“Spirit, It Is!”
Rev. Mark M. Vickers
Sunday April 2, 2017
Romans 8:6-11 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit[a] 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,[b] 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[c] is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ[d] from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through[e] his Spirit that dwells in you.
Well, here we go again! One of those favorite texts we find in Paul’s writing. A text that we can read, assume, manipulate, and make it fit our life. Pretty cool thing to do with scripture, isn’t it? When we work hard to make the scripture meet our needs, our way of living, and the way we want to think.
However, Paul sets us straight on this problem. Paul is dealing with a church that has been overcome and overrun with ideas of fleshly living and rampant sexual misconduct. A herd of people who have brought to light that the flesh, the “sarx,” is where the soul resides. Paul and his development of theology is made aware of this and knows that it will be at the forefront of Christ’s church and the way in which the believer will sway.
It’s also interesting that this text appears in our Lenten lectionary cycle, because it talks about “giving up” something. It fits nicely into the category we have made in our “church” to look at that which is good and that which is not good. Here in Paul’s understanding of the flesh and the Spirit, we have to come to an understanding that “Life in the Spirit means ‘conducting a bodily life’.” It is almost a way of reverse psychology, that if we come to understand what life in the Spirit means, then we understand that we must lead a holy bodily life. Often times this scripture is interpreted in a way of looking at bodily fornication and ill practices, but what Paul wants us to understand is that it is really not the body that is the focus as much as it is the Spirit, yet they work together.
One commentator puts it this way, “The person who prides themselves on giving up all the delights of the flesh for Lent (or for that part, all of life) is exhibiting the fleshly mind set, and in doing so, lives in hostility to God’s free grace.”
Hence the focus needs to remain upon the grace of God and the life that the Spirit presents for us. The same commentator said, “In this season our new identity through the Spirit is both a gift and a task.” I don’t find this too far from where Paul was in his working with the church in Rome.
We find ourselves, I believe, as 21st Century Christians always in construct with the difference between the “flesh” and the “spirit.” We see them as polar opposites, when in fact, they work together in order to complete the whole Christian.
I think that dilemma will always be present in our Christian earthly existence. The only relief we can find is when we work to process that which is more important, God or us?
Hence, Paul’s focus on the Spirit. For Paul, a strong Jewish student, understood that God’s Spirit (here, the same word is used for wind, breath, and spirit) already dwells within us! The Spirit is already there! Already working within us. It is NOT in direct opposition of the flesh; they are together. Miriam May asks the question, “…does the Christian seek to live her life consciously cooperating with the Spirit who already indwells her?” Maybe we are looking at the question/situation the wrong way. Maybe we should be looking at how the two can work together as one.
The “news flash” of this text is that they (the flesh and the Spirit) are not arch enemies. They are both gifts from God. The job we are faced with as everyday Lenten Christians (at least for now) is to search how they work together in order to glorify God.
In our Lenten journey we have to understand that we are living and able to journey because Christ has bound us in glory. Christ, through the grace of God, has taken us captive and loves us to the ultimate point. We, as humans and Christians, will always be “taunted” by the old that has passed away, because it constantly seeks to find refuge in us.
My friends, as you prepare to approach the Table of Our Lord this morning, know that you are in a struggle between flesh and Spirit. To not be, would be to deny the power and the grace of God. Come, seek the nourishment that Christ promised us would enable us and give us strength to find refuge in the Spirit that sets us free in the body of Christ!
It is a common problem, a fundamental problem in the world. Douglas Travis, Dean and President of the Episcopal Seminary of the South, states it like this, “In short, the problem is not flesh but the misuse of flesh, of our creaturely existence. The misuse of the flesh is a function of one putting oneself, rather—than God in the center of the universe.”
Come my friends, to the table that allows you to place God in the center of your life, to place grace and love at the mercy seat of your life. Come and feast. Eat the bread of strength, and drink the wine of mercy and continue in your Lenten journey, faithfully approaching the Cross.
Come, Let Us Keep The Feast!
AMEN & AMEN