Saturday, June 20, 2020

Pentecost 3A

Romans 6:1-11

1What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore 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. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

6We 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. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 10:34-39

34"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one's foes will be members of one's own household. 37whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.


Despite public spaces and retail places opening up more, #StaySafeStayHome #SaferAtHome continue. Even someone like me who has a wide libertarian streak appreciates Governor Newsom mandating wearing masks statewide. If people won't consider the needs of others, laws need to move them to act properly. We need to continue praying for effective treatment and for a vaccine. As devout Christian Nancy Pelosi pointed out a while ago, science is one of many ways God acts in the world.


God whose gracious power brings us seasons of fall, winter, spring, and summer; God whose Spirit uncovers broken systems and human failures, we thank you for another summer and for going before us and leading us to be your presence everywhere we go. Please, please continue to bless all the essential workers and keep them safe.
In the name of Jesus,

Green and Growing Season

This is the third Sunday after Pentecost; three weeks ago we celebrated the fiftieth day of Easter and the gift of the pentecostal Spirit of Life—grace, love, resurrection, God's abiding presence in us, the church, as the body of the Risen Christ. In baptism we receive the gift of God's Holy Spirit that enables us to do those "greater things" that Jesus promised. During this season, verdant green is the color for vestments, paraments, banners, etc., just as it was last winter during the few Sundays of ordinary [ordered, structured, delineated] time after Epiphany.


For today the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) that suggests our scriptures pairs Paul/ Saul's Romans 6 baptismal passage with Jesus' warning about following him and the cost of discipleship related to family members. Matthew 10:38 is the first "cross" reference in Matthew's gospel, and it's about the disciples, not about Jesus! Jesus well knew anyone at odds with the Roman occupation government was at high risk for crucifixion; most likely Jesus started anticipating his own crucifixion even earlier than we read about in the gospel narratives. Although this refers to literal crucifixion, it's no stretch also to interpret it as putting to death our own desires, preferences, lifestyles that clash or interfere with God's call to us. As we hear Paul's famous baptismal passage, we remember the cross did kill Jesus, but it didn't succeed in keeping him dead.

The nuclear family we've known and still imagine in the twenty-first century is not a fixture in the Bible, though we hear about parents, children, spouses, in-laws. Jesus instead describes a new family configuration of people who follow him. Biological heredity comes into the mix, but more than anything, this new family is by Jesus' blood, by baptismal water and word. In Matthew 12 that comes shortly after today's reading…

Matthew 12

46While Jesus was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. 47Someone told him, "Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you." 48But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?' 49And pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 50For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."


The letter to the church at Rome is several decades earlier than the gospel we received from Matthew's community; for Saul / Paul of Tarsus, the gospel is death and resurrection. Paul considers baptism a new exodus, liberation from slavery of all kinds: sin, death, and the devil as we say in the baptismal liturgy; freedom from all forces and enticements of empire that are agents of death. In the life-changing event of baptism, the Triune God claims us forever.

The community gathered around Matthew the tax-collector well may have known the letter to the Romans since epistles were round-robin documents that circulated from church to church, often receiving edits and revisions along the way. However, as we've observed, Matthew's Jesus would not have done baptismal theology the way Paul does in Romans, or as we do in the 21st century church. In the Great Commission when he told his followers to go everywhere, teach everyone, baptize them, Jesus wouldn't have used the Father, Son, Holy Spirit baptismal formula. Most likely Jesus simply said "baptize" without suggesting words to accompany the action.

Emancipation Proclamation / Juneteenth

President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of September 22, 1862 took effect New Year's Day 1863. Texas was slavery's last outpost; in Galveston on June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger announced all slaves had been freed. The attention news media and social media gave to Juneteenth this year has been exciting! The Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified December 6, 1865.

Baptismal Connections

In the previous chapter 5 of Romans, Paul is astonished how sin could have taken over even something as life-giving as the Ten Words or Commandments. In today's passage from Matthew, Jesus alludes to sin and divisions taking over the gift of family. Households will become divided until they claim Jesus' forgiving love, mercy, and justice that obliterates boundaries sin has caused between human families (tribes, clans, countries, every kind of group). Baptism unites us to God's entire family in every place and every time; as Jesus explains, God's family consists of those who follow Jesus by acting like Jesus. In short, God adopts all of us into a reconfigured family in which Jesus' relatives include everyone who follows him.

In this week's passage from Romans, the Apostle Paul asks "Do you not know?" in a way that suggests they don’t know – or if they do know they don't yet get it, possibly haven't quite claimed it. In baptism we have died with Christ. We have been buried with Christ. We already have been raised with Christ into a new future. Do you not know that? Do I not know? Do we now live that?

Baptism unites us to God's entire family in every place and every time. In baptism, every one of our human stories intersect with each other, plus, the waters of baptism first connect us to the story of the entire universe, of this created world.

