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“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

“Living in the Gift of God”

A good way to understand how the world works without Christ is to pick up one of those magazines near your grocery store check-out line.  Good looks are exalted.  Wealth is celebrated.  Look also at your television, and you see popularity held in high esteem.  Look out the window in your neighborhood, and you find people with well-manicured lawns respected more than those with messes in their front yards.

Do not get me wrong.  An attractive physical countenance can signal health and conscientiousness.  Wealth may be an indicator for wisdom and perseverance.  Popularity may simply be the logical outcome of someone who considers their neighbor and cares for the well-being of the community.  Well-manicured lawns might belong to those who are diligent and care for the feelings of their neighbors.  All these things may be true.  And certainly health, conscientiousness, wisdom, perseverance, neighborliness, and diligence are all good things.

Yet Holy Scripture keeps pointing to what is going on underneath the surface.  In Proverbs xiv.12 we read:  “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

Rules and standards are tricky things.  We rightly teach our children to make their beds in the morning and brush their teeth before turning in for the night.  But following rules and standards is not ultimately helpful.  Reading God’s word to us in the Holy Bible as taught by Holy Church, we see that the law kills but the spirit gives life.

All the things of this world are mutable, or changeable.  They have their time, and then they pass away.  We rarely have belongings of those who lived only a few generations before us.  I mentioned my family’s cavalry saber from the Battle of Atlanta and others were surprised we still had ours.  There used to be regiments full of them shiny in parade; now the few remaining are battered and scattered.  That is only a hundred and fifty years ago.

Even huge monuments fall to dust.  The great Temple in Jerusalem is reduced to a single wall.  The Colossus at Rhodes has fallen long ago.  The Great Library in Alexandria burned fourteen centuries ago and its remains have been raided into oblivion long before today.  The things of this world suffer corruption and death.

But God would have us look beyond the things of this world, beyond the things of corruption and death.  He says to Moses more than three thousand years ago in Deuteronomy xxx.19:

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:

God wants us to live.  He hates that we fell away from him in the garden he made for us.  He hates that Adam and Eve ran and hid from him and that we run and hide from him even today.  He loves us and wants us with him.  He wants to give us things which last forever, like life and love and communion with each other.

But we go off and chase after the things of this world.  Each and every one of us is predisposed to do so, and we sure enough go ahead and follow our predispositions.  We are like silly birds which love things which are shiny and flashy.  We would rather eat dessert all day than sit down to a proper meal which would nourish us.

And what do we have after all those temporary joys and delights?  What do we have after we have indulged our sweet tooth, slept in instead of worked hard, socialized with our friends instead of spent hard quiet work on ourselves?  We have nothing.  It is all gone.  Both the simple and fancy joys which we follow build up nothing permanent in our lives.

But God shows us a better way.  Two chapters after today’s Epistle, St. Paul succinctly states (viii.6):  “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

St. Peter sums up what is missing in his first Epistle (1 St. Peter i.3-4):

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,

On our own, we can do nothing that builds up treasure in heaven, only treasure on earth which rots and can be stolen.  But with Christ, the Son of God made man for our salvation, we can have a most marvelous inheritance – “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you”.  What we cannot do on our own, Christ can do for us.

Last week, little Avery Elizabeth was Baptized back there at our Baptismal font.  She entered into eternal life there, though her mortal body may die a hundred years from now.  She now tastes Heaven.  She has been buried and Resurrected in Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection through the mystical waters of Holy Baptism.

Each one of us who has believed in our Lord Christ and been Baptized into His death and Resurrection have a part of that marvelous inheritance that will glory in God’s presence for all times, even past the end of this world.  We who are justified in Christ participate in His life, his love, and His communion both with God the Father and each of us.

St. Paul writes this famous phrase exactly about this salvation and what we do next in his Epistle to the Romans:  “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

This separation from God and reliance upon the world and ourselves is sin.  In Spanish, the word sin means without.  That’s a fine way of remembering what sin is.  We think of sin as a thing, a substance.  It is not.  It is a lack, a brokenness.

But funny enough, when we serve sin, sin pays us for our service.  The more we serve sin, the more sin pays us.  And sin always pays on time.  But as St. Paul writes, sin pays its wages in death.

