Rev. George Miller
Date: March 5, 2017
Scripture: Romans 5:12-19
I have a confession to make- things at my Cozy Cottage have not been so cozy. The honeymoon phase is slowly fading with the realness of home ownership.
Such as how fleas, carpets and cats do not make the best combination.
My poor cats have had to deal with the discomfort of flea bites, which have meant an increase in cleaning, scratching and chewing themselves, developing almost OCD-like behaviors and cuts on their body.
I’ve done what I needed to do to get the situations under control. Amazing what regular vacuuming and a prescription of Frontline can do.
But the cats did not fully return to their previous state of calm and zen-like behavior.
That is, not until last week. I began addressing my cats differently, as if they were fantastical felines.
Jesse, the orange cat, is the Mighty Tiger. Sterling, who looks like he has a mane, is the Mighty Lion.
So upon waking up, coming home, and feeding them, I’ve referred to Jesse and Sterling as Tiger and Lion, approaching them as royal, majestic creatures who are beloved by God.
Seeing them and calling them as such, I’ve become more intentional in my interactions with them. Speaking praises, offering extra attention, playing with them a bit more.
I’ve noticed a change. They seem to be spending less time incessantly grooming themselves, spending more time positioning themselves on high places, like the top of furniture, sitting up and exposing their front chest.
They’ve resumed being calm, napping side by side on the couch, with neither a twitch, a lick or a scratch.
Maybe the flea medication is working. Maybe calling them Tiger and Lion has changed my energy. Maybe being called positive, affirming names has changed them.
Maybe all these things have worked together to make them no longer captives to the gnawing of a flea.
Is it possible that words can affect our reality, our mood, and our health?
Last week we talked about numbers, today, we are going to talk about words, and with good reason, because Paul’s letter is filled with a multitude of words that are combined in ways that are confusing and mind numbing.
This is a letter Paul wrote to folks in Rome saying that he hopes to visit them soon. Some scholars believe this is the last letter Paul wrote that we have a copy of.
Meaning this is a letter composed towards the end of his ministry, a letter written by a man who has lived, made his mistakes, has had a change of heart, has developed new eyes and ears from which to see and hear the world.
He has grown and gathered new understandings that come from life’s lessons.
In today’s reading we see Paul process and create a complex statement of faith.
Death is referred to 4 times; sin appears 8 times. Trespasses/transgressions appear 6.
On the flip side grace appears 3 times, free gift appears 4, while justification and righteousness appear a total of 5 times.
What word doesn’t appear? To forgive.
Although forgiveness appears in all of the Gospels, it only appears only once in Romans.
But justification appears at least 50 times.
Now- ya’ll are wondering why does that matter.
And let’s be honest most of us, myself included, have no idea just what the heck justification even means.
Words like justification, righteousness, and grace are strange words that are very abstract, religious words that religious folk throw around to make it seem like they are all…religious.
What good are religious words if they can’t be applied to everyday life?
Yet, most religious words are based in everyday life even if we don’t realize it.
Justification is a legal term. Something you would use in a court of law or a matter of crime and punishment.
Justification means “to be pronounced and treated as righteous.”
…but what does righteous mean?
Righteous means to be morally right or justifiably virtuous.
…but what does virtuous mean??
Virtuous can mean to be good, pure, honorable and decent.
Great! Anyone who passed 6th grade should know what those words mean.
But what does justifiably virtuous
It means that in a court of law, it can be shown, and proven without a doubt, that you are good and you are pure.
Justifiably virtuous means that before a judge you are worthy of being defended as being honorable and decent.
As Paul writes, because of Christ’s actions, we have received the gift of righteousness, which means that we are worthy of being saved, we are worthy of victory, we are worthy of blessing, we are worthy of being rescued.
Paul uses the word justification to say that through our faith in Christ, we are acquitted of our sins.
We are set free and any charges pressed against us are discharged.
Not only that, but we are set free as if nothing had happened, as if we have been good, pure, honorable, and decent all along.
Think of how amazing this is, especially from who it is coming from.
Paul was a very law-abiding Jew. He was very harsh when it came to following the commandments.
When people broke the Jewish Law, Paul was right there to arrest them, jail them, and have them persecuted.
Paul had it out for the Christians, standing by and approving the death of their earliest martyrs.
Paul was all about punishment, going into people’s homes, dragging them out and sending them to jail in chains.
Until Paul had an encounter with the resurrected Christ, an experience that made him challenge everything he knew and reevaluate his ways.
Paul went from persecuting Christians to proclaiming the Good News and bringing it around the ancient world.
So it makes sense that for a man who lived by the Law, arresting and punishing people, that he would experience Christ’s love and God’s abundant grace through legal terms.
It makes sense that Paul would use such words to say that in Christ we are
-Virtuous- meaning pure, good and honorable.
And that we are
-Righteous- meaning that we are worthy of being rescued, worthy of being blessed, and worthy of being triumphant.
Paul is stating that because of our faith in Christ we are worthy of fighting for.
Paul is saying that even though we all sin, we are all worthy of being saved.
Even though we all sin, we are all worthy of victory.
Paul is saying that in Jesus Christ we are bright lights and life’s seasonings.
…which brings us to the big “so what?”
If we are justified, if we have received the free gift of righteousness, how does it affect how we see and treat ourselves?
How different would you be if you said to yourself “In Christ I am good, in Christ I am pure, in Christ I am worthy of being blessed, and in Christ I am triumphant.”?
Would this affect how you see yourself? Would it affect the way you feel? Would it affect the choices you make and the style in which you lived?
If, because of Christ, we know others are justified and have received the gift of righteousness, how would it affect the way we interact with each other?
How different would life be if we looked upon another person and thought to ourselves “In Christ they are good, they are pure, they are worthy of being blessed, and in Christ they are triumphant.”?
How would claiming our own justification and righteousness allow us to celebrate the success of others and to live knowing that in Christ there is enough for all?
Finally, I’ve been thinking lately about things I have heard -in our church, in our community, and in the news.
Why, as Christians, does it seem like we are so preoccupied with revenge, and people getting theirs?
Why do we say karma’s gonna get them?
Why do we as a nation live in such a way that 1 in 20 people will go to prison in their lifetime? (www.bjs.gov)
Why do we say “In God We Trust” and yet each of us are taxed $260 to pay for someone else to be incarcerated?
Why, if in Christ we have received an abundance of righteousness do so many of us walk around as if we are angry….like, ALL the time?
Why do we, as a people of faith, and a nation, focus so much on sins and punishment instead of grace and the free gift of righteousness?
In conclusion, God wants to count us as happy. After all, we are created out of blessed adamah, filled with Living Waters, and empowered by God’s holy breath, shining with light, endowed with so much flavor, and living in the Land of Delight.
God has given us so much; God gives even more than we can imagine.
Through Jesus Christ God has given us the gifts of righteousness, the gifts of justification, and the gifts of grace.
Abundant, unceasing, and available to all who believe.
Believe that you are pure, believe that you are good, and believe that you are worth fighting for.
Amen and amen.