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

Sermon: Pentecost 7, 23 July 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Bishop Ross Nicholson

7th Sunday of Pentecost, St Alban’s

Live- Romans 8:12-25

-If there was ever a dumb saying that expressed the ignorance of the speaker about the Christian faith,

-It would have to be,

-‘Christianity is just pie in the sky when you die!’

-Have a think about all the things that statement gets wrong.

-I’m assuming the word pie is a catchall for something that is good.

-At least that’s a promising start,

-Until you give it a little more thought than the person making the statement.

-The proposition is that anything ‘good’ will only occur in the future,

-And by implication the Christian has to give up all the ‘goodies’ of this life.

-Strangely this future ‘pie’ is ‘in the sky’.

-Now to be fair to the ignorant,

-Even in many Christian circles there’s a belief that eternal life is up there in heaven.

-When we die we become like angels,

-Get given a set of wings,

-A golden harp,

-And an individual cloud to float around on.

-But nothing could be further from the truth.

-Finally all this occurs when you die,

-So Christianity is one giant exercise in delayed gratification,

-Suffering away in this world until God relieves you and takes you up into the next.

-But not only does the statement reveal the ignorance of the antagonist,

-It also fails to consider the alternative.

 

-Every human being has a worldview,

-A fundamental understanding of how they think this world operates.

-Although the New Atheists and trendy progressives want to deny it,

-Just like Christians they live by faith,

-They live by a set of beliefs and suppositions about how the world works and how they fit in.

-Presupposition number one is that this is a purely material universe,

-Only what can be scientifically verifiable is real and true.

-Unfortunately that proposition can’t be scientifically verified.

-But let’s leave the pitfalls of logical positivism aside,

-And think of the alternative to ‘pie in the sky when you die.’

-What do you reckon about,

-‘Eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow you die’?

-That’s a good materialist’s world view.

-‘If this is all there is, enjoy it while you can!’

-Actually I should have said that’s a good Western materialist’s worldview,

-Because, for much of the world’s population,

-Even that simple basic of eating and drinking is a soul destroying task.

-Being ‘merry’ in this world is a western luxury,

-Where the reality is we’re probably not going to die tomorrow!

 

-As Paul opens up this section of Romans 8,

-He challenges both those trite sayings arguing;

“If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13

-‘Pie in the sky when you die’?

-No!

-You will live right now.

-‘Eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow you die’?

-No,

-Because you are dead right now.

-Remember the whole drift of Romans is that before we came to trust in Jesus,

-We were already dead.

-That’s because of the warning that God gave Adam in the Garden of Eden;

“You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:16

-And what happened after Adam disobeyed God;

“Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:17-19

-‘From dust you were taken to dust you will return’.

-Physical death.

 

-But remember the original warning of God was that ‘in the day you eat of it you shall die’.

-Adam and Eve didn’t drop dead instantly from eating the forbidden fruit,

-So the death God warned them of wasn’t physical but spiritual.

-They died spiritually as the barrier of sin arose between them and God.

-And the natural result of spiritual death was that catastrophe spilling out into physical death,

And the corruption of the created order.

-Removed from the author of life we died.

-When we, the assigned rulers of the world were corrupted,

-The physical world was corrupted.

-That’s why Paul says in Roman 8:20;

“The creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay . . . ” Roman 8:20-21

-Any scientist will tell you that this world is in bondage to decay.

-That’s not a theological statement,

-It’s the second law of thermodynamics!

-Left to their own devices things in this world fall apart.

-That’s why eat, drink and be merry is ultimately unsustainable.

 

-But Paul isn’t writing to critique unbelievers,

-He’s writing to encourage the faithful who do live in a fallen and broken world.

-And if the falleness and brokenness of this world was all there is,

-If the second law of thermodynamics had the last word,

-Paul wouldn’t have much to offer.

-But instead he writes;

“If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” Romans 8:14-15

-Here is the Christian hope,

-This is the ‘pie’ we live for.

-It’s not some way off in the future wishful thinking,

-It’s a firm reality of what’s happened in our lives through Jesus Christ.

-Recall the argument of ch7 that we’re slaves of our sinful nature while we’re in this world.

-That would be a terrible reality accept for the greater one,

-Paul cries out;

“What a wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death.” Romans 7:24

-This is not a vain plea to an impersonal universe,

-This is the confident cry of the one that knows there is hope,

-Knows that there’s a rescuer,

-Knows that there’s a God who reached into our world to save us.

-And to save us here and now.

 

-That’s why ‘pie in the sky when you die’ is such an ignorant statement.

-If our hope was only in some far off future,

-Why would God send his Holy Spirit into our lives?

-Why not zap us straight out of this world and into the next?

-The answer is because we were created for this world.

-If we were created for floating around with harps on clouds,

-Why didn’t God create us that way?

-If we were destined to be disembodied, spirits,

-Why did Jesus rise bodily from the dead?

-That’s the whole issue addressed by Paul in 8:11;

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” Romans 8:11

 

-The reason is because,

-God has plans for us in this world right now.

-His plan is for redemption.

-It’s one of the great themes of the Bible.

-The story of the Exodus is a story of redemption,

-Of God’s people being bought back from slavery in Egypt.

-The economics of the Jubilee was based around redemption,

-The bringing of land back to the original owner every 49 years.

-Slaves could be redeemed and have their freedom restored.

-Jesus himself said to his disciples that the signs of his imminent return were a reminder that,

-‘Your redemption is drawing near.’

-And here in Romans 8:23 Paul writes;

“ . . . We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:23

-Paul has reminded us that if we have the Spirit we’re children of God,

-We’ve been adopted into his family.

-The fact that we can call on God as our heavenly Father is the confirmation of that fact.

-The fact that we do call on him as Father is affirmation of that fact.

-But the significance of being a child of God lies in what we become,

-Heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.

-And as heirs what is it we inherit?

-The new creation.

 

-Let me read to you what we are destined for,

-And as I do so listen for how this biblical truth blows away the deception of ‘pie in the sky’;

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’” Revelation 21:1-4

-On another occasion we might dig more deeply into this,

-But notice a few things.

-First there is a new heaven and a new earth.

-Second, the new Jerusalem,

-Which John earlier had learnt was the people of God,

-Comes down out of heaven.

-Third, the home of God is with mortals,

He dwells with us.

-And finally all the sufferings of this present age are done away with.

-This new future reverses all the curses inflicted upon humans and the creation because of Adam and Eve’s sin.

-There will be a redemption not only of the followers of Jesus,

-But the world itself.

 

-Now that changes everything about how we live in this world.

-We have been redeemed for a purpose.

-The great command is love the Lord your God with all your being,

-And, Jesus said, ‘a second is like it,

-‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

-If we follow the old nature we can neither love God nor our neighbour.

-But we have been redeemed,

-We’ve been adopted as God’s children,

-Freed from bondage to the old nature through the power of the Holy Spirit,

-So now we don’t just look forward to an eternal future,

-We live in this world for that future.

-As disciples of Jesus we now live as the redeemed children of God,

-The people we were created to be.

-We are to rule as God’s representatives in this world.

-We are to bring order into the chaos of a fallen world,

-We’re to bring love into the hurt of a broken world,

-We are to live now,

-As we’ll live then.

Sermon: Pentecost 6, 16 July 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Aidan’s

Romans 8:1-11

-Who doesn’t want a second chance?

-Even our legal system is set up for the second chance.

-If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being charged with a crime,

-Even if you’re the most recidivistic villain,

-You’re past misbehaviours can’t be raised in a current trial.

-It’s an extension of the presumption of innocence till proven guilty.

-And Paul in Romans 8 is making a similar claim for the follower of Jesus;

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Romans 8: 1-2

 

-Paul in this letter to the Roman Christians has made a big deal of the law.

-Which makes sense given that he was writing to a predominantly Jewish Christian audience.

-The Jews were very familiar with the Law.

-It was what Moses received directly from God.

-It was the rules and regulations of how they were to live,

-Which would demonstrate they were truly God’s people.

-But the Jews had taken the Law and so distorted it that,

-Rather than it showing they belonged to God’s people,

-They believed it was how they were made to be God’s people.

-A shift occurred from a gracious gift of God,

-To something that obligated God.

-‘Look how we’ve kept your laws, you must now bless us.’

-There was a shift from what God had done for them,

-To what they had done for God.

 

-But the opening chapters of this letter challenged that view,

-Because Paul argues that the standard the law set,

-Was impossibly high.

-And in fact the law was not given to show how high the people had to jump,

-But rather to demonstrate that the jump was impossible to make.

-The law puts a spotlight on how far we’ve fallen from God’s glory and righteousness,

-Which is what Paul means in Romans 7:12-13 when he writes;

“So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.13 Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.” Romans 7:12-13

 

-This gap between God’s standard and our behaviour,

-Was dramatically shown by Jesus when he said;

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council;” Matthew 5:21-22

-The bar is actually set at ‘rage’ not illegally taking someone’s life.

-It’s easy to say,

-‘Well I’ve never murdered anyone,

-‘I am righteous.’

-A lot more difficult to say ‘I keep control of my anger’.

-And when I acknowledge that,

-I acknowledge that sin runs a lot deeper into my soul than I am comfortable to admit.

 

-But remember Paul has been rehearsing all of these ideas so that he can move to the point of saying to his readers;

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Romans 8:1-2

-This is not a judgemental, wag of the finger in our face,

-But an encouragement to faithfulness,

-Because he then goes on to explain how we’ve been set free;

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:3-4

-If we could keep the law we’d be fine with God,

-But our sinful humanity,

-Our flesh as Paul puts it,

-Always drags us down.

-So God himself does something about that,

-He sends his Son into our world,

-And although he had the same physical experiences in this world we have,

-Although he faced the same temptations and trials we face,

-He didn’t cave into his human desires,

-He remained faithful to God,

-All the way to the Cross.

-And on the Cross,

-Sin was condemned through Jesus’ physical death.

 

-Now I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it a few more times,

-But ‘when ever you see a therefore in the Bible, you’ve got to see what it’s there for.’

-And the ‘therefore’ of ch8:1 refers back to the beginning of ch7 not the end,

-Where Paul states;

“. . . my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.” Romans 7: 4

-Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

-Just as the death of a spouse frees the survivor from the laws of marriage,

-So through faith in Jesus’ death,

-We also die to the obligations of the law.

-And here’s the trick,

-Paul follows up v4 with its implication in v6;

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Romans 7: 6

-We now have a second chance at life,

-Real life.

 

-In Romans 8: 5-11 Paul shows us what you could call the two ways to live in this world.

-Or maybe it’s contrasting ways people live in this world.

-Listen to the first way;

“ . . . those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh,” Romans 8: 5

-Paul is describing how the bulk of humanity live.

-It’s the life marked by being pushed along by human desire.

-It’s the life we see on our TV screens every day,

-Brutally and violently as shown in the nightly news,

-Or seductive and alluring as in the ads that break up the very same programme.

-It’s what Paul earlier has described as being a slave to sin.

-And he repeats here the consequences of that life that he proposed at the very beginning of the letter;

“To set the mind on the flesh is death . . . For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:7-8

-Have a listen to this quote that incisively sums up this hostility;

“Determined to assert himself, to assert his independence, to be the centre of his own life, to be his own god, he cannot help but hate the real God whose very existence gives the lie to all his self-assertion.” CEB Cranfield ‘Romans’ vol1, p387

-That’s what keeps humanity enslaved to sin,

-It’s our view that we are the masters of our destiny,

-And we won’t let anyone or anything tell us differently.

 

-But there is another life,

-It’s the life that Paul wanted his letter to the Roman Christians to proclaim,

-And that he triumphantly stated in that verse I read a moment ago;

“. . . my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.” Romans 7: 4

-It’s the Christian life,

-The fruitful life.

-The life of the seed sown into good soil that Jesus described in the Parable of The Sower in Matthew 13: 23;

“But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” Matthew 13: 23

-It’s the life that belongs to God,

-Not sin,

-Not our own self-centredness,

-But our merciful Creator.

-And it’s a life of purpose,

-To be fruitful for God,

-To be the people he created us to be,

-To be the image of his Son in this world.

