Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.
I believe that a spiritual curiosity about the New Creation is key to understanding salvation. I also believe we are in urgent need of divinely initiated salvific acts sustained by communities of faith if we are to liberate creation from systems of extraction and consumption.
Based on biblical study and spiritual reflection, right now, I understand the New Creation as the continuation of our relationship with Jesus post-resurrection. We are invited, upon Jesus’ death, to dwell in the New Creation initiated in the resurrection so that we may continue to live in a relationship with Christ. Jesus transforms into Christ and in turn, we must transform our understanding of what it means to continue our relationship to the Risen Christ.
In the absence of the physical presence of Jesus, the New Creation is a “way” of relating to creation through which we understand our place and purpose as creatures. We are converted in a manner through which we see the world as Jesus sees the world and in so doing, we dwell in Christ which is the New Creation. Our voluntary belonging in the New Creation is our commitment to Christ. This belonging is our reconciliation to the resurrected Jesus which completely transforms a person from one condition to another.
The relevancy of this focus on the New Creation was made startlingly clear in last week’s Washington Post article which bore the title, “Intelligence forecast sees a post-coronavirus world upended by climate change and splintering societies.” The article, based on the recent release of the National Intelligence Council’s quadrennial “Global Trends,” reports a world unsettled by the coronavirus pandemic, the ravages of climate change-which propel mass migration-and a widening gap between what people demand from their leaders and what they can deliver. The authors of the “Global Trends” report wrote of a “looming disequilibrium between existing and future challenges and the ability of institutions and systems to respond.”
This disequilibrium caused by the inability of systems and institutions to respond to societal challenges was evident in our country’s failed response to the COVID-19 pandemic. When studying the factors correlating to a country’s response to the pandemic, a recent report that found that the outcomes hinged primarily on how egalitarian a country is. This report revealed that “Countries that prioritize the well-being of society, in general, have fared better over the past year than more individualistic cultures.”
The researchers identified two cultural variables with a statistically significant effect on death rate: individualism and “power distance” – a measure of power disparities among the citizenries. When both elements are extremely high, as in the United States, that culture becomes a threat to Covid-19 survival. The average death rate predicted by the model under such conditions is 28.79 per 100,000. When both are extremely low – as in Trinidad and Tobago or New Zealand – culture aids the pandemic response. The average predicted death rate under such conditions is 1.89 per 100,000.
The congruency between this report and the predictions in Romans is worthy of attention. In today’s passage, Paul lays out a predicted relationship between belief, behavior, and outcome that mirrors the findings in the report above. The thinking of the flesh leads to death, but the thinking of the spirit leads to life and peace. Those who live not for themselves but for the Spirit, for the community, will experience salvation. Those who live to gratify only themselves will experience death.
The way in which we understand the world and our place and purpose in this world dictates the outcome not only of our lives but of the lives of others in our communities.
In this morning’s portion of Romans, Paul highlights the importance of our thought processes rather than on our outward actions. For Paul, walking according to the Spirit or to the flesh are each characterized by a certain way of thinking or a particular way of understanding the order of the world.
This means that it is the Christian mind that must become the initial, the transformative, locus of renewal. The conversion Jesus requires from us to experience salvation is a complete transformation of worldview from one of personal satisfaction and death to one of peace-making and life. This “way” of living in the world is the manifestation of what it means to live in Christ.
Jesus makes clear that there is no relationship to the Father unless it is through Jesus and that there is no relationship to Jesus, post-resurrection unless we are (1) present to the New Creation and (2) participating in the New Creation.
Two spiritual practices for conversion into post-resurrection life rise to the forefront.
- The first spiritual practice for the necessary cranial conversion is learning to be fully present to what is just as it is.
- The second spiritual practice is to participate as peacemakers in a world where we are fully present.
The first spiritual practice may sound easy. However, to sit and be present in the world without shutting down, tuning out, or going crazy is surprisingly difficult. This commitment to full presence is hard because we notice things that irritate us or demand attention from us and we have been conditioned to react, to respond. But as soon as we respond to the stimulus, we lose our presence in our surroundings and enter our own reality where we attempt to manipulate, control and manufacture surroundings for our own comfort or consumption.
When we act before we have been present, we contribute before we understand.
