Sermon: Pentecost 12, 27 August 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Aidans’s

St Aidan- Romans 12:1-8

-The apostle Paul opens ch12 of his letter to the Roman Christians with the exhortation;

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1

-Both of our parish’s patron saints fulfilled this exhortation.

-St Alban literally and violently as he became the first English martyr,

-And St Aidan through a life of devotion, teaching and witness to our Lord Jesus Christ.

-Once again I’ve turned to the Venerable Bede and his Ecclesiastical History of the English people,

-With a little assistance from Professor Google!!!

 

-Not much is known of the early life of St Aidan,

-But he comes to prominence,

-Through the desire of the newly appointed king of Northumbria, Oswald,

-Who vowed to bring Christianity back to his people.

-Oswald called upon his connections within Iona’s monastic community to send missionaries for this task.

-The first was a bishop called Corman,

-Who Bede describes as a;

“man of more harsh disposition,312 who, after preaching for some time to the English and meeting with no success, not being gladly heard by the people, returned home, and in an assembly of the elders reported, that he had not been able to do any good by his teaching to the nation to whom he had been sent, because they were intractable men, and of a stubborn and barbarous disposition.” ChV,p146

-A council was called in the monastery to determine what was to be done.

-During those debates Aidan spoke up saying;

“Methinks, brother, that you were more severe to your unlearned hearers than you ought to have been, and did not at first, conformably to the Apostolic rule, give them the milk of more easy doctrine, till, being by degrees nourished with the Word of God, they should be capable of receiving that which is more perfect and of performing the higher precepts of God.” ChVp146

-In a classic case of ‘he who has the vision has the job’,

-Or maybe more accurately,

-‘Yeah, well if you can do better, why don’t you?’

-The council pondered Aidan’s words,

-And decided;

“He was worthy to be made a bishop, and that he was the man who ought to be sent to instruct the unbelieving and unlearned; since he was found to be endued preeminently with the grace of discretion, which is the mother of the virtues.” ChV,p146

-In 635 Aidan arrived in Northumbria and was given the island of Lindisfarne by the king.

 

-Unlike Corman,

-Aidan had a very different method of evangelism,

-Which basically involved getting out and mixing with the locals.

-Bede described it like this;

“He was wont to traverse both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity; to the end that, as he went, he might turn aside to any whomsoever he saw, whether rich or poor, and call upon them, if infidels, to receive the mystery of the faith, or, if they were believers, strengthen them in the faith, and stir them up by words and actions to giving of alms and the performance of good works.” ChV

-Aidan clearly took seriously the apostle Paul’s injunction;

“But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” Romans 10:14-15

-St Aidan had the beautiful feet bringing the good news of Jesus,

-That Isaiah looked forward to.

 

-There’s a misconception within our society that a saint is some form of spiritual superhero.

-It’s probably fuelled whenever the Roman Catholic Church sets in train the process of canonisation,

-With its requirement of the miraculous.

-But the word saint just means a holy one.

-And while even that might appear to back the superhero status,

-Holy means nothing more than set apart for a special purpose.

-So when Paul writes;

“To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 1:1

-He’s referring to the Christians’ status,

-There’s nothing spectacular about them other than their faithfulness to Jesus,

-A faithfulness that every Christian is called to.

-Listen again to how Paul says we should respond to the mercy we’ve been extended by God;

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1

-That encapsulates the idea of setting something apart for a purpose,

-The purpose of worship, literally serving God.

 

-Each Sunday since Pentecost we’ve been hearing from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

-Over those 10 weeks we’ve heard how Paul has explained how we get right with God.

-Of course he started with why it is that we’re not right with God.

-Because of our sins,

-We’re estranged and alienated from God,

-We stand condemned and under the judgement of God.

-But then came the good news;

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans5:6

-And just so we get the point he repeats at the end of ch6;

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

 

-Now that we have this life,

-How should we live?

-The starting point is by offering our whole being over to God.

-Paul has said that while we live in this world we’re going to struggle with our old nature.

-The old self will keep popping back up again.

-Do you find that to be true?

-You do what you know you shouldn’t do,

-And you don’t do what you know you should?

-But unlike the time before we called on the name of Jesus and were saved,

-When we just followed wherever the desires of our bodies and heart led us,

-Through Christ we have the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us,

-Pointing us away from sin,

-Strengthening us in the face of temptation,

-So that we can offer ourselves up to God.

 

-But Paul knows this is not some magical or mystical conversion.

-You actually have to work at it.

-Now let me stress this point,

-We’re put right with God, justified,

-Entirely by God’s freely given grace.

-There’s nothing we can do to save ourselves.

