The Parish Church of Connersville, Indiana

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity 2024

Sermon Date: July 7, 2024

Passage: Romans 6

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

Today’s Gospel reading begins with a bracing declaration from the world’s only hope.  Jesus, in His sermon on the mount states, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (St. Matthew 5:20). We would well remember that the scribes and Pharisees were the most scrupulously religious of all the Jews, building layers of tradition on top of God’s commandments in the hopes that by purifying themselves, above and beyond the law, they might regain God’s favor and end the subjugation of their people by the Roman Empire. Jesus weighs their efforts against the sin and evil of the world, and of course, that effort is found wanting. No amount of ceremonial washings or strict Sabbath observances could heal the broken relation between God and humanity, particularly when those rituals were done not out of love for God but as a way of forcing God to bend to our fallen, human will. Worse, Jesus continues preaching and reveals that it isn’t just our actions done for the wrong reasons which implicate us in our world’s wounded condition; no, He tells us even our anger and lust, those enslaving forces that haunt the parts of our souls we don’t want anyone to see, those passions mark us as creatures who need an outside righteousness—a righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees—to make us whole.

Do we want to be made whole? It is a very real question in a world that can pump the numbing, slaving pleasures of now into our brains whenever we want. Maybe, we don’t want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Does it have Wi-Fi? Does it have my addiction of choice? Do I get summers off? What if the answer is, “No,” to all these questions. What if the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t built for our pleasure or our comfort? What if the invasion of God’s everlasting righteousness into our wounded world and our wounded hearts isn’t pleasant or fun, but more like the emergency surgery we need to survive in a universe set right? Surgery is a helpful metaphor because surgery is all about trust. We trust surgeons, and so we allow them to violently cut us open and remove parts of our body—to put to death parts of our very being, so that they don’t kill us. In the same way, we either trust Jesus, and the apostles He chose, or we don’t. We either trust Him and pray for the Holy Spirit to cut out the part of us that is killing us, or we don’t. We either trust in the Word and Sacraments of God to bury us and raise up again, or we don’t. There is no safe, middle path between surgery and a malignant tumor, and there is no safe, middle path between death in the Kingdom of Evil and life in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Even partially understanding this outline of the grave danger we humans are in should help us to understand why St. Paul can propose the radical solution to the problem of sin and death he reveals today. He writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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” (Romans 6:3-4). St. Paul, the man who went from murdering Christians to giving up His whole life to become one, has absolutely no time for the useless half-measures of our fallen world because he knows there is nothing that will save us except being supernaturally united with the only righteous man to have ever lived. That man, Christ the Lord, struck him down on the road to Damascus and demanded Paul die for Him: Christ demanded Paul give up everything he had been taught would save him, and follow the Living God. Paul had to die to his old life as a scrupulous Pharisee in order to receive a righteousness greater than the scribes and Pharisees. Faced with the undeniable truth of Jesus resurrected and glorified, Paul had to bind himself to that risen Savior and follow Him into the death that rejects all the powers of the world—a death and new life which begin in the waters of baptism.

Why baptism? Because it is baptism which unites a human being with the salvation-history of God’s people. It is in baptism that we are there on the ark as it passes through the flood; it is in baptism that we pass through the waters of the Red Sea saved from the slavery of Pharaoh and his gods; it is in baptism that we are washed in the blood of Christ shed on Calvary and buried in the tomb from which He would break forth three days later; it is in baptism that we are united to the King who will return at the end of time. Trinitarian Baptism is the throbbing conduit between the real story of our life—the pain and joy of being human—and the real story of a creation destined to be saved by its Creator. 

In fact, this union, between Creator and creature is meant to quite literally take over our entire lives and enlist us into the army of light fighting for the great destruction of evil and the elevation of truth and goodness and beauty forever.  St. Paul can say, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The faithful, baptized Christian has the hollow, sucking chasm of blackness and fear that lives inside him replaced by a real, human heart from the most human man to have ever lived. We are forever after molded around His example and teaching, death and life, and we are freed from our slavery to sin, the flesh, and the devil. We no longer have to search for an identity from our neighbors or our friends or our desires; no, our fear and shame have been nailed to the cross along with the Prince of Peace, and we need no longer be afraid or ashamed ever again. Through the resurrection, the real world has broken into this fallen world of lies, and Christ will hold us close to Him as we pass through every temporary horror on the way to our true home. This journey, from death to life, already undertaken by the first fruits of the resurrection—Jesus Christ—this journey begins in our baptism and ends in the new earth to come, and it is this journey which is so vastly more important than all the other temporary quests we may be asked to embark upon. Our entire existence takes its meaning from the God who shared existence with us in the first place, and we are on a journey to be made whole in Him forever.

And so, it is in this reality that we must live. The Christian’s defining quality is not what color he is or what family he comes from; it isn’t what party he votes for or what school he went to or how much money he made last year; no, the Christian’s defining quality—that which gives him his identity—is that he is a dead man walking on resurrection ground: a human being shaken out of the suicidal madness of a dying people and fully awakened to where his true home is. Every step the true Christian takes in this world he brings with him the eternal glory of God that has already been manifested in the resurrection of Christ and will one day be made just as visible and real in our own resurrection. No man or devil can take that from us, for the true Christian is no longer subject to the rule of all the petty tyrants who claim a part of us. Those paper tyrants no longer have any say over who we are or what we are; their rule died the day Christ was no longer dead; their power was broken when death lost its dominion over the future of humanity. Walking in this manner, walking with our Lord and Savior through this life, will mean suffering as an evil world tries to tear us down and enslave us once again, but that is what is means to follow Christ. It means we have to know, through living it, that the pain can’t really hurt us—that the iron chains of this world may bite at our flesh, but it can never cage our souls. We are to stand firm, no matter how weak we think we are, and hold onto Christ as hard as He is holding on to us as we solemnly march through the final battles for the soul of humanity.

We who are the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, we who have been united to a righteousness we haven’t earned and don’t deserve, let us never forget that we are the resurrected people of God separated from forever by only the tiniest sliver of created time. Every day is important; every hour is another opportunity to live in the gracious love of God and show that love to those most afflicted by our fallen world. We are free to love because we are no longer slaves. Let us be free and love because, in Christ, the victory is already ours; in Christ, His kingdom is already ours.