 

-After the frustrating news of ch7 we might be excused for believing this to be an impossible life.

-Even the great apostle Paul says he does what he knows he shouldn’t,

-And doesn’t do the things he knows he should.

-Like the rest of us the sinful nature has got its grip on Paul.

-But it’s not the end of ch7 that Paul wants us to remember but the beginning,

-Where he announces we’ve died to that old bondage.

-Unlike the mind that is on the flesh,

-Our hearts and minds are now turned to God;

“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Romans 8:9

-And here is our power over the sinful nature.

-We have God’s Spirit within us because we belong to Christ.

-That’s why we can be fruitful,

-Why we can live lives that are tuned to God and not ourselves,

-Because the Holy Spirit dwells within us.

 

-Let me read to you the explanation of the Parable of the Sower;

“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

-The fruitfulness of the Word sown into anybody’s life is determined by the Holy Spirit’s work,

-Notice how that fruitfulness varies, hundred, sixty, thirtyfold.

-I don’t think Jesus is saying there are super Christians and also rans,

-The point is that we will have varying degrees of fruitfulness in our lives,

-But the determinant of that fruitfulness is our openness to the guidance of God’s Spirit and obedience to God’s wordl

-It has nothing to do with our past performance or even lack there of,

-It’s about how we live right now,

-As we follow the Spirit’s leading as we live for Christ in this world.

Sermon: Pentecost 5, 9 July 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Frustration- Romans 7:14-25

-How would you like to be Malcolm Turnbull?

-What word do you think would characterise his life at the moment?

-I reckon it might be ‘frustration’.

-He gets all the ducks in line for an education coup,

-Pulls it off,

-Has about thirty seconds of sunshine,

-Then Tony hits the airwaves!

-Or what about Richard de Natalie?

-He puts the Greens in the box seat,

-Gets a swag of educational reforms agreed to,

-But has to sit back and watch the rest of the cross benches take the credit.

-Thanks Lee!!!

-Frustration.

-Dr Google defines it as;

“the feeling of being upset or annoyed as a result of being unable to change or achieve something!”

 

-But frustration is not just the lot of political leaders.

-It’s a universal experience.

-More frequently than we might like we face frustration in our jobs,

-In our family,

-With our health,

-With our relationships.

-Frustration is part and parcel of life in this world.

-But it wasn’t always like that.

-Let me read to you from Genesis ch1,

-And listen carefully to the lot of humanity in those opening moments of creation;

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’27 

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’

29 God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Genesis 1: 26-31

-Just think of how good the life of those first humans was,

-Created in the image of God,

-Given dominion over every animal on the planet,

-Blessed by God,

-Every physical need taken care of,

-Every relational need met,

-Every spiritual need fulfilled.

-God looks at this world he’s created and sums it up as,

-‘Very good!’

 

-So hands up everyone who experiences their world like this?

-It’s not how it is, is it?

-And we all know why,

-Because those first humans fell for the lie that they could run their lives better than God.

-So rather than following God’s directions for life,

-They disobeyed him and we’ve all been paying the price ever since,

-Frustration in relationships,

-Frustration in work,

-Frustration in every aspect of our life.

-And if that’s not how you’re experiencing it at this exact moment,

-You know full well it’s only a matter of time before your smoothly running life,

-Is going to hit the rocks.

 

-And here in ch7 of the letter to the Romans,

-Paul expresses his frustration with of all things his spiritual life.

-Does that seem odd to you?

-For the last six chapters Paul has reminded his readers that we live in a broken world,

-That all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

-We were all under the wrath of God.

-But God rescued us.

-Jesus’ death gave us life.

-We’ve been saved,

-We’ve been rescued.

-Our lives have been taken out of darkness into God’s marvellous light.

-And only last week we read in ch6 that because we’re alive in Christ we’re dead to sin,

-It’s lost its hold on us.

-We’re now free to be the people God created us to be.

-We are a new creation.

-That is seriously good news.

– And yet Paul brings us crashing down to reality in ch7:14ff;

“For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:14-15

-Compounding his frustration he writes in v18-19;

“I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” Romans 7:18-19

 

-Paul is expressing the consequence of what theologians call the ‘overlap of the ages’.

-It’s the ‘now but not yet’ of the Christian life.

-At the beginning of Mark’s gospel Jesus announces;

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:15

-With the coming of Christ his rule has begun.

-But we know how Jesus was received.

-There were indeed those who flocked to him and believed the good news.

-But there was a hostility to his lordship that took him outside the city and put him to death.

-At the Last Supper he warned his disciples that they’d face opposition and violence because of him.

-The whole Book of Revelation is a descriptor of the tensions that exist for the follower of Jesus until he returns.

-Revelation describes this time in which we live,

-Where we wrestle with the falleness and brokenness of this world,

-While looking forward to and knowing the final victory of Jesus.

 

-Here in Romans 7 Paul is showing that the external reality also has an internal manifestation.

-We personally experience that overlap,

-In that our heart desires to follow Jesus and be obedient to his law of love.

-Internally we’ve grasped hold of the salvation we’ve been offered.

-The reality we know is that of Ezekiel where God promises;

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

-Paul recognises this new heart condition when he says in v22;

“I delight in the law of God in my inmost self,” Romans 7: 22

-These are not the words of a rebellious human being.

-These are the confident proclamations of a man who knows he’s been put right with God.

-But that’s not the end of the story;

“I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” Romans 7: 21-23

-Frustration.

-‘I love God,

-‘I want to serve him,

-‘But I keep messing up.’

-You can hear the frustration in Paul’s voice,

-And you can see it when he writes;

“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Romans 7: 24

-Paul is frustrated by a life that vacillates;

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15

 

-Now although Paul says he doesn’t understand his actions that’s just rhetoric,

-Because he does understand what’s going on and he explains it in vv16-20;

 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Romans 7: 16-20

-As Peter said of Paul,

“His letters contain some things that are hard to understand . . .” 2Peter 3:16

-As complex as these verses are Paul is basically saying,

-‘If I do something I know is wrong,

-‘Then that awareness of wrongdoing shows that God’s law is right.

-‘If I’m aware God’s law is right and I desire to obey it,

-‘Then when I disobey that’s the old nature of sin flaring up,

-‘Because in that old nature there is nothing good.