-But we’re sanctified,

-Being made holy or set apart for God,

-By our choices and actions.

-If you want to be the person God created you to be,

-You need to work at it.

-And listen to where Paul says that starts, v2;

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

-It starts with your mind.

 

-If there ever was a message for 21st century Christians this is it.

-The world we live in wants to squeeze us into its mould,

-It wants the follower of Jesus to conform to its standards.

-Whatever the contemporary issue or debate,

-Our culture demands that everyone agree wholeheartedly with the precept that individualism trumps community,

-The rights of the individual are more important than the group,

-That damage is done if someone is denied unfettered personal autonomy.

-But rather than conform to the self-centred, materialistic, consumerist mind of the world,

-Our lives are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

-Why is that renewing important?

-So that we can discern what is good, acceptable and perfect,

-What Paul calls the will of God.

 

-One of the Seasonal Variations in the preface to the Eucharist in the Prayer Book,

-For celebrating saint’s days contains this line;

“And now we give you thanks because you have called us into the fellowship of ‘N’ and all your saints, and set before us the example of their witness and the fruit of their lives.” APBA p159

-Now listen to this summation of the character of St Aidan by Bede;

“Among other lessons in holy living, Aidan left the clergy a most salutary example of abstinence and continence; it was the highest commendation of his doctrine with all men, that he taught nothing that he did not practise in his life among his brethren; for he neither sought nor loved anything of this world,” ChV p145

-He sought nor loved anything of this world.

-He didn’t conform to the world.

-He lived a life transformed by the renewing of his mind,

-A mind transformed by reading and obeying God’s word,

-And teaching others to do the very same thing.

-In an age where even some followers of Jesus deny the authority of the Scriptures if it challenges their own autonomy,

-St Aidan sets before us a challenging example of witness and fruitfulness,

-To living the faith and passing it on to others.

-Here’s another assessment of Aidan from the Venerable Bede;

“His course of life was so different from the slothfulness of our times, that all those who bore him company, whether they were tonsured or laymen, had to study either reading the Scriptures, or learning psalms. This was the daily employment of himself and all that were with him,” chV p145

 

-The monks of Iona chose Aidan for his missionary task,

-Because of his character and the spiritual gifts that they discerned he had.

-Paul reminds his readers that we’re all endowed by God with different spiritual gifts.

-Just like the human body,

-The body of Christ is made up of different parts,

-But all of those parts work together for the purposes of God.

-Just listen to some of these gifts,

-And more importantly,

-How they’re to be used;

“We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.” Romans 12:6-8

-Paul is saying that the real test of a spiritual gift is them being expressed as they ought in serving.

-These gifts can be seen,

-In the their unselfish use by the person endowed with them.

-Just look at those last three gifts to get a clear picture of what that will mean,

-Do you have the gift of giving?

-Then that’ll be seen in generosity.

-Do you have a gift of leading?

-Then that’ll be seen in diligent leadership.

-Do you have the gift of compassion?

-Then that will be expressed in cheerfulness.

-Don’t claim to have compassion for humanity if you whinge and moan about them!

 

-St Alban literally presented his body as a living sacrifice.

-And his faithful witness to Christ resulted in his death.

-St Aidan also presented his body as a living sacrifice,

-As he died to self,

-A challenging concept to our materialistic, individualistic culture that worships the self.

-As followers of Jesus we’re called to that same commitment,

-To break free from conformity to our world.

-God calls us not just to a change of heart,

-But a change of mind.

-Just as we’ve been given a new heart by Jesus’ death and resurrection,

-So through the power of the Holy Spirit,

-We are given a new and renewing mind.

-And as we follow God’s Word and Spirit we will be transformed to his glory.

Sermon: Pentecost 11, 20 August 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Romans11:13-32

-I proposed last week that a person can hold a belief very sincerely,

-But be sincerely wrong.

-That was Paul’s summation of the condition of the Jews.

-They sincerely believed that if they kept the Law they would be right with God.

-Paul acknowledged how sincere,

-Even zealous they were for God,

-But because they thought that righteousness before God could be achieved by keeping the Law,

-They were sincerely wrong.

-It’s only through Jesus and faith in him and his righteousness that we’re declared right before God.

-Sincerity cannot save.

 

-I’m sure we can all agree that a person can be sincere and wrong.

-But what about being sincere and right?

-It’s easy to point to the pitfalls of being sincerely wrong,

-But what happens when you hold a position sincerely,

-And you are right in that sincerity?

-Just as our post-modern culture cannot bear someone challenging another persons beliefs,

-So that culture cannot bear claims of knowing a truth,

-And holding firmly and exclusively to it.

-That’s the point at which a tolerant culture becomes exceptionally intolerant.

