Getting Ready for Sunday by The Rev. Dr. Samira Izadi Page

Romans 6:1b-11

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore 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.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We 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. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

I love working in my garden! Anytime I have a couple of free hours, I prefer to spend it working alongside my husband in the yard. My husband loves cutting the lawn, edging, and trimming. But, Texas summer is upon us! Now imagine someone after a day of working outside—grimy, sweaty, dusty, and smelly. Imagine that person taking a shower and then instead of wearing fresh clothes, putting the filthy work clothes back on. That would totally nullify the status of “having showered.” In Chapter 6 of Romans, St. Paul reminds us of our change of “status” in Christ through baptism, our “risen” status into a new life. ( v. 5) The purpose of this risen status is “so we too might walk in the newness of life,” ( v.4 ) because just like Christ, we have died to sin. If that is true and we are set free from slavery to death and sin, why do we still walk in shackles? Why do we keep on putting on ragged, filthy, and smelly clothes of sin?

In the pre-internet and media days in England, how would people recognize the king or queen? If the queen would decide to dress like a peasant and walk on foot into a village a few hours outside of London with no escort, do you think people would recognize her status? How could she represent the veracity of her status? As Christians, we are representatives of Christ. We are dignitaries. But would others know that? And, if we told them, how would they know the truthfulness of our statement? How does the world, those who do not know Christ, recognize the difference? One of the ways the world sees the difference is that we no longer are slaves of Sin. It is by the way we present ourselves, from our outward appearance to the depth of our inner life and its expressions in the world. If we look, talk, act, and treat others like those who are still enslaved by sin, then, how are we representing our new life in Christ?

What does it mean not be slaves of Sin? There is a long and complex theological answer to this question and a difference between “Sin” and “sin.” Today, I try to focus on more practical issues. We live in a culture whose values are defined by Hollywood’s lifestyle. Post-modernity and relativismeed the self-serving individualism that creates “truths” of all sorts catered to the appetite and tendencies of each person. Sin has been reduced to “naughty things that we do.” But sin is about much more than just doing a bad thing. It is anything that hinders the fulfillment of God’s gracious and loving purposes, as expressed in the Scriptures, in the world for myself, for others, or for the creation. It is anything that injures God’s design for the world.

Still too abstract? OK. Sin is anything we do that causes us or others not to be able to love God or others as best as possible. Sometimes sin is knowingly becoming a stumbling block to others. Sin includes the obvious bad things that we do like cheating, lying, and stealing. But those things are not just bad, but unloving and outside of God’s design and purposes.

The problem is that there are other subtle things which our culture has accepted as norms and we do automatically without thinking of them as “sin.” They are norms that are very fluid and change from generation to generation. Everybody does them, so it must be OK for me to do them as well!!! How do we bring these cultural norms under the subjection of the new life in Christ?

Scriptures do not give us an exhaustive list of sins, rather, they give us guidelines for discernment by the power of the Holy Spirit. Living a new life in Christ impacts ALL aspects of our lives. This new life is not just about going to church on Sundays or just reading our Bibles or attending a Bible study. Neither does the newness of life happen automatically when we come to faith or are baptized. It takes intentionality in leading lives that are free from the bondage of sin. This new life is about transformation into the fullness of the image of Christ through constant discernment and negotiation of the things that we decide to do and how we do them.

A short self-examination every day can help us become more intentional about our newness of life in Christ. We can start by things that may seem small or are the norms. For me as a woman, it starts as I dress for the day: Is my skirt too short or my neckline too low? Do I look like a Christian woman? These small things, in subtle and gradual ways, can help us look more like “freed” individuals who prove the truthfulness of Christ’s power for transformation.

Here are a few examples of the kind of questions we can prayerfully ask and seek the will of God through the reading of the Scriptures to lead our lives into the direction of the new life:

What kind of audio or visual material do I consume every day and how do they impact my thoughts, my feelings, and my relationships with my loved ones or others?

