January 2, 2022……..Epiphany Sunday
Romans 8: 1-11……….John 1: 1-9 (Isaiah 60: 1-6)
There was a family that went to church every single Sunday, and, at the Sunday dinner, they discussed the morning sermon. The kids were at an age where they could sit with their friends, anywhere in the church, and the boy developed the habit of skipping out of church and playing! He would then stand near the preacher as people were leaving, and try to pick up snippets of comments people made about the sermon. That way, he could always make some kind of comment at the dinner table. (Clever little weasel!)
But one day, he lost track of time and didn’t make it back to the door in time to glean any information about the sermon. His parents were fully aware of his behavior, and his father decided to play along and see where their conversation went. At dinner, he asked his son, “Well, what did you get out of the preacher’s sermon today?”
The boy thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick. He answered, “Well, he preached about SIN!” The father continued with, “Oh, and what does the preacher think about sin?”
The boy answered, “Well, he’s AGAINST IT!”
You know, sin may have been a popular subject long ago, but not so much today. However, with today’s texts, there’s no way around it! How do you feel about sin? If you are like most of us, well, you’re AGAINST IT—in principle, at least. But we 1. Know we are human and therefore will sin (because only Christ is perfect); and 2. Know that God will forgive us…so that’s ok.
Personally, I prefer not to focus on the negative but on the positive—to see how Jesus interacted with sinners. Jesus promised LIFE—full-to-the-brim life; not just life after we die, but life here, life now. I want to know how to live that kind of life, don’t you?!
Just remember the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well. He told her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you Living Water.” (She thinks he is talking about plain old water.) “Whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst. Indeed—the water I give will become in him a SPRING of water welling up to eternal life.”
[So far, this conversation is very positive—but Jesus is aware that there is something blocking her from experiencing the overflowing life of the Living Water.]
When he asks her to bring her husband, she says she has no husband. And he says, “You have had 5 husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” (Were her eyes as wide as saucers when he said this?!) Jesus continued the conversation, not condemning her for her sin, but addressing it in a way that continued to engage her. She ended up spreading the news of Jesus to the whole village!
You see, Jesus had removed the roadblock of sin and she began to experience the full-to-the-brim LIFE God sent Jesus to bring to you and to me! Sin has to be talked about, and I am hoping to engage you rather than turn you off.
The Law of Sin and Death
Paul writes, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ the law of the Spirit of Life sets us FREE from the law of sin and death.” God sent Jesus to us because sin is strangling the life out of us—and God wants us to have life! And, even though we know we will continue to sin, you and I can make a radical commitment to LIFE WITHOUT SIN.
Compare these two statements from the First Letter of John:
“No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But, if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”
If the Spirit of God Lives in You
Paul clarifies this in one sentence: “The Spirit of Life set me FREE from the law of sin and death.” In his first letter to the Christians in Corinth, he wrote, “Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” And, later in Romans 8, he writes, “By that Spirit we cry ‘Abba’ ‘Father’. The Spirit himself testifies with out spirit that we are God’s children.”
He is urging us to live according to the Spirit:
- The mind set on our sinful nature is DEATH
- The mind controlled by the Spirit is Life and Peace.
Friends, it seems like a no-brainer to choose between DEATH or Life and Peace! The Spirit of God urges us, nudges us to choose God’s way, NOT to sin, by making sin less fun and more uncomfortable.
Walking in the Light
Today is Epiphany Sunday—the day we celebrate that The Light of God is shining on us. You know, light is a beautiful thing. I remember going to the hospital to visit a young couple and their new baby. On my way past the nursery, I saw a baby (wearing cool sunglasses) lying directly under a sun lamp. Apparently, he was somewhat jaundiced, and was being healed by his exposure to light! This is a perfect illustration of one of the truths of our faith: “Whoever claims to live in Jesus must walk as He did. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the Truth. But, if we walk in the Light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.”
Walking in darkness is DEATH.
Walking in the light is Life and Peace.
And there is a simple test that shows us if we are walking in the light. It’s LOVE.
- Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness;
- Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.
- Friends, the more actively engaged we are in Godly LOVE, the less able we are to sin!
- This is all by the power of God’s Holy Spirit!
Let me sum all this up. Sin leads to death, and God’s Spirit helps us to walk in the light and have life and peace. You might well be asking, “How do we receive the Holy Spirit?” And the answer is: “By receiving the Word of God—Jesus Christ.” Contrary to what some believe, there really is no magic formula, no mumbo-jumbo to be recited, but (for many) it happens something like this: First, we realize our powerlessness to overcome our sinfulness. (We need a savior.) Then, we recognize the power of God to forgive and to heal (and we ask). Then we receive God’s promise in Jesus Christ. (Then we repeat this process for the rest of our lives!)
What happens then? Well, things can never be the same again! God’s Spirit is the midwife of the New Creation—bringing us to rebirth. The Spirit nurtures us, corrects us, and strengthens us as we are nourished by God’s Word.
I will finish with a story that illustrates what happens when people 1. Receive God’s Word and are then 2. Directed by the Holy Spirit. You’ve heard me talk about Christians in India who were formerly “untouchables”—slaves to the upper castes in that society. In one village, the proof that they are new creations in Christ came out when an animal died in front of a Brahmin’s house. (Brahmins are the highest caste in the caste system.) Since the job of removing dead animals has been imposed on the “untouchables” for centuries, the Brahmin sent word that they should come and remove it immediately. But no one from the new Christian community responded. The angry Brahmin came to the community, demanding to know why the dead animal had not been removed.
The people told the Brahmin that they had accepted a religious faith and were no longer allowed to accept forced servitude. When he heard this, the Brahmin became even more irate, demanding to know who had permitted the “untouchables” to have a religion! He left and came back with important leaders from every caste residing in the village, and they all demanded that these new Christians must remove the dead animal according to the tradition. (They themselves couldn’t touch it, or they would be polluted, and would have to then go through rituals of purification.)
Meanwhile, the dead animal was decaying fast in the sweltering heat. (Sorry for those of you with delicate sensitivities—it only gets worse.) The stench was beginning to permeate a big part of the village. But the Christians again politely declined, asking time to fetch their religious leader from a nearby village. By the time the pastor arrived, the smell was awful and dozens of angry caste people demanded that he tell his people to remove the dead animal from the village! The pastor said, “The animal must be removed, but it is true what my people have told you. We now have dharma.”(The Hindus understand that dharma is the rule and ritual of a religious faith—the primary orienting principle of that religion. He used this wording to help them understand.) “Our dharma does not allow us to remove the dead animal ourselves.”
Everyone present understood the meaning of dharma, and would be willing to lay down their own lives to defend their own dharma. So the crowd understood the implications of what the pastor said and they remained very quiet.
He continued: “I suggest that we tie the animal’s leg with a long enough rope so that one person from each caste in the village would hold it and drag it outside the village.” The smell was so bad that the villagers all agreed; a rope was found; the Brahmin chose a person from each caste that lived in the village; everyone pulled the rope and the procession moved out of the village!
And from that day to this time, no one comes to the Christian community demanding to have their dead animals removed. They find their own ropes and do the job themselves! The Christians took a great risk to life and limbs when they refused to submit to the old slavery of “untouchability.” But they earned a new respect in the village because everyone now knew they also had dharma. Using our vocabulary, we would say that the Spirit of God lives in them!
And, friends, the Spirit of God lives in you as you receive God’s Word and walk in the light! Let the Spirit of Christ dwell in us richly.