 

-Throughout Romans,

-Paul has mounted an argument that the Jews had had great opportunities to know and follow God,

-But they repeatedly and consistently failed in their call as God’s people.

-Ch10 is an explication of that failure,

-Rather than trusting solely in the salvation offered to us through Jesus,

-They trusted in their own righteousness.

-This is the truth Paul will not budge on.

-He was sincerely right.

-So how does he approach this sincerity?

-Well if ch10 is a challenge to the sincerely wrong,

-Ch11 is a challenge to the sincerely right,

-And the demands of God’s grace.

 

-After what appears as a denunciation of the Jews failure to recognise Jesus,

-Ch11 opens with a question that might well have been on the readers mind;

“I ask, then, has God rejected his people?” Romans 11:1

-It’s a pity that those who have instigated pograms and prejudice against the Jews throughout history,

-Stopped reading at the end of Romans 10.

-Paul’s answer is an emphatic;

“By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” Romans11:1-2

-Citing his own heritage Paul,

-Makes the point that Jews will continue to be saved because God has always kept a remnant for himself.

-If God had rejected Israel how is it that he,

-A Jew who had actively rejected Jesus and persecuted his church,

-Could have been saved by God and given the task of proclaiming the good news of Jesus?

-The book of Acts begins with stories of Jews becoming followers of Jesus.

-Before Jesus told his disciples to be witnesses to the ends of the earth,

-He preceded it by saying;

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria,” Acts 1:8

-That was an expanding circle of Jewish populations.

-Judea and Samaria encompassed what was the old Promised Land of Israel.

-Whatever the failings of the Jews,

-God has not finished with them yet.

-And indeed,

-The apostle Peter had to be convinced to move outside his own ethnic circle,

-By a very confronting vision and a visit to a gentile centurion.

 

-And here is the crux of Paul’s argument and what will go on to be a warning.

-He reminds his readers of a depressed Elijah who believes he’s the lone believer in God,

-To which God replied;

-‘I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’

-And Paul concludes from that;

“So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” Romans 11:5-6

-Paul still clings to the firm and divine calling and election of God.

-Even though the Jews may be relying on their own righteousness,

-Paul acknowledges that in God’s grace there will come a turning to Jesus by the Jews.

 

-At the beginning of our reading this morning Paul gives us an insight into his hope for his own people and his missional strategy;

“Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry 14 in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them.”

-This sounds a rather odd strategy to us,

-‘I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous.’

-But to understand how Paul conjoins his ministry to the Gentiles and to the Jews,

-You need to go back to his conversion in Acts 9.

-Saul the Pharisee,

-As he was then,

-Had received orders to go and hunt down the followers of Jesus wherever he could find them.

-On the road to Damascus,

-Jesus appears to him and says;

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Acts 9:4

-Struck blind by this encounter,

-Jesus sends him to Damascus where he’ll be met by a Christian named Ananias.

-Jesus gives a reluctant and protesting Ananias the message;

“Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” Acts 9:15

-Paul is famously known as the apostle to the Gentiles,

-All of his letters are written to gentile churches,

-But did you hear to whom Jesus said he would proclaim his name?

-‘To the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.’

-Paul had a twofold ministry that we sometimes forget,

-As we read of all the run ins Paul has with the Jews in most of the towns he visits.

 

-Now lets return to that thought of being sincerely right.

-I said last week that unlike our post-modern individualistic times,

-In Paul’s day you could hold and espouse a belief or proposition different to another person,

-Without the supposition that you hated or devalued them as persons.

-Remember Paul’s desire for his people to be saved,

-Recall his anguish over their disbelief.

-Paul sincerely believes the Jews are wrong,

-He sincerely believes he’s right and has the commission of the Lord Jesus to back that belief.

-So how does he view his Jewish compatriots,

-Compatriots who you might remember caused him to be imprisoned,

-Conspired to assassinate him,

-Had him whipped on five occasions,

-And attempted a stoning,

-People who clearly hated him?

“So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” Romans 11:11-12

 

-Paul can see the divine plan working out.

-Israel’s rejection of Jesus meant that the apostles were pushed out to preach to the Gentiles.

-Paul refers to Israel’s rejection as a stumbling,

-Not a plummeting off a cliff into an abyss of eternal destruction.

-Their stumbling was part of God’s plan to reach out to the whole world,

-Just as he promised to Abraham all those centuries before;

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing 3. . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:2-3

-Their stumbling meant the riches of the good news of Jesus went out to the whole world,

-Not just Israel.

-And here’s where Paul returns again to the grace and mercy of God in salvation;

“For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead!” Romans 11:15

 

-Life from the dead.

-What does that sound like to you?

-Resurrection!