-‘But my new heart recognises that and still desires to obey God.

-‘That’s why I’m frustrated,

-‘I want to do good,

-‘But the old nature drags me down.

-‘And if it’s the old nature doing that,

-‘Then that’s not me,

-‘That’s not the core of my being,

-‘That’s the sin that still dwells within me.’

 

-There’s the frustration, which he amplifies in vv21-23;

“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” Romans 7: 21-23

-If you boil this all down,

-The good news for anyone who faces the taunts of the devil, your friends or family,

-That you mustn’t be a real Christian,

-Is that only real followers of Jesus wrestle with the sins they commit.

-The unbeliever doesn’t care if they disobey God.

-The hypocrite doesn’t care that they’re living a duplicitous life.

-The wicked don’t care if they lie, cheat or abuse.

-Only those with a new heart that desires to please God care when they fail to.

 

-That’s why ch7 is not a paean of defeat,

-But an anthem of praise;

“Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24-25

-Sin has been defeated,

-We may struggle with that truth when we see our failures,

-But the good news of Jesus is that our standing with God,

-Has never been about our ability to deal with our own sinfulness.

-The gospel is the truth that Jesus is the one who changes us,

-That the Holy Spirit is the one warning, guiding and directing us away from sin to freedom in Christ.

-So remember Paul’s words from ch6:22;

“Now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.” Romans 6: 22

-Remember that promise and in times of spiritual frustration,

-Cling to it.

Sermon: 4th Sunday after Pentecost, 2 July 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Sin and Slavery- Romans 6:12-23

-Over the next twelve weeks we’re going to be following the Lectionary reading of Romans in our sermon series.

-The book of Romans was the Apostle Paul’s sales pitch to the church in Rome.

-He writes them this letter in preparation for his visit,

-And in it he explains the gospel which he’d been preaching around Asia.

-Paul was wanting the Romans to understand how Christianity brings people into a relationship with God.

-And if you think this is an issue for a bygone age you’d be sorely mistaken.

-How we get right with God is both timeless and universal.

-There’s never been a culture at any time that has not wrestled with this issue.

-And again if you’re swayed by the recent census data to believe this is a question 30% of Australians are uninterested in,

-To say you have no religion,

-Actually means you have wrestled with the question of how to get right with God,

-But have either concluded there is no God to get right with,

-Or you couldn’t be bothered even if there was.

 

-The census also showed that there are a variety of ways to get right with God.

-There’s a Buddhist way,

-Muslim way,

-Hindu, Sikh and Jewish way.

-And it was the Jewish way that Paul wanted to draw a distinction from.

-In the early days of Christianity the followers of Jesus were considered to be a breakaway sect of Judaism,

-Jews with a belief that the Messiah had come,

-And that Messiah was Jesus.

-It was this Jewishness of the new faith that Paul wanted the Romans to get a proper perspective on,

-And in particular the role of the Law in getting right with God.

 

-Although Paul was writing specifically against a Jewish understanding of being in a right relationship with God,

-His analysis can be applied to every other religion known to humanity,

-Because every religion except Christianity basically argues that people are out of relationship with God or the gods,

-Because they’ve done the wrong thing,

-They’ve not obeyed the gods.

-So to get right with God or the gods you’ve just got to start doing the right thing,

-And if you’ve done enough of the right things you’ll be sweet with your creator,

-Or judge,

-Depending on how you look at him, her or it.

 

-So after a general greeting Paul dives into his letter,

-Pretty much affirming what every religion diagnoses as the problem,

-The diety is not happy with humanity.

-And because Paul is coming from a Jewish perspective he follows a pretty Jewish assessment of why God is unhappy;

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.” Romans 1:18-23

-Now that would have got the Jews cheering along,

-Because they would see that that is exactly what the pagans were doing.

-They ignored the truth about God,

-They didn’t honour him as God,

-They worshipped idols not the true and living God,

-And their wickedness was there for all to see.

 

-But Paul then turns the table and says you Jews are no better,

-Because although you claim to have the Law and all this insider knowledge on God,

-You don’t keep it.

-In fact Paul will go on to say that you actually can’t keep it,

-That the whole point of the Law was to show how far short of the glory of God humanity has fallen.

-If human beings are going to get right with God,

-Then it’s God who’s going to have to be doing the heavy lifting,

-Not us.

 

-On Wednesday morning at the mid-week communion the Old Testament reading was the story from Genesis 15.

-It’s a pretty bizarre sort of story.

-It opens with Abraham complaining to God that he’s still childless,

-Even though God had promised he’d become the father of a great nation.

-The Lord takes him outside,

-Points him to the sky and tells him to count the stars,

-If he can.

-‘That’s how numerous your offspring will be,’ says the Lord.

-Then he tells him to bring a heifer, a goat, a ram, dove and a pigeon.

-Abraham gets them,

-Cuts them in two and lays them side by side as God instructs.

-Back in those days this was how covenants or treaties were made between two people.

-There’d be a promise made to each other,

-Then the two covenanters would walk down between the chopped up animals.

-The imagery said this,

-‘If either of us breaks this promise we’ve made,

-‘Then may the offender be chopped in half and scattered on the ground like these sacrifices.’

-Here’s the twist though.

-Abraham falls asleep and in a dream he sees a smoking firepot and a blazing torch,

-Move between the animal pieces.

-The twist here is that it’s only God who walks between the sacrificed animals,

-It’s God and God alone who will make all he promised to Abraham come true.

-It’ll be God who does the heavy lifting in reconciling a fallen humanity back to himself.

 

-In Romans 4 Paul uses this example of the faithfulness of Abraham,

-Who did nothing but trust the word of God,

-To show how people get put right with God.

-It’s through faith in Jesus,

-Who died so we might live.

-Those broken animals take on a whole new meaning in light of the cross.

-Paul sums up this reconciling work of God in Romans 5:8;

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” Romans 5: 8

-Paul starts his argument in ch1 with the fact every human being is under the wrath of God,

-And in ch5 announces how we’ve been saved from that wrath,

-Being put right with God through Jesus.