Aside from Easter Vigil, in actual baptismal liturgies, and often at funerals, this Sunday is the only place in the 3-year lectionary we hear this baptismal passage from Romans. During the baptismal liturgy and during the great fifty days of Easter, thanksgiving over the water begins, "We give you thanks for in the beginning your Spirit moved over the waters and you created heaven and earth. By the gift of water you nourish and sustain us and all living things." Do you remember Emily beautifully pouring water into the font from a lovely pitcher in previous years? Sigh…

The story of our own baptism takes us back to "in the beginning" of Genesis 1, expands to include our current relationship to planet earth as well as to our human siblings, and stretches into the future of all creation. Our present and our future as people of the resurrection is bound up with that of the earth.

"… I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother … one's foes will be members of one's own household."

"foe" in the NRSV is a word we don't use very often, but I left it rather than looking for a different translation.

In Romans, Paul mostly is concerned with divisions between Jew and Gentile. But humans cause divisions in countless ways—between nations, political groups, religious groups, ethnic groups, coworkers, nuclear families, extended families. You easily can expand the list. Racism, sexism, ageism, classism, (another easy et cetera you can continue) are among life-negating behaviors that destroy our own and one another's humanity. These lists imply insider-outsider language. Insider-outsider realities. What are our frames of reference? Ethnic? Cultural? Denominational? National?

Saint Paul asks if we do not know? In baptism our primary familial kinship and identity is under the reign – or kingship – of the crucified and risen One. It is a gift we already have received. It's truly a gift to be the sister, brother, parent, niece, or cousin of [insert name here], wonderful to live as a citizen or resident of the USA, of Italy, of any country that gives people the right to vote, free markets, the rule of law, but those identities are not primary.

Change is Gonna Come!

Similar to how it was in Jesus' time, we've become aware people opposed to contemporary legal, social, economic, cultural systems of … insert one of hundreds here … can expect to be silenced by … insert typical organizational or popular or governmental action here. Especially over the past few weeks, more and more death-dealing structures of sin and systems of oppression have been exposed.

As we gaze with horror and sorrow on (for example) products with packaging that displays ethnic stereotypes, statues of known slaveholders, we need to be careful to read the present through the past (historicism) and not make the easy mistake of reading the past through what we know in this present moment (presentism), by interpreting past events through current values, lenses, practices, and even preferences. A book review I read complained that the book was "so 1983." The book had been published in 1983, and who knows what year the author started writing. We can't live in a future that hasn't yet arrived, but we can learn from the past to help create a better now, and a greatly improved future.

In the power of the cross and the empty grave, by grace we can deal with the past and trust it no longer will enslave us.

How can death and resurrection inspire us to face hard past realities while also working together into a hope-filled future?

Baptism incorporates us into all humanity's history and into the history of planet earth with all its varied flora and fauna. No one is free until every one is free. No person is free until all creation is free. When I was facilitating some and helping teenagers lead other after-school activities in a previous life, my search for songs with solid theology that didn't use explicitly Christian language turned up "Free to Be, You and Me," that somehow I'd missed when it was current.

Free To Be

There's a land that I see where the children are free
And I say it ain't far to this land from where we are
Take my hand, come with me, where the children are free
Come with me, take my hand, and we'll live

In a land where the river runs free
In a land through the green country
In a land to a shining sea
And you and me are free to be you and me

I see a land bright and clear, and the time's comin' near
When we'll live in this land, you and me, hand in hand
Take my hand, come along, lend your voice to my song
Come along, take my hand, sing a song

For a land where the river runs free
For a land through the green country
For a land to a shining sea
For a land where the horses run free
And you and me are free to be you and me

Every boy in this land grows to be his own man
In this land, every girl grows to be her own woman
Take my hand, come with me where the children are free
Come with me, take my hand, and we'll run

To a land where the river runs free
To a land through the green country
To a land to a shining sea
To a land where the horses run free
To a land where the children are free
And you and me are free to be you and me

Music by Stephen J. Lawrence; Lyrics by Bruce Hart

Just as the constitutional justice and liberty the Emancipation Proclamation granted for everyone still isn't complete, the freedom and fulness of life Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension granted all still isn't complete. Death still rules many social, economic, political, ecclesiastical structures and systems, as well as aspects of our lives as baptized individuals.

The story of our own baptism takes us back to "in the beginning" of Genesis 1, expands to include our current relationship to planet earth as well as to our human siblings, and stretches into the future of all creation. Our present and our future as people of the resurrection is bound up with that of the earth.

Our individual lives and our living together are full of the paradox of already done but not quite finished.

• Poet Wendell Berry counsels us, "Practice resurrection!"

• John Cena reminds us, "Hope and effort together is a great recipe for making [seemingly] impossible possible."

No comments: