The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 28, 2020
Daylan McLee is a Black man. Mr. McLee has, because of his race and gender, suffered injustice, most acutely three years ago when he endured twelve months in jail awaiting trial for threatening a police officer, a bogus charge from which he was completely exonerated.
Just last Sunday, Lee was enjoying a family Fathers’ Day cookout in Uniontown, PA, when he heard a loud crash outside the house and ran into the street to see what he could do to help. There he came across a police cruiser bursting into flames. Trapped inside the burning car was a white officer named Jay Hanley. Without hesitation McLee braved the fire and pulled Hanley to the sidewalk, thereby saving his life.
“There is value in every human life,” McLee later told the Associated Press reporter. “We are all children of God, and I can’t imagine just watching someone burn … No matter what other people have done to me, or other officers, I thought, ‘This guy deserves to make it home safely to his family.’”
McLee is a man who means to embody God’s grace and to raise his two children to do the same. He says he is trying to teach his 13-year-old son Avian not to judge others for the color of their skin, what job they have, or what others say about them.
In these tumultuous and divisive times, the world needs Jesus’ followers to be all they can be in Him! We can play a unique and decisive role in bringing justice and healing to our land. We can reflect Christ’s light and, by submission to His Lordship, facilitate the triumph of love over hatred, equity over oppression, and righteousness over violence.
In today’s scripture the Apostle Paul urges Roman believers to be all they can be in Jesus. Their fulfillment begins with their appreciating, and counting on, Christ’s having already upgraded them profoundly at their core. For when a person gives their life to Jesus, Jesus gives them a second birth and thus a new identity. So Paul commands these Christians: “Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus”.
Viewing ourselves this way is a challenge, for God’s transformation of us starts in the hidden depths of our heart, invisible to sight. We don’t see the change, and we often don’t feel it; and we fear we’re still what we used to be. (I remember a new Christian saying I am not sure I’ve died to sin. The best I can say is that I’m sometimes sickened around it.)
To do what God asks, we have to live by faith and not by sight, and by faith and not by feelings. We have to trust what God’s word tells us more than what our eyes or our emotions tell us. If we can dare to believe ourselves to have new potential from Christ, we will realize that the prime task of our life is bring our upgraded character out into the open, into visible conduct. That’s why Paul immediately urges those, whom he’s just urged to view themselves as made new in Christ, to exhibit that otherwise hidden reality in Christ-like behavior. Paul says, “Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.”
But how do we change our behavior when so many of our wayward impulses, character defects and insidious cultural influences linger with us, and when, as the Bible teaches, sin ever stalks us with a power stronger than our own?
It is significant here that Paul does not urge the Roman Christians either to spiritual diligence or ethical exertion, as if the purity of their intention, the resolve of their willpower and their natural capabilities could bring to fulfillment what God alone begun in His grace. No, Paul just urges them to give themselves to God, as they are at present. He says, “No 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.” Christians are not to attempt self-improvement, but just to put themselves in the hands of God. They are to offer themselves to God as His servants, put themselves at His disposal, and submit to His dominion. We make progress, not by who we become through trying hard, but by whose we become through entrusting ourselves to God.
As we place the members of our body: our hands, our brains, our backs, under God’s governance, and as we turn over to God’s control every natural capability we have, whether it be intellectual, artistic, entrepreneurial or social, we become our true selves as re-created in Christ. We come into our own to the extent we become God’s own.
Today’s scripture concludes with a wonderful promise for those who have given up on self-reliance and given themselves over to God-reliance: “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” As we live under grace, in submission to God’s rule, we more and more live like Jesus, and more and more gain capacity to help hope triumph over despair, kindness over denigration and justice over racism – as did some GI’s during the Iraqi war.
Though Americans and Iraqis were at the time wounding and killing each other, the medics at one U.S. triage facility were all they could save the lives of two injured Iraqi insurgents. One of the Iraqis, however, could not survive unless he got 30 pints of blood. So the doctors sent out a call for volunteer donors. Minutes later, dozens of GI’s had lined up to give blood.
At the head of the line was a battle-hardened soldier name Brian Suam. Asked if it mattered that his blood was going to save an “enemy”, he smiled, shook his head and said, “A human life is a human life.”
The way of Jesus is to value and serve all human life, and to give of ourselves to help everyone. We who follow Jesus can make a decisive difference in these divisive days as we submit to God’s dominion and do our part to see God’s grace triumph over evil!