Fr. Melville Scott said:

Sin has wages; sin has its end; and both the wages and the end is death. The wages are the immediate, the end is the final consequences of sin. The immediate consequences of sin are death, for each sin diminishes our capacity for life intellectual, moral, and spiritual. Sin darkens the intellect, blunts the conscience, and deadens all the faculties of the soul. These consequences are wages, for every sin has its just recompense and reward paid down surely and punctually when we sin. As wages are paid for each day’s labour, so also for each day’s sin. We have not to wait till the final reckoning, for we receive our reward by instalments, though the final reckoning and end of sin is death.

Contrast this to what St. Paul says about what happens when you serve God:  “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  When you serve God, you earn no wages.  In fact, you cannot earn anything.  Instead, God gives you a most wonderful gift:  eternal life.  And God the Father does not simply give you the gift of eternal life, he gives the gift of eternal life “through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In Holy Baptism, we are raised with Christ from the dead.  Therefore, it is not only that we must choose between life and death, but rather that our new life in Christ means that we have already passed through death in Christ’s Resurrection into life everlasting.

We who have new life in Christ have already participated in death.  Man without Christ will die the death and continue in his separation from God for all eternity.  But those with Christ will die the death now in this life through Christ’s death and live forevermore with God in Christ’s Resurrection!  The old man must die, the sinful self must die, the wages of sin indeed is death, which shows that in the midst of life we die to the old and put on the new.

St. Paul exhorts us:  “for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.”  Now that we live in Christ, we ought to serve Him just as well as we served sin before we were joined into Christ’s death and Resurrection.

After God claims us for his own in Holy Baptism, after we are separated from the wicked world, after we are made holy in Christ, so we must live in the result of that powerful divine action, which is living holy lives.  Our old selves are dead, we are alive in Christ, and now our lives must change.

St. Paul continues:  “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”

As we are devoted to and focused upon God, the things of sin and confusion float away.  We still live in the same world, but we are altered.  Our course through this world is altered.  Having followed Christ and been Baptized into His death and Resurrection, we no longer have the same friends, go to the same places, speak the same words, and sin as comfortably as we once did.

Now we find a different way.  We follow a way now of life in many different ways.  We affirm were once we killed.  We pass by what once enticed us.  We pay attention where we once fled.  We are different, *therefore* we behave differently, act differently, live our life differently.  People notice that something about us has changed.  We bring into the lives of those around us something of which we have been given:  Life, righteousness, and holiness.

Living in right relation to the Lord God creator and ruler of the universe and to our Lord and Savior, our course through our mortal life, how we live our daily life is altered even as we begin to taste immortal life.

We give thanks to God and respond joyfully to serving him, following him with greater ardor and devotion day by day.  Today we build upon yesterday.  Remember the good things of God yesterday?  We build upon them with greater fervor today.  We reach with hope the greater things we have yet to fully experience.

We are not magically rid of all sin in our lives like we have nothing to do with it.  Instead, because of our freedom from death, our foretaste of the good things of God, and the liberation from shameful lusts and such, we are to strive more earnestly to do good in our lives.  We are a gifted people, and thus we are a thankful people.  We live lives of freedom from sin and death, but we must strive earnestly for our good Lord.  By calling him lord, we thus place ourselves into his service and work together towards his goal.

Where we once easily and lazily accomplished much for sin and selfishness, so now we must pledge ourselves over to doing good works and loving one another in participation with His redeeming loving-kindness.

If you have a gift of hospitality, then invite people warmly and entertain them well, giving them a break from the cares of the world and entering a small communion of happiness and joy showing forth the larger communion.  This is an important gift.

If you have a gift of organizing, then help people accomplish together in the Lord’s Name what they could not do separately.  If you have a gift of work with your hands, then work for the physical welfare of the church and the world.  If you have a gift of intercessory prayer, then pray to our good God for the spiritual welfare of God’s people and those still lost.

Let us each work together as mutual servants of our good Lord and build upon the goodness of yesterday with the good hope of tomorrow.

Let us take His gift of eternal life and strive to serve our Lord Jesus Christ in all we do.

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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