How do I dress as a Christian and in what ways can that become a stumbling block to others morally or impact the way they view Christians?

What are the top three things that I spend my time doing every day? To what extent are those actions self-serving and to what extent God or others serving?

How does my life reflect the sacrificial love of Christ for others?

I am sure you can come up with your own list depending on your station in life. The goal is not to come up with a legalistic list of do’s and don’ts, rather being intentional about representing our King and his power in defeating sin and death.

Getting Ready for Sunday

So what do we know about the nature of God?

We know God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We call this the Trinity. And we believe it’s true doctrine. 

But. And this is a huge but. 

Have you ever tried to explain it? 

So ......God is one but has three names? Or is it three forms? Maybe it’s three persons? Yeah, yeah that’s it! Three persons as one God. Or wait, I think there might be three Gods expressed in one form. Or is it the other way around?

See what I mean? 

My professors talked about the Trinity a lot in seminary. I even read entire books dedicated to the topic! After years of study I can distill what I learned down to one single sentence. 

The Trinity is Mystery. This works for me because I love a good mystery. What I love most about mystery is not the solving of it but rather, the entering. 

You see, God has revealed God’s self to us, but God has not revealed all of God’s self. We know, yes, but we only know in part, at St. Paul tells us.

One of the dangers of our time is that we have access to wide swaths of knowledge. The upsides are obvious. We get to know what our favorite celebrity looks like on vacation. We can search anything and come up with an answer (whether it’s right is a different story). We can self-diagnose with the help of Dr. Google, and we can run our own background checks on potential dates, co-workers, and employers.

The downsides are more hidden. As a culture we seem to believe that more information is always a good thing. But I’m not so sure it is. One of the problems I see with this perspective is that we often confuse certainty with understanding. 

Before I got married, I was certain I knew what marriage was. Two people enter a lifelong covenant with God and each other. I was certain about that definition. It turns out I actually had zero understanding of what marriage actually meant. I had yet to live it and some things, like marriage, can only be known through experience. The doctrine of the Trinity is another. You can be certain about the words: God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and never have a clue what they mean or how the relate to one another. Certainty is not understanding.

Understanding is hard because it requires a willingness to live and explore and ask questions. And then, ultimately, understanding requires a willingness to be comfortable with only knowing in part. Our words are good, but they’re never enough. God is three, but God is also one.

It is Mystery.

Enter it.

I was at a conference for church leaders when a man told a story about the time his son was diagnosed with cancer. One night the father was watching over him in the hospital when his pastor came for a visit. The father asked the pastor why God would allow his son to get so sick. The pastor replied, “It’s not a good idea to do your theology in a hospital.” I almost leapt out of my seat. What! I wanted to scream. What do you mean it’s not a good place to do your theology? It’s one of the best places! 

I understand what the pastor was trying to say. He wanted to remind the man that what was true about God before his son got sick was still true. And that’s an important point and not one I want to dismiss. What we declare on sunny Sunday mornings is still true during the dark of our stormy nights. That matters. It does. 

 

But if we can't honestly struggle with the nature of God in the messiness of our lives, then we’ll never understand who God actually is. We can’t understand the Trinity by reading a book or hearing a sermon. The only way to begin to understand the great mystery of God is by opening our lives. 

We learn about God like Moses did--out in the desert. 

We learn about God like Daniel did--with a lion at our throats. 

We learn about God like Jacob did--wrestling with an angel all night long.

We learn about God like Job did--by losing everything. 

It’s not a neat definition of God that matters the most, but experiencing God as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. It turns out the Trinity isn’t so much a doctrine to be learned as it is a God to be experienced. 

I know it would be easier if we worshiped a God who is one instead of three-in-one. Less confusing, for sure. More certainty would be involved. But then, there would be less understanding too. 

None of this is easy. But our God has never been in the business of easy. God is too wrapped up in the business of our lives for that.

 

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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.