-Jesus’ death opens us up to forgiveness,

-All we need do is accept God at his word and receive the forgiveness of our sins.

-Our salvation comes through the unmerited grace of God.

-Through faith God accepts us just as we are.

 

-But Paul has another 10 chapters to go and he turns from how we get put right with God,

-To how that will affect our day to day lives.

-And here’s where the Christian faith also departs from the other man made religions of our world.

-Where they say to get right with God you’ve got to do the right thing and keep on doing it,

-God says to us ‘there’s nothing you can do get right with me,

-‘And no amount of good deeds will keep you right with me.

-‘Just trust me!’

-Someone once said that a person hasn’t really understood the gospel,

-Until they ask the question,

-‘Does that mean I can go on sinning because God will forgive me?’

-And that’s exactly where Romans 6 begins but with a surprising answer;

“What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” Romans 6:1-2

-Basically Paul is saying,

-‘Sin got us into this mess,

-‘Why would we keep on sinning when we’ve been saved from that mess?’

-And Paul’s reasoning behind this also relies entirely on what Jesus has done.

 

-When Jesus died on the cross he conquered sin.

-Sin lost its hold over humanity.

-The logic is simple,

-Sin brings death,

-But if you’ve already died then sin has no hold of you.

-If we trust in Jesus then we’ve died with him.

-Therefore sin has lost its grip on us too.

-And that has an implication for our ongoing life;

“Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.” Romans 6:12-13

-Ancient Greek religion,

-Like Buddhism today,

-Had a very negative view of the material world.

-People had to escape from the material world and seek the higher ordered spiritual and intellectual realm.

-But the Bible never degrades the physical world like that.

-Recall that when God finished making this world he declared it very good.

-There is no such dichotomy between the material and spiritual in Judaism or Christianity.

-It was the Fall which distorted the material world and our role in it.

-But through Jesus we’re given a new relationship,

-Not only with God but with the creation itself,

-And that starts with how we live in this physical realm.

-That’s why Paul seems to focus so heavily here in ch6 on our physical bodies and what we do with them.

 

-And this explanation he frames in terms of a condition the ancient world would have been very cognisant of,

-Slavery.

-Once again he raises the new believers question about being under grace not law;

“What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” Romans 6:15

-By no means.

-We’re no longer slaves to sin because we belong to a new master,

-Righteousness.

-Notice Paul doesn’t say ‘now you’re free to do whatever you want.’

-That would be a delightful message to pander to the self-centred individualism of our modern culture.

-No, we are now to give our entire selves over in service of God.

-Whereas before we used our bodies to gratify that selfish, hedonism,

-Now we are called to serve God and others with our bodies.

-Rather than feet that run to evil we should be racing to help the needy.

-Rather than eyes that look covetously,

-We will have eyes that seek out hardships.

-Rather than ears that tickle to gossip and tongues that spread malice,

-We’ll listen for what is uplifting and speak words of encouragement.

-Because as Paul says at the end of this passage;

“But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification.” Romans 6:22

-Through Jesus we are not only forgiven but we are changing.

-Being transformed into the people God created us to be.

Sermon: Pentecost 4, 2 July 2017, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 2nd July 2017

 Rev. Paul Weaver

WHY LIVE A NEW LIFE?

 (Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42)

Rasputin was a Russian monk who exercised great influence in the last days of the Russian empire, and contributed significantly to its downfall. He has been described as an evil genius, and his understanding of the Christian faith was certainly a strange one. His view was that those who sin the most require most forgiveness. Therefore the person who sins the most receives more of God’s forgiving grace than the ordinary sinner. Therefore it is to our benefit to sin with abandon, so that we might experience God’s grace to the fullest.

Rasputin seems to have put that principle into practice in his own life. Was he right? We might instinctively say that he was not. Doesn’t God want us to live good lives rather than bad lives? And yet, Rasputin did have a point. In the Letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that we are all sinners anyway. We all need God’s forgiveness. None of us is good enough to deserve a place in God’s kingdom. It is only by God’s grace that we receive God’s acceptance. It is only Christ’s death for us that opens the way into God’s kingdom. It is only through faith, depending on Christ, not by trying to be good, that we receive freely God’s gift of salvation.

So perhaps Rasputin had a point. Certainly he wasn’t the first person to have this idea. It may seem a natural implication of Paul’s teaching about God’s forgiveness. If God is going to forgive us anyway, does it really matter how greatly we sin? If God is going to forgive us anyway, why not sin to our heart’s content? And Paul had heard that some people were drawing this conclusion from his Gospel.

Of course, the whole idea is wrong. But why? This is the issue Paul deals with in the sixth chapter of his Letter to the Romans. We heard the first half last week during our Patronal Festival service, and today we have heard the rest of the chapter. Paul actually approaches the question from two angles in the chapter, but draws the same implication. As forgiven Christians, we must live a new life, and not try to justify living a life of sinful words and deeds.

Why live this new life? To settle for a sinful life is firstly a denial of who we are, and secondly, sin is a denial of who we belong to.

Paul starts the chapter by thinking about baptism, which in the days of the New Testament marked the beginning of the Christian life. In baptism, the water speaks of God’s cleansing: not just forgiveness – it is also about becoming free from the domination of sin. Of course, we are never absolutely free from sin in this world, and yet this is the direction of our new life. Sin and evil is not in control of our lives.

And in fact, the waters of baptism speak also of life, eternal life, new life: a life to be lived out. As Paul puts it early in today’s reading, through Christ we have been brought from death to life. Baptism speaks of who we are in Christ. By being baptized we say that we are followers of Christ, who died to deal with sin and evil, and to bring us new life. As followers of Christ, we are those who have turned away from sin, and seek to live lives that please God. Every time we sin, we are denying who we really are. We are to live lives that reflect the reality that we are truly Christ’s followers.

In the second half of this chapter, Paul gives a second reason to live this new life. Sin is a denial of the one to whom we belong.

Who do we belong to? Paul reminds us of the reality that we are not ultimately in charge: we are never ultimately in control of our lives and circumstances. And morally and spiritually we actually belong on one side or another. Do we belong to the evil one, or to God? Are we under the dominion of sin or of righteousness?

