Economy of Grace

Romans 6:1-14 (I recommend reading it in the Message). 

Our passage this week drops into the middle of one of Paul’s arguments. where we were last week. It may be worth looking back to chapter 5, where it begins.  In 5:20, Paul writes, “….but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more“. It’s not, maybe how I would have made my argument, but since that’s where he goes, he has to respond to the resulting claim that more sin is good business for grace, giving it lots of opportunity to shine.

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!

Or as it is phrased in the Message: Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not.

And this gets us to the part of this passage I love. Continuing to live a life dependent on sin means you haven’t been transformed by grace. Paul’s not arguing that once you love Jesus you won’t make mistakes. He’s arguing you’ll be living under a new economy, a new realm, a new creation–one where the economy of sin and death has been replaced by life in Christ.

For Paul, when we are baptized, as Jesus was baptized, we join into his life, death, and resurrection. And if we are people who have been made victorious over death (as Jesus was) then our lives should reflect the new creation.

The image that’s helpful for me of people living under the old world (sin, death) when the new world is set before them comes from a scene at the end of CS Lewis’ the Last Battle, the final book of the Narnia series.

Aslan the Lion has destroyed the old Narnia and brought people to the new Narnia, which looks a lot like I want heaven to be. War is no more. There is a banquet set before them. Clear skies and clean water in the rivers. Creation at peace. And the dwarves, who have been skeptical of Aslan because of the pain of the world they’d lived in, remain skeptical and are completely unable to see where they are. They insist they are sitting in a dung filled stable, and refuse to trust in the promise of new life that is before them, and all around them.

Lucy asks Aslan if anything might be done to help the dwarves see. Aslan replies:

“You see,” says the Lion, “they will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”

This is what Paul’s trying to get us to understand. We can keep on living as if sin is the only way to live, but we don’t have to.  By joining in Jesus’ baptism, we see the world differently.

Grace transforms us away from a world where we have to compete for love and favor and forgiveness and transplants us to a world where favor and forgiveness have already been granted and there is an abundance of love to share.

What does it look like to be in this transformed economy? To be Christian is to claim that we are already in that transformed world. In a few minutes, we will be welcoming some more new members in our midst, who will be reclaiming their baptismal promises about this very topic.

And yet I think we still often live in the other economy, the one where we fight for acceptance and forgiveness. And I worry that shame is often what keeps us from claiming our space in the new world of grace. If we can’t acknowledge the way sin has held us in check because shame keeps us from sharing our truth, can we claim grace?

I’ve talked about shame before, but it may be helpful to remember that shame is different than guilt. Guilt can often be a helpful feeling, even if it is one we don’t enjoy. Guilt is where we acknowledge that we have done something wrong, that we have hurt people by our actions. Guilt is knowledge that our actions were bad.

Shame often takes guilt to a different level—one where not just our actions were regrettable but to a conclusion that we, ourselves, are bad.

Brene Brown, in her TED Talk,  says, “Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is, “I am bad.” Guilt is, “I did something bad.” How many of you, if you did something that was hurtful to me, would be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake?” How many of you would be willing to say that? Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.” 

When we live in the grace world, that Paul talks about, we will still make mistakes. We will still have reasons for guilt, that will give us reasons to say “I’m sorry”. But in this new grace world, there is transformation beyond our mistakes. And I worry shame keeps us from saying ‘I’m sorry’, and keeps us from acknowledging what we’ve done wrong. Shame keeps us from getting past our guilt and sin. 

I read a story of a person who had committed adultery, and her church community helped her and her husband claim new life by moving past shame. The pastor invited her to share, before the congregation, what she had done.

My first thought when I heard that was, ‘what about the spouse and children? How did they feel about having their family’s shame come to light?’ I realized that shame was silencing for the family too. How were they supposed to get support if they couldn’t talk about what they were going through? How was their church going to love them through it if shame kept them from accessing help and love?

After she confessed her sin, the pastor turned to the congregation and invited people who had looked on another person with lust (the way Jesus defined adultery) to stand. Most of the congregation all stood.

This is claiming the new world where sin and death doesn’t have power over us anymore. Where we can confess and be restored and redeemed in community.

The way these confession stories tend to play out in the news, however, is that after the confession, we try to externally add more shame to the story. That won’t lead us to Grace Town. That keeps us in the old zip code.

Curt Thompson, in his book the Soul of Shame writes:
“For if relationship with Jesus is as much about being known as it is about knowing, we soon learn that life with God is not about being right but about being loved.” (p. 152)

We are called to live in Grace, and to leave the neighborhood of shame and sin behind. Are we willing to do it? Are we willing to let others do it?

How else might this new life in Christ look in our midst? What is keeping us from really claiming our baptismal promises?

Because we must find ways to claim this realm of grace as our residence. We look around at the pain of people living in an economy of sin and judgment and we don’t want to create more pain, and we also don’t want to leave them there in that pain.

We can’t drag people into grace, obviously. Remember the scene of the dwarves from CS Lewis. Grace isn’t coercive or forceful. We can only be invitational.

One way is to literally be invitational and invite people to join us here. Another way is to live our lives in ways that show we have been changed, so that people can see it even if we don’t say a word about it. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words”. If grace is our economy, we let go of shame and judgment and exclusion.

If grace is our economy, we can be generous with our lives and our resources because we recognize we’ve been gifted with much already.

If grace is our economy, we can be joyful in our living because life with God is not about being right, it is about being loved.

May we live into this new economy of grace and invite others to join us. 

Amen

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