Rev. Laura Young
Summit on 16th UMC
July 16, 2017
Let us pray: God, you sent the Holy Spirit to blow through this place and through each of our lives; let us hear a word from you this morning so we may better live in community with one another and with you. Amen.
Life in the Spirit – Romans 8:1-11
8 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit[a] of life in Christ Jesus has set you[b] free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin,[c] he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.[d] 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit[e] set their minds on the things of the Spirit.[f] 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit[g] is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit,[h] since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit[i] is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ[j] from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through[k] his Spirit that dwells in you.
This ends our scripture reading.
All week, this passage just sounded to me like a bunch of platitudes. I was finding little meaning in things I had seen on plaques. Hundreds of sermons have been produced on each line.
But then I read (in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on Romans) that this passage was the backbone of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata, “Jesu, Meine Freude,” – Jesus, My Joy. I listened to the music as I read the translation from the German text, words written in 1650 by Johann Franck to supplement some of Bach’s words and this music.
I was reading this during the wild thunder and lightning storm Thursday evening… Frankly, these words seemed a little “Song of Songs….” – like a divine romance…. The lenses through which we view things, you know…. :) I’ll read you a few excerpts:
German Text (verses in bold print set by Bach)
Jesu, meine Freude,
Meines Herzens Weide,
Jesu, meine Zier,
Ach wie lang, ach lange
Ist dem Herzen bange
Und verlangt nach dir!
Gottes Lamm, mein Bräutigam,
Außer dir soll mir auf Erden
Nichts sonst Liebers werden.
Jesus, my joy,
pasture of my heart,
Jesus, my adornment
ah how long, how long
is my heart filled with anxiety
and longing for you!
Lamb of God, my bridegroom,
apart from you on the earth
there is nothing dearer to me.
Unter deinem Schirmen
Bin ich vor den Stürmen
Aller Feinde frei.
Laß den Satan wittern,
Laß den Feind erbittern,
Mir steht Jesus bei.
Ob es itzt gleich kracht und blitzt,
Ob gleich Sünd und Hölle schrecken:
Jesus will mich decken.
Beneath your protection
I am free from the attacks
of all my enemies.
Let Satan track me down,
let my enemy be exasperated –
Jesus stands by me.
Even if there is thunder and lightning,
even if sin and hell spread terror
Jesus will protect me .
Trotz dem alten Drachen,
Trotz des Todes Rachen,
Trotz der Furcht darzu!
Tobe, Welt, und springe,
Ich steh hier und singe
In gar sichrer Ruh.
Gottes Macht hält mich in acht;
Erd und Abgrund muss verstummen,
Ob sie noch so brummen.
I defy the old dragon,
I defy the jaws of death,
I defy fear as well!
Rage, World, and spring to attack:
I stand here and sing
in secure peace.
God’s might takes care of me;
earth and abyss must fall silent,
however much they rumble on.
Weg mit allen Schätzen!
Du bist mein Ergötzen,
Jesu, meine Lust !
Weg ihr eitlen Ehren,
Ich mag euch nicht hören,
Bleibt mir unbewusst!
Elend, Not, Kreuz, Schmach und Tod
Soll mich, ob ich viel muss leiden,
Nicht von Jesu scheiden.
Away with all treasures!
You are my delight,
Jesus, my joy!
Away with empty honours,
I’m not going to listen to you,
remain unknown to me!
Misery, distress, affliction, disgrace and death,
even if I must endure much suffering,
will not separate me from Jesus.
Gute Nacht, o Wesen,
Das die Welt erlesen,
Mir gefällst du nicht.
Gute Nacht, ihr Sünden,
Bleibet weit dahinten,
Kommt nicht mehr ans Licht!
Gute Nacht, du Stolz und Pracht!
Dir sei ganz, du Lasterleben,
Gute Nacht gegeben.
Good night, existence
chosen by the world,
you do not please me.
Good night , you sins,
stay far behind me.
Come no more to the light1
Good night , pride and splendour,
once and for all, sinful existence,
I bid you good night.
Weicht, ihr Trauergeister,
Denn mein Freudenmeister,
Jesus, tritt herein.
