Living While Dying

Romans 6:1-11

I think many if not all of us know why we are here today, but just in case, would you read me the words of the apostle Paul to his faith family in Corinth? The scripture is on the screen.

Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time—this gospel that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I’m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy, that you’re in this for good and holding fast.)

The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that Jesus the Christ died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence.

But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste.[1]


Can I admit that it is rather strange for me to be preaching to those whom I don’t know, at least many of you I have yet had the privilege of conversing. Preaching is one of those things, to me anyway, that is much more personal than general. Truth is truth as they say, but no truth was spoken generally in our scriptures, truth was always shared in specific context to specific people. Not knowing everyone, yet desiring to speak to each of us, I have prayerfully prepared for these few moments, and thus for you. That said, please do forgive me if any of my assumptions appear to not include you; it is unintentional I assure. 

I know that many of you are in this following Jesus life for good and holding fast, but I also know some of us may be unsure what you believe about part or all of what Paul has just said is the message which gives us sure footing and saves. The very reason for our getting together this morning. There is no shame in questioning. The shame would be in failing to ask the question to others, especially to God. Now I am not going to try and convince you this morning one way or the other; rather, if you’ll permit, and as Paul said, because God was so gracious and so very generous through the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection even to those of us who recognize we deserve it the least; I am going to invite you and all of us to not let such grace go to waste today. That’s our hope, to take advantage of, put to good use, grace.

Do you mind if I ask you a question? In our faith family we ask a lot of questions of one another, scripture, God and our faith, and usually we have some pretty good and helpful discussions. So my question this morning for us: Why is the cross the symbol most associated with our faith? Have you ever thought much about it much? The simplest answer is that Jesus died on one, but Jesus did a lot of things that never made it to wall decoration and tattoo status. So, why the cross? Why not the empty tomb? After all the empty tomb is what we gather here to celebrate this morning with nearly 2 billion others around the globe. Yet, it is the cross that is the symbol which marks our faith. Faith, you know, is that belief in something more true than perception of conditions often allows us access to. How is the cross the symbol of something profoundly true? No, the cross is a terribly horrid symbol of faith when you really think about it. The grotesque representation of what one human can do to another hanging from your neck or plastered to the back of your car. And yet, the cross is a perfectly appropriate symbol for death; the very thing it was designed to bring about rather slowly.

Death, for most in our time and place in history, is not something we dwell on. It rarely comes up in day to day conversation, at least the ones I have! Now, I am certain that there are some here this morning that may think of death as something near. The reality of death is not distant, whether your own or a loved one’s. Yet, for most of our faith family, our youthfulness stays off the conversations of death more often than not. Unless of course you are a fan of the show The Walking Dead. You know the apocalyptic drama in which some disease has kept the dead from dying fully. Probably not a show you thought would be mentioned on Easter Sunday! I get why most would laugh or cringe at the thought of me or any pastor watching this show, but seriously, once you get past the whole zombie thing, the show is really trying to answer the question: “How will we live while dying?” In the show death is unavoidable, there is no cure, and any attempts to overcome have long been abandoned. Death is in them and all around them in plain sight each and every day. With death staring back at us, how shall we live? That’s the question the show is asking.

The reality is that we are not that different from the characters in the show. Death is unavoidable, there is no cure; yet we do everything we can to keep death from view, don’t we? For the last century plus we humans, and especially we Americans and Dallasites, have been active in our attempts to defeat death, to cure this illness that takes each of us—whether through anti-aging whatevers, to medical breakthroughs, diets and fitness, to creating parenting safety bubbles, to fictional and faith based obsession with the other worldly next life. Death is to be avoided at all cost or becomes often becomes a spiritual parody. Now, I am not saying that there is anything inherently wrong in our preserving and prolonging life. Quite the opposite actually. Our scriptures teach that life, all life, every life, is beautiful, sacred and to be treasured as the truest of gifts. Why wouldn’t we want to overcome the enemy to life then? We want to do defeat death by not dying, at least keeping it at bay as long as possible, or pretend that death is somehow a friend rather than loss (no matter how “natural” it is or what comes next).

