Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Text: Romans 8:10,11
Christ lives in you. So you are alive because God has accepted you, even though your bodies must die because of your sins. Yet God raised Jesus to life! God's Spirit now lives in you, and he will raise you to life by his Spirit.

Looking into the face of love

You might remember the movie made in 1995 called Dead Man Walking. Itís based on the book with the same title. Itís a true story about a nun, Sister Helen, who agrees to become the spiritual counsellor to a rapist and murderer on death row. Two opposite personalities meet Ė one deeply compassionate the other unfeeling - no idea what grief and pain he has caused to the families of those he had brutally killed. Slowly the nun unravels the troubled personality of the man on death row as he opens up about what happened that day. He was involved in the crime but was not the one who committed the murders. However, nothing can stop the walk down the corridors of the prison toward the place where the sentence will be carried out and as the procession moves forward we hear the haunting call, "Dead man walking! Dead man walking!"

Itís a rather morbid thing to say as a person is walking toward death. Sends shivers down your spine. Here is a person who is alive as you and I and yet is described as dead. Itís as if the person is already dead; his hopes, his life, his future, his dreams for the future have already been cut off. His life is finished even though he is still breathing.

The concept of "Dead man walking" has a sense of hopelessness about it. There is nothing left to look forward to. No light at the end of the tunnel only a fog that seems to go on forever. There is no end to the hopelessness; nothing positive in sight Ė only death.

There are different ways that a person could be on death row Ė walking yet dead.

A young woman in the grip of depression believes that she will never find joy or peace or love ever again. So deep is her depression that she can see nothing in her future only more of the same. There is nothing to get up for in the morning; nothing to look forward to. She tries to ease her pain with more pills or more alcohol. She may even consider suicide as a way out of her living death.

A young man is lying in a hospital bed. His broken body the result of a stupid error of judgement driving a car. He will never walk again or feel anything below his neck. What future is there lying in a bed or at best propped up in a wheel chair. All this terrifies him. He grieves because there is no future.

A refugee, who flees a war zone with only what he could carry, is now in a camp with thousands of others. As he wanders around the camp he sees so much hopelessness in the faces of the people around him. They are all dead men walking. What hope do any of them have of living a normal life or of returning to their homes again or seeing the loved ones they left behind?

These are extreme examples but we donít have to be in a situation like these people to feel like "dead men walking". Maybe itís a relationship that has turned sour, a child that has disappointed you by rejecting the values you had taught him/her. Maybe itís just feeling run down, tired, depressed, sad, no energy because work and family have sapped all life out of you. Maybe an ongoing illness and injury is just sucking the energy out of you. Some days are worse than others. But there are definitely those days when you feel like a "dead man or woman walking".

Without wanting to sound a killjoy and a preacher of gloom and doom we are all dead men and women walking. Thatís what Paul is talking about in our reading from Romans today. Listen to what he says,
"To be controlled by human nature results in death.
People become enemies of God when they are controlled by their human nature.
Those who obey their human nature cannot please God.
Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him (Romans 8:6a,7a,8a,9b).

There is no beating about the bush here. He tells it like it is. He is describing dead men walking. Paul is talking about our human nature that is controlled by sin. Sin has such a control of our lives Ė our thinking, our speaking, and our doing Ė and it destroys our relationship with God, with the people in our lives and with the environment. It is self-destructive. Sin corrupts our humanity which leads us to an uncaring attitude, denial of God in our lives, and unbelief. Sin tempts us with its own idea of what happiness is but in the end destroys our happiness. It leads us to death. There is nothing more certain Ė sooner or later, we will die. Itís simply a matter of when. It is sin that has brought so much hopelessness into our world and into our personal lives.

Immediately Adam and Eve disobeyed God the lives of future generations were changed. All humanity became dead men and women walking Ö Without the intervention of God into our predicament, there would be no hope, nothing to look forward to, no future and when the shroud of depression or sadness or disillusionment or disappointment or of death is finally drawn over us that would be the end Ė the final full stop on all joy and love and what it means to really live.

I havenít seen the movie Dead Man Walking for a while but as I recall one of the last things the nun tells the convicted man is that she will attend his execution and that he is to look at her. She doesnít want him to focus on the anger and hatred of the other witnesses (family members of those murdered) as they take pleasure in seeing him die. He is to look at her. She says to him, "I want the last thing you see in this world is the face of love. Look at me." And thatís what happens Ė as his eyes slowly close he looks into the eyes of love that this woman has for his very troubled soul. Her love, a love that looks passed all that he has done and sees him as a person, is the last thing he sees.

Thatís what Jesus says to us who are dead people walking Ė people down and out because of the trouble that sin has brought into our lives. He reminds us when we feel like the dead warmed up, "Look into my face, see my love for you regardless of the life you have led; see how much I care for you. I created you and died for you, I will not leave you now.

Paul says in our reading, "Christ lives in you. So you are alive because God has accepted you". In Colossians he says, "You were dead, because you were sinful and were not God's people. But God let Christ make you alive, when he forgave all our sins." (Colossians 2:13).
"God's mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ" (Ephesians 2:4).

Being a sinner and being dead go together but Paul is insistent that we are not dead people walking Ė we are alive. God created us to be more than walking corpses. He created us to be more than people controlled by sin and evil and death. He created us to live through the death of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us. Every one of us who walked through those church doors today has been given the gift of hope. Even if everything looks gloomy, or we are overwhelmed by the feelings of sadness and depression, or we are staring at death in the not too distant future, Jesus asks us
to look into his face and see the love that looks beyond all our mistakes and sees us as his friends.
Look and see the peace that we can have in the middle of all kinds of hardship and trouble.
Look and see the contentment and calm that is possible even when dark storm clouds are gathering overhead.
Look and see the joy on his face Ė sin and death have been defeated and the victory is all ours.

Paul writes, "God raised Jesus to life! God's Spirit now lives in you, and he will raise you to life by his Spirit (Romans 8:11). Remember that Jesus was a "dead man walking" as he carried his instrument of death on his back. To those who called out ĎCrucify him!í he was a man without hope, without any future, and the world was better off without him.

How wrong could they have been? Three days later he walked out of the tomb. Jesus was raised to life by the same Spirit who raises us to life.

When Paul talks about life he doesnít mean only life after we die, but life with God, eternal life that starts right now. We donít have to wait until we die to have this new life that the Spirit gives. He appeals to his readers, and to us, to let our lives be controlled and influenced and led by the Holy Spirit, who already lives in us. The Holy Spirit is inviting us to embrace Jesus and return to God with repentant hearts. He wants to work in our lives in new ways. He wants to renew us and strengthen us in the eternal life that has already begun for each of us. He wants us to be alive filled with the love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit lives in us and reminds us every day that because of Christ we are not dead men and women walking even though we might feel like it sometimes and even though others will see us struggling with the difficulties of life like any one else. We have confidence and hope because we are alive with the life and love of Jesus in us.

This is our hope. This is the only hope of dead people walking Ė Godís Holy Spirit lives in us and will raise us above everything that fills our hearts with sadness and fear, even the fear that death brings into our minds.

As we look into the face of love on the cross, we know and believe that there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from that love and that this love will challenge us to believe that we can do all things because of the power of Christ that lives within us.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
10th April 2011
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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