More than Metaphor

Romans 8:1-11

If you take the two Bible readings that we’ve had so far this morning—“My word is like the snow and rain” from Isaiah; and the parable of the Sower from Matthew’s Gospel— and you put them side by side you end up with what might be considered a ‘mixed metaphor’!:  God’s Word is like rain; God’s Word is like seed.

Or…you could consider them a kind of mega-metaphor:  God’s Word is like seed and rain (and you might throw in some sunshine as well) that all together, somewhat miraculously, grows!

Many of us rarely pay any real attention at all to the change that takes place between the time a seed is placed in the ground, and the day that the fruit of the plant is harvested.  It doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the wheat or the apples or the tomatoes or the carrots.  But even the keenest of gardeners amongst us will not panic if this year’s vegies don’t quite live up to last year’s….  The supermarket is always there.

Not quite so for first century farmers.  There was an intimate association with the sowing and the harvest (and the surviving) that made for a much more highly sensitized appreciation of the dramatic miracle of seed, and rain…and life.

So much so that it is also a metaphor Jesus uses to describe his own death and resurrection, and particularly the death-and-resurrection of ‘death to sin’ and ‘life in connection with God and God’s grace’.

And, I think it is fair to say that, because the metaphor is so familiar to us and has, perhaps, lost some of its impact, we are sometimes in danger of losing our appreciation of the miracle described.

Take our baptism this morning.  We see a pretty baby girl, an aesthetically pleasing worship venue, good-looking parents and family and friends, colours and symbols and candles and smiles.

We do not readily visualize the words that in baptism a death takes place, and a new life begins.  We do not actually visualize a drowning and resurrection.  We do not visualize a second birth.  We sort of visualize a washing but it may seem rather superficial, simply symbolic.  (Historically some baptism rites are rather more graphic and perhaps more powerful in their symbolism….)

We do not see the kind of contrast of a lifeless ‘seed’ with the fully grown plant laden with fruit.  We do not see God’s Word in effect in that way.

Well…today there is another reading set to sit between these two celebratory proclamations of God’s Word working, having its effect in life, carrying out God’s plan.  And in this reading Paul kind of tries to spell it out, not rely on our imagination too much:

Romans 8:1-11 (CEV)
1If you belong to Christ Jesus, you won't be punished. 2The Holy Spirit will give you life that comes from Christ Jesus and will set you free from sin and death. 3The Law of Moses cannot do this, because our selfish desires make the Law weak. But God set you free when he sent his own Son to be like us sinners and to be a sacrifice for our sin. God used Christ's body to condemn sin. 4He did this, so that we would do what the Law commands by obeying the Spirit instead of our own desires. 5People who are ruled by their desires think only of themselves. Everyone who is ruled by the Holy Spirit thinks about spiritual things. 6If our minds are ruled by our desires, we will die. But if our minds are ruled by the Spirit, we will have life and peace. 7Our desires fight against God, because they do not and cannot obey God's laws. 8If we follow our desires, we cannot please God.  9You are no longer ruled by your desires, but by God's Spirit, who lives in you. People who don't have the Spirit of Christ in them don't belong to him. 10But Christ lives in you. So you are alive because God has accepted you, even though your bodies must die because of your sins. 11Yet God raised Jesus to life! God's Spirit now lives in you, and he will raise you to life by his Spirit.

God’s Word of grace—of love, of forgiveness, of salvation—is not a ‘message’ about grace; it is not a ‘description’ of something you or I might think about, work towards, hope to achieve.  God’s Word of grace effects grace.  What was before God speaks, and what is after God speaks, are two different situations.  As dramatic a change as that between an apparently dead and inconsequential seed and the huge tree full of fruit; as dramatic a difference between the dead dry ground, and the fields that have enjoyed the winter snows and spring rains and are full of grass and flowers and insects and birds and wildlife of every kind—that kind of change takes place between what you and I are without the Word of the Gospel of God’s grace, and what we have become by the Word of the Gospel of God’s grace.

And whatever little Isabella may have been before God spoke his name, his Word to her in baptism—whatever the genetics of her family tree; however cute and cuddly or unsettled and niggly; whatever the prospects in terms of success or failure in life, happiness or struggles—now she is a child of God by the power of God’s Word; she belongs to Christ Jesus; she is alive in the Holy Spirit; she is set free from sin and all its condemnation and guilt.

It’s a change.  It’s miracle.  It’s a gift.  It is God at work by his Word.

Paul says, “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.”  That declaration about you and promise to you is the same Word that was spoken in your baptism, or this morning when God said, “I forgive you” or when he says, “This is my body and blood, given for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”  No mixed or mega-metaphor, just effective Word of grace.

This is why God speaks his Word of grace.  To effect change in a world where sin, in all its forms and with all its consequences, spoils and hinders and pollutes and frustrates the ‘good’ that is God’s plan and gift for his creatures and threatens our peace, our confidence, our assurance of who we are and where we stand as God’s loved children.  Just like the first Word of God’s creation brought, out of the nothingness and emptiness and darkness and formlessness a full revelation of all of the wonders of God’s creative love, so the new Word of God’s creation, his Word of grace, creates us as his new lives, his new creatures.  By this Word of grace, Christ lives in you—Christ who died to sin, and is raised and exalted to new life in the love of God.

That’s what happens when this Word of God is spoken.

That’s why he has given it to us to speak to one another.

That’s why he has called us to serve him by telling his Word of grace to others.

That’s why we are Church, the body of Christ, who speak the Word of Christ, the Word of God’s grace to one another, and to the world.

That’s why we meet together in homes; that’s why we go with our kids to Sunday School; that’s why we have personal and family and staff devotions; that’s why we say “I forgive you” to one another; that’s why we have our two schools; that’s why we print devotions in our school newsletters; that’s why we support ALWS or the Bible Society or the LLL tract mission—because in each and every opportunity that we take up to speak God’s Word of grace a change is effected in the life of the one who hears.  (You and I may not always see that change; we may not be able to quantify it or record it appropriately in our statistics; we may not be able to control or channel it in the way that might be most comfortable or useful for us.  But…)  …when God’s Word moves into the life of the world and into the lives of people God makes something happen.

And as the farmer goes out and sows the seed, and then waits for the rain, and realizes that God will give the growth…so we keep proclaiming and teaching and living the Word of God to one another.