For the past several weeks, our lectionary has included selections from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In all of the excitement of the past weeks at Trinity (celebrations, guest preachers, special Camino forum), the Good News in Paul’s letter has slipped by if not unnoticed, at least unremarked upon by your preachers! This Sunday I will be in California watching my son and his girlfriend run across the Golden Gate bridge in the San Francisco Half Marathon, and will miss hearing more from St. Paul with you all on Sunday, but want to offer a few thoughts to ponder before you hear this week’s Epistle from Romans 8:12-25.
Brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh -- for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ -- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
Paul makes the distinction between “flesh” and “Spirit” and this is often confusing, as we, of course, are enfleshed, embodied creatures created by God, who calls Creation “very good” and us “beloved.” We cannot escape (nor would most of us wish to) the glorious mix of joy and love, grief and loss that our human lives are made of. We prefer the good times, but when we are spiritually aware and present to reality, we know that suffering and loss are part of life and often bless us with the perspective to appreciate and recognize God’s ever-present grace, mercy, and love. Precious are our lives, and the moments we are given to breathe in the beauty of creation and to love and appreciate those with whom we share our lives.
So what does Paul mean when he tells us not to live “according to the flesh?” Dean and President of Berkeley Divinity at Yale, Andrew McGowan says this: ‘ “Flesh” refers in Paul to everything unworthy and unjust, such as all that gets dressed up as personal or national interest over against the needs of all, or anything that prevents us from being fully human—human in that sense we now perceive humanity differently, in the light of Christ’s true humanity.’
For Paul, life in the Spirit is a real human life; not an idea, or a disembodied “spiritual experience” but an alternative way of being. A life that resists all that is “unworthy and unjust” in our personal lives, in the way we live as a community, a nation, a world. This different vision of what it means to be human is based upon “Christ’s true humanity.” We have been adopted as children of God, as sisters and brothers to one another and to Jesus….in this new, transformed family, we are made new by the Spirit and can call God “Abba” along with Jesus. McGowan reminds us: “The Spirit is not merely some notion of spiritual presence, but is how God re-makes us into the image of the one through whom we are saved, raised to new life like him. This Spirit is going to turn us upside down.”
I chose this image of the sailboat on Monterey Bay to accompany this reflection because it reminds us that the Spirit of God is not something we generate or control. The Spirit comes from God and leads us, blows into our hearts, like the wind in a sail. The Spirit is God’s powerful action toward all of creation. We participate as beloved creatures, and can rejoice that through Christ we are joined into this action of new life, new humanity, and can live without fear; rejoicing in the power of the Spirit to transform us in power and love. May we welcome the unexpected, the new, trusting that the Spirit of God leads us in love.
I look forward to being together again next week!
Your sister in Christ,
RECTOR AWAY: Rev. Nancy will be away Saturday July 22 through Wed. July 26 for a family event in California. In case of an emergency please contact Sr. Warden, David Weiss and he can put you in touch with the priest on call for pastoral emergencies.