Denen, die Gott lieben,
Muß auch ihr Betrüben
Lauter Zucker sein.
Duld ich schon hier Spott und Hohn,
Dennoch bleibst du auch im Leide,
Jesu, meine Freude.
Go away, mournful spirits,
for my joyful master,
Jesus, now enters in.
For those who love God
even their afflictions
become pure sweetness.
Even if here I must endure shame and disgrace,
even in suffering you remain,
Jesus, my joy
This ends the text of the cantata.
So, followers of Jesus are no longer controlled by sin! Joy! We are no longer obliged to the law. We are under a new condition, thanks to the work of God done in Christ Jesus. But, what does that mean?
First, what about all this “sinful flesh” talk? It makes me a little nervous when I think this kind of anti-flesh talk could be used to cause us to disassociate from the body, which is not good, particularly for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, plus. After all, Jesus was made flesh and dwelled among us. How bad could flesh be? God chose to come in fleshly form to demonstrate to us how to love God and each other!
But the flesh that Paul is talking about is ‘distance from God.’ The not-closeness to God. The enslavement to the law that requires things that end up resulting in a Golden Calf situation: idol worship. Remember the Golden Calf story in Exodus that demonstrated unfaithfulness to God?
The people felt that Moses had been gone too long – he had gone up on the mountain to get the tablets with the 10 commandments -- and they got stressed and worried and frightened, and they turned their attention elsewhere and got attached to other things, away from God. So they ended up worshiping a Golden Calf that they had constructed, thinking that God was absent.
What are our modern-day Golden Calves that keep us from Spirit-living? What are we attached to, what are we paying attention to that keeps us living in the “flesh?” News? Media? Facebook? Twitter? What are our other Gods? Money? Security? Self-reliance? Physical appearance? Our “career” or our “career goals?” We sell our families for it, our time, our conscience, sometimes our integrity. Car? Identity politics? The Bible, political ideologies, parties, candidates? A particular prophet (like a Moses)? Religious dogma?
Rev. Dr. Susan Smith in her talk at Chautauqua Institute in New York the other day talked about at least two gods in our community: the god of creation and the god of the oppressor. She talks about the idea of two gods and two different Jesuses, based on our vastly different understanding of God and Jesus. If you haven’t listened to it, I recommend it. What about Consumerism? Capitalism?
This weekend Rev. Traci Blackmon was arrested along with Rev. William Barber of the Moral Movement in Washington, D.C., at Senator Mitch McConnell’s office. They were on a march to save Medicaid. Rev. Blackmon, recently elected executive minister of justice and witness ministries for the United Church of Christ said:
“It is time to stop calling God by other names when you really want to call God capitalism. It is time to stop cloaking your greed in religious language.” Now, you did not hear me say that capitalism in and of itself is evil. However, unchecked and immoral capitalism does not align with the teachings and example of the one we try to follow.
Living in the flesh is so human – fleshly life is: not living according to the Spirit -- and it can include feeling hopeless, depressed, overwhelmed. But life in the Spirit, that’s when we’re hope-filled, happy in God, content, patient …. We can think of the fruits of the Spirit if we need examples!
Fleshly life is when our lives are focused on things that are the opposite of the fruits of the spirit: What are the fruits of the spirit? Paul describes them in Galatians: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. “Against such things there is no law,” Paul writes.
So, we could surmise that fleshly life is anti-love, or hate, or indifference, or disvalue. Who are we disvaluing in our society? Consider Rev. Howard’s testimony.
Let’s think for a minute about the opposites of the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…starting with joy:
Anti-joy: misery, unhappiness
Anti-peace: war, conflict, hostility
Anti-kindness: meanness, strife, cold-heartedness, hard-heartedness, inhumanity, mercilessness
Anti-goodness: badness, evil, evildoing, immorality, iniquity, sin, villainy, wickedness
Anti-faithfulness: unfaithfulness, untrue, disloyal, faithless, false, traitorous
Anti-gentleness: harshness, abrasiveness, stern, ungentle
Anti-self-control: lacking self-control, indulgent, petulant, lacking constraint.
