Scripture Text: Romans 8: 6-11 (Lent 5A)
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.
So many times, this Scripture is one of those that is read as if being “human”, being “flesh” is bad, as if somehow body and spirit are not compatible existing together in Creation. That’s not the way it was intended. After all, didn’t God created us as “flesh”? For Paul, of the “flesh” is not “human”, per se, but rather a perversion of who we should be as humans. But it is the “way of the Spirit” that brings life. Without the Spirit, the essence of Life breathed into the body ultimately dies. The two belong together. God’s Spirit brings breath and life. Paul’s words are not mean to be dualistic, separating two unlike things, but, rather, transformational, depicting the salvific act of transforming sides of a whole that need each other.
Once again, it is a good Lenten passage. We tend to get wrapped up in those things of the “flesh”—our needs, our desires, our fears. Paul is not saying that we dispense with them as bad. Paul is making the claim that the Spirit can breathe new life into them. There is no sense in fighting to sustain our identity apart and away from God. It will ultimately die. Paul has more of a “big picture” understanding than we usually let him have. He’s saying that the flesh in and of itself is not bad but the Spirit brings it to life. I don’t think he is drawing a dividing line between darkness and light, between mind and Spirit, between death and life; rather, he 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 we need, one that embraces all of life. It is one that embraces the Spirit of Life that is incarnate in this world, even this world. I mean, really, what good would the notion of a disembodied Spirit really do us? Isn’t the whole point that life is breathed into the ordinary, even the mundane, so that it becomes holy and sacred, so that it becomes life?
And here’s the important part. Verse 1 of this chapter from Romans says that there is “no condemnation”. In other words, through Jesus Christ, we are more than flesh. We are more than those things that we think “make us”. We are more than the identity that the world inflicts upon us. Through Christ, we are “flesh embodied”. Our flesh and our spirit, our body and our soul, our humanness and that piece of the Godself that was so lovingly and graciously supplanted in us is one, undivided. It is that total self that God loves–not just the Spirit, not just the things that are not of this “flesh”, but everything. We are a package deal. Don’t you love package deals?
In his book, Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr says that “in mature religion, the secular becomes the sacred. There are no longer two worlds. We no longer have to leave the secular world to find sacred space because they’ve come together.” In essence, our body and our spirit are one. That is what Paul was saying. Life in the Spirit is an embrace of our whole being. There are no parts that are elevated above the others. It is a new way of learning to see. It is a new way of learning to be. Everything becomes one in God. There are no good parts and bad parts. Everything is waiting to be transformed in the Spirit.
Here’s another way to illustrate it. How many of you like to eat raw eggs? How about a nice tasty tablespoon of flour? Or, perhaps you would rather have a wholesome cup of sickeningly sweet Karo syrup? Well, obviously, none of those things sound that appetizing. In fact, for most of us, they all sound downright disgusting. (I say “most” because I do know someone that eats syrup. He knows who he is!) But if you take those things and combine them, along with some other ingredients, you get my Grandmother’s pecan pie. Alone, they are worthless. But as a whole, they are wonderful.
We cannot pick and choose what parts of our lives we want to be with God. All of the mail is opened and read. For if one is to live a true life of holiness, there is nothing left out or hidden from sight. There is no secular. It is all sacred. There is no thought in our mind that is not part of the spirit. And there is not one of us that is of lesser importance than another in a true community of faith. Every part of us, no matter what it looks like, no matter what is tastes like, is necessary to make the recipe wonderful. Life in the spirit means that everything belongs in a perfectly balanced recipe for life that perfectly reflects and perfectly reveals all that there is and all that there is meant to be. That’s us–we’re a package deal. Thanks be to God!
The rare moment is not the moment when there is something worth looking at, but the moment when we are capable of seeing. (Joseph Wood Krutch)
On this day in your Lenten journey, think what it would mean to embrace your whole life, every part of it, as the gift that God meant it to be.
Grace and Peace,