"Fresh Air"

Roman 8:6-11

Inspired by John Wesley’s Sermon, “The Lord Our Righteousness”
By: Michael Roberts, in collaboration with Lauren DeLano

“I need some fresh air.” Have you ever said that? Have you ever been so “worked up” about something, or upset or frustrated, that you just had to get out and literally breathe in some fresh air. You may not have realized it, but in that moment, you were doing something spiritual. In the original languages of the Bible, the word for breath, wind, air, and spirit are all the same word. To breathe is to receive God’s Spirit, God’s life within us.

There is also something spiritual about getting away, getting outside of our frustration and angst, and gaining a new perspective, or seeing life from a different angle. Did you know that the word “anxiety” literally means to “constrict” or to “choke?” In anxiety, our options narrow. When we are anxious, it is hard to imagine new possibilities. We need fresh air. Without it, we can get so stuck – stuck in a narrow political perspective, stuck in a narrow religious perspective, stuck in a constricted and anxiety-filled emotional perspective. We can get stuck in our own bubbles and turn so inward upon ourselves that we can’t even begin to see the possibilities around us. We need fresh air. In a physical sense, fresh air literally cleans our blood cells and allows them to carry life to the brain and body. Spiritually, fresh air reduces stress and opens up new possibilities, new ways of seeing whatever we might be facing. We need fresh air.

In our scripture lesson today, the Apostle Paul uses the word “mindset” to get at the possibilities before us. He says, “to set your minds on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. When Paul uses the term “flesh” he is not saying that our “bodies” are bad, or that we should not care about our bodies. No, our bodies are temples of God, places where God dwells. In the scriptures, we are described as “flesh and blood,” with blood symbolizing what gives life to flesh. Flesh without blood is dead. The same can be said for “Body and Soul.” Body without Soul, is death. In our constricted bubbles, we too easily set our minds on flesh without spirit or life.

When our mind is set only on the flesh, on what is temporary and finite, and we start to expect that to give us life and peace, then we are in trouble. This mindset can never bring the kind of life that God wants for us. God wants flesh filled with the Spirit. God wants life within these bodies, as he says so later in this lesson.

And so hear the call. Stop giving your lives to what brings division, decay, disease, destruction. Turn (or repent), says the gospel. See the possibilities of life and love, peace and God’s presence before you. Set your mind on things of the Spirit. Breathe into that.

The Apostle Paul says that the Spirit is life to us because of the righteousness of Christ. It is important for us to understand what the term “righteousness” means – what it is and what it is not. What is the righteousness of Christ? The term “righteousness” describes a “right relationship” with God, a relationship where we are aligned or connected to God in such a way that God’s life flowed through us. Jesus is the model of this for us. He is the image of God for us, and this means that he reflects who we are called to be. John Wesley defined Christ’s righteousness as “love, reverence, resignation to the Father, humility, meekness, gentleness, and love for lost humanity.” It includes a willingness to suffer and to give one’s life for the sake of love. In Christ’s righteousness, we see what it means to be truly human.

So, from this we infer what “righteousness” is not. It is not “self-righteousness.” Righteousness is not affirming that we are “right.” When that becomes our mindset, we create division and disease in the world. I am “right” means you are “wrong.” Division. Distrust. Disease. Sadly, religion has a way of cultivating this type of self-righteousness.

John Wesley wrote about this in the sermon that inspires us today. He says, “How dreadful are the contests that arise about religion ... instead of joining together against the common enemy, we turn our weapons to each other, and so hinder the great work of our common Lord.” What brings us down into this evil fray?” Wesley’s answer is our attachment to opinions and particular modes of faith expression or styles of worship. It is OK for you to love worship a particular way, just don’t expect everyone else to want it the same way. It is great that you have particular theological opinions. Your voice is needed. Just don’t expect everyone else to say the same thing. Seeing your way as the only way is not a righteous thing. That only takes away the possibility to love. When we start to do that, we need fresh air.

In Wesley’s sermon, he speaks of disagreements with the Roman Church and the Reformed Church (that would be many like Baptists around here), and he concludes that he knows many in those churches whose “heart” is right. He trusts that God sees through all of our theological mistakes to the heart. He affirms that the Spirit of Christ can shine even through our limited and conditioned perspective. We see that when we are able to set our minds on the Spirit rather than the flesh.

In just a moment you are invited to change your perspective, to literally get up out of your seat, and to come forward to the Altar and to receive God’s blessings into your flesh. May this be a place of fresh air for you. May the Holy Spirit breathe life and peace into you. Take a moment before you receive these gifts and breathe in some fresh air. Amen.