Cyber-Monday Is (Not) My Master (Romans 6:1-11)

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (New International Version)

Not many Christians can quote these verses of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, even though they encapsulate the heart of Christian theology about God, humanity, and sin. Maybe that’s why so many people have their own alternative story:

So what do we do? We get on-line and do some shopping, that’s what we do!

Should we keep on missing out on sales so that the great market economy keeps on slashing prices, so I have to compete for what I want? I should hope not! If we’ve left Black Friday, where sales is sovereign, how can we avoid Cyber-Monday? Or didn’t you realize what kind of price cuts are going on?

You were baptized into the ultimate deal. When you signed up for those holiday sale alerts, you left that old country of brick and mortar sales behind; you’ve entered into the new country of one touch shopping—a new life in a new cyber world!

That’s what baptism into the market economy means. When we are immersed into the ways of the savvy shopper, we are raised up with a whole new credit line! Each of us is raised into a light-filled computer screen world so that we can see where we’re going in our new sales-sovereign country.

Could it be any clearer? Our old way of a newspaper coupon clipping life was nailed to that old printing press, a decisive end to that miserable life—no longer captive to the mail carrier’s showing up at the mailbox!

If we get included in the on-line list, we also get included in those life-saving sales. We know that when the price drops it will eventually rise again. But never again will the end of the sale have the last word. The sale’s been brought to us; we don’t have to go to it. Think of it this way: physical stores and newspapers speak a dead language that means nothing to you; Cyber-Monday speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word.

Cyber-Monday. It’s no wonder Americans keep creating new holidays centered in sales events. After all, the impulse to shop runs high in most Westerners. Shopping can quite easily move from necessity to compulsion. Before you know it, we can be consuming without much restraint. 

On-line shopping, especially, is just so darn easy and can trigger the brain just as much as any addiction. There is often a very thin line between justified shopping and sinful rationalization of consumption. So, how do we say “no” in the face of competing choices? Whatever besetting sin is in our lives, how do we put it aside and rid ourselves of it? 

One of the practical ways of approaching this answer is to read Romans 6, not from a generic standpoint, but make it very personal. In other words, it could be quite helpful to make all of the pronouns personal and name the specific sin when sin is mentioned. For example, it could look something like this:

“What shall I say, then? Shall I go on shopping so that grace may increase? By no means! I died to shopping; how can I live in it any longer?  Or don’t I know that I am baptized into Christ Jesus and, so, am baptized into his death? I am therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, I, too, may live a new life.”

You can put your own besetting sin or struggle into the text: 

“If I have been united with him like this in his death, I will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For I know that my old self was crucified with him so that shopping or gossiping or lying or overeating or alcoholism or legalism, etc. might be done away with, that I should no longer be a slave to shopping – because I have died and have been freed from the compulsive and obsessive need to shop.”

I think you get the idea. We are to count ourselves dead to all the addictions, compulsions, and activities that we use to replace the finished work of Christ. Instead, we are to reckon ourselves dead to it but alive to God in Christ. 

The struggle against sin comes down to daily affirmations of faith that we belong to God through Jesus – and not to some other master. Yes, the daily work of spiritually affirming our identity might seem mundane, but it is quite necessary to achieving practical victory.

Lord God, as we begin this season of Advent, grant us grace for seeking your kingdom first; and our fiefdom of self, last. Rather than spending more money and expending more worry, help us invest our time and treasures, talent and tears into your just and right way of life. Free us to love and serve others with joy, with the same generous love and sacrificial care you lavish on us. Amen.

Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16 – Holy Saturday

I take refuge in you, Lord.
    Please never let me be put to shame.
        Rescue me by your righteousness!
Listen closely to me!
    Deliver me quickly;
        be a rock that protects me;
        be a strong fortress that saves me!
You are definitely my rock and my fortress.
    Guide me and lead me for the sake of your good name!
Get me out of this net that’s been set for me
    because you are my protective fortress….

My future is in your hands.
    Don’t hand me over to my enemies,
    to all who are out to get me!
Shine your face on your servant;
    save me by your faithful love! (Common English Bible)

Holy Saturday is a quiet place sandwiched between the ignominy of the Cross and the celebration of Resurrection – a day of solitude, silence, and stillness. 

This isn’t a particularly popular day. People don’t rave about Holy Saturday. Many Christians haven’t even a thought that this day could have any significance. Yet, this very day has its place in the scheme of the Christian life.

