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.

2 Kings 4:32-37 – But That Is Not the End of the Story

Elisha and the Shunammite woman by Dutch painter Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (1621-1674)

Elisha entered the house and found the boy stretched out on the bed dead. He went into the room and locked the door—just the two of them in the room—and prayed to God. He then got into bed with the boy and covered him with his body, mouth on mouth, eyes on eyes, hands on hands. As he was stretched out over him like that, the boy’s body became warm. Elisha got up and paced back and forth in the room. Then he went back and stretched himself upon the boy again. The boy started sneezing—seven times he sneezed!—and opened his eyes.

He called Gehazi and said, “Get the Shunammite woman in here!” He called her and she came in.

Elisha said, “Embrace your son!”

She fell at Elisha’s feet, face to the ground in reverent awe. Then she embraced her son and went out with him. (The Message)

Life sometimes feels like a roller coaster. Our emotions go up and down alongside the circumstances which bring them forth.

Elisha was one of the all-time great prophets in ancient Israel. He developed an ongoing friendship with a woman from the town of Shunem. It was her simple hospitality to a stranger that brought about the enduring relationship.

Whenever Elisha passed through on his prophetic business, he would stop in and have a meal or spend the night in a special room set aside just for him.

But that is not the end of the story….

The woman was about to have a big change of life, a life she could not have ever seen coming and only dreamed of.

The Shunammite woman had no children and was not able to conceive. Yet, on one of his visits, Elisha promised her she would hold her very own infant child… which she eventually did. A year after Elisha’s pronouncement, the woman and her husband had a son.

The woman went from discouraged to elated. The child grew. The Shunammite and her family were content and living well.

But that is not the end of the story….

In today’s Old Testament lesson, we pick up the narrative as the child is a small boy, the family happy and healthy… until they weren’t.

One day the boy was playing, as he did every day. Whatever happened, he developed such a terrible headache that his dear mother rocked him for hours, trying to comfort him. The worst case scenario happened. The boy died.

The woman went from joy to despair in a matter of hours.

But that is not the end of the story….

The grieving mother refused to let death have the last word on her son. She saddled her donkey and went directly to Elisha. The Shunammite lamented to him about her son, and in her grief, cried out how Elisha had gotten her hopes up, only to be dashed by that dark enemy of death.

The prophet responded to the woman’s plea and set off  post haste to her home, which had now become a sort of funeral parlor. Elisha went into the room by himself with the dead boy. In an odd process similar to what Jesus would do centuries later, Elisha did some physical actions in bringing about a miraculous resurrection.

The boy sneezed, got up, and was given back to his mother. Her lowest of the low grinding sadness of distress and despair now turned to the highest of the high elation of joy and gratitude.

But that is not the end of the story….

The story continues because the larger overarching story of God’s gracious intervention into this world to bring about the redemption of all creation.

Along the way, across the millennia, the Lord continues to use faithful people to bring about renewal, restoration, and redemption. In the Christian tradition, the apex of this merciful work is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

God himself was pleased
    to live fully in his Son.
And God was pleased
    for him to make peace
by sacrificing his blood
    on the cross,
so that all beings in heaven
    and on earth
would be brought back to God. (Colossians 1:19-20, CEV)

The resurrection of the boy, and all risings from death before Jesus, prefigured and foretold the ultimate resurrection of Christ. And because Christ is risen, we too, shall rise from death – both spiritually and bodily.

Therefore, we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. (Romans 6:4-5, NET)

The end of the grand narrative story is moving to a climax. Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead. All things shall be restored. All will be made right. We may sorrow in the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them and be their God;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also, he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. (Revelation 21:1-6, NRSV)

Our past grief and our present troubles will give way to a future hope – an ending to the story we can barely imagine, a glorious existence with our God which will have no end.

May the Lord come soon.

I pray the Lord Jesus will be kind to you.

May faith, hope, and love surround everyone who belongs to Christ Jesus. Amen.

Revelation 1:9-20 – I Am Fully Alive

Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ottawa, Canada

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (New International Version)

“Let every man and woman count himself immortal. Let him catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection. Let him say not merely, ‘Christ is risen,’ but ‘I shall rise.’”

