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13 OT A ~ "Living for God" ~ Rev. Richard Eslinger

If the Epistle Lesson sounds familiar this morning, it is because it should be. It is the same witness from St. Paul on Holy Baptism that was our Epistle reading at the EasterVigil. At that Great Feast, this Scripture brought together the Paschal Mystery of the Lord and our own baptism into his death and resurrection. Our catechumens, the elect, were initiated into Christian life by their descent into the water and their rising up as new babes in Christ. They died to sin, St. Paul reminded us, and are raised to newness of life.

But now, we revisit Romans six and reconsider what difference our baptism makes now that we have returned to Ordinary Time and the ordinary world. How can we remain, as the Apostle put it, “dead to sin and living for God in Jesus Christ”? One thing is clear. We have not all remained in a sinless state and certainly don’t live in a sinless world.

So the first issue we bump into on this day is the tension between, on one hand, being through our baptism in Christ “dead to sin. On the other hand, perhaps not during the glorious Great Fifty Days of Easter and the Feast of Pentecost, but certainly by now we find ourselves in need of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or at least some other opportunity to confess and receive Christ’s pardon. Put simply, how are we at once baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection while being not surprised that we remain among those who sin? Now St. Paul would respond to our question something like this: “What I was proclaiming to the Church at Rome and to you is that there is a vast different between the fallen state of humanity and those who are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection.” As the catechism teaches, “Baptism is a bath of water in which the ‘imperishable seed’ of the Word of God produces its life-giving effect.” The seed has been planted and the Word of God produces its life-giving effect.

Still, not all of the harvest thus far is of saintly purity. We know that. Which is why the other sacraments are present to forgive, nurture, sustain, and purify us along the way and to finally bring us to life everlasting life in the glory of the Holy Trinity. What is at stake here, in this new hearing of St. Paul’s statement on baptism and dying and rising with Christ is that we both remain in the world with its sin and godlessness and we live in the newness of life that is Christian life. One commentator put it this way: What Paul is getting at is like the difference between Narnia and mid-20th century England in The Chronicles of Narnia. Rather than jumping back-and-forth between the two realms, according to this passage baptism symbolizes our passing through the wardrobe, into a new existence, never to return.

Or, perhaps it might be better to say that once we have passed through the wardrobe and encountered Aslan, the creator and ruler of all Narnia, we do, in fact, return to our war-torn and often grey world Still, we will never be the same because we know of the “real world” that we have witnessed beyond the wardrobe. So there is a tension for us, one between being “dead to sin” in our baptism in Christ and the world we inhabit that seems to specialize in death. At least this on this Lord’s Day, we know both these worlds and have come within the gathered faithful to receive the Bread of Life and to learn more of Christ’s ways. While the power of death does not have dominion of Christ, being raised from the dead, it does still exert its power in our world. As the baptized in Christ, we are now dead to sin, as the Apostle proclaims; the same is not the case for our world. Death’s power sticks up its ugly head in countless ways and in every day.

Once again, by this morning the new civilian death toll in Ukraine from Russian drone missile attacks on civilians has been released. Children in demolished hospitals have died and families in their own homes have been buried under rubble. Death is a daily reality to civilians in Ukraine, and the drum beat of explosions is heard and felt every day. The power of death reigns over bloody Ukraine.

While the weekend has not drawn to a close, the tolls from gun deaths in our urban areas continues to mount. Chicago, New York, Memphis, the list goes on, and the murder rate keeps climbing. The power of death reigns over many of our cities. Our churches, too, are experiencing this attack by the powers of death in new and frightening ways. Two decades ago, Ross Douthat wrote a book titled “The Culture of Disbelief.” But now, we are past that era and Catholics now live in a culture of slander and outright attack. Churches are defaced and some even burned. We have come face to face with the power of death as Catholic Christians. While in our baptisms we are now dead to sin, we live in a world very much caught up in its power and its evil dominion. We awaken to a new day, gather as the body of Christ, and come together to hear God’s Word and celebrate the Sacrament. But our intercessions keep before us the power of death in our world. Our culture and our world are in countless ways alive to sin and entrapped by the power of death.

This much is certain, though. In his death and resurrection of Christ, the old order of sin, division, and death no longer has power over us. In our baptism, we have died with Christ and death no longer has power---or better—“dominion” over him. But even more, the life-giving power of the Lord extends to all who have been baptized into his death and resurrection. We are not solitary souls that Jesus has plucked from the power of death and “saved” all by ourselves. Baptized into Christ, we are, all at once baptized into his community of the faithful. His church is the past, present, and future tense blooming of the new age. Especially through the sacramental signs along with our witness to Christ’s life-giving power, this gift has been freely given—we are now part of a family that extends from Abraham and Sarah through the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostles and all the saints to us.

Baptism is both deeply personal and profoundly communal. It is not that by going down in the waters we are snatched as individuals from the world and saved. St. Paul will have none of that sort of individualism. We are brought into the one body of Christ, incorporated into his church, and through the Holy Spirit we’re given gifts both for building up the body and for our ministry in Christ to the world.

This new life of the baptized is lived out day by day in our parish. Some of our gifts of the Spirit are liturgical. We serve as acolytes, altar boys and girls, crucifers, lectors, intercessors, Eucharistic servers, and makers of music. A wonderful tapestry of gifts, all from the same Spirit, all lavishly graced upon us at our baptisms. We live out our baptismal identity just now in this celebration of the Eucharist.

But the same Spirit lavishes, as well, gifts for service and prophetic witness in the world. (Here, the homilist is invited to celebrate the parish’s outreach ministries to the poor and the hungry. Does the parish serve the poor through a food bank, an ecumenical ministry to the homeless, an after-school enrichment ministry for students who need a welcoming and safe place when their school hours are over? All of these are ministries of the baptized, living out their new life in Christ. The same Holy Spirit calls us to follow the gifts that have been graced upon us at our

baptism into deeper expressions of Christian vocation. Some are graced with gifts that through consecration or ordination will lead to religious vocation, the diaconate, and priesthood. Other gifts of the same baptism lead some to particular vocations of peace-making and witness-bearing.

This day, we celebrate the diverse and amazing gifts of the Spirit that shape us and our vocation at (name of parish). All of these are gifts of the Spirit, graced upon us at our baptism. We are a community of those who have been brought through the waters from death to newness of life. Even our unity is from God, in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul urges us, “You too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living to God in Christ Jesus. We are a people graced to live in newness of life and to be a sign to the world of what God has accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are also signs,

even though still having one foot planted in this world, of the gift of newness of life.

Praise God for our Lord Jesus Christ, raised from the dead and the first fruits of the new creation. We are delivered as God’s people from slavery to sin and death and its dominion will not prevail. Thanks be to God.


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