So, if we are to live freely in community with one another, we must turn our hearts to the fruits of the spirit, and away from “fleshly living.”
What can we do this week that would help us live according to the Spirit that will help us feel close to God, close to one another, loved by God, loved by one another, loved by ourselves? Demonstrating living freely in community? When we focus on the God that raised Jesus from the dead, that kind of love that overcomes hate, that leads us to life.
Life in God, life lived free in community.
A life in community that doesn’t include “stop and frisk.” or “excessive force.”
A life in community that does not allow pepper spray of a crowd exhibiting their free speech in protest to the ruling powers.
A life in community where all schools offer high-quality education, not just in the rich neighborhoods.
A life in community where everyone has enough to eat.
A life in community where all are welcome and celebrated. This week the Wesleyan Covenant Association, which is the group of United Methodist pastors and lay people and congregations – the chair of this whole thing is Rev. Jeff Greenway at Reynoldsburg UMC, right in our own backyard -- who believe in upholding the language in the Book of Discipline that that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching – they released a statement basically saying they’re not going to wait on the Special General Commission to make a decision about human sexuality, they’re just going to move right along. Well, go on already. The United Methodist Centrists have requested a plan to unite with the progressives and just let those “traditionalists” go. That’s fine with me.
Henri Nouwen was a Dutch social-justice and community-focused Catholic priest who taught in U.S. seminaries and then worked and wrote in the L’Arche (pron. LARSH) Community in Ontario, Canada, living with mentally and physically disabled people. I’ve mentioned him several times before.
In his book “Peacework: Prayer, Resistance, Community,” and I came across something that reminded me of a post I read yesterday from Bishop Karen Oliveto, our United Methodist married lesbian bishop in Colorado.
Nouwen [Peacework, pp. 114-115] was talking about how as a community of faith, we remind each other constantly that we need to be grateful even when we suffer, even when we feel downcast, even when things only seem to be getting worse, because we know that the world in which we suffer has already been overcome.
Reminds me of the words put to Bach’s beautiful cantata I read earlier, “Misery, distress, affliction, disgrace and death, even if I must endure much suffering, will not separate me from Jesus.”
And Christ’s victory over death – over fleshly living -- allows us to be grateful at all times and in all places. Nouwen reminds his reader that Jesus had told his disciples (as recorded in the Gospel of John, chapter 16, verse 33) that rejection and persecution would mark their lives but that their suffering would not rob them of their peace. Let’s not be robbed of our peace this week. Let’s remember that Jesus said, “In the world, you will have trouble, but be brave. I have conquered the world.”
Nouwen said that “if there is any word that should characterize the life of peacemakers, it is ‘gratitude.’ That true peacemakers are grateful people who constantly recognize and celebrate the peace of God within and among them.”
Bishop Oliveto, who I would say is a peace-making, Spirit-living prophet among us, wrote a reflection on being elected a bishop in the United Methodist Church one year ago yesterday. She described the experience as being the closest experience of Pentecost she had ever had.
As the election took place in the Western Jurisdiction’s conference, delegates and nominees for bishop were praying and she sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit.
She said that some said they in the West were drunk with new wine, but that as scripture and history show, people will tend to say that when they weren’t there and they’re trying to dismiss the movement of the Holy Spirit, seeking to make all things new.
She said they were simply trusting in God with all our hearts.
Bishop Oliveto wrote that she continues to lean into that trust as she goes about her work as bishop, as she makes appointments, bringing a voice to the table that has never been present to our common life and work. (Can you imagine if there were a bishop like Karen Oliveto leading this conference when Rev. Betty Howard was serving churches? How different her career might have turned out? That her call and her service would not have been squelched by discrimination and prejudice?)
Bishop Oliveto shared that she continues to lean into that trust as she listens to those who are angry about her election and she commits herself to remain in relationship with them. How beautiful is it to remain in relationship with those in our community with whom we disagree?
Bishop Oliveto shared that she is humbled to have been entrusted with her ministry and prayed that God’s will be done in all she says and does. She sets a beautiful example of living not in the flesh but in the Spirit…of trusting God in all things.
Let us go from this place trusting and praying that God’s will be done, in all we say and do this week.
May it be so.