Phillips Brooks (1835-1893)

Easter Sunday may have come and gone, but the church remains in the season called “Eastertide,” which extends forty days until celebrating Christ’s ascension to heaven. This means that Easter is not just a one day affair; it is a joyous time of focusing on new life and exulting in the resurrected Lord. 

The Apostle John had a vision of the resurrected Jesus in his glory. Although John was quivering in his sandals, the Lord assured him that he need not be afraid. Christ is not dead but living.

Jesus is alive! Since Christ is risen, God’s people are united with him in his resurrection. That means the church is alive. Yes, the church is a-l-i-v-e, alive! 

The term “dead church” gets bantered around quite a bit these days. But that is really an oxymoron; a genuine Christ redeemed Body of believers cannot possibly be dead; they are alive! 

If a church is dead, it is not a church. It could be a country club, a benevolent organization, and even a moral institution, but a church is not a church if it is dead because Jesus is alive, and his Body is anything but dead.

Christians have life in Jesus Christ. We are alive forevermore because Jesus will never again die. So, then, we are to live as vigorous and vibrant believers. 

What things will you do differently since you know you cannot die? 

How will the knowledge of your eternal alive-ness impact you today and every day? 

The truth is: We have been raised with Christ to new life; we cannot die because death no longer has mastery over us. We can now live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us.

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. (Romans 6:4-11, NIV)

“The glory of God is a person fully alive, and the life of a person is the vision of God.”

St. Irenaeus (130-202, C.E.)

Humanity’s alive-ness is what most fully displays the glory of God on this earth. Christ living within the believer is a powerful and potent manifestation of God’s goodness.

Whereas we may think that great miracles are the best sign of God’s presence and power in the world, the truth is that being full alive, and living into the new life we possess, is a bright light which shows the way of transformation to a fallen planet in the vice grip of sin, death, and hell.

God’s generosity, wisdom, and love are supremely viewed with the changed life of an individual. Living life to the full in this post-resurrection era, influences how we treat one another because we nobly honor our fellow humanity as people bearing the divine image of God.

We, therefore, in our alive-ness, seek to understand one another because we know that each person around us is worth understanding. Our being fully alive moves us to cultivate a virtuous life, knowing that a life well-lived is the best witness to God’s glory.

Believers raised with Christ are filled with joy, realizing that living is in itself a great good. We hope to carry this joy into the world and bear witness to the beauty of each human life.

O God, as people fully alive, make us bold in love, courageous in hope, and whole in faith. May the blessing of God almighty – Father, Son, and Spirit – be upon the Church everywhere, today and always, through Christ our risen Lord. Amen.

Revelation 1:4-8 – The One Who Is, Who Was, and Who Is To Come

John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
    and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (New International Version)

In my undergraduate college days, one of the required classes for my major was “Philosophy of History” taught by a crusty old professor who looked like he was one-hundred-and-ten-years-old. One day he came into the classroom and began his lecture by looking directly at me with those beady black eyes of his and said, as only he could say it, “Ehrhardt! Can God change history?”

The Apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos. Late in the first century, all the other original disciples of Jesus were dead, having been martyred for their faith. Only John was left. The churches that the Apostle Paul established in Asia Minor were undergoing significant persecution. 

The trouble began with the church facing social ostracizing. Eventually, xenophobia took hold with many parts of the Roman Empire, and Christians began getting martyred. Misunderstandings of what the church is all about were rife.

If we were living during that time, we might seriously wonder if Christianity would survive, at all. Into this situation, the last Apostle, John, in exile, experienced a great vision (revelation) of Jesus concerning what is to come. While things looked awfully bleak, God graciously pulled back the veil between heaven and earth long enough for John to glimpse the great lordship of Jesus.

So, can God change history? You might be wondering about my response to the old professor. My answer was this: The question is only relevant if God were never in control and sovereign over history to begin with. There’s no need to change history if God is already actively working out divine purposes through history. Therefore, a more appropriate question is: Since God is Lord over all history, will we submit to the divine lordship? 

