Saturday, 17 June 2017

Romans 5:1-11 (NRSV)

Romans 5:1-11 (NRSV)

Results of Justification

1Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

My text is written in Romans 5:1-2:

1Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 

Through Jesus our status changes from one who was at enmity with God, to one who has peace with God. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we are placed in a right relationship with God – because we have been declared right with God by our faith – a gift that God graciously gives us. But Paul goes on and states that more than mere status has changed, also our state is transformed and so the saved sinner cannot go on sinning, we need to become what we have been declared to be. Barclay puts it this way: Christ’s death changes our status; Christ’s risen life changes our state. Jesus is not a dead person from history, he is alive and is here to help us, guide and direct us, to fill us with his strength to enable us to overcome temptation, “... to clothe our lives with something of his radiance if we live forever in his presence.’ J A T Robinson explains: ‘... the prodigal has been allowed to enter a new status, when henceforth, everything is different. ... Now everything can be enjoyed as a child of God!’ He who changed our status with God can also change our state.” (Barclay) God does not love us because we are good. Maly explains ‘... rather, we are good because God loves us ...’ and this is expressed most clearly in verse 8. This says something really important about God: He is not an offended deity, appeased by a self-sacrificing Christ; he is a Father who takes the initiative because he is filled with love for us. We were reminded of this in the Gospel reading where we read: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes on him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

This is really good news to reflect on during this season of Lent: Jesus enables us to quit sinning and become good people; our sanctification is where the saving process goes on and never ends, “... until we see him face to face and are like him.” (Barclay)

Our salvation is a process which includes the original coming of Christ. His death and resurrection are all proof of God’s love – it happened because God loves us and to show how much God loves us.

But it is important to stress that it is not a matter of a vengeful God and a loving Jesus. Jesus did not change God from being angry and vengeful to being gracious. The whole thing springs from the love of God. Jesus did not change God’s character; he revealed God’s character and show what God’s character has always been; as Barclay concludes: “He came to prove unanswerably to men that God is love.”

Barclay describes this passage as one of Paul’s most lyrical in which ‘... he almost sings the intimate joy of his confidence in God ...’ Trusting faith, the accepting of God at his word ‘... has done what the labour to produce the works of the law could not do; it has given a man peace with God.’ Before Jesus came and until a person accepts as true that which Jesus says about God ‘... no person could ever be intimate with God.’ In effect, Paul is saying that outside of Jesus, God is ‘unfindable’.

Others, including Jews at the time had an image of God that was fierce and frightening. Barclay continues: “It is only when we realise that God is the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that there comes into life that intimacy with God, that new relationship which Paul calls justification.”

Through Jesus we have an introduction to the grace in which we now stand. Barclay explains that he word translated as introduction is the same one used when introducing one into the presence of royalty – it is also used of a worshipper as they approach God. So, Jesus ushers us into the presence of the King of Kings and when we go in we find grace, not condemnation; not judgement, nor vengeance ‘... but sheer, underserved, unearned, unmerited and the incredible kindness of God ...’ In later Greek thought, the same word was used to refer to describe a harbour or haven for ships. As long as we rely on our own efforts, we are tossed about by the winds and tempests of life; but now Jesus welcomes us into a haven of safety – the haven of God’s grace. We no longer rely on what we can do for ourselves, but on what God has done for us.

Writing this again now, reminds me of the joy I experienced when I first came to understand this ... and I rejoice once more in the beauty of God’s grace and His love for us.

But all this does not alter the fact that this life can be hard. Our lives are often filled with pressures: sorrow, persecution even, want, need, loneliness (to name a few). But united with Christ, and relying on his grace all this can lead to fortitude (what the NRSV translates as endurance) – hupomone – but Barclay says it is endurance – and more ‘... the spirit that can overcome the world.’

We do not passively endure, but actively overcome and conquer the trials and tribulations of love. Barclay explains using the example of Beethoven, who when he was told he was going deaf responded: “I will take life by the throat.” This is hupomone! He continues: ‘Sorrow colours life ... but you can choose the colour.’ This too is hupomone. This is fortitude, and this produces character.

In the experience of the Holy Spirit, people have a foretaste – a first instalment as it were – of the glory of God that shall be. This experience makes us long for the fulfilment of what adoption into the family of God really means. The final completion of this experience will come with the resurrection of our bodies. We are not disembodied spirits as the Greeks thought, we are both bodies and spirits, and this is how our salvation will be completed; only we will be given new bodies, ones that will not be subject to decay. Our new bodies will be spiritual, but they will still be bodies. I love the way Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians: just as a seed is planted and grows into a flower, so our earthly bodies will be ‘planted’ and a new body will emerge, one with the earthly body – just different and eternal.

