IT IS A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH!

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OPENING PRAYERS

Let us take a moment of silent prayer to lift these voiced joys and concerns to God as we also lift those unspoken concerns of our hearts.

O Lord our God, you are always more ready to bestow your good gifts on us than we are to seek them, and are willing to give more than we desire or deserve.

Help us so to seek that we may truly find so to ask that we may joyfully receive, so to knock that the door of your mercy may be opened to us; through Jesus Christ our Savior.

And all God’s people said “Amen”

1st READING Romans 6:2b-23
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.

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No 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.
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death.
But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

2ND READING Matthew 10:40-42
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous;
and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

3RD READING PSALM 13
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS

Lord, we who are imprisoned by our sins, have become so comfortable with that imprisonment that we are afraid to come into Your light and into the freedom you offer.

We are like little mice that venture slowly into the light and then scurry back into the darkness.

We are so fearful of change, but we truly want to become the people you intend us to be.

Can we truly be forgiven?

I am the God who forgives your sins, and I do this because of who I am. I will not hold your sins against you.

Isaiah 43:25 (TEV)

MESSAGE IT IS A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH!

IT IS A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH!

In his letter to the Romans, Paul, the Jew of Jews, schooled in the 613 commandments of the Hebrew law, like a good lawyer, hammers away at his point from many angles.

He repeats his arguments over and over.

Here is His main point right up front.

How can we who died to sin go on living in it?

Indeed, if we have died to sin – how can we go on living in it? Why would we want to?

We were prisoners to sin. Why would we return to that life?

Why would people released from prison return to doing the things that put them in prison?

The correct term for this is recidivism. (rE-sid-eh-vism)

I found some statistics about recidivism – that is people who have been released from prison but end up returning to prison.

Two studies come closest to providing “national” recidivism rates for the United States. One tracked 108,580 State prisoners released from prison in 11 States in 1983. The other tracked 272,111 prisoners released from prison in 15 States in 1994.

The prisoners tracked in these studies represent two-thirds of all the prisoners released in the United States for that year.

67.5% of prisoners released in 1994 were rearrested within 3 years, an increase over the 62.5% found for those released in 1983

The re-arrest rate for property offenders, drug offenders, and public-order offenders increased significantly from 1983 to 1994. During that time, the rate increased:

– to 74% for property offenders

– 67% for drug offenders

– to 62% for public-order offenders

The re-arrest rate for violent offenders remained relatively stable at about 60

Overall, reconviction rates did not change significantly from 1983 to 1994.

Among, prisoners released nearly 47% were reconvicted within 3 years

Among drug offenders, the rate of reconviction increased significantly, going from 35% in 1983 to 47% in 1994.

The 1994 recidivism study estimated that within 3 years, 52% of prisoners released during the year were back in prison either because of a new crime for which they received another prison sentence, or because of a technical violation of their parole.

Why?

One theory has to do with how people “see” themselves – their identity.

Identity develops through the application and adoption of labels.

Labeling theory argues that people develop as a result an identity forced upon them and then adopting the identity, or by self adopting an identity until that identity is accepted as their norm.

People are creatures of habit. Over time we become comfortable in whatever situation we are in.

For example, abused spouses often stay with the abusing spouse even when given an opportunity to safely leave.

Sexually abused children often grow to be sexually abusive adults.

As another example of how we become comfortable in our surroundings; several years ago a group of us went to the Appalachian mountains on a mission trip.

This is coal country. And the mines are mostly closed.

Real unemployment is around 80%. By REAL I mean not the unemployment rates reported by the government which only tracks those who are drawing unemployment benefits.

Because once the benefits have run out, they are no longer counted – even though they are still unemployed.

At any rate, we discovered that many children who grew up in the area would leave, once they became adults, and seek employment elsewhere.

That seems understandable to me.

However, the majority of these people would quickly leave their jobs and return to the area where the odds of finding another job were nearly nonexistent.

Why?

Because it was HOME. It was what they were conditioned to accept as normal.

Paul is making his argument that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” “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.”

This is a sudden and radical identity change that Paul is talking about.

And Paul knows something about radical identity change,

Remember Saul the Jewish zealot who hunted down the Christian believers.

This Paul, who was knocked to his knees and blinded by the light of Jesus Christ, is arguing that once we are baptized into Christ, we are dead to sin. That is, that sin no longer lives in us.

The death Christ 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.

Here he is exhorting us to “live the change” that has occurred in us. He recognizes how easy it is for us, who have been freed from sin, to willfully return to it.

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness,

Don’t put yourself in harms way. As an example: If you have a weakness for drink, stay away from places where you find drink. If you have lust in your heart, avoid the things that trigger the lust.

Whatever your weakness is, let the Spirit heal you and then don’t pick at the scab!

Then “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.