In difficult times, it’s only human to wonder if God is really sovereign over all the earth. With so much war, violence, and unrest in the world; with so many natural disasters and diseases all around; and whenever Christianity (and religion itself) is seen as a threat to many, we may sincerely ask ourselves, “Can God change history? Is God even in control of this present world?”

The revelation of Jesus to John, which he then shared with the struggling churches, was meant to encourage them – to give them hope that, even though Christ’s reign is invisible and seems limited and temporary, it will ultimately be visible, and is pervasive and permanent. 

Today’s New Testament lesson is meant to strengthen and bolster the believer’s faith with a vision of who Jesus is; what Jesus has done; and what Jesus will do.

Who Jesus Is

He is the faithful witness. The word “witness” is where we get our English word “martyr.” Faithful believers in the first centuries of the church witnessed to their faith and proclaimed the gospel of new life in Christ. They were effective enough to alter the social order, which brought persecution and, in some cases, death. 

These men and women died proclaiming their devotion to Jesus. They saw themselves as merely emulating and following the way of their sovereign Lord Jesus, who was himself a faithful martyr.

Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, that is, Christ has conquered death. Just as Christ rose from death, so also, we will be raised to life. Because Jesus is alive, Christians will live forever and experience bodily resurrection, as well.

Whatever happens to Jesus, happens to us. Jesus was persecuted, suffered, and died. We, too, shall suffer persecution and death. Jesus was raised from the dead and so shall we. The evil we experience in this life is very much known to God. Our solidarity with Jesus helps us to not grow weary and lose heart.

Jesus is the ruler, the king of kings and lord of lords. God reigns over the past, the present, and the future. Christ is in charge, presently now working out good plans and purposes. God bends events, situations, and hearts toward justice and righteousness. 

What Jesus Has Done

Jesus freed us from the power of sin by his blood. This is more than some nice information to know; it is truth designed for us to live a new life depending on King Jesus. Sometimes, we have horrible, no good, very bad days. We don’t respond to others well,  and then ask God’s forgiveness. Other days are wonderful, with bright sunshine and a spring in your step. We play well with others and express gratitude to God.

Jesus is Lord of both good days and bad days. Faith is not dependent upon our circumstances because it is the blood of Jesus which has freed us to live for God, no matter the situations we face. Christians overcome circumstances by the blood of Christ – and not because everything goes our way.  

We are never far from the cross of Christ. We overcome bad tempers, defeats, disordered love, fears, pettiness, and a host of other things by the blood of the Lamb. The daily goal is to not simply have a wonderful day without any adversity. Rather, the aim is to know Jesus Christ, and him crucified, dead, risen and ascended. 

Jesus has made us to be a kingdom of priests. Christians have continual access and unconditional acceptance of God through the blood of Jesus. We can intercede for others by going directly to God. Just as Jesus has unlimited access to the Father, so, the Christian has the privilege of coming to God at all times. 

Christians are a kingdom of priests where every believer intercedes for other believers, and even for the world which persecutes them. Jesus not only freed us from sin’s grip of evil for our own individual benefit, but also so that we can be agents of rescue for others. 

What Jesus Will Do

Jesus will come to judge the earth, the living and the dead. Moving deeper into Revelation, it truly becomes apocalyptic. It’s as if a group of trapped cave explorers choose one of the individuals to squeeze through a narrow flooded passage to get out to the surface and call for help. The point of the choice is more than personal salvation, it is the saving of the entire group. She is to bring help and equipment to ensure the rest get rescued.

Indeed, God elects, chooses, and calls us not only for our personal benefit but for the sake of many.

Conclusion

Jesus is worthy of our praise. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. His kingdom will never end. Since this is true, we are to faithfully serve God. In life and in death, we belong to God. We are not our own; we were bought at a price. 

“Can God change history?” is not the real question. Since God has changed history forever in the sending of the Son, the proper question is, “What will we do with the lordship of Christ over the world?”

Jesus is coming soon. When he returns, what will he find you doing?

Gracious God, we pray for Christ’s Church everywhere. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior. Amen.