So, our human situation is not hopeless: Paul was an optimist. He saw sin, the state of the world and the human condition realistically, but he also knew of God’s grace and it is this that filled him with hope – ‘... life was an eager anticipation of a liberation, a renovation and a re-creation wrought by the glory and power of God ...’

There is eager expectation – this life ought to be (in Barclay’s words) ‘... a throbbing, vivid expectation ...’ like a person leaning forward looking to the horizon in expectation. But the reality is that life can also be a struggle. Within we also battle sin and without we live in a world of death and decay.

But: we don’t only live in the world, we also live in Christ. We do not only see the world, we also look beyond the world to God. We do not only see the consequences of human sin, we also see the power of God’s mercy and grace and love. Because of this, the keynote of the Christian life is always hope and never despair – ‘... the Christian waits not for death, but for life ...’

Verses 9-11 provide the wonderful explanation of the consequences of our justification by faith. In verse 9 it is explained that we are justified by his blood – this is a reference to his passion and death. Justification is the starting point. But it is more than us being declared right with God; verse 10 speaks of how this makes it possible for us to be reconciled with God – this means that our relationship with God is restored.

Reconciliation is never the movement of a person back to God, ‘... it is rather God’s action of drawing the person back to himself ...’ this is why the verb is always passive and why we ‘receive’ reconciliation. All this because we have been offered the free, gracious gift of faith. Maly continues: ‘By faith we are what we are not.’

Jesus spoke of entry in through a narrow gate – it is both necessary and impossible. But what is impossible for us humans is possible with God and so He does all this for us in and through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And so we have peace, that which passes all understanding, keeping our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The key words of Paul in this letter are: peace, glory, endurance, hope, love, the Spirit, salvation, reconciliation and life. J A T Robinson claims that all these words ‘... are given their full orchestration and reach their crescendo in Chapter 8.

Philosophers challenge us by saying that there is a difference between what is and what can be. I think this is a wonderful challenge, especially in this time of Lent. But the Gospel makes this so much more possible. We all know the frustration of trying to change and failing over and over again. The good news is that God gives us His Spirit, to enable us to become what we want to be (and what God wants us to be because he loves us so much). J A T Robinson explains in the simple statement: ‘... The Christian life is based on the pattern – become what you are ...’ The apostle put it this way:

1Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 


Sunday, 11 June 2017

Trinity - apologies for lateness

Matthew 28:16-20
The Commissioning of the Disciples
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

My text this morning is written in Matthew 28:19-20:

19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

The disciples were living in difficult and uncertain times. Their world had been turned upside down, they had all been on an emotional roller-coaster ranging from despair when their Lord had been arrested, and executed, and then the news that he had been resurrected – followed by doubts and disbelief – and the many appearances of Jesus to them to reassure them. They had also lost a much loved member of their group – Judas – and if they were honest with themselves, many of them might have had the same questions and doubts he had, at different times, but they had just never acted on them.

Matthew is disarmingly honest – throughout his Gospel – and even now. Some critics of our faith have suggested that we cannot trust the Gospels, because they have probably been altered to suit the message of the early Christians. But this is difficult to accept, because they are so imperfect, in fact sometimes even contradictory, and it is this that gives them the historical credibility that confirms their authenticity. The imperfections of the disciples are never hidden – and the same remains true here.

The eleven are obedient and go to Galilee as they had been instructed, and to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw Jesus, they worshipped him. It is interesting to note that, despite the many claims Jesus made to be the Messiah, the disciples had never worshipped Jesus before this event, because it was only now, after all that had happened, that they finally understood, but they still doubted.

People often misunderstand the notions of faith and doubt. They are not opposites, but different sides of the same coin. Our faith is not something that is unreasonable; we do not need to commit intellectual suicide, suspend all reason, and blindly accept things, even if they do not make sense. It is good to question, it is good to doubt, it is good to challenge. For our minds are finite and limited and are bound by limits of what we can think. It is wonderful to know that every generation and age should always push the boundaries of knowledge and understanding, and today we live in a world which has a far deeper understanding than ever before. And the engine that often drives this forward is the combination of doubt and faith; doubt raising questions and faith daring to think the impossible.

God is infinite and we are finite; we will never be able to fully understand God. St Paul speaks of God being like the potter and we merely like the clay that the potter uses; there is no way that the clay can even come close to understanding the potter.

But what we can understand, what we can follow, what we can know about God has been revealed to us in Jesus. If anyone wants to know what God is like, then our answer is, look to Jesus.

