Lectionary Text: Romans 8: 6-11
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Romans 8 is said to have been Paul’s greatest work, a masterpiece within a masterpiece. We’re all familiar with it. We’ve prayed it, sung it, and heard it read at funerals. It’s a shame that many of us might be reading it completely wrong. I mean, where in the world did we get the idea that the “flesh” was completely bad? For Paul, the “body” or the “flesh” was probably closer to neutral than bad, more lifeless than life-taking. The point is, though, that it cannot exist alone. Paul actually had a “big picture” view of what life holds. His contention is not that there is some sort of ongoing war between the flesh and the Spirit but rather that the flesh, the body, needs the Spirit to breathe life into it, to breathe the very essence of God into its being, making it holy and wholly what it should be. Paul is not preaching segregation but, rather re-integration, unity, a return to the way it should have been all along.
On the other side, Paul never claims that the Spirit can exist alone. I mean, really, what good would the notion of some sort of disembodied Spirit really do us? Do you think that the essence of God really wants to just float around us, disengaged from who we are and what we do? If that were the case, I’m thinking that the whole idea of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, Emmanuel, God WITH us would have been completely unnecessary. The whole point is that life is breathed into the ordinary, even the mundane, so that it becomes holy and sacred, so that it becomes life?
But unity is a hard thing to accomplish and an even harder thing to hold together (no, that one is not meant to be a pun). I remember when our church got its new website. There was a committee, there were numerous meetings, there were months of working on this big change. When we finally went “live” on the internet, it was beautiful. Everyone commented on it. We actually won an award. But it took several weeks for someone to finally mention to us that the homepage of our website actually said “St. Paul’s Untied Methodist Church”. As I said, it is hard to stay united!
So why is it easier or more comfortable for us to categorize things, to draw a dividing line between darkness and light, between body and Spirit, between bad and good, between “religious” and “spiritual”, between “them” and “us”, between death and life? Do we think that’s more validating for us and the way we think and the way we live? Oh come now! Paul is claiming that God’s Spirit has the capability of crossing that line, of bringing the two together, infused by the breath of God. It is a spirituality that lives incarnate in this world, even this world. Incarnation, God with Us, is about reintegration. It is flesh infused with spirit and spirit embodied in flesh. That, my friends, is life.
So, for this Lenten season, let’s get it together!
Grace and Peace,