Take those areas of weakness and give them to God and He will turn them into tools for His kingdom.

Notice here that he is saying that Christ has done His part.

Now it is time for us to do our part.

Avoid the things we used to do.

And not just avoid the OLD but embrace the NEW, to become obedient to the will of God.

As he puts it, ”You are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

Here he gives thanks to God “that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

Paul now asks us to consider our two paths – the old and the new – and what lay at the end of each of those paths.

“When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.

That means that when we were living in sin we could do anything we wanted without regard for the law – because we were already “law breakers”

So, he asks, “So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death.

Have you ever had someone say is essence that “I’ll live this life the way I want and then when I come near death, I’ll repent and be saved?”

Why?

Why would you want to continue down the path of destruction when you could be in fellowship with God?

Do people really think that the Devil throws better parties than God?

He doesn’t!

The Devil’s parties are just slow ways of destroying your body, your mind and of course your soul!

Here is the good news,now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.”

Once my heart was heavy with a load of sin. Jesus took my burdens and gave me peace and joy within my heart and now I’m singing as the days go by. Jesus took my burdens all away.”

I don’t have to walk this road alone.

I don’t have to carry these burdens alone.

His yoke is easy because He does most of the work.

I no longer need to fear the future. Because even when hard times come, my savior is near.

Yes, the road of righteousness is hard at times.

But so is the road to destruction and there is no help on that road,

just the Devil goading you on while he laughs at you.

Paul says,For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”

Paul makes it very clear that the our choices are to go back to our old sinful ways and be dead to God, or to live the new life, purchased for us by Jesus Christ and given as a free gift of God, and be in eternal fellowship with God.

Which identity we choose is up to us.

Life or death.

Which path will you follow?

Let us join together in this version of the Lord’s Prayer.

THE LORD’S PRAYER Matthew 6:9-13

from “The Message”

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best— as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

The affirmation of saying Yes Yes Yes. Seemed strange to me. But that is what Amen is – an affirmation. As a child I thought it meant “over and out – end of transmission” But it more closely means “Make it So” Where ever He leads me Make it So!

DISMISSAL WITH BLESSING

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
Amen.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
Amen.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
Amen.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
Amen.

And the Blessing of God, who Creates, Redeems and Sanctifies, be upon you and all you love and pray for this day, and forever more.
Amen.

FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is “Christian Theology and Ecclesiology, 101”

Romans 6:12-23 leads those of us influenced by American Reformed Evangelicalism to familiar territory, part of what’s been called in some evangelistic tracts, The Roman Road. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

This is a true and powerful text in its own right, even extracted from its proper context as most “Roman Road” presentations use it. But what Paul has offered us in these words in the context of Romans 6 is a much richer description of life in the body of Christ.

And an important part of the context of these words is not just the words on the page, but the religious and cultural assumptions that come with them. In Paul’s day, any notion of a sharp separation between ritual actions in community and the life of that community was unthinkable. Ritual life was not virtual life; it was real life in its most basic forms expressed ritually.

That is why Christians and Jews objected so heartily to idolatry and the worship of other people or gods, because for them, the ritual itself declared either non-reality (there are no other gods) or reality distorted (the god portrayed is a false one). This also meant that if there were a disconnect between what was expressed in a community’s ritual and how the people who celebrated it actually lived, the ritual was not the problem. The problem was failure to live the reality the ritual declared and embodied.

The ritual in question in this section of Paul’s letter to the Christians at Rome is baptism. Baptism happens to us and changes us. We have been buried with Christ in baptism, and raised with Christ in baptism to walk in newness of life, Paul says earlier (verse 4). If indeed we have been buried with Christ in baptism, we are actually dead to and freed from sin. If indeed we have been raised with Christ in baptism, we are actually freed from the power of death.

The key word here is “freed.” Just as a captive is set free from bondage, so we have been set free from sin and death. The captive set free is not thereby authorized to do whatever he or she wants, but rather to live lawfully, as a dutiful servant to the law among the people once again. Likewise, those freed from sin and death are not thereby authorized to live any way they please, but rather to live righteously as dutiful servants to righteousness in the communion of God and the saints on earth and in heaven.

Here’s the heart of Paul’s analogy in these verses. What former captive in his or her right mind would attempt to live lawlessly after being freed from captivity, unless the condition of captivity has become “home”? Likewise, given that we have been freed in baptism from sin and death, why would we give ourselves to the ways of sin and death again, rather than submitting to the righteousness of God in which we now stand?

Given the baptismal vows that have developed from the earliest centuries we might ask some more pointed questions. If we have been given grace and power to renounce the forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, repent from sin, resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves, why do we seem so timid and powerless in the face of these things around us? Is not our timidity a sign that we have resubmitted ourselves to sin and death, rather than, as the vows continue, to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in union with his living body, the church?

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