Slaves were a normal part of life in Paul’s day. They might have very significant responsibility or they might do hard labour. They might be cared for and respected, or they might be abused and treated cruelly.

But either way, one thing was clear: they were not independent, they were not in control of their lives, they had a master. And slavery was well and truly full-time: you didn’t have days off!

Living a human life means that we are bound to other people one way or another. Our words and actions have an impact on others: we are never truly independent. Here, Paul says that we either belong to sin or to obedience. It’s a funny way of putting it, but the point is clear enough.

And he wants us to see the outcome of these connections: sin leads to death, while obedience leads to righteousness. I would have expected him to say that obedience leads to life. But Paul wants us to see that there is a whole package: faith is expressed in obedience. Which links us up with God’s righteous purposes. And God’s purpose is ultimately to put things right, to see perfect righteousness established in the fullness of his kingdom.

So Paul’s question is: to whom do we belong? As Christians, we are Christ’s followers, God’s forgiven people. If this is the case, let us live accordingly. True faith is never theoretical: faith must always be lived out.

Paul speaks of us as slaves: not the prettiest term, but it expresses that recognition that we are not in charge. Ultimately all of us belong to God, and we were made to be his servants in the world. Sadly, by sin we deny his Lordship, and in the process miss out on some of his richest blessings.

I was interested in Paul’s little comment in our reading that he “was speaking in human terms because of our natural limitations”. Paul was trying to make things clearer, but I think he saw that any explanation, any illustration, had its limitations and could be misunderstood. Of course, we are not just God’s slaves: we are also God’s children and Christ’s friends.

Paul ends this chapter with one of the best known verses of this letter. Perhaps you learned it in Sunday School a while ago. “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” It sums up much of what Paul has been talking about: the two ways to live.

If pleasing God in how we live does not matter to us, we really don’t understand the Gospel. The Gospel brings us forgiveness: and what is this forgiveness for? It is the same as any forgiveness: it re-establishes the relationship. And we maintain any relationship by trying to do the right thing by each other. Real faith is expressed in obedience: of course that obedience is not yet perfect, but this is the direction of our lives.

Sin pays those who are its slaves: but the wage is death; sin cuts us off from God, and ultimately it cuts us off from the life of God. Eternal death is what it has to offer.

But through Jesus Christ, the bringer of forgiveness, we are freely given God’s gift of eternal life in relationship with God. It is not something we can earn or deserve, it is a gift, out of God’s amazing grace.

John Newton was a drunkard, a grossly immoral man and a slave trader. In a terrible storm at sea, he turned to God and found forgiveness, and began a new life as Christ’s follower. Eventually he became a clergyman and had a great ministry. From being a slave to sin, he became a willing and of course forgiven slave of obedience. One person whom he influenced was William Wilberforce, whose work led to the abolition of slavery in Britain.

Newton became a hymn writer: his best-known hymn is “Amazing Grace”, which we shall sing at the end of our service. I worked with a choirmaster who always wanted to change the second line of the hymn. He didn’t like to sing that God in his grace had “saved a wretch like me”. He preferred to sing that God had saved a “child” like me.

I’m glad to see that our hymn book still has that unpleasant word wretch”. John Newton himself was indeed a wretch, in the normal sense of the word. Perhaps we are not wretches in quite that way. I don’t want to insult anyone! But we all fall short of what we should be or could be, and in that sense we are wretches who need God’s gracious forgiveness.

So Paul calls us to remember how great God’s grace to us has been. We are forgiven, and brought into relationship with God. We belong to him through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and our Lord. That’s who we are, and that’s who we belong to.

Let us live out our faith. A minister I knew used to say: we must “be what we are”, and that is forgiven faithful children of God. We have a new life to live: let us keep living it, let us keep following Christ. Amen.

Paul Weaver

Sermon: Feast of St Alban the Martyr, 25 June 2017, Bishop Paul Nicholson, St Alban’s

St Alban- Matthew 10:24-39

-I’ve been introduced this week to two historical characters whose names I’ve often heard but knew little of.

-The first was the Venerable Bede,

-An 8th century monk who wrote the ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’. (http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/bede-book1.asp)

-The second was St Alban whose name graces our church and whom we remember at this patronal service.

-What we know of St Alban comes primarily from Bede’s ‘Ecclesiastical History’.

-Now most of you know this story,

-But I’ll rehearse it for those newer members of our congregation who may not have heard it,

-And because I was struck with the remarkable parallels that St Alban’s martyrdom share with our Gospel reading for today.

 

-Alban was alive at the beginning of the 4th century when there were still strong persecutions of Christians being carried under orders of the Roman Emperors.

-It was during one of these persecutions that Alban gave sanctuary to a ‘certain clergyman’.

-While he was under Alban’s roof,

-This priest’s prayers and worship made a life changing impact upon Alban.

-The Venerable Bede writes that through this piety and,

“being gradually instructed by his wholesome admonitions, (Alban) he cast off the darkness of idolatry, and became a Christian in all sincerity of heart.”

-Whether it was rumour of Alban’s new found faith,

-Or some Roman spy,

-News of the whereabouts of the fleeing priest gets back to the local prince who sends a posse of soldiers to Alban’s house.

-In what was a very bold act,

-Alban disguises himself in the priest’s cloak and presents himself to the arresting soldiers.

-Back at the palace the local judiciary is not impressed by Alban’s trickery,

-And demands he renounce his new faith,

-Make a sacrifice to the local gods,

-Or suffer the fate that was being prepared for Alban’s refugee.

-When Alban refuses,

-The incensed judge orders him to be scourged.

-But Alban’s acceptance and brave demeanour throughout the whipping further enrages him,

-And he orders that Alban be executed.

 

-Today’s gospel reading began with Jesus saying to his disciples;

“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters.” Matthew 10:24

-To understand why Jesus said that you have to go back to the end of ch9,

-And a little observation that Matthew makes about Jesus,

-Who’d been travelling from town to town teaching, preaching and healing every disease and sickness.

-Matthew observes that;

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36

 

-Jesus is driven by compassion for people.

-Like sheep without a shepherd to guide and direct them,

-They were harassed and helpless,

-Battered and bruised by life in a broken and fallen world.

