A Worthy Substitute                                                                                         Romans 8:3-4

Lent 5A                                                   March 26, 2023,                          St. John, New Orleans

When I went to Business School, one of the basic principles that we learned was that in a competitive market, every product has a suitable substitute. 

With Colas, there is Coke and Pepsi. 

Ketchup has Hunts and Heinz. 

Cars have Ford and Chevy. 

And to the person with a preference, one choice is superior to the others, 

While the substitute may get the job done,

you'll feel better if you didn't have to settle for second best.

There is an exception to this, however, and that is when the substitute is simply better. 

Getting bumped from coach to first class on a flight would be great! 

Picking up a rental car only to find out the compact car you reserved is sold out so they for a luxury sports car for the same price. 

Or, when you get to a hotel and when your room isn't ready, they bump you to a suite and give it to you for free since you had to wait.

In today's epistle we hear about the greatest of substitutions which occurs with those of us who have faith in Jesus. 

Chapter 8 begins, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” 

Grammatically, it is a simple statement of condition. 

We are Christians and are therefore not condemned. 

But the word “now” indicates a previous condition: how we were, “then” or, “before now.” 

there are two possibilities here, either that we weren't in Christ, or that we were condemned. 

And, actually, the two go hand in glove together. 

When one exists, the other must be true. 

And this new condition happens to us because Jesus was, literally, the better man. 

Verse three says, “for God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.” 

We were given the law, the 10 Commandments, but our weak flesh could not follow the law faithfully. 

And so Jesus was sent to keep that law, as we should, and to be punished as we ought in our place. 

He was the most perfect pinch hitter, understudy, and back up man, that we could ever ask for. 

And he gave up his own life in exchange for hours.

And yet there are still consequences to our sin, despite our being saved from them. 

Death will still come to these bodies unless Jesus returns in our time. 

Sin has corrupted and spoiled God's paradise, so we fight against nature, while also trying to preserve it as best we can. 

And, casting blame and doubt on God and one another after they ate the forbidden fruit, 

Adam and Eve not only spurned their relationship with God, 

but cast shame and doubt between themselves as they hid from God and each other in their nakedness. 

Yes, Jesus may have filled in for us at the punishment phase,

but we were seen at the crime scene. 

Our reputation is sullied. 

And we have to live with that until God rescues us from this life and existence.

But this is not all bad, and we are not defined only by our failures and mistakes. 

We are also defined by what Jesus has done for us. 

Like the fallen. Army in Ezekiel who failed in battle, yet was raised by God to serve him again. 

Or like Lazarus, who stumbled out of his tomb after being dead for four days. 

You and I are given a new lease on life because of the intervention of Jesus Christ..

Because of Jesus, we now have a new frame of reference and, in fact, a new place of origin. 

For those who don't know Jesus, they only know what they know. 

That is, their own experience and those things they learned from other people.

But each and every one of those things are rooted in a flawed humanity. 

This is what Paul means in verse five when he says that, “Those rooted in the flesh have their minds set on the flesh.” 

They can't help it. 

That's what they are. And what they know. 

But you and I are born of the spirit. 

There is another part of us that informs us and moves us in different ways. 

Not only do we have something extra in our faith, 

but that faith joins us to a history and eternity that cannot be known without faith. 

And This is why Paul encourages the Roman Christians to be different from their non-Christian neighbors. 

Because they are different in their makeup and viewpoint. 

And those two things also give them a different direction and end point when all is said and done.

But here is where it gets a little tricky to explain. 

Paul is not telling us that we need to behave a certain way to be saved. 

This new direction we chart is not a road map to heaven. 

Or a prescription for making God love you and accept you. 

Rather, He is saying that because we have been saved through faith, a new path is open for us. 

Instead of our lives being focused on improving ourselves or our situation, 

our faith in God improves us in different ways that give him the glory. 

Yes, we go through life like everyone else. 

But much of the suspense and trepidation is removed 

because we have a sure and certain hope that at the end of this life is an even better, Life eternal. 

It's kind of like setting out on a long summer road trip, not having made any plans or reservations ahead of time. 

Sure, things may be fine and it may be quite an adventure.

But if you don't stop soon enough in the day, you might have to drive through the night because all the hotels are full.

Or the attraction you wanted to visit might be sold out on the day you arrive or closed for maintenance. 

However, those with faith, being born in the spirit, are not fazed by the difficulty of the journey 

because they have confidence they will be welcomed when the journey is over, 

whenever that may be.

But of course, we sometimes forget who we are! 

Did you ever disappoint a parent and they reminded you of who you are? 

“We don't behave that way.” 

or, “You know better than that.” 

These are both common scolding we've heard before. 

That's what Paul is telling us. “Don't forget who you are.” 

A child of God, born again by the Holy Spirit, in the waters of baptism. 

And on a journey that follows Jesus into heaven. 

He's not telling us to be good or to not be bad.

Because that would mean we could determine those for ourselves accurately all the time. 

When, in fact, we are corrupt sinners prone to making the wrong decisions. 

No, Paul is saying to simply live genuinely as the spiritual creature you are through your Baptism.

Letting the Holy Spirit guide you instead of your flesh.

And following Jesus instead of your own desires.

This also doesn't mean we are mindless robots without our own agency. 

One simple reflection into our past during our confession time each Sunday 

should reveal that we are very capable of not living in the spirit. 

And, in reality, chose to life by the flesh very often.

But in the absolution, we hear the promise of forgiveness that renews our faith. 

And it is that renewal of the mind and the washing of our heart

that gives us the hope and the courage to stay living in the spirit.

So, what does this kind of living look like? 

Well, it’s different for everyone, but it has common themes. 

Some will be servants, others teachers or preachers. 

Others will be encouragers, consolers, and healers. 

But all of them will be known for love: love of God, and for their neighbor. 

We show our love for God in many ways; But time, talents, and treasure are the most. obvious. 

And those who are in the spirit turn these things completely over to God, 

not just a token or even a goodly share. 

All of life and its accompanying blessings are entrusted to God by those who have faith. 

And we show our love for others by how we invest in their lives. 

Do we just give lip service to our love with empty phrases,

 or do we dedicate time, talent, and treasure to them just as we do to our God?

These questions pertain to us as a congregation as well, but only if we, as its members, are born in the spirit and have faith. 

We will never have the financial resources we need as a church until we trust them to the Lord at home. 

We will never be effective at sharing the gospel here in Mid City if you can't share your faith with your best friend or your neighbor. 

We won't excel at leading other young families in teaching the faith to children if we are not willing to teach our own. 

And so the spiritual vitality of Saint John is 100% determined by the individual faith of each and every one of us gathered here today.

This is a heavy and awesome responsibility which is placed upon you and me. 

But it is also one we are equipped for by faith. 

By his Holy Spirit we can lead Lives that follow the spirit. 

By his forgiveness and salvation, we can receive absolution when we when we fail and repent. 

By his loving kindness, we know he will never part from us and be ever patient with us, so long as we have faith in him. 

May you cling to and live in that faith, now and until he returns for us on that final day. Amen.