Sermons

Sun, Jun 22, 2014

Dying and rising with Christ

Series:Sermons

As many of you know, I’m a freediver.

Some of you may have some idea what that means…

but others probably wouldn’t.

One way to describe freediving would be as an “extreme” form of snorkelling.

In theory, both involve diving under the surface of the water while holding one’s breath.

But clearly a lot of ‘snorkelers’––

at least based on what I observe in a place like Vanuatu––

simply paddle around on the surface…

and peer into the depths…

but never venture into them.

Freedivers, however, go much deeper…

and stay down, holding their breath, for much longer.

Elite, competitive freedivers are able to do quite remarkable things.

Swimming horizontally underwater, the world record is a staggering two hundred and eighty one metres––

almost six laps of an Olympic pool––

on one breath!

In terms of depth, the current world record is one hundred and twenty-eight metres.

In terms of simple time of breath hold, the world record is a little over eleven and a half minutes.

Of course, to achieve those staggering feats, specialised equipment is use––

long bladed diving fins, almost a metre in length…

and usually made out of carbon-fibre;

or, more frequently now, a large mono-fin––

a bit like a mermaid’s tail;

but also smooth wetsuits that reduce drag;

and weights worn around the neck to counteract the buoyancy of air in the lungs.

Of course, to achieve those staggering feats hours of specialised training is involved:

yoga or stretching…

swimming…

breath holding practice…

carbon-dioxide tolerance training…

lactic acid tolerance training…

and the refining of technique.

But there’s more to it than that.

Perhaps what sets freediving apart from virtually every other sport…

is the mental aspect.

Sure, it involves elements of self-belief, like in other sports.

But the biggest difference is the first thing that you learn as a freediver…

namely…

relaxation.

It’s only possible to freedive by deliberately focussing on your breathing––

breathing slowly, calmly, and deeply…

using your stomach, your diaphragm, and your chest;

by focussing on that you can slow your heart rate…

relax your body…

get rid of any stress…

and enter a meditative state.

Indeed, anxiety, stress, even adrenaline, are a freediver’s worst enemies…

because they consume more oxygen…

limiting time, and depth, and distance.

There are certain physiological changes that happen when you hold your breath underwater…

which do help.

But without the ability to relax, meditate, and mentally switch off…

freediving is impossible.

More than anything else it’s a mental discipline.

 

The human mind––

and the way that it influences or even controls our body––

is an astonishing thing.

Of course, we all know about the placebo effect––

where people in drug trials who are given simple sugar pills…

but, because they believe it to be an efficacious drug, it produces an effect.

Anthropologists also identify what they call the “nocebo” effect…

where someone believes that something will harm them––

like a curse…

or a voodoo spell…

or having a bone pointed at them––

and it does.

But perhaps the most powerful aspect of all is the power of imagination.

As part of their preparation…

elite sports-people often imaginatively visualise their race beforehand.

Many a work of art begins in the imagination of the artist long before brush touches canvas…

or hand touches clay––

and yet, for a good artist, the result is as they imagined.

What we may not always appreciate is the role that imagination plays in religion.

And I don’t mean, by that, the disparaging comments made by cynics and militant atheists…

about ‘imaginary sky-friends’ and the like.

I mean that religion has…

historically…

so often functioned at the level of the imagination.

Not only can it fire the imagination…

but imagination, in turn, can drive religious understanding.

Perhaps we see this well illustrated in the mentality of the ancient Hebrews…

and, especially, in their approach to ritual.

From ancient times their celebration of the Passover––

their primordial foundational myth––

has been chiefly an exercise in religious imagination.

Through the ritualised meal…

with its different symbolic elements…

they weren’t just remembering the story––

in the sense of a mere intellectual recollection.

Rather, they were, imaginatively, living the events.

Not re-living the events…

but living them––

as if for the first time…

as if they, themselves, were taking part.

Indeed, the instructions in their ancient text were to “celebrate as one who had gone out of Egypt”.

Through the symbols and the telling of the story…

they imaginatively lived the event…

and made it their own.

It was as if they, at that very moment, were escaping Egypt.

The point was that––

through this imaginative engagement––

they would live as redeemed people…

they would be thankful to God…

and that mindset would inculcate a certain behaviour and…

correspondingly…

a certain way of life.

 

So, what does all this have to do with our reading this morning…

from Paul’s letter to the Romans?

 

Here, Paul is suggesting that, being a Christian, means a fundamental change of life…

a fundamental reorientation in life.

And, in particular, he links that to baptism.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his”.

Paul, here, is applying that ancient Hebrew way of thinking…

most often seen in the Passover…

to baptism.

He invites us, imaginatively, to live that event as if it were our own.

He invites us to imagine that…

in the death of Jesus…

we, too, died––

died to all that was wrong…

all that was broken…

all that was ungodly in our lives.

And then he invites us to imagine that…

in the resurrection of Jesus…

we, too, have been raised––

raised to new, whole, abundant life.

And, then, he urges us to live out that reality that we imagine.

That, Paul seems to suggest, is the only way that we truly change;

that is the only way to become more Christ-like.

 

For so many of us––

as heirs of the Enlightenment and the Reformation…

and, to a certain extent, even post-modernism––

religion is a purely cerebral affair.

Fundamentally, it’s about what we believe––

by which, I mean, the things to which we give intellectual assent.

Sometimes…

but not always…

that may affect how we live.

For others, religion is a sensory even an aesthetic affair––

it feeds us spiritually while it engages our senses and sensibilities.

But Paul, here, suggests that it’s far more than that––

or that it should be.

It ought to engage us imaginatively.

 

What would happen if we came to worship imaginatively expecting to encounter God…

and imaginatively expecting to be transformed?

 

What would happen if we imaginatively saw ourselves as having died with Christ…

and having been raised to newness of life?

 

We could not stay the same.

The Church would not stay the same.

And our world would definitely not remain the same!

Powered by: truthengaged