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  • Pastor Jim Gronbeck (Retired)

"Death to Life"

We’ve had fierce winds blowing around here lately! Some trees have been blown down, branches broken, and small boats, along with miscellaneous lake things have been overturned. The waves have been so large on the bigger lakes it has prevented many folks from enjoying the outdoors.

When the wind blows a big, beautiful tree down it’s a huge loss. We lose shade the tree provides and we lose the beauty of the tree itself. We cut off the tree at or near the ground level and for most intents and purposes the tree is dead…unless it’s a basswood tree! The Basswoods in our yard send out shoots from the roots and from the trunk. If we didn’t keep cutting the shoots or digging up the roots, we would soon have a clump of basswood trees growing where that one tree went down.

Out of the seeming death of the tree comes new life in those shoots that pop up. St. Paul writes about our lives being dead in sin—the sin of our origin from the Garden of Eden—and the sin we commit as we live out each day. In Romans 6, Paul teaches that in our baptisms we have died to sin and have been raised to New Life in Christ Jesus. We’re like the basswood tree that is cut down and presumed dead. Suddenly shoots of New Life appear springing up from the roots. We die the death Jesus died to sin, and we are raised to New Life as children of God, heirs to the wonderful gift of salvation. We are given the gracious gift of a loving God in the life-giving waters of our baptism.

Though baptism forgives our sin, washes away the Original Sin we were all born into, we still sin every day. We still need the gracious gift of baptism each day. The power of our baptisms is proclaimed when Paul writes that in baptism, we die the death that Jesus died on the cross, and then we are also raised as Jesus was raised on Easter. So, we die to our old selves and are raised as children of God, recipients of the gift of New Life.

When I was in seminary, I read Ernst Becker’s book, The Denial of Death, which was a real eye-opener. Becker wrote that our main fear in life is death. We do all we can to avoid death, and because of this we accomplish many great things. We have a huge military because we fear the death our enemies can inflict on us and we use it as a deterrent. We develop wondrous medical advances in drugs, surgeries, therapies, and such because we fear our own mortality, Becker wrote. Almost everything we do can be traced back to a fear of death, according to Becker. I feel he went a bit overboard in making his point, but it does show that much of our human motivation is our fear of death. I don’t know if that is necessarily bad, because many important advances in science have led to more productive, more satisfying, enjoyable lives. We should be enjoying our lives and getting the most out of the time God gives us, but on the other hand, we don’t need to fear our own deaths because of our Christian faith.

The Coronavirus pandemic we have has pointed out this fear of death to me once again. Think about your worst fears during this outbreak—death. I’m just saying that we do have a strong, natural fear of death as well as an amazingly strong will to live. This is also a gift from God. God has given us our lives to do the most good with them. God has created us and desires for us to enjoy our lives and do positive things for others.

But we need not fear death. We normally fear the unknown. We want to be in control and are not at all comfortable when we are not in control. When our time on earth is complete, whenever that shall be, it is our joy and privilege to be with our Lord for all eternity.

As Christians, putting our fear of death into the background, because of Christ, we can focus on making life better for all people. We can take the lessons we are learning from the social upheaval of our present time and work to ensure that all people are treated with justice and equality. We can begin to understand how other people are oppressed or feeling as if others don’t care about them. We can make changes in our lives and grow by helping others through this time.

My grandkids had just gone for a tube ride behind the boat and one of them was playing on the tube. He slid over to the edge, kind of checking it out, and then slid into the lake holding onto a handle on the tube. He couldn’t pull himself up again and began to get frightened. I told him he was safe, that he had a life jacket on, and to just let go and swim to the dock. But he wouldn’t let go. He just couldn’t trust his life jacket fully in that situation. He could’ve let go and floated the 5 feet to the dock, but his fear kept him from trusting. I pulled him to the dock and lifted him up safely.

We’re like that sometimes when we find ourselves out of control for one reason or another. A health problem, fears of the virus, not being able to help a loved one or friend, economic questions, the social upheaval we’re experiencing, all can cause us to become caught-up in our fears. We can lose track of God and our connection to our faith. It’s hard to put our fears aside and trust God fully and completely. It’s hard to know what God has in mind, what path God is leading us down, or what the future holds after a life-changing event.

St. Paul reminds us that we have died, and we have been raised with Christ in our baptism. This great gift gives us the courage to be able to live our lives without worrying about the past, or fearing the future, just concentrating on the present. We can let go of our fears and trust that Jesus has us in His loving arms. We can be free to be the best people that we can be; we can reach out to help others and work for the best for others, knowing that the Holy Spirit is with us and leading us.



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