Sunday at St Andrew's

30 August 2020, 10am

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

 

Series: Romans ‘Good News for All’

14. Romans 12. 9-21

‘Good News: Love that makes a difference’

Speaker: Phil Rodd

 

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Welcome to this ‘virtual service’ from St Andrew’s Eaton. 

Today our readings from the Bible speak to the heart of a hurting world. 

Within the context of our worship, whether that worship is in church, online, or alone at home, we’re aware of our imperfect responses, and we hear and heed Christ’s call to love.

As we begin, let’s pray that God will still our hearts and minds and speak to us in this time today.

 

INTRODUCTION

Leader:    Grace, mercy and peace

              from God our Father

              and the Lord Jesus Christ

              be with you

All:          and also with you.

All:          We have come together in the name of Christ

              to offer our praise and thanksgiving,

              to hear and receive God’s holy word,

              to pray for the needs of the world,

              and to seek the forgiveness of our sins,

              that by the power of the Holy Spirit

              we may give ourselves to the service of God.

 

HYMN: Praise the Lord! Ye heavens adore him

 

CONFESSION

 

Leader:     The grace of God has dawned upon the world 

              with healing for all.

              Let us come to him, in sorrow for our sins,

              seeking healing and salvation.

      cf Titus 2.11

 

All:          Father eternal, giver of light and grace,

              we have sinned against you 

                  and against our neighbour,

              in what we have thought,

              in what we have said and done,

              through ignorance, 

              through weakness,

              through our own deliberate fault.

              We have wounded your love,

              and marred your image in us.

              We are sorry and ashamed,

              and repent of all our sins.

              For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,

                  who died for us,

              forgive us all that is past;

              and lead us out from darkness

              to walk as children of light.

              Amen.

 

Leader:    Almighty God,

              who in Jesus Christ has given us

              a kingdom that cannot be destroyed,

              forgive us our sins,

              open our eyes to God’s truth,

              strengthen us to do God’s will

              and give us the joy of his kingdom,

              through Jesus Christ our Lord.

All:          Amen.

 

PSALM 26   

 

Glory to the Father and to the Son

and to the Holy Spirit;

as it was in the beginning is now

and shall be for ever. Amen.

 

FIRST READING

Matthew 16. 21-28 

Jesus speaks about the Cross and Self-Denial

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

HYMN: Praise to the holiest in the height or listen here

 

SECOND READING 

Romans 12. 9-21 

Marks of the True Christian

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

SERMON (Phil Rodd)

Romans 12.9-21: ‘Good News: Love that Makes a Difference’

For fairly obvious reasons, I’ve not had my eyes very much on the news the past fortnight.  As I guess many of us know from personal experience, grief – personal grief – can have many effects – and can radically alter the way we view the world around us.  The resulting inward-facing focus may not be always very healthy, but it’s what often happens – and it’s certainly been my experience these past days since Mum’s death a fortnight ago.  

And yet once again, these past few days, as I’ve turned again towards the task of preaching – and specifically the task of preaching on the passage before us today, from Romans chapter 9 – once again, I’ve found how the focus on God’s Word has caused me to have a secondary focus on the world around me – and in what’s going on in that world.  And it’s chaotic news stories that have once again caught my attention – what we might call the loud news stories: the destruction of the port facility of Beirut in Lebanon when almost 3,000 tons of poorly stored ammonium nitrate exploded, permanently changing the life of a whole city, of a whole nation.  Then there’s further rioting in the United States, in Wisconsin, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man in front of his three children.  Then there’s the poisoning of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny.  And in neighbouring Belarus, there have been mass demonstrations after presidential elections were almost certainly rigged in favour of the standing post-holder, Alexander Lukashenko.

So much of the news hasn’t made for pleasant viewing or reading.  On the contrary, it’s harrowing, and we have to swallow hard every time we pick up a newspaper.

Of course, much of it is bound up with the thirst for revenge, and our newspapers are often full of revenge stories.  And whenever there’s a particularly nasty murder story, or violence to a child, it’s becomes easy to sympathise with revenge motives.  But the reason, I think, that so many revenge stories make the front page is that deep down a lot of us know someone we would like to ‘get even with’.  Someone has done something to us which we have allowed to fester.  If we had the courage, or the folly, we’d love to get our own back.  The desire for revenge is like a deep itch somewhere right down inside. The newspapers know that if we can't scratch that itch ourselves, we like reading about someone else who could and did.

Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, continuing our series this morning, Romans chapter 12, states simply that we must find quite different ways of dealing with these kinds of problems. The ‘bottom line’ is simple enough: revenge is ruled out; and instead, we’re to find creative, surprising new ways of dealing with people who hurt us. 

This is a huge challenge.  Not least because evil is real; it often does hurt, sometimes, as we’ve been reminded in such graphic terms this past week (and in recent weeks), as I saying a moment ago – it hurts very badly indeed, and with lasting effects, and it does matter. 

The question is, what are we going to do about it? For Paul, that question begins with the question, what has God done about it?  Quite a bit of the letter, earlier on, has been devoted to answering this question, and it boils down to what he says in chapter 5.6-11: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us – and his death we commemorate again this morning.  This truth is the very centre of the Christian story, that when human evil reached its height God came and took its full weight upon himself, thereby exhausting it and opening the way for the creation of a new world altogether. 

