Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Monday, June 27, 2011

lamentation and freedom

Psalm 13:1-6
1    How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
          How long will you hide your face from me?
2   How long must I bear pain in my soul,
          and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
     How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3   Consider and answer me, O LORD my God!
          Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4   and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
          my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
5   But I trusted in your steadfast love;
          my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6   I will sing to the LORD,
          because he has dealt bountifully with me.

I want to spend most of our Bible time with our New Testament lesson, but I just couldn’t let this beautiful Psalm sit untouched. I couldn’t leave this painfully honest Psalm alone because too often the church isn’t painfully honest.

We put on our best faces for church, maybe we put on our best faces for other people in general. Someone asks how we’re doing and we say something socially acceptable. That’s actually an OK habit to be in a lot of the time. It’s not a great idea to pour our guts out to everyone we meet. But when we take it too far it kills genuine community and relationship. 

         When we come to church we are with our brothers and sisters in Christ. That means we are supposed to be in a safe place for honesty; a place we can share our struggles and our pain. We’re family, so we should be able to be vulnerable with each other.

         But that’s not always how it feels. One thing that gets in the way of honesty and openness is Sunday best syndrome. We feel like since our outfits are well put together, we’re supposed to button up our troubles too. We shine our shoes and our smiles and we tuck our problems and doubts under the carpet so we can do church “the right way.”

         That’s the smaller part of the problem. The bigger issue is that we feel we have to be careful with God. We use carefully crafted words and scripted prayers to talk to the God who is high above in heaven. The language in the Bible is stilted and our worship language doesn’t usually sound like how we would have a conversation. We don’t want to say the wrong thing or offend God.

         The truth is that God can take it. Look at this Psalm: “How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” Have you ever felt that way before? Did you cry out to God like the Psalmist did? Our polite religious tradition is hard to break, but when we open ourselves to God and to each other we learn how to actually trust God. Look where the Psalm ends up: “I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.” If we open ourselves up and trust God with our doubt and pain, we’ll find out for ourselves that we can count on God. If we handle God like fragile, precious crystal we’ll never find out how strong and supportive God really is.

OK, like I said, we’re going to spend most of our Bible time on the New Testament reading. It’s kind of a doozie, so we’re going to play with it a little bit in groups. Each of you has a small piece of paper with a number and a piece of our lesson on it. I’d like you to get up and move to the section of the room with your number on it and arrange yourselves in groups of 4 or 5. Introduce yourselves quickly and read the passage together.

Once you’ve done that discuss the passage for a couple of minutes. If you have a hard time starting your discussion, you’ll find a couple of questions on your sheet that might help. In a few minutes we’ll come back together and talk about the whole passage.

Romans 6:3-23
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.

12Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

15What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

20When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

          Sometimes we feel trapped and overwhelmed by our lives and situations. We feel the press of bills and family responsibilities. We feel the demands of our job or the stress of looking for work, while we also wrestle with to do lists at home. Sometimes guilt or grief or anger or addiction or hopelessness take hold of our lives and refuse to let go.

Anything that traps us and takes away our freedom releases its grip when we die. If alcohol or gambling or bitterness or fear holds you so tightly you feel like you can’t breath, imagine what happens to that clutching claw when you die. It can’t hold you anymore because those traps and prisons are part of life. They loose their power when we die. That’s why when people feel like they have come to a dead end in their lives suicide can seem like a tempting escape. Suicide is the wrong choice, but when we feel trapped, the temptation makes sense. Death breaks the bonds that trap us.

Jesus died.

In baptism we become part of Jesus’ body.

That means in faith we have already died, and we are set free from all the concerns that take up so much of our energy and weigh so heavily on our shoulders and our souls.

The crazy thing is that Jesus didn’t stay dead, but instead he rose from the grave. By faith in Christ we are also part of his resurrection, which means we move from death to new life. So we are free from the tyranny of life and the cold grasp of death. We are free to do whatever we want with the amazing gift of new life in Christ.

All our responsibilities and relationships can be transformed in our new life in Christ. Instead of being traps and obligations we are free to see them as gifts and opportunities.

         In all the choices of freedom one of our choices is to fall back into sin and selfishness. We are free to get stuck again in the traps that held us before we found freedom in Christ. We don’t have to accept the freedom God offers; it is our choice.

         Sin isn’t an isolated thing. When we use our freedom to sin we become trapped in it, slaves to sin again. When we use our freedom to build up wealth for ourselves, for instance, we gradually become more and more attached to money. We start seeing other people as a threat to our financial security instead of being brothers and sisters we can share with. We use more and more of our time to pursue and secure wealth instead of following our calling to love and enjoy other people. Little by little the choice to make a little money becomes total slavery to possessions.

         We can imagine the same trajectory with any other sin if we want: pride, infidelity, racism, etc. One action leads to another and before long the trap is complete.

         On the other hand, we can use our freedom to follow God. Like with sin, choosing to follow God isn’t really an isolated choice. That choice leads to a life of service, a life even of slavery to righteousness.

When we choose to base our life on love we become trapped in the joy of fellowship, the freedom of giving, the warmth of acceptance. We loose the freedom to treat other people as objects because we know they are our brothers and sisters. We loose the freedom to build walls around ourselves and our possessions because we know we are connected to other people. A life of discipleship is slavery in its own way, because we give our lives to God, but it is a slavery full of joy, peace and fulfillment.

         In the freedom God gives us we choose whom we will serve. Will we choose to serve ourselves and the sinful structures of this world or will we choose to serve God and those who need us most? Will we choose the dead end of selfishness or the joyful road of community and discipleship? Christ sets us free for new life. How will you use your freedom?

Thanks be to God.

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