Whenever Christians quickly jump to triumphal language about victory and speak little-to-nothing about suffering, then we are left with a cheap grace which has been purchased with the counterfeit currency of velocity. 

Today is meant for us to get of our heads and wrap our hearts around the important reality that Jesus Christ was truly and bodily dead in the grave. 

It was real suffering on Good Friday, and it is a real death on Holy Saturday. There is no movement. All is silent and still. Jesus is in the solitude of a dark tomb. 

There’s no getting around this: If we want a Resurrection Day with all its celebration and glory, then we cannot circumvent Holy Saturday with its quiet and somber sadness. 

Holy Saturday must be observed if we are to experience real and practical freedom from the bondage of shame. And shame is powerful. It keeps a person locked within themselves, alone with their secrets hidden far from others.

Far too often we may try and cope with our shameful words or actions through promising to work harder, pledging to have greater willpower, or complaining that life is unfair. None of this gets to the root of our shame.

Unlike guilt, which our conscience identifies as specific behaviors to repent of, shame is the message of our inner critic who obnoxiously decries that we are somehow flawed, not enough, and inherently lacking intelligence, courage, or volition.

Shame is the insidious mechanism which interprets bad events as we ourselves being bad.

Shame is the vampire who lives in the shadows and feeds on secrets – which is why the posture of shame is to hide our face in our hands. If shame persists, we withdraw from others and experience grinding loneliness. 

Therefore, the path out of shame is to openly name our shame and tell our stories. In other words, nailing the stake of vulnerability into the heart of shame, and exposing it to the light, causes it to disintegrate and vaporize.

In contrast to the unhealthy hiding of ourselves within prison walls of shame is seeking refuge and hiding ourselves in God. Even a cursory look at today’s psalm evidences an open and vulnerable person who wants nothing to do with shame. The psalmist unabashedly and without shame is quite forward in presenting his wants to God.

The psalms are meant for repeated use, to be voiced aloud again and again. In doing this simple activity, we shame-proof our lives. God’s face shines upon us and takes away the shadows of shame. It is no coincidence that Jesus forsook the shame of the cross through publicly uttering the words of this psalm: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Unchecked verbal violence will eventually lead to physical violence.

If wordy persecution comes from others, the primary tactic will most likely be shaming the people such persons want to control. Such enemies will frame a justification for violence because the people for whom they are leveling shame are “bad,” even “monsters.” If the verbal persecution comes from within, the shame can reach a critical mass of suicidal ideation and perhaps outright attempts at ending one’s life.

There is no existing with the living death of shame. But the good news is that we don’t have to. Instead, we can live in the strong fortress and the rock of refuge which is God.

The Lord traffics in redeeming mercy and steadfast love, not in the demeaning judgment of shame. We can flee to God and find grace to help us in our time of need. There is no shame in reaching out for help. We all need deliverance from something. It’s a matter of whether we are open to ask for it, or not.

Holy Saturday is here for you to know that Jesus Christ absorbed all of the world’s massive shame, yesterday, on Good Friday. Christ died. And the shame he took on, died with him. It is no more and will rise no more.

But someone will rise….

Father God, into your hands I commit my spirit – everything I am and all that I hope to be – so that Jesus Christ might be exalted in me through the power of your Holy Spirit. I choose to leave shame where it belongs – nailed to the cross. With your divine enablement, I shall walk in newness of life through expressing my needs and wants with courage, confidence, and candor. May it be so according to your steadfast love. Amen.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 – Good Friday

This stained-glass window was donated to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church of Birmingham, Alabama by the people of Wales after the church was bombed in 1963.

The Lord says,

“My servant will succeed in his task;
    he will be highly honored.
Many people were shocked when they saw him;
    he was so disfigured that he hardly looked human.
But now many nations will marvel at him,
    and kings will be speechless with amazement.
They will see and understand
    something they had never known.”

The people reply,

“Who would have believed what we now report?
    Who could have seen the Lord’s hand in this?
It was the will of the Lord that his servant
    grow like a plant taking root in dry ground.
He had no dignity or beauty
    to make us take notice of him.
There was nothing attractive about him,
    nothing that would draw us to him.
We despised him and rejected him;
    he endured suffering and pain.
No one would even look at him—
    we ignored him as if he were nothing.

“But he endured the suffering that should have been ours,
    the pain that we should have borne.
All the while we thought that his suffering
    was punishment sent by God.
But because of our sins he was wounded,
    beaten because of the evil we did.
We are healed by the punishment he suffered,
    made whole by the blows he received.
All of us were like sheep that were lost,
    each of us going his own way.
But the Lord made the punishment fall on him,
    the punishment all of us deserved.

“He was treated harshly, but endured it humbly;
    he never said a word.
Like a lamb about to be slaughtered,
like a sheep about to be sheared,
    he never said a word.
He was arrested and sentenced and led off to die,
    and no one cared about his fate.
He was put to death for the sins of our people.
He was placed in a grave with those who are evil,
    he was buried with the rich,
even though he had never committed a crime
    or ever told a lie.”

The Lord says,

“It was my will that he should suffer;
    his death was a sacrifice to bring forgiveness.
And so he will see his descendants;
    he will live a long life,
    and through him my purpose will succeed.
After a life of suffering, he will again have joy;
    he will know that he did not suffer in vain.
My devoted servant, with whom I am pleased,
    will bear the punishment of many
    and for his sake I will forgive them.
And so I will give him a place of honor,
    a place among the great and powerful.
He willingly gave his life
    and shared the fate of evil men.
He took the place of many sinners
    and prayed that they might be forgiven.” (Good News Translation)

We all suffer. 

Whether a chronic physical condition, emotional or moral distress, mental illness, or spiritual oppression, everyone falls prey to this world’s pain and heartache. 

The refugee, the poor, the oppressed, the lonely, the forgotten, the disadvantaged, the diseased, the distressed, and the displaced are just a few of the persons experiencing their own private pain, public humiliation, and an awful suffering.

Suffering that defies reason, the kind of pain which seems senseless, the type of hurt where nothing good appears to be going on at all, is all horribly troubling to the soul.

Perhaps it seems ironic, maybe even cruel, that Christians observe a day called “Good” Friday. Considering the adverse circumstances of so many people, to call today “good” appears awkward, as if Christ’s followers have their collective heads in the sand. 

Even for Christians, “Good Friday” may seem a bit oxymoronic for a day observing the torture and death of an innocent man. Some argue that Christ is no longer on the cross, and so, we need to give all our focus on the resurrected Jesus and the victory he achieved. No need for all this suffering stuff. 

Yet, the Resurrection only has meaning because of this very day, Good Friday. Without the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, there is no King Jesus. 

Holy Hill Stations of the Cross, Hubertus, Wisconsin

For Christians everywhere, this day is very good in the sense that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ means the redemption of the world. On this day we remember and commemorate the events that led up to the cross; unpack those events and interpret them with profound meaning and significance; and worship Jesus with heartfelt gratitude because of his redeeming work of the cross.

The bulk of the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are given to the final week of Christ’s life, especially leading to the cross. Good Friday observances often take a somber form due to the brevity of Christ’s experience on the cross. 

Christians remember the last words of Christ and recognize the significant impact his death had on the immediate persons around him. Believers also contemplate the lasting results of that singular death as an atoning sacrifice; perfect love; reconciliation between God and humanity; victory over evil; and redeeming all creation.

Sadness, then, is far from the only emotion on this day. It is appropriate to feel wonder, gratitude, and deep satisfaction for deliverance from the power of sin. There is the recognition that something profound and meaningful has truly happened in the egregious suffering of Jesus. 

Thus, we not only remember the anguish of Christ, but what that horrible torment accomplished. In fact, the cross of Jesus is so significant that an eternity of considering its import and impact could never plumb the depths of its far-reaching effects.

With all that has been said, one would think that Good Friday is a hugely observed day on the Christian Calendar. Yet, for a chunk of churches and Christians, it’s not. The bottom line is that the cross is not popular.  Maybe it’s because neither Christian nor non-Christian wants to ponder something so incredibly violent, hateful, and bloody.

Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge has adroitly put her finger on the issue:

“Religious people want visionary experiences and spiritual uplift; secular people want proofs, arguments, demonstrations, philosophy, and science.  The striking fact is that neither one of these groups wants to hear about the cross.” 

Fleming Rutledge

Indeed, as the Apostle Paul has said, the cross of Christ is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

A personalized religion which leaves the cross out of the picture (too much blood and violence) might seem appealing. Yet it will only leave us bereft of the communion of saints both past and present. Consider the ancient witness of the Church:

“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord… he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell.”

Apostles’ Creed

“For our sake he [Christ] was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.” –Nicene Creed

Christ suffered “in both body and soul – in such a way that when he sensed the horrible punishment required by our sins ‘his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.’ He cried, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ And he endured all this for the forgiveness of our sins. 