But is that what our scriptures and the life and death of Jesus reveal? An avoiding or sentimentalizing of death? How does Jesus overcome death? Many of you know the answer, even if you don’t believe it fully, you have seen the symbols everywhere. Jesus defeated death by dying on a cross. And, he overcame the sting of death by rising again. Death in relation to Jesus has no victory. What it takes it cannot keep. Death has no sting—a sting does not hurt when you are dead, but is the pangs of living while dying—that sting of death called sin is removed; as the apostle Paul so aptly reminds us just a few verses later (1 Cor. 15:55-58), read with me on the screen,  

Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is you string? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.


Now sin is word we need not pass over too quickly. The basic idea of sin is that you live as if you do not need God, nor want God, nor recognize (or worse, attempt to control) the way our good God has ordered a full and abundant life in relationship with him. Sin is ultimately the dis-association with God; whether the relationship is cast aside out of ignorance, walked away from out of rebellion, or mechanized through religion. This non-relational state reduces life to naiveté (assuming you are in control of life and death, good and evil) or fearfulness (death remains your enemy and life is lived not to die). Yet, the dying and rising of Jesus changes things, all things. That’s why today matters for us. Did you know this day sets our calendar as Christians? This day marks the begging of the life of faith this year for you, a year in which we can live in our dying, starting today.

That’s what resurrection is about. Not, not dying or dying only at the end. Resurrection, Jesus’ life that came through death gives us another way to live. Death has no victory because it leads to resurrection. Sin has no lasting sting because the sting has been removed, like the stinger of wasp, from the flesh which it attacks. We can be ones who live in our dying. Daily a cross (that symbol that marks us), daily a death, and daily a new life; resurrection.

The renowned American author Flannery O’Connor once wrote to a friend who, I think like many of us if we are honest, struggle with the reality that the cross portrays and thus we try and pretty it up in as many ways imaginable. O’Connor says,

“Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violence which precede and follow them…I have found that violence [like Jesus upon the cross] is strangely capable of returning [people] to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace. Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work. This idea, that reality is something to which we must be returned at considerable cost, is one which is seldom understood by the casual reader [of scripture or humanity], but it is one which is implicit in the Christian view of the world.”[2]


This reality of living while dying that we must be returned to each day at great cost, preparing us to accept our moment of grace is…a King on the cross.  And, the reason, I think, that of all the things Jesus did, the horrible image marks our faith because the cross becomes an intrusion of grace. An image that allows us to “practice resurrection”.

The apostle Paul once again, trying to not waste grace so generously bestowed upon him by the dead and risen Jesus is once again helpful for you and I. Read with me the text on the screen,

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of gracea new life in a new land!

That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.

Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life [this life without God or trying to control God—this relation-less life]—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.[3]


Dead to sin, alive to God. Living while dying! Dead to a way of life without God, using God or controlling God. Alive to a new life in the strangely new and fresh grace-sovereign country called today. A life in which you and I are invited to live new—not a slightly elevated—but totally different! Perhaps this will help us get the picture. Wendell Berry, the famous farmer philosopher, author and activist once coined a poem that impart says[4],

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute.
Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns…

…Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.


Practice resurrection. Live differently because you are living while dying. “We live our lives in the practice of what we do not originate and cannot anticipate. When we practice resurrection, we continuously enter what is more than we are. When we practice resurrection, we keep company with Jesus, alive and present, who knows where we are going better than we do, which is always ‘from glory to glory’”[5]…from dying to new life.

Each morning we awake to a day called today, we are invited into this resurrection, this living while dying that we can hardly anticipate. This intrusion of grace, readied for our moment by the symbol of our faith—the cross—to live in our dying to a way of life without God or trying to control God. This living in our dying to that which clings so tightly to us which keeps us from living truly free. This living in our dying to our obsession with self to the neglect of others. This living in our dying with Christ so that we too might share in his rising.

For those that know me, I am not one to supplement the necessary nourishment of processing truth in relationship and conversation in the Spirit with the scriptures and community by providing much direct application. Spoils all the fun! In that way I have failed my “preacher’s training”! Yet, this morning, might I help you out a bit to chew on reality that the cross and resurrection awake you to at such great cost? You know something needs to die so that you might live differently. Death is stinging you still in part because you have been enculturated to live by fighting off death rather than dying to live. What needs to die?


  • Death to life in which God is absent, hated or used?
  • Death to life in which you are only what you are in the eyes of others, what your boss, spouse, co-workers, or social network say you are?
  • Death to life that is fleeting and floating, un-tethered and without soul?
  • Death to life that is controlled by fear or fearful because you have no control?
  • Death to a life restricted by religion without relationship?
  • Death to life lived so focused on yourself that you are unable to see others, and especially God present in front of you?
  • Death to a life lived in the pursuit of what you are told to pursue rather than what created to pursue, who you have been made to be?
  • Death to sin, alive to Christ.


My exhortation, don’t fight death; rather receive it. Receive the death of Jesus that overcomes as you receive his life with abundantly more than you can ask or imagine. Let this day of new life mark a new year in Jesus with others who are practicing resurrection with you.  

There is something we do every time we gather as a faith family to help us return to the reality which the cross and resurrection awake us to. In just a moment I will invite all of us to share in this family practice we call communion.

Perhaps you are here and nothing I have mentioned has made much sense (I do hope it is not true, but I not naïve) or you simply feel that you do not have much need for a life with Jesus. If so, you are welcome to simply observe what we are about to do. Taking bread broken like the body of Jesus was broken on our behalf and drinking juice like blood that was board out by Jesus so that his life could become our life. Such symbols help us remember that whatever dying might cost, it is always followed in living, now and forever. So, no matter what you feel, I would encourage you to receive this intrusion of grace this morning, to receive Jesus’ death as your death, and receive Jesus’ life as our life.


[1] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (1 Co 15:1–10). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[2] Flannery O’Connor, “A Reasonable Use of the Unreasonable” published in, Flannery O’Connor: spiritual writings, 137-138.

[3] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Ro 6:1–11). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[4] Wendell Berry, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”, accessed here:

[5] Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection: a conversation on growing up in Christ, 8.

Praying Glory

John 12

It is hard to believe that we are but a week away from Easter Sunday, the morning of resurrection. The day that we set as the measure our life of faith, the day of new life. Some five days before that time altering morning, about this time some 2,000 plus years ago, Jesus was entering Jerusalem to shouts of acclaim, “Hosanna!”, “God save us!”, “Salvation is here”! (Jn. 12:12-19). The message of love and peace, of sin and forgiveness, of a Father mighty and intimate, and a way of life with abundance and purpose has been spread like seeds across a tilled field. The miracle acts of power and promise, dominion and care penetrating the soil like rain ready to nourish a harvest for the nations! It seemed that the “whole world was going after [this Jesus]” (12:19), quite literally! Read with John 12:20-26.

Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.”


Gentiles were coming! Greeks. The whole world was coming to see Jesus! This was the moment they had been waiting for (kind of), the moment in which this budding revolt would take flight to the ends of the earth. Astonished and a bit intimidated by the interest in Jesus, after all, these were not the kinds of people expected to ask about Jesus, Philip snags Andrew to go deliver the apparent good news. The world is about to change as Jesus is revealed to all! And Jesus knows it, but in a different way than his disciples and the Greeks. Keep reading with me in verse 23.

And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified [his grand light beheld]. Truly, truly [listen carefully, don’t miss this], I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life [a cultural hyperbole saying that loss of life is essential for new life]. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also, if anyone serves me, the Father will honor [glorify] him.


Jesus has been for a while now, talking about his death. Especially from the point of his raising of Lazarus in chapter 11, and Jesus’ own interpretation of Mary’s anointing him for the “day of my burial” at the beginning of this chapter 12. Jesus knows what awaits him in just a few evenings. Betrayal, abandonment, agony and death. And yet, when it seems like the message and the miracles are beginning to work, he does what Jesus often does, he confounds us! He says to his disciples and to us,

You are right! It is time for the world to know the glory of God through me. It is time for me die.


Glory and dying. Two terms often linked in history by the Romans, Greeks and Vikings (amongst others) to signify the honor of dying for one’s people in battle. Yet Jesus’ death would be anything but honorable [tragic perhaps with a false trail and religious & political manipulation] and there would be no fight [from Jesus or allowed by his followers]. How then could Jesus death bring about glory?

Glory is a word often used but, forgive me if I am wrong, often without much thought. What does the word glory mean to you? What images pop up in your head and memories in your thoughts when you hear the word “glory”?

Gloryis a big word. “We cannot comprehend glory in bits and pieces”[1]. Not a little bit here and there. Glory is overwhelming. Glory is a word that brings everything into perspective, sheds light, like a light shone into a darkness with such overpowering brightness that it seems like darkness is fleeing from it. Majesty, splendor, some sort of brilliant light, are often the ideas of glory. And what does light do? It illuminates, it provides clarity and exposure. It is a word that brings the beginning and the ending together. A word that says, “THIS IS IT!” A “word that gathers to a greatness all the bits and pieces of our lives into the wholeness and completion of…”[2] God’s life; the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus.

This is the glory that Jesus speaks of, a magnificent going on, a transforming, enlivening, wonderful coming together that has to do God, and to which we are prayed into by Jesus in just a few days (or chapters!)

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one…so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (Jn. 17:20-22, 23b-24)


Glory is what Jesus was after and what he desired for us; to live an illuminous life, a big life. After all, what is the chief end of human kind? That we should glorify God and enjoy him forever. Glory, “THIS IS IT” life! A life that requires death, burial and resurrection. A big life through death? Not exactly what most of us consider when we think of glory.

Do you “suppose that the Christian life is your biological, intellectual, moral life raised a few degrees above the common stock? Or, do you think that prayer is a kind of mechanism, like a car jack, that you can use to lever yourself to a higher plane where you have better access to God?”[3] What if this life and prayer are an exercise in glory?

I’ll be the first to admit, that a life like Jesus’ is intimidating. As freeing as I know life to be when beginning and ending come together, a dying to rise is not all that alluring. Perhaps that is why some who believed Jesus did not share their belief of their minds in the actions of their lives, loving more the story enlightened by the glory of others rather than the beginning, ending and in-between illuminated by God (Jn. 12:42-43).

Isaiah said these things because he saw [Jesus’] glory and spoke of him. Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man [the light shown on them by others] more than the glory that comes from God.


The words and actions of Jesus tell a different story than the words and actions that our culture often tells us. “I become less. Instead of grasping for what I value more tightly, I let it go. ‘Blessed are the poor in sprit’ (Matt. 5:3) is one way Jesus said it. ‘Those who want to save their life will lose it: and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25) is yet another.”[4] Add to that the exhortation to take up our cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23), and you have a daunting invitation. How can we accept it? How will we persevere? Through prayer.

With the weight of world upon his shoulders and the anguish of his death looming immediately around the next turn, Jesus prays in verses 27-28,

Now my soul is troubled

Quite literally, Jesus is overcome with “revulsion, horror, anxiety, agitation”[5] at his impending crucifixion. Wouldn’t you be? The desire of Jesus to glorify his Father in life and death does not remove the real emotions and pangs of such loving obedience. Jesus is not stoic. He is not disconnected from his emotions. He is not boastfully heroic in his sacrifice. He confesses his un-sinnful reservations at the weight of glory. Unashamed before his Father, he is exposed and continues to process in prayer…


And what shall I say? Father, save me from this?

