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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Fr. Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 6/28/2020 The 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Romans 6:12-23.
For us in the United States, it is hard for us to imagine the idea that establishing a democracy is hard. For us, it seems, there was one war that lasted seven years and there you have it: 13 colonies form the United States of America. Although, we tried a loose confederation of states for a few years and discovered that was a bust and formally became the United States under the ratification of a Constitution in 1789. That was 13 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed. By the time the 1870s had rolled around, we had been at this democracy thing for nearly one hundred years.
Sometimes, it is hard for me to realize that at the time we were expanding westward Napoleon was taking over France in the early 1800s. I cannot reconcile in my mind that my home state of Indiana was founded while Napoleon was causing havoc throughout Europe. In fact, France struggled to have democracy take hold. They swung between monarchy and republic until finally the third republic seem to start to take hold. Yet, as a word of caution, France is currently in the Fifth Republic. This government we see right now over there is their fifth attempt at democracy.
This is why we have the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. The Statue of Liberty is a gift from the fledgling third Republic of France. The Statue of Liberty website says this:
“In 1865, Edouard de Laboulaye(a French political thinker, U.S. Constitution expert, and abolitionist) proposed that a monument be built as a gift from France to the United States in order to commemorate the perseverance of freedom and democracy in the United States and to honor the work of the late president Abraham Lincoln. Laboulaye hoped that by calling attention to the recent achievements of the United States, the French people would be inspired to create their own democracy in the face of a repressive monarchy.”
In effect, Laboulaye wanted to give the United States a gift for choosing the hard work of self-rule of democracy over monarchy, authoritarianism, or totalitarianism, which would rear its ugly head in the early 1900s in Europe again.
We chose the rule of law over the rule of a person. The concept was to set us free from the tyranny of twisting authority to benefit one person over the many. Government and governing is ultimately the choice of the people. Whether we are a democracy or an authoritarian regime is determined by what we do and what we don’t do. There will always be laws we don’t like. There will always be government officials we cannot stand. There will be things that drive us mad about the inefficiencies of democracy, but ultimately, we get to choose which ruler oppresses us, a monarch or ourselves.
The reason I bring this up is because choosing which kind of government best represents the choice which St. Paul gives us in Romans today. We have a choice: we are ruled by God or we are ruled by sin.
The passage just before this one is the amazing explanation of what happens in Baptism. In Baptism, says St. Paul, we are connected to Christ so inextricably, that we are buried with him in his death because of sin. We are then resurrected to new life by being connected to him. When he defeats sin on the Cross, sin is defeated in us. He says, “For if we have been united in a death like his, we have been united in a resurrection like his.” He goes on, “Our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.”
This is key. With the gift of salvation by grace in Jesus Christ, we are not in a situation with God where we are so burdened by sin that we cannot choose him. We have been baptized. We are no longer in the condition of not having options. In fact, we are given this gift as a source of freedom: I no longer have to lie. I no longer have to steal. I no longer have to commit adultery. I no longer have to envy. I no longer have to covet. I no longer have to do any of these things because I am now a part of Jesus Christ and the Lord would not let me go without safety in telling the truth. He would not let me go without so that I have to steal. He would no longer have me be a slave to lust so that I am in chaos. He would no longer have me think so lowly of myself I have to hate others. He would no longer have me value possessions to the point of wanting what I have not earned or have been given.
We are free people in Jesus Christ in the sense that we no longer have only bad choices, unhealthy choices, chaotic choices. We get to choose which mission of His we do. Yet, at the beginning, we get to choose to whom we are slaves, just like we are either slaves to monarchs and authoritarians or we are slaves to self-governance. Either way, there is going to be something that is ruling our lives.
Think about it. We act like choosing means we get to do what is not good for us. I am still confused about how killing a child is considered a choice of personal freedom, when it is taking the life of another. I am still confused about how lying is freedom when it causes confusion, uncertainty, and pain in the lives of others. I am still confused about how an adulterous affair is going to make things less complicated. I am still confused about how envying someone is going to make us more. We can see that all of these things actually take over our life.
Now, with cell phones, imagine having an adulterous affair. Imagine the hiding that would have to go on. Imagine the lying that would have to happen. Imagine all of the things that would occupy your day and mind. Who or what is controlling the situation then?
Or, we could think of sin as an addiction. Who is controlling who? It is no accident that when the addict frees themselves by admitting they are not in control, surrendering to God by any other name, that is when they actually get to be free. When they choose to say ‘no’ to the addiction and ‘yes’ to a “Higher Power” that we know to be Jesus Christ is when they are “free”. But, are we free in that instance? We are not, really, we have just chosen a different master.
So, for those of us who have received the free gift of salvation by grace through the forgiveness of sins, which we receive in our Baptism, according to St. Paul, we are not now slaves to sin, but we have chosen a new master. We either choose it in being baptized or we choose it after we were given the gift of baptism, but either way, we are not choosing each individual action, we are choosing the master.
As a person in a democracy cannot live as if they are under a monarch or totalitarian, or as an addict cannot live in the same world with the source of their addiction, we cannot live with our lives in both camps. St. Paul says, “having once been slaves of sin, [we] have become slaves of righteousness.” Being a Christian means we are not choosing the act, but the Lord having chosen us in Baptism and we choosing to accept the gift of salvation, it is no longer optional for us to follow Christ and follow righteousness.
We now present our members to do the righteous thing, not to earn heaven, but because we are members of heaven already. Members of heaven do not intentionally run to live a life that is not worthy of heaven. We cannot live the suffocating life of those who are keeping laws in a monarchy or totalitarian state, trying not to do wrong so that we are not punished by the secret police. We live lives of freedom that do good because we want others to enjoy the freedom we have. We want others to know the love of God we enjoy. So, we don’t have to ask what we shouldn’t do, because it is already a part of us. What we are asking all the time is, “Lord how can I thank you for this gift today?”
We are people of Heaven, the people who are already living eternal life. Our whole existence is to serve the center of heaven: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Our existence is to be in mission for him and that cannot be a successful operation if we are leading a life that is contrary to what we have been called to live.
I invite you to think of your life from top to bottom. I invite you to surrender yourself to Jesus Christ. Admit that you are powerless over sin and that a life of sin makes your life unmanageable. Give your life, again today, to Jesus Christ. Make an inventory of your sins and come to Confession to receive tangible forgiveness and be free. Then pray and meditate everyday to surrender your life to the life God has for you: a life free from sin, free from the guilt and shame of that sin, free from the condemnation of God and others. Choose your Master: the one who gave his life for you so you could live.
May God bless the preaching of the Gospel in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2020.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian