Free…now what?

Romans 6:1-14          May 17, 2015 Easter 7

I remember when one of my mentors and friends, Kae Evensen, told me about a meeting she had with a couple who wanted her to baptize their baby. As she talked with them about what baptism meant, they were catching onto her serious tone. She was telling him their cute, precious baby would die to sin and would never be the same. They looked at her and then asked, “We’ll get him back though, right?” And Kae said, in all seriousness, “no. He belongs to Christ now.” She wasn’t telling me the story to be funny or to show how she pulled one over on this unsuspecting couple. She believes in the baptismal promise with all of her being: no, they wouldn’t get their baby back, not really. Because of what God does through baptism, he belonged to Christ now. His identity was in Christ now and forever. He was forever changed.

A point of theological clarification: I believe and know that God claims us before a baptismal rite of the church happens. God does not wait for us to get organized before God loves us, or it’d never happen. Baptismal rites are a wonderful and important acknowledgment of God’s mercy and love for the church, but God’s action is not limited by it. So if you are not baptized, I believe God loves you too. If you want to be baptized or have questions about baptism, I’d love to walk with you in that.

We belong to Christ. Paul simply cannot contain himself and, pardon the pun, gushes about baptism in this letter to the Roman people: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

If you’ve been to River of Hope on a baptism Sunday, you hear me talk about how dangerous the combination of God’s word and water is. We die in that water. But then that’s not it. That’s not the end. We are raised to new life in Christ.

And it’s this new life that Paul is really pointing to in this portion of his letter. He’s addressing the question of how you live – how do you go on living now that you’ve died to sin and been raised to new life in Christ? How do you go on parenting that cute little child knowing that they do not belong to you anymore, but instead belong to Christ? Because if it’s true, if this water saves us, and if it’s always true and God is always going to be about saving us, day in and day out – then, really, why should our behavior change? I mean, we’re good, right?

Right. I mean, that’s exactly right. We’re good, not because of our own abilities to make ourselves good – to drive the speed limit and recycle, right? No, God is always the one intervening on our behalf, saving us from ourselves. God gives us a new identity, a new way of being: we are free. Not because we deserve it but because God’s love has been poured out for us. We are dead to sin. That old identity is gone. We are free.

We are free! Sure, but do we live that way?

Louie CK, the comedian I like, used the 3rd season of his show to work out some of his personal demons from his past. His own parents divorced and at the tender age of 13 he got into smoking pot and stealing. In the show, he has caught his young daughter smoking pot with friends and the rest of the episode is a flashback to a 13-year old Louie.

The dealer who sells to him doesn’t bat an eye that Louie is only 13 and talks to Louie about stealing scales from the science lab at school so he could sell those too. Louie is smart and he’s got a good relationship with his science teacher and so he takes advantage of that relationship. Soon, both the teacher and Louie are called to the principal’s office where the principal accuses Louie of stealing 10 scales from the school as well as giving and selling drugs to lots of kids. Louie’s head hangs low in obvious guilt. The science teacher, not even giving a sideways glance to the slumped over teen next to him asks what kind of proof the principal has and then, with vim and vigor, defends Louie. He scolds the principal for these false accusations and he and Louie leave.

Later on, the principal says to Louie that he knows he is guilty and that some day this whole thing will hit him, realizing what he’s done. But the principal is going to let it go. It’ll come out of his budget, it’ll reflect poorly on him, but he’s just gonna let it go.

Guilty but free. That’s what Louie was. His principal freed him.

The episode ends with current day all grown up and being a dad Louie in the kitchen with his daughter who has asked if he’s going to lecture her or yell at her. He says no and then teeters on the edge of a lecture, starting with “well, say goodbye to your childhood” and then catches himself. He says, “I’m here for you. I love you.” And they hug, with a look of utter helplessness and love on his face. Sure, she was guilty. But how could Louie not set her free?

Have you ever experienced that? Being guilty of something but also being set free from it? Or maybe you’ve been like Louie in the kitchen – in the position to punish, but offered grace instead. If you have, then you have a taste of the freedom we are given in Christ. For you have been brought from death to life, as Romans says. You may have been an instrument of wickedness, but God has declared you an instrument of righteousness. You have been made right by God. You are forgiven.

Guilty, but free. That’s all of us. And that’s the promise washed over us in baptism.

Today we will ask God to bless our seniors: Gabbie Hoffman, Jacob Kraft, and Shakira Nelson. And today’s scripture is a perfect sending and blessing – because it’s about the freedom Christ gives us to live in him. You are free in Christ. You’re taking a new step into what it means to be a young adult, away from home, the world at your doorstep. There are terrible and wonderful times ahead. You will learn valuable and painful things about being alive. But hear this: your identity is in Christ. You’ve been freed from sin and raised to new life. That will never change.

thanks be to God amen