-The dead coming to life.

-All through Romans Paul has been stressing that point that we’re all dead in our sins.

-The Gentiles are dead because they turned to idols not the Creator.

-The Jews are dead because they clung to their own righteousness not Christ’s.

-The Gentiles came to life when they confessed ‘Jesus is Lord’,

-And believed God raised him from the dead.

-Even though they were outsiders,

-They were grafted onto an olive branch whose rich roots were the patriarchs,

-Adoption to sonship,

-The divine glory,

-The covenants,

-The receiving of the law,

-The temple worship and the promises.

-All the blessings Israel partook of,

-And yet were cut off from because of their rejection of Jesus.

-But God will bring them back.

 

-Just as the wild branch of the Gentiles was grafted in,

-So the dislodged branch of Israel can be regrafted back.

-And that’s Paul’s firm belief.

-When the Jews see how the Gentiles have responded they too will turn back to God.

-We know that’s taken a long time so far,

-But Paul is confident in God’s grace,

-His promises to his people,

-And the display of believing Gentiles,

-That this will create a stirring in the hearts of the Jews to believe in Jesus.

 

-But Paul also has a warning for his Gentile readers,

-A warning we who are confident in our faith should also heed.

-Continuing the horticultural metaphor Paul cautions;

“They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you.” Romans 11:20-21

-The problem with grace is that it’s totally undeserved.

-It’s totally dependant upon the giver not the recipient.

-Paul quotes God’s word to Job, in v35, to drive that point home;

“Who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?” Romans 11:35

-Who can make any claim against God,

-What can we give to God that would compel him to give something back to us?

-It’s like the clay questioning the potter.

-Paul is warning against the conceit that can so easily come when a person knows they are in the right.

-Grace so easily can turn to desert.

-The Jews did it with the Law,

-Resting on their own righteousness.

-And that stumble caused them to be cut off from God’s grace.

-If the Gentile Christians start believing they’re better than the Jews because God has been gracious to them,

-Then they face the same danger.

 

-Paul concludes his argument with the reminder of God’s gracious character;

“Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” Romans 11:30-32

-It is easy when you are sincerely right to look down on those who are sincerely wrong.

-But that’s our old sinful nature breaking through.

-We’re saved by Jesus’ righteousness not our own.

-Yet Jew or Gentile,

-Both, Paul warns, can take our eyes off Jesus and forget the grace we’ve been given.

-Our calling is not to judge others for their wrong beliefs,

-But to extend the grace we have received in Jesus with love to those in need of his mercy.

Sermon: Pentecost 10, 13 August 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Saved- Romans 10:1-14

-I’m going to tell you a story that will shock and astound you,

-A story you will have difficulty believing actually happened.

-It occurred in a Yr12 science physics class in a selective high school in the mid 70s.

-The teacher held in his hands two metal objects of very different sizes,

-And he asked the students,

-‘If I drop these two balls from my hand which will hit the table first?’

-Every single student said they’ll both hit at the same time.

-Except one!

-What ensued over the next 15 minutes was argument, demonstration, mathematical evidence,

-From both the teacher and an incredulous student body.

-Despite 6 years of science education,

-Despite 287 years of Newtonian physics,

-A pimply youth,

-In an elite public school,

-Sincerely believed that heavy objects fell faster than lighter objects.

 

-Now can I ask,

-Was the teacher and class right to challenge his understanding of the physical universe?

-Didn’t he have the right to his own beliefs about gravity?

-Were we damaging his psychological well being by confronting him with our own doctrinaire beliefs?

-Is there ever a time when it’s legitimate to question a sincerely held belief?

-Chapter 10 of Romans opens with the clash of two sincerities,

-If you’ll forgive that bizarre metaphor.

-Remember how Paul began ch9 with his heartfelt anguish about his people the Jews;

“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people,” Romans 9:2-3

-His was a sincere anguish over all the wonderful blessings that the Lord had poured on Israel,

-And yet God was rejected by his own people.

-In ch10 Paul continues;

“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” Romans 10:1

-Paul’s deepest and sincerest desire is that his fellow Jews would be saved,

-That they would turn to Christ and live.

 

-An astounding difference between Paul’s world and our more recent times is that,

-You could hold and espouse a belief or proposition different to another person,

-Without the supposition that you hated or devalued them as persons.

-Listen to how that gets demonstrated in vv2-4 of Romans 10.

-Paul praises the sincerity and strength of the beliefs of the Jews;

“My heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God,” Romans 10:1-2

-Given how Paul was treated at the hands of the Jews at various times on his missionary journey,

-You could mistakenly believe that Paul is using the word zealous as a negative.

-But far from it.

