June 24 (Tuesday of this week) is a day set aside in our church year to commemorate John the Baptist.
John came to call people to repentance (to turn away from shameful things towards God).
John came to set the stage that he might decrease so that Jesus might increase (to allow things to die that the work of God might live).
Our assigned text from Romans for this coming Sunday resonates with the life, work and testimony of this cousin of Jesus.
Here is a portion of our reading from Romans for Sunday:
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This text is a wonderful summary of our circumstance.
We are born as slaves to our sinful inclinations. John the Baptist knew that and pointed it out often. We are born with a freedom to do as we choose (and the opportunity to suffer the natural consequences of those choices). Left to our own choices and our own devices we find ourselves in places of death. That is the law. That is our lot apart from God. That is distinctly bad news.
We have been freed from sin and enslaved to God through baptism. God continues to work in us and shape us into who we are meant and called to be—this is called sanctification. The end of God’s work to free us from sin and press us into service of God is eternal life. This is the incredibly good news.
Our lives aren’t so simple as “I once was lost, but now am found”. The truth is we still lean back into the bad news. We dabble in being lost. We think to ourselves “You know, things weren’t really that bad in Egypt. I kind of liked the food. Pharaoh wasn’t such a bad oppressor. I’m not always sure where this path I am on is leading. Maybe I ought to give Egypt one more try.” We toy and flirt with returning to being enslaved by something other than God. Paul is clear—and we should be too—that this kind of thinking ends in death.
The good news is that God is more faithful in pursuing us than we are faithless as we pursue things other than God. Even though we all dabble in shameful things when left to our own devices there is good news. The word translated into “you now are ashamed” above also shows up in Hebrews 2:11:
For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, (NRSV)
Jesus comes to us and calls us sisters and brothers before we can do anything to earn it—pure gift. When we choose to neglect our faithful and loving God and turn to shameful things Jesus comes to us again—pure gift. We have been baptized—pure gift. We are continually being shaped into the likeness of God—pure gift. All these facets of this gift reflect the beauty of eternal life in Christ Jesus—an incredible treasure.
God, help us to know the gift of eternal life in Jesus today. Help trust in the one not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. Help us step away from shameful things in our past and that entice us this very day. Stir us to serve well to your glory today. Amen.