Perhaps what makes Charles Schultz, author of Peanuts, one of the most well known cartoonists of the time, is his ability to see cartoons as allegories. An allegory is a story with deep symbolic meaning. Isn’t that why many of us kept coming back to Peanuts week after week? To be sure, its funny, however, what makes it funny is the fact that we can see ourselves and our world in the characters as they interact with one another. There is a deep spiritual meaning rooted behind the words of the Peanuts children.
There is a Peanuts strip where Charlie Brown is reading the paper and says to Lucy that the newspaper is reporting that people today don’t believe in any real causes. Lucy responds by going on for three frames about how she, of course, believes in causes. She believes in herself and she is her own cause.
We see the allegory, right? On the surface, Lucy’s self-centeredness is funny because of how much she drags in out. But it also has some truth that rings through it, does it not?
In spiritual terms, Lucy has made her own self into an idol. As humans, our hearts are often drawn to such idols. In fact, Martin Luther described it in this way, “Whatever then thy heats clings to and relies upon, that is properly thy God”. It’s really similar to the idea we find Jesus teaching throughout the Gospels - if we look for where our treasure is, we will find where our heart is centered. In other words, what is our true, ultimate concern? For Lucy, it was herself. And while we may laugh at her brashness, for how many of us would that be the honest answer as well?
So what makes our hearts be drawn to idols - whatever they may be? Sin. Sin is not a popular word today. Certainly you will find church folks pointing out the sins of others, but how many times in the Church do we talk about our own sin, be it as individuals or as the collective body? As the church, we seem to realize that sin, which we talked about last week, is part of our story, but that doesn’t make us any more prone to talk about it in our own lives. Its always a problem out there, with “those people”, instead of at the root of our own wayward hearts.
Enter Paul. Paul in the sixth chapter of Romans is writing to a group of people who are struggling with the connection between sin and grace. He begins by asking a really powerful question, that is supposed to be rhetorical, with the answer already obvious, only for some that isn’t the case. Paul asks - should we continue to sin so grace will multiply? By no means!
Friends, grace is also an intrugial part of our story as those who have claimed Christ as Lord and Savior. Grace is the gift of Jesus Christ, freely given to us. Its a gift of freedom and forgiveness. The gift that we see magnified in the cross. Paul wants to boldly proclaim that yes, Jesus came, while we were yet sinners and offered this most precious gift of grace. But we don’t need to continue to sin just so we can continue to receive grace. That’s not how it works. It is grace that has invited us into a new life in Jesus Christ, but the truth is that new life should change us.
But sometimes we miss that point. Sometimes we miss that Paul wants to cut off any misunderstandings about the connection between sin and grace. Instead, Paul wants to point us to the change that our baptism should signify. We have died to sin! Praise be to God!
This week I was reading a book about spiritual formation that gave one of the best descriptions of baptism I have ever read. From Brent D. Peterson, “The sacrament of baptism is a communal act of initiation whereby God offers healing and forgiving grace.” Did you catch that church, baptism offers healing. Healing from what? Our sinful nature. Peterson continues “Baptism should not be understood as what ‘God has already done in my life’ - a testimony of God’s past activity - instead it is the entrance into the community of faith, where we celebrate that it is God who continues to bless, heal, and sustain. Baptism is a celebration that a person finds life only by dying to a life of sin and selfishness.”
Because of Christ’s gift of grace, which we celebrate in baptism, who we once where is not who we are. The persistence and power of grace changes our life to the very core. Through baptism, we as Christians are united with Christ, both in his abundant life and in his defeat of death.
Yet, for so many of us, do we truly claim the power of baptism in our lives? Are our lives transformed because of Jesus? Or do we still allow sin and idols to have dominion over us? Paul keeps talking about needing to be dead to sin - because honestly we don’t get it. Because the truth is church, either we need to be dead to sin, or sin is going to kill us. Maybe not physically. But sin kills our very souls. Thats why we say that the wages of sin are death - both because of what Jesus suffered and the fact that sin kills our souls. We need to experience a spiritual death in order to be brought back to new life in Christ. Being dead to sin in order to be alive to God.
In baptism we proclaim with all we have and all we are that 1.) our identity is now in Christ Jesus and 2.) as a church we are going to support people on that journey. That we are going to support people who walk with Christ. Not just think about Christ or believe in Christ, though that is certainly important. But we are going to walk with each other on this journey of discipleship. Because what we believe should shape the way that we live.
Too many folks claim to be dead to their sins, but really their lives are still chalk full of idols that they haven’t even realized. They claim to love Christ, but they don’t want to give up the security of the sin that they hold onto in their lives.
Where are you today, Church? What is blocking you from maturing in your relationship with Jesus? Maybe you are still dead in your trespasses and have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Today would be a wonderful day to come to him and confess your sins and find that healing balm and forgiveness that is grace. Maybe you’ve accepted Christ but you are still an infant in the faith. You believe in Jesus, but the walk isn’t quite there yet. Maybe speak with another disciple today about how we can support you in your journey. Or maybe you are growing with God, but often your own preferences and expectations have become idols - and as a result, it feels like your stuck. Or maybe you’re on fire for Jesus Christ, but aren’t quite sure what to do with all of that zeal and passion. Would you speak to someone today about that as well? May we be people who stop saying, as Lucy did, that it is all about me, but instead join Paul in proclaiming that it is all about Jesus Christ.