-Paul understands that even their attacks upon him were driven by their devotion and zeal for God.

-Paul praises the sincerity of their faith and beliefs,

-A sincerity that was visibly expressed in their actions.

-But here’s the sting that sits very uncomfortably on our post-modern sensibilities:

“I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” Romans 10:2

-Paul is politely but bluntly saying,

-‘I can testify for their sincerity, but they are sincerely wrong.’

-Why?

“Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” Romans 10:3

 

-Throughout his letter Paul has mounted the argument that all humanity has fallen short of God’s perfect standard.

-Jew and Gentile alike have wilfully sinned against their Creator.

-The Gentiles were totally hopeless,

-Because although they could see manifest in Creation the glory and majesty of a Creator God,

-They turned to idols,

-Images of the creation itself to explain how creation came about.

-The Jews however had the revelation of God.

-The Lord throughout their history was speaking with and directing them.

-God made them promises and intervened directly in their lives,

-He told them how they could live in a right relationship with him,

-How they could be righteous.

-He gave them the Law as a way to respond rightly to the relationship that he’d established with them.

-But their history demonstrated an obstinate will to go their own way.

 

-And their own way also applied to how they viewed the Law.

-Rather than obedience to Law being a demonstration of their love and trust in God,

-They turned it around to being the way they established a relationship with God.

-The focus of their faith was on their own ability to keep the Law.

-The reason their zeal was faulty,

-Why they were wrong in this understanding of righteousness,

-Was that they ultimately rejected God’s messiah, Jesus.

 

-See the first verse there on our reading sheet;

 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Romans 10:4

-That was the culmination of their faulty knowledge,

-That they didn’t believe Jesus when he walked amongst them.

-The root of it however was this;

“Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: ‘The person who does these things will live by them.’” Romans 10:5

-That might have been a very comforting thought for the sincere Jew,

-But Moses was stating two opposing truths in that one statement.

-The first was that total obedience to the Law would bring righteousness and gain life,

-But the second truth was that total obedience was impossible.

-‘Yes you can have righteousness, real life in God, if you keep the law,

-‘But it’s evident in every Jewish life that you can’t obey it.’

-Paul highlights that truth in Romans 2 when he said;

“While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You that boast in the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law?” Romans 2:21-23

-Paul would argue the answer is ‘Yes’.

-So life evaporates and the wages of sin come due.

 

-But life and righteousness comes through Jesus,

-It comes from outside us as a gift.

-Jesus is the culmination of the Law because he did in his life what we couldn’t in ours,

-He lived in complete obedience to his heavenly Father,

-He was righteous.

-And it’s through his obedience that we are accounted righteous in God’s eyes.

-It’s not our works that put us right with God,

-It’s not a Jew keeping the law that puts them right with God,

-It’s Jesus and his righteousness given to us through his death and resurrection.

-That’s why Paul was so adamant in ch8 that we are more than conquerors in Christ,

-Let me just remind you of those hope filled words;

“If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”

-The answer is no one, no thing.

-But those truths will only hold for the person who is fully trusting in God,

-Who knows that God is for them,

-That they’re hope and salvation lies in Jesus.

-And that comes down purely and simply to believing God’s word,

-That his word is true.

 

-If you’ve ever investigated any other religion you will have quickly learnt that the path to salvation,

-Or enlightenment or submission to God is extremely complicated.

-Every religion has it’s ‘to do list’ that will get you right with your particular god,

-If you keep it!.

-But listen to how Paul says the Christian is saved;

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13

-That’s it,

-‘Call on the name of the Lord.’

-If you have a bible handy look back to vv5-9.

-Paul is contrasting a works righteousness that is impossible to achieve,

-With simply listening to God’s promise in Jesus and believing it.

-First the impossibility;

“Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” Romans 10:5

-Yep, if you keep it you could live,

-But no-one can.

-And then again quoting Moses from Deuteronomy 30;

“But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim:

-You don’t have to go up to heaven,

-Inquire of angels, or spirits or even God himself,

-That would be once again ignoring what Jesus has already said and done,

-It would be like bringing him down again out of heaven,

-Pointless and insulting.

-Neither do you have to go searching into the hidden and deep places of the earthly creation,

-Because Jesus has already been here.

-No, the righteousness of faith acknowledges that Jesus has said, done and achieved everything necessary for our salvation.

-It is near you.

 

-And once again pointing out how simple the righteousness of faith rather than Law is,

-He explains;

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10: 9

-Simple.

 

-The first words of Jesus Mark records in his gospel were;

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15

-The kingdom is near so,

-Repent and believe the good news!

-Nothing complicated,

-Nothing to do to earn it,

-Just turn from your own self-centredness,

-And believe this promise of God.

