of sin, which is death = physical & eternal. Jesus came to bear our punishment, which was displayed upon the cross for the whole world to see & to know. And Jesus stepped out of the tomb alive to give to you & me the free gift of God; which is eternal life in a new place – uncorrupted by sin, & death & sorrow.
Since Jesus’ work, in Romans 6, God identifies our connection with the Savior Jesus, and with the forgiveness that changes us, births us, and brings us into his family, and into a living preparation for the life & new creation to come. Our connection is Baptism. It’s no wonder that Jesus harshly scolded the pharisees & teachers of the law for rejecting God’s Baptism begun by John-the-Baptizer. By rejecting it, they were rejecting Jesus & eternal life.
In & thru Baptism, God brings reborn people into His great story. God gathers people into His one Kingdom, from all ages & places, from all languages & cultures. Since it is the HSp who gives the new birth, God’s new birth is for the infant-in-the-arms to the very old on their deathbed. His new birth cannot be obstructed by different languages or ethnic backgrounds.
It cannot been hindered by whether a person sleeps in a mansion or on the street; no matter what shade a person’s skin color is, or what their education is. In fact, that gospel-birth in Christ Jesus spans time = whether a person was born in 100AD, 1,000AD, or in 2023AD.
God’s promise is open to bringing all people into His story thru the simple washing of water in His name. He says that with Holy Baptism we are joined to the death & resurrection of Christ Jesus; joined with the past & the future family of God.
It is very natural for all of us to view our lives and history from the point at which we began; and we focus on the things that have happened while we’ve been alive. We think the most important history is our history. Those who lived thru the Depression see that as the historical event that changed their lives; those who lived thru WW2 see that as the event that shaped their lives; those who were at ‘ground zero’ on ‘9/11’ view that as the most important episode of their lives. Or, maybe it was when a certain death happened in our family, or an accident, or a fire, or some other tragedy.
But God is greater, & there’s a more important story & history for all humans = past, present & future. God’s story doesn’t begin or end with you. But – it does now include you; just as it included Abraham & Sarah, Moses & David, mother Mary, Peter, Paul, and Luther. By the grace of God in Christ, you have a small place and a purpose; and He has brought you in to make you part of a large, peculiar, & timeless people; we are to be His faithful & righteous people, living in preparation for heaven. That doesn’t make you important in the world; but it does make you blessed beyond anything this world can give you.
As you were brought to the waters of Holy Baptism, you were buried into the death & resurrection of world’s one Savior. His cross & empty tomb are the only worldly events that have truly affected every human being in the whole history of the world; and will affect every human for eternity. Your small part in His story makes you a living part of today’s history because, in Baptism, you are now dead to sin and alive to God-the-Creator.
That’s the grace of God that has brought you the new birth into a new life. It’s a life where sin has no power to control you; your new nature can resist the old sinful one; your mind & members will not be used for unrighteousness, but for righteousness. Why? Because you can see your reflection in the water, and with His Word you can say: “I have been baptized; I am dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
And with that confession, in that grace & faith, we can now face the other part of Romans 6 as it shows us how our lives have been changed by baptism. The sin that once enslaved us is the sin that Jesus has conquered & died for; and in Him, it has lost its power, & you have a new life. Like the alcoholic that won’t drink anymore; or the drug abuser who won’t use anymore; or the violent person who will not hurt others anymore; the one with a foul mouth who refuses to use hurtful words anymore.
Why not do those things? They still have the old thrill of sinful pleasure, & acceptance by world, & the satisfaction of an ‘eye-for-an-eye’ revenge! Why not do them? Because that’s not who you are anymore. You have been given a holy connection with the very Maker of heaven & earth. He has broken those chains of slavery to those sins. We still see sin around us, we can hear it call out to us, & feel its pull; but that is not who we are anymore.
God has done something to us. Christ has called us to a greater life-story; and we trust His voice far more than all the other voices. We can see ourselves reflected into God’s family; & only in His grace do we have a real future. So, in our days, in & thru His Church family, we present our bodies & our minds, with the interests & skills that God has given to us as instruments for godliness. And as we do, we will be impressed with how useful our Savior makes us in His church, and in the lives of those around us.
In the chapel at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, there is a processional cross that looks like a transparent piece of glass. You can see right thru it, except that it has a small figure of Christ hanging & a spot of blood; the simple gospel message. When it’s used in a procession up the center aisle, the glass cross reflects God’s people gathered in worship. Their faces are uplifted, their mouths are open in song, their hearts are prepared to receive the word of forgiveness & hope from Christ himself.
If you look at that cross when it passes by you may be able to see your own reflection. It’s a reminder that your life is joined to Jesus, the one Savior for all people. Our Baptismal Font reminds us of the same thing. Your small life has been joined to Christ and is part of God’s greater story. This is the same promise & hope that those Christians in Rome had 2,000 years ago. We are ‘dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.’ That makes us part of the whole history of believers who present ourselves to God in daily right & godly living.