Sitting still and letting the world be just as it is a practice that initiates a new way of being present to and engaging with the world. In our practice, we learn that we have the strength and the perseverance to be present to the pain and brokenness that we cannot fix. It is through this practice that we can work in solidarity with a Christ who positioned himself on the cross to model solidarity with the oppressed and abused. Resurrection was possible because Jesus was able to be fully present to the pain and injustice of the world. In the New Creation, we too are called to practice presence in such a way that we can stand in solidarity with those Jesus came to save…including ourselves.
The second is a spiritual practice for our conversion into the New Creation flows out of our strengthened ability to be fully present to all that is just as it is.
Participation in the New Creation is not a decision we make but a way of living in the world. In our full presence, we absorb the divine reality that all of creation is connected and that we are a part of that creation. We relocate ourselves in the divine order of creation and seek not to live for our own gratification but to live for the healing and restoration of the world. Full presence to the world as it is permits us to participate in the cultivation of the world as it is meant to be in Christ… not as we want it to be or even need it to be for our own comfort or consumption.
Participating in a world where we are fully present to the pain and brokenness in our communities is the antidote to despair. This combination of presence and participation is our dwelling in Christ Jesus because this dwelling is the doorway to salvation manifest in Creation’s return to wholeness. The link between these two practices of conversion not only produces a worldview congruent with Christ’s but also reveals the purpose and promise of human participation in Christ’s New Creation.
In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer presents a research study developed to determine the best way to harvest sweetgrass. Two different styles of harvesting sweetgrass were measured alongside a control crop that remained untouched by human hands. The results of the study showed that while there were no significant differences between the two crops harvested, the crop that went unharvested suffered greatly. These scientific findings suggest what other indigenous practices prove, that the proper management of nature by humans is key to ensuring a healthy, vibrant and diverse environment. That the way we think about and participate in creation dictates whether we experience life or death.
In his work on Moral Landscapes Amidst Changing Ecologies, Enrique Salmon, explains that by allowing Native peoples of the Mojave Desert to come and collect the pods from mesquite trees, the desert increased in biodiversity. This increase in biodiversity benefits humans, animals, insects, and plants. The pruning of the trees and the collection of the pods was good for the people because this was an important part of their food source. But Salmon further explains that by collecting the pods the mesquite trees grow more pods, more space was created for small mammals to move in the mesquite groves, and competition for the mesquite trees and other useful herbaceous plants decreased.
The finding of the sweetgrass study and the mesquite tree pods in the Mojave Desert are two examples suggesting that not only do humans have the capacity to heal and help create but that when humans neglect their care for creation, death and destruction result. Two outcomes. Two ways of understanding and participating in the world. One nourishes life. One destroys life. To live in the way of the Spirit is to live in harmony with the ecosystems we inhabit. It is a mutually beneficial relationship dependent on our ability to be fully present to the world as it is and to care for the world based on the teachings of its present reality. Enrique Salmon describes this relational caretaking manifesting for Native peoples in the way they think about and interact with new, invasive plant species.
“When we have new plants, invasive species show up, we don’t think of them in a negative way we think of is part of a natural process. And then we come up with ways to incorporate them and adapt to them in our practices and in our stories. We even connect them to our languages.”
The incorporation of all life into our lives is the conversion Christ calls us to in the New Creation. In our conversion, old patterns of living pass away, and practices of peaceful interconnection bring life where there once was death and destruction. This reconciliation is the defining act of God in a familial or friendship environment where there has been a restoration of a broken relationship.
Salmon describes such a reconciliation as a product of “an awareness that life in any environment is viable only when humans view the life surrounding them as kin. The kin, or relatives, include all the natural elements of an ecosystem. Indigenous people are affected by and, in turn, affect the life around them. The interactions that result from this “kincentric ecology” enhance and preserve the ecosystem…Without human recognition of their role in the complexities of life in a place, the life suffers and loses its sustainability.”
Though we face incredible challenges, the hope of the New Creation has been placed upon our community so that we may have a place and a purpose to ground us when all else feels unstable. Whether we choose to participate with full presence or escape in a consumer-driven denial, we will impact the viability of creation.
In the disequilibrium of the 21st century, the trajectory of salvation truly rests in our response to Paul’s question from antiquity. Will we live for the flesh, placing practical limits on what our imaginations believe is possible? Or will we live in the Spirit, participating with the belief that through Christ, all things are possible?