At the time of writing this essay, the nation in which I find myself a pastor is roughly nine days into the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nine days ago, the president announced a travel ban on flights from Europe, and since then, every single day, if not moment has revealed new restrictions on our movement. These new restrictions have dictated the physical distance we have to keep from one another. At the same time, the reality that all of this has come to a head during the Lenten season has not escaped my view. It’s to both of these contexts that the richness of Paul’s words in this particular passage to the Romans provide hope.
Paul presents two distinct possibilities for human existence in this passage: 1) setting the mind on the flesh, and 2) setting the mind on the Spirit. Setting the mind on the flesh is a dangerous place to be in general. It’s a selfish place to be. It’s a lifestyle of living for ourselves and looking for provision out of our own resources. This way leads to death, and separation from God. It brings death, it’s hostile to God, and when we live according to the flesh we simply can’t please God. Our whole posture is bent toward sinful desires when we live according to the flesh. We attempt to satisfy ourselves and our own needs. Setting the mind on the flesh during a pandemic is also a dangerous place to be. It leads to survival of the fittest, and looking out for our own interests. It leads to empty shelves in grocery stores.
Setting the mind on the Spirit on the other hand, brings life and peace. Yes, it brings life and peace to ourselves as we are continually renewed by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God, but this posture also brings about life and peace for our neighbors. This posture of setting our mind on the Spirit can’t help but be shared, because there is simply not enough space within ourselves for the love of God to be kept. When we live this way we have reconciliation with God and with others. It brings a real, tangible quality of life now, as well as hope for the resurrection in the future. When we are filled with the Spirit of God, we pursue the path of peace with everyone, both inside and outside of the Church community. Setting the mind on the Spirit during a pandemic says a lot more about who we are, than what we don’t do. It means we are people of hope. People of shared resources. People who check in on our neighbors and seek to love as well as we can, even when darkness is all around.
So, which existence will we live into, flesh or Spirit? As we live into the Spirit life now, we experience freedom from sin, we’re empowered to live a sanctified life, and we’re promised resurrection hope in the future. It is possible, even for us who claim to be followers of Jesus to still choose the ways of the flesh. However, it’s also possible to fall deeper in love with Jesus through the power of the Spirit in each and every moment. This leads to life for ourselves and for others.
Lent is a season to acknowledge our sinfulness and our mortality. What Paul does here though is remind us that sinfulness no longer has the final say. For those who are in Christ Jesus, we’re set free from indwelling sin! As we’re set free, we now become a place where God may dwell by the power of God’s Spirit. Each and every moment, God’s dwelling within us can become more and more permanent.
Even with God on the throne of our hearts, our mortal bodies still exists. However, the flesh and way of sin no longer rules, and we are promised a transformed Resurrection future. Through the Spirit, that future starts now! Through the Spirit, that future happens even in a global pandemic. So church, may we live into this hopefully very temporary new normal, setting our minds on the Spirit. When we’re tempted to give into fear and complete social distancing, may we set our mind on the Spirit that is life and peace! Church, we are on the 4th Sunday of Lent, and this year, it’s especially hard. However, remember that the journey of the cross brought us love in the clearest possible picture, and love had the final word through the power of the Resurrection.