The text for this sermon is Romans 8:1-11.
We are to be dead to the flesh and alive to the Spirit. We are to live lives in the Spirit not fleshy lives. Pastor John Mittermaier is a retired pastor in Circleville, my previous call, who is anything but fleshy. He is the sort of person that many people my age and older imagine when they picture a picture. Tall, solid frame, neither too fat, gluttony being a sin, nor too thin, which would be an abuse of his body, which is a temple. I only ever saw him in a suit and tie. Surely, he had other clothes, but I never saw them. He said little in conversation, but when he spoke he did so deliberately and with authority. People listened because he was properly judicious with his words. He had a kind smile that we enjoyed when it shone upon us.
He could show displeasure, too. I know this because I was the frequent cause of his displeasure when I led worship. In worship he would sit straight as a rod in the second or third row, intently and deliberately participating with that rich pastor’s voice. When I would make one of many errors leading worship I would hear a nearly inaudible sigh. I would look and his eyes would be closed and his head, down as if he had been wounded. I had disappointed him, again.
For many years, I was sure he was the most spiritual person I have ever known and in contrast I might be the most fleshy person every ordained. It was hard for me to imagine Pastor Mittermaier drinking too much, eating too much, or looking too long at an attractive woman, sinfulness that tripped me up often. While he always looked sharp and well dressed, I come from the generation that invented casual Fridays, men convinced that short pants are no longer just for children. I no longer even own a suit. He is judicious with his words while I throw them out as quickly as they come to my head, including even the four letter kind at times. I am sure strangers guess that he is a pastor or a retired judge or something, while strangers usually think I am pulling their leg when I tell them what I do for a living.
We are to be dead to the flesh and alive to the Spirit. We are to live lives in the Spirit not fleshy lives. The worrisome part of this teaching for me is that what separates me from Pastor Mittermaier seems to be how spiritual he seems and how fleshy I have become. I always imagined a spiritual life to be one that floats above the rest of us, in the world but only kind of sort of, not troubled by the same things that trouble the rest of us. Serene and peaceful describe a spiritual life and lets be honest here, no one has ever described me that way.
My reading this week helped me understand that for Paul, fleshy lives were not the same as earthy lives or crude lives or sensual lives Paul didn’t have in mind my fleshy sinfulness of gluttony, lust, cursing and general social ineptness. I don’t doubt that Paul would have been as vexed and disapproving of me as Pastor Mittermaier, but that is not his point here. Living by the flesh is about the orientation of our lives. People who live fleshy lives are primarily concerned with their own well being, their own status, their own honor. Their lives always look toward themselves. In the end, they are their own ultimate concern.
What defines a fleshy life is not sinful behaviour with a small “s”, but rather selfish behavior. A fleshy life might follow the law of God scrupulously, uphold the social expectations of their community meticulously and share their resources to the needy generously through good works. What makes them fleshy is that they do these good things to bring themselves honor and status, not for a love of God or creation. They are building themselves up. They use the laws of God to exclude others, creating a world of sinners and saints, losers and winners, saved and condemned. Fleshy lives bring death because their quest for honor and advantage poison every relationship.
The difference between a fleshy life and a spiritual life is not determined by a tally of sinful or stupid behavior but where it is lived. Spiritual lives are lived in Christ. The Good News is that in the waters of baptism we promised to live our life in Christ, which means in the body of Christ, the church. People who have been gifted with the Spirit live differently and act differently in the world, but not in the typical way you might think. They live together, always in relationship with God and with each other. Putting God’s needs and hopes always before their own. Putting the needs of God’s people always before themselves. This is the only formula for a spiritual community and it is the only way to live a spiritual life.
The indicators of a spiritual life are not serenity and peacefulness, nor boorishness and sloppiness, but rather where it is lived. To live a spiritual life, we must live our lives with other people committed to living a spiritual life. People who remind us that we don’t live for ourselves, we don’t live for others, we live for God. For us to live in Christ here together at Messiah, our church must be Christ like. We can’t do ministry here for recognition, power in the community or to grow the amount of butts in our pews. The question we ask together is not how is Messiah glorified by our ministry, but rather how is God glorified by our ministry. The gifts of the Spirit are given to individuals but not to lift up their life. They are given to individuals to build up a community of people living in Spirit. This is what we are about here. Trying to build a community that is so Christ like that if we live here, serve here, worship here, share here, laugh here, cry here, sin here, fall short here, fail here, we do so always in the midst of Christ. Together we trust the promise that if we live our life here, it will be a spiritual life and not a fleshy life.
Fleshy lives are lived alone and turned inward. Lives lived in the Spirit are lived in community, turned towards God and God’s creation. Signs of fleshiness my life are not when I continue to laugh like a five year old when loud noises come unexpectedly from my body. My fleshiness is longing to be that perfect, well spoken, appropriately dressed and presented Pastor Mittermaier. This is not fleshy because he is a bad pastor to want to emulate. It is fleshy because I want to be like him so that I can enjoy the same status and honor that he commanded when he came into a room.
We are who we are. We don’t need to be perfect to live a life in Spirit. As long as we live life in Christ, in community, with each other, God will help us find a whole life. It may never be the life that we imagine, frustratingly full of rough edges that we long to be smoothed. But who knows, maybe our fleshiness is exactly what a body of Christ needs to be made whole. Amen
The text for this sermon is Romans 8:1-11.