 

-Later in Mark’s gospel Jesus asked his disciples,

-‘Who do people say I am?’

“They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’” Mark 8:28

-Notice that everyone of those answers was wrong,

-And I’m sure the people who held them sincerely believed them to be true,

-But they were sincerely wrong.

-So Jesus asks the disciples who had been with him for nearly three years,

“‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah.’” Mark 8:29

-You are the Christ,

-You are Lord.

-Peter confessed with his mouth and believed in his heart.

 

-The same question Jesus asked his disciples is the one he asks you,

-‘Who do you say I am?’

-It’s a question that opens the way for anyone to reach out and accept the offer of salvation Jesus brings.

-Remember Paul’s exhortation;

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13

-No rules, no laws,

-Just a simple step of faith and the acceptance of the righteousness God is offering in his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sermon: Pentecost 9, 6 August 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Shattered- Romans 9:1-16

-Have you ever had a life shattering experience?

-Something that has completely upended your life?

-Now I’m sure many of us have had life changing experiences.

-But I’m thinking more of an event,

-An experience,

-An encounter that completely turned your life upside down?

-For those who have, coming to faith in Jesus was life changing,

-But for some their encounter with Jesus was life shattering.

-For the apostle Paul that was the category of his meeting with Jesus,

-And that revelation of Jesus had a cataclysmic impact upon his life.

 

-Last week we heard a bit from Paul’s Corinthian letter about the serious struggles he had had on his missionary journeys;

“Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; . . . in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles,”

-Danger, danger, danger.

-But here in Romans 9 Paul alludes to another aspect of his conversion,

-That moved it from life changing to life shattering.

“I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” Romans 9:1-2

-If that opening pitch wasn’t suggestive of great turbulence,

-Then these words confirm that Paul is feeling some very deep emotions;

“For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.” Romans 9:3

-What is it that has rattled Paul to the point of wishing damnation on himself in exchange for his fellow Jews?

-It’s this;

“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever.”  Romans 9:4-5

 

-If you didn’t pick it,

-In those two verses Paul has given his readers a potted version of the history of redemption,

-A summation of the Old Testament story of the people of God.

-The Israelites were God’s chosen people,

-Adopted by God to see his glory as he rescued them from Egypt,

-Led them through the Red Sea to his glorious appearing on Mt Sinai,

-Giving them the Ten Commandments.

-They were the descendants of the patriarch Abraham,

-To whom God made the promise of descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky.

-In that covenant God promised a name, a nation, a land of their own.

-And best of all,

-Through them the Saviour of the world would come,

-The messiah who would bring blessing to every nation on earth.

-That’s a pretty big gift that God poured upon this people.

 

-But Israel failed to be the people God created them to be.

-That too was part of their history.

-No sooner had they got out of Egypt than they’re making demands of Moses to take them back.

-Although they observed first hand the mighty power of God in parting the Red Sea,

-And destroying the Egyptians,

-They whinged and moaned their way through the desert.

-Even though God had promised them a land of bounty,

-Flowing with milk and honey,

-When the spies came back,

-They all decided it was too hard and refused to go up and take the land.

-When after forty years of desert wondering they finally get into the land,

-They turn to the idols of the previous inhabitants,

-They demand a king just like the other nations around them,

-They again reject the Lord who saved them.

 

-But for Paul the worst rejection of God’s plans for Israel occurred during his own lifetime.

-Although Israel was constantly rebelling against God,

-God remained faithful to his promise,

-Till finally the Messiah was born,

-The Son of David,

-The fulfiller of all those promises to Abraham and Israel.

-But in a final horrific act,

-The Jewish hierarchy took Jesus outside Jerusalem and put him to death on a cross.

-Let me read to you what Paul’s original response to the death of Jesus was,

-From his defence before King Agrippa in Acts 26;

“All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I have belonged to the strictest sect of our religion and lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship day and night. It is for this hope, your Excellency, that I am accused by Jews! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? Indeed, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is what I did in Jerusalem; with authority received from the chief priests, I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death. 11 By punishing them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.”

 

-Paul describes his life before that fateful day when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus.

-He was a persecutor of Christians,

-Because he believed they were blasphemous rebels against God.

-How could anyone believe that Jesus was God’s Son,

-When the Law said a curse was upon anyone hung upon a tree?

-How could a person rejected by the religious experts and put to death for blasphemy,

-Possibly be the blessed saviour of Israel,

-The Messianic King who would arise and throw off the yoke of oppression of foreign invaders?

-Clearly Jesus was none of these things.

-So with Pharisaic zeal Saul volunteered to wipe out these Christian heretics,

-For the sake of his people.

