Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Romans 6.23; Weekday Lenten Service Four; April 6, 2011;

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ” (Romans 6:23, ESV)
Death. The utter horror of it is beyond question. It amazes me at every funeral, someone says, “She looks so peaceful, so natural.” “No,” I think to myself (because it would be inappropriate to say what I’m thinking at that time) “it’s not natural.” Natural would be sitting up, laughing, breathing, talking, and eating. Dead is the most unnatural, unpeaceful, horrible thing for a person to be. It is the exact opposite of natural. There is no joy in death. Where there is death there is separation, loss, pain, and sorrow. We Christians should understand this better than any. We know what death is all about. It is the wages of sin. Your sin leads to your death. My sin leads to my death. Every funeral is a reminder that one day we will be the guest of honor. And it is no honor in it.
There’s a little dialogue in the movie Unforgiven:
The Schofield Kid: [after killing a man for the first time] It don't seem real... how he ain't gonna never breathe again, ever... how he's dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger.
Will Munny: It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.
The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.
Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.
That’s the horror of it, isn’t it? We all got it coming. It is no wonder that we’ve done our best to lighten the load. “The circle of life”, “death is as natural as sleeping”, “God just wanted that child to be with him”, “this funeral isn’t about a death, it’s a celebration of life”. I’m sorry, a funeral is a funeral. The main point of which is not to hide death in human sentimentality. We have a funeral to recognize the great cost of sin. The open coffin is the best advertisement there is. It is God’s law played out in a visual object lesson. You are a sinner and there is no stopping your death. The utter horror of it all is beyond question.
It’s clearly spelled out by God
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— ” (Romans 5:12, ESV)
Not to belabor the point, but if we really want to understand the horror of death we need to understand what it is, and what it is not. A human being is a body and soul. Physical and spiritual. A created physical body with a spiritual life, or soul that is created to have a relationship with God and other people. A body without a spirit is not a complete person, and neither is a disembodied spirit. Death does this very thing. It separates what God has joined together. Life is ripped out of the body. The body decays. The spirit is displaced from its body. But that is only the half. Following this ripping physical death is spiritual death. That is eternal separation from God; an eternity of God’s just anger; an eternity of aloneness; an eternity of no relationships to any but oneself; an eternity of the wages of sin. All of it as Eastwood says, “takes away” what is best about being a living human being; our relationships, our families, our possessions… everything.
It could, and should take joy away from everything. And yet, here we stand singing this hymn
Death, you cannot end my gladness:
I am baptized into Christ!
When I die, I leave all sadness
To inherit paradise!
Though I lie in dust and ashes
Faith’s assurance brightly flashes:
Baptism has the strength divine
To make life immortal mine. (Lutheran Service Book 594:4)
What is it could that could possibly end the horror of death? Saint Paul addresses death in his letter to the Christians at Corinth.
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ” (1 Corinthians 15:55–57, ESV)
The “sting” of death is sin and here Saint Paul tells us Jesus gives us his victory over sin and death. When I die I leave all sadness. Let’s be clear. This world is full of trouble and death but it is also full of joy and life. Because of Holy Baptism, the hymn says, what we leave when we die is sin. American Author Elbert Hubbard (died on the RMS Lusitania, 1915) defines ‘die’ as a verb: To stop sinning suddenly[i]. Baptism is our comfort because there can be no comfort in death without Jesus Christ. When I die I leave all sadness To inherit paradise! The horror of sin and death is separation that is what would kill gladness. Jesus Christ your savior has ended the horror of death, the sting of death, in his death. The utter horror of the cross is unquestioned. And yet, Jesus died there by his own choosing. He is separated from all on the cross.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ” (Matthew 27:46, ESV)
Here Jesus dies. Here is the separation of human body and life. Here is the separation from God. Here is sin’s punishment paid out. Here is the unnatural, unpeaceful, horror of death. God’s anger over sin, your sin, my sin, laid on God’s Son, Jesus Christ. And paid in full. Paid in full because it is God who does it. Paid in full in all its horror. Paid in full… for you, for me, for all. Paid in full because perfectly pure, sinless Jesus carries your sin into his death.
All that Jesus does, in life and death he does for you. Your punishment for your sin is paid. You will not suffer eternal separation from God. Even though you will pass through physical death. You will not suffer eternal separation from any who die with faith. That is the joy of paradise. Life immortal is a human life immortal. A created physical body and life in permanent and perfect relationship with God and other people, forever. For those who know that Jesus lived, died and rose again for them the horror of death is set aside.
I am baptized into Christ! There is not doubt about it. Jesus’ cross is for me, for you. Jesus’ death is for me, for you. Faith’s assurance brightly flashes: Baptism isn’t some empty symbol of my faithfulness to God, or my promise to God. That would be empty of any power. Instead Holy Baptism is God’s work. His promises made personal. Martin Luther describes it like this:
Second - http://www.cph.org/t-topic-catechism-baptism.aspx
What benefits does Baptism give?
It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are these words and promises of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
And Saint Paul says the same:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. ” (Romans 6:1–10, ESV)
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[i] Elbert Hubbard. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved April 6, 2011, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/elberthubb104815.html

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