Lately I haven’t been writing out my sermons…usually just notes. This message was/is difficult for me and so I had to write it all out. I’m not sure how much will change in the preaching, because I never stay exactly with what I’ve written, but I decided to share this one.
“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.” (Romans 6:5)
“A death like his.” I wonder…what comes to mind when we hear those words? “A death like his.”
A death in which Jesus is sacrificed in order to please an angry God?
A death so that I can have forgiveness?
A death that happened to an innocent man? A murder?
I once thought, had been taught, that Jesus death was solely to pay the price for my own personal sin. This death was to replace the ancient sacrificial system that had been so abused as to become meaningless as well as oppressive to the poor. For who could afford to buy a sacrificial animal but the wealthy? The emphasis was less on the issues of justice and instead on atonement. That idea that Jesus paid for mine, and your, sins. But, and this is a big but… we had to repent of those sins, we had to ask for forgiveness.
The more I’ve learned, of Jesus, of grace, of the life of faith, the more I see the truth of so much more going on than Jesus giving himself so that I personally would get that free ticket to heaven.
But this is a tricky topic…it always is when someone starts messing with cherished beliefs. So maybe I’ll just say here that my intent is not to change beliefs so much as it is to amplify them and to understand Jesus’ work in today’s context.
“A death like his.” Jesus was murdered for political reasons. Specifically he was murdered because he cast judgment on an unjust system. His attaching the moneychangers and animal vendors in the temple was not so that we could later say that we shouldn’t ever hold a fundraiser at the church (while we should still have a very good reason for doing so). No, he attacked the moneychangers and animal vendors in the temple because they were indicative of the oppression that was the daily life of every day people. The wealthy and powerful, or better said, those who were profiting off this system were angry at the disruption. Jesus was dead less than a week later.
Of course cleaning out the temple wasn’t Jesus’ only offense.
- He…horrors…talked to women, ate with women, allowed women to learn along with the men… and this was unacceptable.
- He talked to foreigners…although not too much.
- He touched dead people…he touched sick people, and in doing so gave them back their dignity.
- He healed on the Sabbath…in essence he was a breaker of the law.
From a purely legal, historical perspective, Jesus was not murdered, but received the death penalty…legally. He was “justifiably” killed for breaking the law. It was not justice. His death on the cross was a form of torture, the purpose of which was to deter others from following in his footsteps… all to support a system of oppression.
“A death like his.” I’m not sure that I want to be united with Jesus in this sort of death. I’m comfortable living my middle class life, in a middle class neighborhood, pastoring a middle class church. None of us has reason to fear the state…however, in our own political climate we see many in our own neighborhoods whose status as “undocumented” has them in fear of arrest and deportation each day. It’s not right, but it is legal. These brothers and sisters of our can probably relate to the words, “a death like his” far better than can I.
This week I’ve pondered the tragic case of Philando Castile. I remember when he was first killed. His girlfriend filming immediately after the shooting, “You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir.”
These words speak so much. That she continued to use the word, “sir” as maybe an attempt at de-escalation…to save her own life and that of her daughter. Late last week the officer was acquitted…as most are.
A couple years ago (I think), after the events in Ferguson, when another black man was shot and killed by police, I preached a sermon on the reason for the Black Lives Matter movement and on why we should support it. People said that Mike Brown was a criminal, disrespectful to the police officer…as if he deserved to then be shot. Even if one were to believe this, the opposite was true for Mr. Castile, he was respectful and calmly told the officer he was legally carrying a gun. What is a black person to do?
This past week, there was a call from many within our denomination to get behind the movement for Black Lives Matter…the movement for justice. Why now? First, there is the reminder that 9 members of Mother Emmanual AME church in Charlston were murdered two years ago. Their killer? A member of an ELCA congregation. Second, the killing of Philando Castile took place in the heart of Lutheran land. The shooting was only a few blocks from Luther Seminary.
This is a Lutheran issue…it’s a Christian issue and sadly recent studies show that the majority of white Christians don’t think that racism exists. We can do better.
“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.”
Maybe in this context our being united with Jesus is to truly see our black brothers and sisters as precious children of God and in seeing them to advocate for their lives…because they do indeed matter.
In this week’s gospel lesson Jesus is reported to have said,
“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:32)
I usually see this verse on Facebook with the challenge to share it…as if that were the acknowledging that Jesus is requesting. I never share it…actually never share anything that comes to me with the instructions, “share this…” to show you’re Christian. Words on Facebook matter little.
How we live matters a lot. Acknowledging Jesus before others is to also in some mysterious way be united with Jesus in his death…they are linked…and they remind us that living as a disciple is not always easy…sometimes we are called to step out of our safe spaces.
As difficult as this is, it is not bad news. Following Jesus includes the promise of resurrection. This is life…glorious, sometimes scary beautiful life. The promise that we read of in Romans is that we receive this wonderful gift of God’s grace…completely free. As I say over and over that we don’t have to do anything to earn it. This free gift of grace comes with an invitation, a call, to live as a disciple…to follow Jesus into the painful places… and in so doing to discover life…resurrected life…life lived for each other.