-But it’s the next statement to his disciples that should grab our attention;

“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38

-Jesus’ response to the needs of this world,

-Is to ask his disciples to pray that God would send out workers.

-And do you know what the very next thing Matthew tells us?

-Jesus calls the twelve disciples together,

-And sends them out to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is near,

-That the king has arrived and he’s turning this world upside down.

 

-And over the next 270 odd years that message of the kingdom spreads from a rebellious province in the Roman Empire,

-All the way west to a tiny town in barbarian Britain,

-To a pagan who shelters a Christian whose life and piety makes such an impact on him,

-That he trades places in order to save the man’s life.

-A trade which will drive home the lesson that,

-‘The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master.’

-Because Jesus sent out his disciples with a warning;

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” Matthew 10:16-18

-Alban experienced that truth first hand.

-And just as Jesus was flogged before a disbelieving ruler,

-So was Alban.

-Just as Jesus was sentenced to death,

-So was Alban.

-The student was not above the teacher.

-Jesus’ warning was,

-That what would happen to him as the master,

-Would certainly happen to his followers.

 

-What amazes me in the story of St Alban is how deep his trust and faith in Jesus was.

-Bede doesn’t give us a great depth of insight into Alban’s motivation,

-Not surprising given that he’s writing some 500 years after the event.

-But I wonder whether Alban naively thought he could just distract the soldiers,

-Have the priest slip out the back door,

-Be half way to the next kingdom before anyone caught on,

-And Alban sweet talk his way out of any trouble?

-But then Alban is faced with the reality of his new faith.

-And I don’t mean he suddenly realises that he could be tortured for it,

-But that he’s faced with a choice between two conflicting worlds,

-Buckle and go back to his old pagan life,

-With all its brokenness and pain,

-Or stand firm with Jesus,

-And embrace to the very end the new life that has come.

-I wonder whether it was the stark reality of Jesus’ words that propelled to him make the stand he did;

 Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33

 

-Whatever his motivation his boldness was clear.

-When the judge,

-Who was at the moment of Alban’s arrival offering sacrifices to his gods,

-Turns to Alban and commands him to do the same,

-Bede writes his answer was;

“These sacrifices, which by you are offered to devils, neither can avail the subjects, nor answer the wishes or desires of those that offer up their supplications to them. On the contrary, whosoever shall offer sacrifice to these images shall receive the everlasting pains of hell for his reward.” ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’ Ch VII

-When Jesus instructed the disciples for their mission he exhorted them;

“What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:27-28

-In that moment of decision Alban boldly proclaimed the truth of Jesus,

-He stood firmly for his master,

-Even in the face of threats from a powerful authority.

-Alban had his priorities sorted.

-He knew who it was to fear in this world,

-And it wasn’t those who could merely take away a person’s life.

-Alban knew that proper awe and respect needs to be given to God alone.

-When the judge demanded Alban disclose his name and what race he belonged to,

-Remember this is barbarian Britain under Roman rule,

-Alban answered;

“What does it concern you of what stock I am? If you desire to hear the truth of my religion be it known to you, that I am now a Christian, and bound by Christian duties . . .I am called Alban by my parents, and I worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things.”

 

-That’s a pretty solid declaration of commitment isn’t it?

-Even in the face of death Alban knew where his salvation lay.

-Jesus laid out before his disciples that very same level of commitment;

“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:38-39

-We accept Jesus words there as a symbol whenever we speak about ‘taking up our cross’,

-Or exclaiming through some hardship that,

-‘This is the cross we bear’.

-But to a first century listener those words would have been taken very literally.

-If you were carrying a cross in those days it meant you were a dead man walking.

-To carry a cross meant you were certain to die.

-Crucifixion wasn’t just a nasty way to die,

-It was a total package of humiliation and warning to anyone who would contemplate rebelling against the might of Rome.

-And in those days of Emperor worship,

-To say ‘Jesus is Lord’ was an act of sedition not a religious gesture.

 

-The English word ‘martyr’ originates in the Greek word ‘to bear witness’.

-In its original context it meant nothing more than telling what was true.

-But by the time of the Imperial persecutions it took on the modern meaning,

-Because to tell what was true about Jesus,

-Brought you into direct confrontation with the authority of the Roman Empire.

-Alban’s declaration had that effect,

-And in a rage the judge sends Alban out with a squad of soldiers to be executed.

 

-Well the story now takes on mythic proportions.

-The execution squad needs to cross the river to get to the execution site,

-But so many people turn up to gawk at the goings on that the bridge is clogged and they can’t cross.

-Alban ‘urged by an ardent and devout wish to arrive quickly at martyrdom’,

-Prays that the river would dry up and it does.

-The party crosses the river and arrives at the site.

-The assigned executioner however,

-Throws down his sword,

-Falls at Alban’s feet,

-Praying that he might suffer with Alban or instead of him.

-After Alban was beheaded as the first British martyr,

-The penitent executioner became the second.

-But Bede chronicles that the judge was so astonished by this rash of miracles,

-That he ordered the persecutions to stop.

 

-Now we may be sceptical of this part of the story,

-But we need to remember the words of another centurion who witnessed the death of Jesus;

“Surely this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:38

-St Albans story is one of faithful witness,

-In both the literal and historical sense.

-First there was the faithful witness of a priest on the run,

-Whose piety and teaching brought Alban to faith.

-Then Alban’s own witness first to a hostile judge,

-And then his confidence in the resurrection that impressed a Roman soldier.

-Alban literally lost his life,

-But the resurrection hope he had brought him true life.

-Not even the threat of death could shake Alban’s newfound faith in Jesus.

-As we celebrate this patronal festival we too are called to the same commitment as St Alban,

-To lose our lives in the grace and mercy of a saviour,

-Who calls us all to be faithful witnesses to him in our different worlds.

 

Sermon: 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 18 June 2017, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Alban’s

St.Alban’s Epping, 18th June 2017

 Rev. Paul Weaver

THE PATIENCE OF FAITH

 (Genesis 18:1-15; Psalm 116; Romans 5:1-11; Matthew 9-35-10:8)

“Are we there yet?” Those of us who have driven young children to a place which is not just around the corner will be familiar with the question.