Therefore, we rightly say with the Apostle Paul that we know nothing ‘except Jesus Christ, and him crucified;’ we ‘regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.’ We find all comforts in his wounds and have no need to seek or invent any other means than this one and only sacrifice, once made, which renders believers perfect forever.” –Belgic Confession, Article 21

And let us consider further the New Testament witness:

“Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.  Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, and bear the abuse he endured.” (Hebrews 13:12-13, NIV)

“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whichthe world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14, NRSV)

The extent of Good Friday goes far beyond just a day on the calendar; it is the fulcrum upon which all of Christianity hinges. 

Because Christ suffered, our suffering has meaning.

Each situation of trauma; every case of disease; adversity and wholesale hard circumstances, all make sense, in the Christian tradition, when they are viewed in solidarity with Jesus Christ crucified.

So, today, let Christians everywhere contemplate the cross, observe the salvation accomplished through Christ’s death, and offer prayers and petitions for those who need deliverance from the power of evil. In short, let us worship God in Jesus Christ because of the suffering on the cross.

Along with all believers everywhere we pray:

Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on us.

Jesus, Bearer of our sins, have mercy on us.

Jesus, Redeemer of the world, grant us your peace. Amen.

Hebrews 12:1-3 – Wednesday of Holy Week

As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends, from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne.

Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up. (Good News Translation)

“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.”

Viktor E. Frankl

We are moving, step by step, inexorably to the cross of Christ. Along the way we will face opposition, ridicule, misunderstanding, and betrayal. We will be befuddled and feel confused. The path of discipleship is not easy.

And yet, on this Holy Wednesday, today’s New Testament lesson informs us that all the suffering of Christ was motivated and animated because of joy. 

The road to the cross, along with the cross itself, is painful, in every sense of the word. None of this tortuous suffering seems joyful, at all! There’s no definition, in any dictionary, of joy including severe spiritual anguish, bodily harm, and emotional shame. Joy isn’t remotely mentioned when talking about betrayal from someone close to you.

Jesus did not relish the pain. He was no masochist. Pain with no purpose is nothing but tragic despair. Rather, Jesus clearly understood what the end of his suffering would accomplish: the saving of many lives.

It is most necessary that we do not try to sanitize Christ’s death.

Although many beautiful crosses can be found in stores, the cross of Jesus was anything but lovely to look at. It was bloody. The cross was a harsh implement of torture and execution, meant to expose the condemned to public shame.

Trying to make sense of this great sacrifice on our behalf can be difficult. No earthly illustration or word-picture can begin to adequately capture the idea of vicarious suffering. Perhaps, then, we may understand the necessity of discipline, effort, endurance, and yes, pain, in order to accomplish a goal. We know from agonizing experience that the realization of our most important goals requires a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears. 

In a former life I was a cross country runner (back far enough for Sherman to set the way-back machine). Whenever I was running on a road or a golf course, I would sometimes get that very nasty and sharp pain in my side while running. It is called a side cramp, or side stitch. 

If you have never experienced such a cramp, the pain feels like an intense stabbing, as if someone were taking a knife and twisting it inside you. Runners know there’s only one thing to do when this occurs: Keep running through the pain, and then it will subside in a few minutes. To stop running only exacerbates and prolongs getting over the hurt, not to mention losing a race.

Jesus endured the cross knowing he was going to experience terrible excruciating pain. He also knew that avoiding the shame and agony would only make things worse; it wouldn’t take care of the problem of sin. 

Jesus persevered through the foulness and degradation of the cross for you and me. All of the wretched pain was worth it to him. Christ did not circumvent the cross; he embraced it so that the result would be people’s deliverance from guilt and shame, death and hell. 

The end game of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross was joy over deposing the ruler of this dark world and obliterating the obstacles to people’s faith.

Suffering often does not fit into our equation of the Christian life. However, it needs to. No suffering, no salvation. Since Jesus bled and died for us, it is our privilege to follow him and walk with him along the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering. 

Holy Week is a time to reflect and remember on such a great sacrifice, and to consider our Christian lives in the face of such great love. On this Wednesday, allow yourself to feel the bittersweet experience of simultaneous pain and joy – the very real bitterness of seeing the Lord crucified, along with the exultation of joy over being washed clean by the blood of the Lamb.

Gracious Lord Jesus, I give you eternal thanks for your mercy toward me through the cross. It is a small thing for me to follow you even it means great suffering on my part. My life is yours. Use it as you will, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.