-And then the persecutor Saul met the risen Lord Jesus face to face.

-Saul;

“circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Philippians 3:5-6

 

-That’s why Paul’s encounter with Jesus was life shattering.

-Every single thing he ever believed about God,

-His plans and purposes for his people,

-Was completely upended.

-His entire life was totally overturned,

-Irrevocably transformed from one extreme to another.

-From zealot for the law,

-To preacher of grace,

-From ritual to relationship,

-From persecutor to propagator.

-It was almost as if everything Paul ever believed about God and his purposes,

-Was obliterated.

 

-Can you see then why Paul was so distressed?

-If God had made all these promises about his people Israel,

-How can they possibly stand if Israel has so comprehensively rejected God’s purposes for them?

-The answer comes in v6;

“It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but ‘It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named after you.’” Romans 9:6-7

-Paul returns to a theme he’d begun in Romans 8 with the call and election of the faithful.

-God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 was that he would be the father of a great nation,

-And through him all nations would be blessed.

-In Isaiah the Lord promises his servant;

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6

-It’s this promise that Paul sees fulfilled in Jesus,

-The faithful Servant of the Lord.

-Through Jesus a new people of God,

-A new Israel is founded.

-It’s an Israel that’s not based on inheritance but adoption.

-That’s what Paul means in v8 in reference to Isaac;

“This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants.” Romans 9:8

-Paul has looped right back to ch2 where he challenges those who wanted to appeal to their Jewish heritage as the foundation of salvation;

“A person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.” Romans 2:29

-The true Jew,

-The true Israelite,

-Is the one whose faith is in Jesus not their heritage, the Law or their good works.

-The true Israelite in whom the promises of God are fulfilled,

-Is the one who like Abraham,

“. . . believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Romans 4:3

 

-Pauls’ heart for his people blazes through this passage.

-But Paul also knows that God’s purposes for humanity were always much bigger than just Israel.

-He’ll go on to explain that in ch10.

-But here in ch9 Paul moves the focus from Israel to the character and heart of God,

-A God whose heart is for all humankind.

-God has a plan and purpose for all people that’s not limited by race or ancestry.

-As great as Paul’s sorrow and anguish is for his own race,

-His heart always follows the heart of God.

-The heart expressed by Jesus when he said to his disciples;

 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” John 10:16

Sermon: Pentecost 8, 30 July 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Struggles- Romans 8:26-39

-One of the most famous verses of encouragement in the Bible,

-Comes here in Romans 8 where Paul writes;

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

-If that was a wall plaque in an office,

-Or a cross stitch on a mantlepiece,

-I’m sure anyone who looked at it would get a warm flush of reassurance.

-But with any passage of scripture it always pays to look carefully at the context.

-Whatever Paul writes,

-You know comes from a deep experience of the issue.

-Which is probably another clue that this verse contains a truth,

-That shouldn’t be treated with a superficial acceptance.

 

-When a faction within the Corinthian church questioned Paul’s credentials as an apostle,

-He wrote back to them saying;

“Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys encouragement, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.”

-So when Paul says all things work together for good,

-You have to understand just how inclusive that statement is.

-He really does mean all things.

-He means all the things that we in a soft, self-centred culture would judge as unacceptable work conditions.

-He means all those things which threatened his physical and emotional well being.

-All those things which were frightening, menacing and painful.

-Paul clearly puts no limitations on ‘all things’.

-This is no Pollyanna palliative or rose tinted cheerleading.

 

-Already in ch8 Paul has made it clear to his readers that life in this world will involve struggles.

-Ch7 was a pretty sobering presentation of the spiritual struggles we’ll face as followers of Jesus,

-And the second half of ch8 warns of the physical struggles that’ll come from living in a fallen and broken world.

-And in case his readers have an optimistic gloss over how bad life could get he quotes Psalm 44;

“For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” Romans 8:36

-One of the characteristics of the Psalms is the realism of the emotional responses of the various authors.

-King David is quoted as being a ‘man after God’s own heart’.

-But if you read the account of his life in 1 and 2Samuel,

-You could be forgiven for thinking that God must have a fairly lackadaisical attitude to morality.

-Samuel chronicles David’s somewhat dodgy behaviours,

-But in the Psalms you see into his heart,

-You see what drives him,

-What motivates him,

-What terrifies and excites him.

-You see into his soul in victory and failure.

-His heart truly is open.

-And that’s how it is with lots of the other Psalms,

-They’re brutally honest about how the author is feeling.

 

-Psalm 44 is like a downhill slide into despair.