I remember one time when I told one of our young daughters that it would be another ten minutes before we got there. She immediately started counting: “1, 2, 3,….” I had to explain that a minute was longer than that, and it would be some time before we arrived.

Of course, there are times when we too feel impatient because things are taking time. Those phone calls which are very important to the firm or department, but which keep you waiting and waiting and waiting. That traffic jam which is making you late. Those traffic lights which seem quite uninterested in the fact that a substantial number of cars are coming from your direction, and you would really like a decent turn. How long are we going to have to wait?

Our reading from Genesis 18 tells of a couple of people who certainly experienced long delays in receiving the blessings God had promised.

The story of Abraham begins six chapters back, in Genesis 12. Abraham lived in Ur, to the east of Israel. He was a worshipper of the local gods, but the Lord spoke to Abraham and called on him to go and live in a land which he would show him. And the Lord made him some great promises. Not only would the new land belong to him and his descendants, but his descendants would become a great nation, and through him, all the nations of the world would find blessing.

But there was one major problem right from the start. We are told that Abraham was already 75 when he left Ur to travel to God’s promised land. And that meant that his wife Sarah was already in her mid-60’s. And they had no children. Where would these promised descendants of theirs come from?

Abraham and Sarah obeyed God’s call, and made their home in the land chosen by the Lord. They didn’t settle in a particular city or location. It seems that they moved around with their flocks, living in tents. But there were no children. This was not just disappointing for them: it brought into question the promises God had made about having many descendants, and being the Father of a great nation.

Abraham got so concerned about the situation that eventually, about ten years later, he decided to help God along: he took Sarah’s Egyptian slave-girl and had a son with her. Pretty good for an 86 year old! Surely this son, Ishmael, would provide him with an heir, and ultimately become that great nation promised by God.

But this was not God’s answer. In Chapter 17, the Lord appeared to Abraham and assured him that he would be the father of a multitude of nations. However, this would not come about through Ishmael, but through a son who would be born to him and Sarah….And so we come to today’s reading.

It was a really hot day. The midday sun shone down intensely. Definitely siesta time! But Abraham’s siesta was interrupted when three visitors arrived at his tent. I suspect that he didn’t usually get all that many visitors. As I said, he seems to have lived away from towns and moved about.

Had I been in Abraham’s situation, I might well have been thinking: “Oh no! Not now, when I just want a quiet rest!” Perhaps Abraham did too. But he gave these strangers a warm welcome. Water to wash and cool down. And then quite a feast.

Mind you, he couldn’t just get it all out of the freezer and prepare it in the microwave. The cakes had to be prepared and the calf had to be killed, butchered and prepared. This wasn’t a quick snack. This was generous Middle-Eastern hospitality. Certainly we are told that he organized all this as quickly as he could. But no doubt by the time the visitors had had their meal, the afternoon would have been getting on.

As was the custom, Abraham attended the men as they ate, and Sarah kept out of sight in the tent, no doubt listening for any conversation she could pick up. Perhaps this was as much excitement as they had had for some time. And then after lunch came that question from the leader of the visitors: “Where is your wife Sarah?” Abraham indicated that she was in the tent.

And then came the unexpected message. “I will surely return to you next year, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” Sarah and Abraham have waited for a child for many many years. And when Sarah hears this she laughs to herself with pleasure and excitement: or is there more to it than that? After all, Sarah is now nearly 90: she is well past the age when she might reasonably consider the possibility of having children. And Abraham is just about 100! Perhaps Sarah’s laugh also expresses surprise, and even the sense that the idea is surely ridiculous – even though she must have been aware of God’s promises to Abraham. But then again, has she taken in who Abraham’s visitor actually is?

For as we read the account, we discover that the speaker is the Lord himself. This is one of the times in the Old Testament where the Lord appears in a visible form, in fact in a human form. You may remember that in his sermon on the Trinity last Sunday, Bishop Ross suggested that these occasions may well be times when God the Son, whom we know as Jesus Christ, appeared on earth in advance of his birth in Bethlehem.

And here is the Lord, appearing to Abraham again. He reinforces the promise of a child, and makes clear that this child will be born in a year’s time. “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” he asks Sarah. And the answer is clear: if the Lord has in mind to do something, he is certainly able to do it. He is unlimited in his power, and in his wisdom, to achieve what he chooses to achieve. And so one year later, their son Isaac was born.

Abraham and Sarah had a lot of waiting to do before they experienced the fulfilment of God’s promise of a son and a family. Even the land they were promised they only ever owned a small patch of, as a burial plot. It would be 1000 years before King David would have real control over the Promised Land.

It would be 2000 years before the coming of Jesus, to bring God’s promised blessing of forgiveness and life to people of all nations, as Abraham had been promised. But Paul reminds us in our reading from Romans that it was at the right time, the time of God’s choosing, that Christ died for the ungodly.

And we might add that another 2000 years have passed, and Jesus has still not returned in glory to establish his kingdom in all its fullness, and to put away all the evil which does so much harm in our world – which, after all, is God’s world.

Here is a challenge for us as people of faith. God is not at our beck and call. As I’ve said before, prayer is not a celestial vending machine: in goes the prayer, out comes the automatic answer! The Lord encourages us to have faith in him, and to pray for his help. But his answers may not always be what we expect. And sometimes we may have to wait. Certainly Abraham and Sarah discovered that.

Paul points out that even if life is tough, if suffering is a reality for us, God is not giving up on us, and he will bring good out of the hard times. “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” When we have to wait for God’s blessings, God is still there, working his purposes out, helping and strengthening us. Sometimes our faith will be very real to us because we are focused on the good things that God has done for us. Sometimes our faith will be tested, and we will struggle. Perhaps it will be like that father of a sick child who sought Jesus’ help: “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief”.

God seems often to take time to fulfil his purposes. But at the right time he indeed keeps his promises. Christian hope looks to the unseen future knowing that God is at work, and he will in time keep his promises and fulfil his purposes. When faith is a struggle, let’s keep in mind those promises of God which he fulfilled “at the right time”. Let us hang in, and keep trusting and keep following. For indeed nothing is too wonderful for the Lord. Amen.

Paul Weaver