Brett Blair uses the example from the Work of Soren Kierkegaard to illustrate this point:
Soren Kierkegaard, the great Danish theologian of another century tells a story of a prince who wanted to find a maiden suitable to be his queen. One day while running an errand in the local village for his father he passed through a poor section. As he glanced out the windows of the carriage his eyes fell upon a beautiful peasant maiden. During the ensuing days he often passed by the young lady and soon fell in love. But he had a problem. How would he seek her hand?

He could order her to marry him. But even a prince wants his bride to marry him freely and voluntarily and not through coercion. He could put on his most splendid uniform and drive up to her front door in a carriage drawn by six horses. But if he did this he would never be certain that the maiden loved him or was simply overwhelmed with all of the splendor. As you might have guessed, the prince came up with another solution. He would give up his kingly robe. He moved, into the village, entering not with a crown but in the garb of a peasant. He lived among the people, shared their interests and concerns, and talked their language. In time the maiden grew to love him for who he was and because he had first loved her.

This, simple almost childlike story, written by one of the most brilliant minds and it explains what we, Christians, mean by the incarnation. God came and lived among us. It is wonderful that this happened, because it shows us that God is with us, that he loves us and wants us to live fulfilled lives. It also gives us a firsthand view of what the mind of God is really like. When people ask what God is like, we point to the person of Jesus Christ. God himself is incomprehensible. But in Jesus Christ we get a glimpse of what he is like. In the person of Jesus we are told that God, that mysterious ‘other’, as Anselm of Canterbury hundreds of years ago explained as ‘… that, than which, nothing greater can be conceived …’ the one who created the universe, was willing to be one of us, talk our language, eat our food, share our suffering and die on a cross for us.

Jesus commissioned his imperfect, doubting, fallible disciples and through them us; as De Dietrich explains:

It is indeed by his power alone that they will go everywhere he will command them to go.

It is the task of the Church, to make disciples of Jesus everywhere in the world. We are given the authority to do so by Jesus, who has the authority from God, authority because it works, is powerful and can make a real difference in the world.

Just pause and think for a moment: If everyone in the world followed the ways of Jesus, honestly and sincerely, the world would be a wonderful place to be. We could all experience ‘… earth as it is in heaven …’ The fact that we do not live in such a world is not God’s fault, it is the fault of humankind, who stubbornly refuses to be disciples of Jesus.

This is so important as it is the final message Jesus gave to his disciples, and through them to us. The most central element is not the baptising – which – while this is important, it is not as important as our Lord’s command – ‘… [to teach] them to obey everything I have commanded you …’

The message of Jesus, is the message of God, authenticated by the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus.

he Trinitarian formula – ‘… in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …’ is only ever mentioned here and nowhere else in the New Testament. But it encapsulates the truth of God because this is how we experience God.

Baptism is important because of what it symbolises – the need to repent – to stop doing those things which are unloving towards others as well as ourselves. We are exhorted to admit when we get things wrong (something some of our politicians need still to learn to do). It is only when we do this that we will ever stop doing them. Not only is the wonderful gift of forgiveness possible, it is freely available, because Jesus gives it to us as a gift on repentance.

Baptism is also symbolic of dying with Jesus to sin. This is a lovely image: we need to die to the old ways, and if we do this these ways will no longer have any impact on our lives. We can be born to the new ways of Jesus. This is the wonderful good news of our message. To follow the ways of Jesus – the ways of forgiveness and love – are difficult, in fact impossible – if we try to live this way in our own strength. Not only has the way of Jesus, the way of life in all its fullness – been revealed, the ability to live this way – the ability to make life on earth as it is in heaven has also been offered to all as a free gift. Last week we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Jesus which is within us to equip and enable us to live as disciples of Jesus.

This is why Jesus ends with the reminder:

… And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

As de Dietrich explains:

… Thus, in this new birth which baptism signifies, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all present and active …

Jesus will be present in their midst through the word and sacraments and through the Holy Spirit – to the end of the age.

Whenever we meet together in churches and chapels, in homes and other gatherings Jesus is present with us in the power of his Spirit. Remember in Matthew 18:20 Jesus said:

20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’

On this Trinity Sunday, we rejoice that it is our experience of God is as Trinity, one God but experienced as Creator (Father), saviour (Jesus the Son) and that all this is real for us today in our own lives, Holy Spirit. And let us ask that we might be challenged to repent of our sins, that we might die to them and that we might be given the ability to obey everything Jesus has commanded us to do. So that where we are, people might have the experience of living on earth as it is in heaven. For this is what Jesus wants of us. As Matthew wrote:

19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’