Jesus knows beyond any doubt that his death will save the world, but is nonetheless overcome by the cost. What should he do? Should he pray for rescue, for deliverance from the cost of glory?

Jesus ask himself a question and gives himself a hypothetical answer, demonstrating his genuine humanity and at the same time his driving love for humanity, for no sooner has he voiced the hypothetical prayer[6] than he utters the actual prayer…


But for this purpose I have come to this hour.

Jesus knows why he has come, why he has served and sacrificed and loved. “To pray for rescue would be to reject his basic identity, his life as a gift for others, his life sacrificed in love so that all could live saved. It would be a prayer that violates the very nature of prayer”[7] as a response to God’s glory as he concludes…


Father, glorify your name.

Father do what you will do. Show yourself through me. Let light shine forth in death so that there might be new life and more light.



One pastor notes,

“The prayer that Jesus did not pray is as important as the prayer he did pray. That Jesus who ‘in every respect has been tempted as we are’ (Heb. 4:15), did not pray ‘Father, save me from this hour,’ makes it possible for me also not to pray it, to reject the me-first prayer, to reject the self-serving prayer, to refuse to use prayer as a way to avoid God[‘s]”[8] glory though us.


There are a thousand little deaths required to love God and neighbors as ourselves, to live for someone other than ourselves, to want something for others more than ourselves. Jesus is not experiencing agony and anxiousness because of generally difficult life circumstances, he is suffering because he is being obedient, even to the point of death on the cross. To admit the unsettled stomach in the midst of such sure death to come in obedience—a death we are expected to join in on “If anyone serves me, he must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also”—such angst is neither wrong nor unexpected. The expectation is to pray the anxiousness and agony with Jesus and like Jesus, pray a recognition that this is what you were made for—destined and formed for good works such as this (Eph. 2:8-10) as lives lived as gifts for others—praying that Father be glorified in your obedience.

Jesus’ prayer was answered, did you know that. We read in verse 29,

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”


God’s grace was to respond to Jesus’ prayer for our sake. To know that his life lived (‘have glorified’) and death to come (‘will glorify again’) is indeed the beginning and end, the THIS IS IT life. A glory that will now overwhelm that which attempts to steal God’s glory, so that all might feel their way to God, through Jesus and you and I.

This praying glory, a constant dying in obedience so new life be received for the sake of others is followed up with this invitation to live gloriously (seeing the beginning and the end) in verse 35,

The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons and daughters of light.

Will you, will we, be ones who pray glory, not rescue? Recognizing the beginning and the ending in Jesus for the sake of others? Rejecting the me-first prayer, rejecting the self-serving prayer, refusing to use prayer as a way to avoid God’s glory; rather than beholding glory. Walking in glorious light as children of glory. Two questions to reflect back to God in prayer:

  • What do you need to stop praying rescue from, and begin praying glory in?
  • What do you need to believe to walk in the light as you pray glory?


[1] Peterson, Tell it Slant: a conversation on the language of Jesus in his stories and prayers, 207

[2] Ibid. 208

[3] Ibid, 209.

[4] Ibid.

[5] D. A. Carson, D. A., The Gospel according to John, 440.

[6] Andreas Köstenberger, in his commentary John, 381, claims “The deliberative subjunctive εἴπω (eipō, shall I say) and the strong adversative ἀλλά (alla, but) both point “to a hypothetical rather than an actual prayer” that Jesus considers praying but rejects, expressing the “natural human shrinking from death” (Morris 1995: 528–29). The saying underscores the genuineness of Jesus’ humanity and points to his substitutionary sacrifice (2 Cor. 5:21).”

[7] Peterson, 210.

[8] Ibid.