-It starts off in high praise of all the things that God has done for Israel in the past,

-Which just makes the present situation all the more devastating, V8;

“In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to your name for ever.” Psalm 44:8

-V9;

“Yet you have rejected us and abased us, and have not gone out with our armies.” Psalm 44:9

-Usually when a writer says God has rejected them,

-It’s because of rightful judgement on Israel’s sinfulness.

-But not here, vv17-18;

“All this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten you, or been false to your covenant.18 Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way, yet you have broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness.” Psalm 44:9

-So bleak is the Psalmist’s condition he dares even to accuse God;

“Because of you we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Psalm 44:22

-This is God’s fault.

-God’s asleep on the job.

-He’s hiding his face,

-He doesn’t even care about their affliction and oppression.

 

-Have you ever been in a hole so dark that you wanted to say that to God?

-Have you ever been in a place so black you have said that to God?

-Religion is the opiate of the masses?

-Christianity is a crutch?

-I don’t think the Psalmist, Paul or thousands of Christian martyrs would agree with either of those sentiments.

-Paul is underlining what the Psalmists knew,

-That trust in God will not magically remove all the struggles and trials that will come with faith.

 

-And that may be why Paul progresses from the power of the Holy Spirit in the believers life,

-Through a recognition of the brokenness of this world we live in,

-To an insight into prayer.

-I don’t know any follower of Jesus who has not found times when prayer has been difficult.

-The irony of course,

-That Paul alludes to,

-Is that in the times of deepest struggle,

-We may also struggle with prayer.

-We don’t know what to pray.

-We may even wonder whether it’s worth praying at all.

-The writer of Psalm 44 may have been teetering on that edge.

-But Paul offers this piece of encouragement when we find ourselves spiritually mute;

“(Likewise) the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

 

-We’re not alone.

-The Spirit knows both our heart and God’s will,

-It’s he who formulates the words on our behalf.

-No wonder that Jesus at the Last Supper promised the disciples,

-That he’d send another Advocate to them.

-In light of what Paul is going to say next,

-It’s worth hearing Jesus’ the following words that came with that promise;

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:26-27

-When the Spirit comes into our lives,

-He’ll teach us everything we need to know about our life in Christ,

-And he’ll remind us of all that Jesus has said to us.

-That’s an important thing to remember,

-Because Paul is also going to encourage us,

-As we’re going through our struggles,

-To remember what we’ve learnt about God’s nature and character.

 

-Paul has given us that great verse of encouragement;

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

-But maybe you’re question is,

-How do we know all things work for good?

-What’s the basis of such a claim?

-What assurance do I have that that’s true?

-Here’s the first part of Paul’s answer;

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.” Romans 8:29

-In all of God’s plans and purposes for you,

-All the events of your life,

-All the highs,

-All the lows,

-Every single thing that has shaped your life,

-Has been set in motion by God in order that you would become more and more like Jesus.

 

-By now you would have noticed a little phrase I regular slip into a sermon or a prayer,

-‘To be the person God created us to be.’

-We were to be like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before they sinned.

-We’re to be God’s image in the world,

-We’re to represent God by ruling over the creation,

-We’re to work in this world as God is working in this world.

-And we’re to do all that in intimate relationship with our God.

-Jump forward to the gospels and see what Jesus did when he came into our world.

-He did just that.

-He was the image of the invisible God, Colossians 1:15,

-He was obedient to the calling of God,

-He worked to restore the brokenness of this world,

-He brought healing and health,

-He overcame evil,

-He ruled over creation,

-All the while walking in a close and intimate relationship with his heavenly Father.

-And Paul says;

“those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,” Romans 8:28

-God’s plan and Jesus’ work was to redeem us for his new family,

-To be his image in the world,

-Just like Jesus.

 

-And notice those two powerful words that have stimulated the late night conversations of every youth group that has ever existed,

-‘Foreknew’ and ‘predestined’.

-Paul puts them into a temporal order for us;

“Those whom he foreknew he also predestined . . . 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:28

-Now we are way to old to be dissecting the finer points of predestination and election,

-But that’s not Paul’s point here.

-What Paul wants us to understand through all the struggles we face,

-In order to know that all things do work together for good,

-Is that every link in a chain of salvation is in the loving and firm hands of God.

-That’s why his final claim is that nothing;

“will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:39

-Because we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

-Neither death nor life,

-Angels nor rulers,

-Things present nor things to come,

-No powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,

-Will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-Why?

-Because God is for us.

-So much for us,

-That he gave his Son Jesus to rescue us from the death we deserved.

 

-You may not feel it,

-You may believe you’ve lost it,

-You may strain to express it,

-But in the midst of what ever your struggles,

-You need to let the Advocate speak for you,

-And cling to that promise of Jesus to those he calls brothers and sisters;

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:26-27

-Because;

“ . . . all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28