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Walking in Newness of Life

The Church of England has always included in its collective acts of worship a clear statement of what it is we believe.

Traditionally this has always come in the form of one of the creeds.  So at Holy Communion services we generally recite the longest creed, the Nicaean Creed.  And at evensong we recite the Apostles Creed and occasionally we get to recite the Athanasian Creed.  So, normally at this service we would recite the Nicaean Creed.

But in recent years the Church has authorised alternatives to the creeds.  These are called alternative affirmations of faith.   Today we are going to use one these.  It is a very short creed that is derived from a few verses from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. 

So when we come to the creed we will say that we believe that Christ died for our sins; that he was buried and rose again to life on the third day and afterwards appeared to his followers and to all the apostles.

You really can’t argue with that as a short statement of what Christians believe are what Christians are supposed to believe.

I came across this alternative affirmation of faith because I was looking for one that might fit with our epistle reading this morning which comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  The creed based on the text from Corinthians fits in with our reading this morning because it is about the death and resurrection of Christ and particularly relates the death of Christ to the sins of humanity; and this is what our reading from Romans does as well.

But, although the two readings have this in common, what struck me was that they also differ in a really important way.

In the text from Corinthians, we, the church, human beings, we are passive.  Jesus is doing everything.  We are doing nothing.  Jesus dies for our sins.  Jesus rises again to life.  Jesus is seen by the apostles.  In this affirmation of faith, the followers of Christ are receivers of God’s grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  All they do is watch.

But when he was writing to the Romans, it seems to me, that the followers of Christ are not receivers only.  Instead Paul tells them that as well as being receivers of God’s grace they are also participants in what is happening.  He begins this argument by saying, ‘Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?  In other words, is our response to Jesus dying for our sins a polite, ‘oh, thanks very much, we’ll just crack on as we were’?  Obviously not.  The death of Christ; the victory over sin is a game changer.  Nothing will ever be the same again.

When he was writing to the church in Rome, Paul makes it clear that everything that Jesus does; Paul expects the followers of Jesus to do as well.

Jesus was baptised.  We were baptised.

Jesus dies to sin.  We die to sin.

Jesus is alive and living to God.  We also live to God in Christ Jesus; walking in newness of life.

So we are not passive receivers of what God has done.  By no means! We are called to participate in what God is doing.

Well there’s a challenge!  Jesus told his followers it would be a challenge and some of his most challenging words for his followers are contained in our Gospel reading this morning.  Can we meet this challenge?  Obviously, the right answer is yes.  So let’s ask a different question: what does it feel like to meet this challenge?  I want to answer that question by considering what Paul has to say about sin and about life.

First sin.  This is what Paul says.

He says we can’t go on living in sin.  And later he says that the body of sin has been destroyed so that we are no longer enslaved to sin.  In fact, we have been freed from sin.  We are dead to sin.

When people think about sin, they most often think about things that they have done that they shouldn’t have done.  Things that they would be in trouble for if people found out.  Things that we are embarrassed about having done.  Things that we feel guilty about. I’m thinking here of adultery and stealing and lying; things like that.

That’s part of what sin, but it is not the whole story.  Sin also includes all the things that we do that we wouldn’t be in trouble for because lots of people are doing it.  These are the things that we just go along with, things that we don’t think about much and we certainly don’t challenge them because everybody is doing it and that’s how it has always been.  These things might include destroying the planet, racism, war, stuff like that.  So, there’s that.

But there’s more.  As well as the sins that we actively participate in and the sins that we passively acquiesce in, there are the sins that oppress us.  The sin that is going on in the world that has damaged us.  It damages us and sometimes we pass that hurt and pain onto others.  We are all to a varying extent victims and perpetrators of the sin that is going on in the world.  We are all trapped by it.

Except that Paul is saying that because Jesus died for our sins, we are no longer trapped.  We can break free from the sin that entraps us.  The pain that has been inflicted upon us; we don’t have to pass that onto others anymore.

Maybe it is helpful to think about the different stages of breaking free from sin.  There is the stage where we are in denial; when we refuse to even admit we are sinful; when we are defensive; when we engage in whatabouterry; when we point at somebody else and point at their sin.  This is what it means to refuse to break free from sin even though Christ has died so that we are no longer entrapped by sin.  Maybe we can think of other people who are like that.  Maybe we can remember a time when we were like that.  Maybe, in a sudden burst of honesty and self-awareness, we will think of a way in which we are like that now.

Then there is the first phase of breaking free when we are prepared to admit the truth about what we have done or what we have acquiesced in but have not moved passed feeling guilty and embarrassed.  We turn our pain inwards.  We are still suffering from the memory of sin.  Most of us have spent some time stuck in that place.  Maybe you feel that way about something now.

Then there is the second phase of breaking free when we begin to embrace what it means to be forgiven because Jesus died for the sins of the whole world.  We can think about our former selves without guilt or sadness or grief.  We can love our old selves because we know that God loves sinners.  Knowing that we are forgiven, we can find it in ourselves to forgive others.  We return to that place every time we say the Lord’s Prayer.  When we come to the Lord’s Prayer in our worship today, as well as forgiving others, can you also forgive your former self? 

And then there is the third and final phase.  This is what Paul calls walking in newness of life.  This is what he means when he talks about being alive to God in Jesus Christ.  This is the life we are called to lead when we do more than accept that we are forgiven and are able to forgive others, we actually start building our life around the assumption of forgiveness.  We approach every challenge, every new situation, completely confident that the power of God’s love has already triumphed on the cross so that whatever we encounter in this broken world can be transformed by the power of this love expressed in the idea that the sins of the world have been forgiven.  We will repeat those words when we sing the angus dei this morning.  The sins of the world have been forgiven.  So can we carry a real understanding of that statement into the way we live our lives?

Walking in this newness of life, this is how we participate in God’s work in the world today.  This is what it means to be alive to God in Jesus Christ.

Three weeks ago, I put up a new banner outside our church.  On one side I had listed the ways in which people can worship with us online.  On the other side, I listed the ways in which we can support people who are hungry, people who are lonely, people who are looking after children.  And in the centre of the banner I had a picture of the risen Christ emerging from the tomb.  Jesus Christ victorious over death and sin.  And underneath this picture I wrote the slogan, Our church building is closed, but Christ is risen and we are live to God in Christ Jesus.

In other words, I wanted to say, we are still here, we are still walking in newness of life, we are still followers of Jesus, living in the world, assuming in every encounter we have with the world that the power of God’s love can transform any situation we find ourselves in.

So in a moment I will ask you to join me, not in the words of the Nicaean Creed as we usually do, but to join me in affirming your faith, firstly using the words from the first letter to the Corinthians that declare our faith in what Jesus has done for us but then we will go on to say, using phrases from our reading from romans this morning, that as followers of Christ we consider ourselves baptised into his death, set free from sin and able to walk in newness of life, eternally alive to God.

I’ll just leave a moment for the words to appear on your screen…

 

Let us declare our faith

in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Christ died for our sins

in accordance with the Scriptures;

he was buried;

he was raised to life on the third day

in accordance with the Scriptures;

afterwards he appeared to his followers,

and to all the apostles:

this we have received,

and this we believe.

and so we believe that,

by our baptism

we are baptised into his death;

that by his death,

we are no more enslaved to sin.

that by his resurrection,

we may walk in newness of life.

and are and always will be,

alive to God.

Amen.


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Page last updated: 20th June 2020 2:26 PM