+ A sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10A/Lectionary 15A) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on July 12, 2020 +
Text: Romans 8:1-11
We live in a broken world.
Now I don’t think that will come as a shock to any of you.
I mean, the examples are all around us: virus pandemics, a changing climate, economic inequality, growing political and societal divisions, systemic racism and oppression.
And with all the large-scale brokenness, we feel the discord, the anxiety, the brokenness within ourselves, within our own bodies too.
It’s all enough to cause us to sit down, look around, and ask ourselves, ‘How did we get here? Where did we go wrong? How could this ever possibly get better? And where is God in all this?’
And so this morning, we are starting this new six-week sermon series entitled “Broken: Good News for Tough Times.”
Now, while I’d love to say that at the end of these six weeks all our brokenness would be healed and the world will be righted, we know I can’t promise that.
But I do think that this a timely and appropriate series for our times and can offer a sense of hope and assurance.
During these six weeks, I’ll be preaching from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which is our already assigned lectionary text for the second reading all through the summer this year.
And when I was reviewing the upcoming lectionary texts a few weeks ago, I sat down and read the Book of Romans again and it’s a truly remarkable letter.
If you’re unfamiliar with this book, it’s considered the Apostle Paul’s masterwork, a summary of this theology, and it’s probably the most important New Testament text other than the gospels.
And Romans is foundational to our own Lutheran theology as its description of grace, faith, and salvation inspired a monk named Martin Luther to propose reforms to the Church and its theology more than five centuries ago.
But as I read this 2000-year-old letter again this summer, I was struck with how relevant and applicable it remains for us here and now in 2020.
Paul writes this letter to a people he had never met, to this band of Christ-followers living in Rome.
But he seems to know that this church was struggling.
It was now two decades since Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension and the message of his gospel is still spreading throughout the Empire.
And this early Roman church was trying to survive a tough life in very perilous times.
They were living at the very center of a hostile and powerful government under the rule of a paranoid and tyrannical emperor who would later go on to persecute and torture Christians, which would surely include some of the first hearers of this letter.
Most, if not all, of these people were converts to the faith, Jews and Gentiles alike, and many would have faced rejection or worse from their families, friends, and previous faith communities.
And this was an incredibly diverse community bringing together people from all sorts of backgrounds, ethnicities, even socio-economic statuses—and in a strictly hierarchical caste-based system, these people weren’t always sure how to interact and overcome their differences.
And despite their hearing the gospel message, despite the work and triumph of Christ Jesus, these Roman Christians looked at themselves, at the world around them and saw the brokenness.
They saw the pain and suffering and uncertainty in their community, in their city, throughout the known world, and they wondered how they got there and how it would finally change.
They wondered if their faith and trust in Jesus would really make a difference.
So the Apostle writes this seminal letter, this message of hope and assurance to these people who were trying to make it through tough times.
And since this series starts with chapter 8, we’re really jumping right into the middle of this letter.
So I’ll give you a little bit of a recap.
For much of the previous seven chapters, Paul has been addressing these concerns of the Roman Church, describing the human condition and how we’re mired in sin, how all have “sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” how this sin is the cause and symptom of the brokenness we experience in our lives and throughout the world.
And we pick up in today’s reading with really the climax of that argument and the transition into the real meat of the letter and Paul’s solution for healing.
And as he finishes that argument, Paul makes it very clear in today’s reading that the ways of the world and the ways of God are fundamentally divergent in how we live and view the world.
He calls these opposing perspectives “living according to the flesh” and “living according to the Spirit.”
Now, for far too long, the Church has taken that phrase, “living according to the flesh” and weaponized it, telling folks that it has to do with sexuality.
And they’ve wielded this weapon especially against queer people or really anyone who lives outside the chaste and heteronormative rules the Church has constructed over the years.
But that’s really not what Paul is talking about here.
When he says, “living according the flesh,” he’s talking about living for one’s own desires, about prioritizing myself over others.
He’s talking about living in sin.
And this sin isn’t about our own individual moralistic failings, it’s more pervasive and more imbedded than that.
It’s the systemic, societal, and deep disconnection between us and our Creator and between us and our neighbors.
Sin is describing an isolation from God and each other.
It’s what Martin Luther described as our inherent human condition, being curved in on ourselves, so concerned with myself and my own needs and wants that I ignore the needs and wants of my neighbors.
It’s focusing on the individual and not on the collective.
And I know the English translation doesn’t help here, but in the original Greek, every single time Paul uses the word “you,” it’s a plural “you”—you all, all of us.
This sin is never just about us as individuals, it’s about our relationship with each other and with God.
At its core, sin is a rebellion against God that would render us unable to follow God’s intentions for us and our world because it undermines our collective human relationships and our quest for divine justice in the world.
And Paul would argue that this sin is both the cause and the symptom of our individual and collective brokenness.
In the same way, this talk of living according to the flesh or the spirit has used to promote a sort of body-soul dualism.
It’s been used to say that our bodies are somehow less beautiful, less worthy, less holy.
But we know that our bodies and our spirits are united—how a suffering mind can lead to a suffering body or how a broken body can lead to a broken spirit.
And I don’t think Paul is saying our bodies are the problem, our perspectives are.
Indeed, Paul tells us that the body is instrumental to how God worked and is working to cure our fleshy sin.
How seeing our brokenness, seeing our sin, God sent God’s own beloved Son to be born as one of us, to live as one of us, to be one of us in a body like ours.
To bring us back into connection with God in the most intimate and physical way possible—by slipping into human flesh and walking around as us with us.
How Christ came to remove any brokenness we have experienced because of our sin and move us to proclaim the gospel through word and deed.
And to show us how we are forever bound together by our common creator, our common parent, in one divine body breathing one Holy Spirit.
Because, as I said a few weeks ago at Pentecost, we all have the Holy Spirit within us—every one of us.
It’s the breath of life that God breathed into the lungs of our first parents in Eden and the breath that fills our own lungs each time we breathe.
It’s the Spirit that descended upon Jesus and all human flesh at his baptism in the Jordan River and it’s the gift that was renewed in our own baptism when we promised that we would “strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”
This is St. Paul’s diagnosis of our brokenness and his prescription for its cure: to no longer live according to the flesh, but to set our hearts and minds on living according to God’s Holy Spirit.
To move our focus from our own body, our own wants and desires, and focus instead upon the whole body of our human family.
But this cure requires a change.
Just because we all have the Spirit, doesn’t mean we live in her.
Just because we have heard Christ’s gospel message, doesn’t mean we have allowed it to transform our lives so we can transform the world.
For, as Paul said, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
We resist, we ignore the Spirit’s calls, we ignore our neighbors in pain and pay attention to our own fleshly desires, our own personal wants.
We fall back into sin.
But we also know that the body of our human family is suffering. As the Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Lewis writes,
Greed, malice, unbridled hatred, and fear due to our differences—all the ways our souls are still broken by sin—these are literally killing us. Black and brown bodies are especially in danger. To set our mind on things of the flesh means living according to the broken ways of our world, succumbing to discrimination or hatred due to gender or sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or religion. This leads to death. Not just to bodily deaths but to soul death as well. To the death of hope. To the death of justice.
Our siblings are suffering, they are crying out.
Our human body is being broken by coronavirus, by a changing climate, by hunger and homelessness, by violence and the effects of bigotry.
And until we finally feel this brokenness in our own bodies, it will be impossible for us to heal the body of our human family.
As I said at the start of this sermon, we live in a broken world, my friends.
Disease pandemics, a climate on the brink of catastrophe, increasing economic inequality, seemingly hopeless societal and political schisms, institutional oppression and systemic racism.
Paul would tell us that these are the result of our living according to the flesh.
These happen because we have decided that our own wants and comforts are more important than our collective wellbeing.
Because we focus on the ways of division and hatred rather than unity and love.
Because we refuse to see the humanity in each other.
Because we choose convenience and cost over ecological sustainability.
Because we decide that my own personal freedom is more important than your cries, your safety, your health, your life.
This brokenness is hurting our human body, our collective spirit.
And Paul tells us that continuing to live this way brings death for you, for me, for our society.
But he also tells us that God has given us the cure, that it is already within each one of us and all of us collectively.
And the cure is Christ.
The cure is the reign of God he is proclaiming.
A new reality for us and our world so infused by the Spirit that our every action is motivated by her guidance.
And just as the Apostle writes to the Romans, so he writes to us, “You are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.”
God’s Spirit is within us, bringing life to our collective bodies and hope to our collective spirits. So Paul urges us to no longer live according to the flesh, but to set our minds on the Spirit, on where she is leading us into healing, hope, and life.
To recognize that we not only have a beautiful and divine body, but that we are part of a beautiful and divine body.
This life in the Spirit liberates us from hatred and division and pushes us to look beyond ourselves and see that we are all one body united in God, to recognize the parts of our body that are broken so we can bring healing to the whole body.
Living in the Spirit means realizing that we are all inextricably linked, how our salvation can only ever be communal.
How your wellbeing is bound up in my wellbeing and our neighbors’ wellbeing.
How we can only ever reach the Kingdom of God together.
Life in the Spirit frees us to love and empowers us to help heal our broken world.
Now as we will hear in next week’s reading, the changes we need cannot happen overnight—as if we needed any reminder—that it will take work and won’t be easy.
But we have the assurance that we already have the cure; that Christ has come to show us the way and bring us into life.
That the Holy Spirit is filling our lungs with life and stirring us into action.
That God’s perfect reign is indeed coming, and we will all experience together a day when our brokenness is healed.
 Lewis, Jacueline J. “Summer Series 2: Broken—Good News for Tough Times” p. 51-52 in A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series. 2016. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY
This is the first part of a seven-part sermon series entitled “Broken: Good News for Tough Times.”
The other sermons in the series can be found here:
- “Broken Bodies, Healing Spirit” – July 12, 2020
- “Groaning in Labor Pains” – July 19, 2020
- “Nothing” – August 2, 2020
- “All-Inclusive Love” – August 9, 2020
- “Fulfilling the Law” – August 16, 2020
- “Ever Faithful, Ever Merciful” – August 23, 2020
- “Not Waiting on the World to Change” – August 30, 2020
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