Revenge, however, keeps evil in circulation. Whether in a family or a town, or in an entire community like Syria or the predominantly African-American districts of the cities in the United States, the culture of revenge, unless broken, is never-ending.  Both sides will always be able to ‘justify’ further atrocities by reference to those they themselves have suffered.

But what St Paul says is that when we refuse to take revenge, we’re taking responsibility at least for our own mental and emotional health.  We’re refusing to allow our own future lives to be determined by the evil that someone else has done.  That’s what Paul means by not being ‘overcome by evil’.

Ultimately, God wants us to trust him to deal with the evil that besets us in his own time and way. That’s what Paul means by the rather odd phrase in verse 19, about ‘leaving room for the wrath of God’.  There’s no invitation to us here to express our anger, or to vent our spleen (as we might say) – however righteous we would claim our anger to me.  What’s at stake here is God’s holy wrath:  Paul is saying that God has his own ways of bringing people to their senses and of letting them feel the results of their own folly or wickedness. It isn’t up to us to hurry that process along or anticipate it. 

The whole passage, in fact, is about how Christians behave within the wider public world.  Last week, in the first eight verses of this chapter, what we heard dealt with what we might call the inner life of the church; now Paul turns to its outward appearance.  Even with those who explicitly persecute the church, the right response is not cursing, but, blessing. This represents a massive step beyond the accepted norms within mainstream Jewish thinking of the time.  Paul may well have had in mind Jesus’ prayer for those who crucified him – ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do.’  Which is why, of course, any dealing with the way we behave as God’s children, any concerning that instruction, will focus on love – as it does here at the beginning of our passage – verse 9: ‘let love be genuine’, and verse 10: ‘love one another with mutual affection’.  But we must always remember Jesus as the model of that love – a love that isn’t just a nice warm feeling towards those that are warm towards us, but it’s a love that keeps on giving, even when it hurts, even when our loved ones turn away from us.  Because that’s what Jesus did – and there was healing power, redemptive power, in that love.

I’d like to say that Jesus invites us to share in that love.  But today, if we attend to the word, to Jesus’ words, that we’ve heard read from Matthew chapter 16, there’s really no invitation going on at all: ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.’  There’s no alternative way in this, is there? – there’s one way, and it’s Jesus’ own way.

And to finish, back in Romans 12, the definite command we read there (in verse 15) to celebrate and mourn with those who are happy or sad doesn't just refer to other church members; what the world needs – or rather what Eaton needs – is Christians who are known as good neighbours, prepared to join in the fun when someone on the street has good news, and to be there to support and weep alongside those who face tragedy. That too is the only way – and that too is Christ’s way, isn’t it?

It’s within that kind of setting, where as Christians we’re known, liked and respected, that people will be prepared to listen to us talking about the Lord we serve, the one who seemed to let evil conquer him when he died on the cross but who, in fact, overcame it with the power of his own love and life.

 

A version of this sermon in video format will be available on the St Andrew’s channel on YouTube, from later on Sunday 30 August.  

 

HYMN: Send, O God, your Holy Spirit - no web version available so please use the service sheet sent out by email or available in the Church porch. You can hear the accompaniment here

 

PRAYERS 

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.

Gracious God, we pray for those parts of the world suffering from war, injustice, poverty, and upheaval, especially Belarus and parts of the USA. Turn the hearts of those people engaged in strife, and remove bitterness from their lives.

Lord, in your mercy,

All:      hear our prayer.

Merciful Father, we pray for all doctors, nurses, and paramedics in this period of coronavirus. Give them patience and stamina as they tend the sick. Grant to all scientists who are endeavouring to find a vaccine against the disease perseverance in all they do, and give to those in authority wisdom and broad common sense.

Lord, in your mercy,

All:      hear our prayer.

Almighty God, we pray for your blessing on the Queen and the Royal Family. Endue them with your Holy Spirit; enrich them with your heavenly grace, and prosper them with all happiness.

Lord, in your mercy,

All:      hear our prayer.

Heavenly Father, we pray for Graham our Diocesan Bishop, for Phil our vicar and James our Curate here at St Andrew’s, and for all who help with the life and worship at this church.

Lord, in your mercy,

All:      hear our prayer.

Loving Lord, we beseech you to comfort those who are unwell or recovering from illness, especially those known to us. We pray also for the bereaved, particularly those we name before you now. We pause and remember any other for whom this is a sensitive time.

Lord, in your mercy,

All:      hear our prayer.

Almighty Father, we pray for our local community; may your Holy Spirit spread from this place and bless our families and neighbours.

Lord, in your mercy,

All:      hear our prayer.

Finally, a prayer for ourselves:

              ‘Teach us, our God and King,

              in all things thee to see;

              and what we do in anything

              to do it as for thee.’

Merciful Father,

All:      Accept these prayers

for the sake of your Son,

our Saviour Jesus Christ,

Amen.

A prayer to collect together all our intercessions today

Almighty and everlasting God,
you are always more ready to hear than we to pray
and to give more than either we desire or deserve:
pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid
and giving us those good things
      which we are not worthy to ask
but through the merits and mediation
of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

All:      Amen.

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:

Our Father in heaven, 

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power,

and the glory are yours

now and for ever.  Amen.

 

HYMN: God is working his purpose out or listen here

 

THE BLESSING

 

Leader:    The love of the Lord Jesus
draw you to himself,
the power of the Lord Jesus
strengthen you in his service,
the joy of the Lord Jesus fill your hearts;
and the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among us and remain with us always.

All:          Amen.

Leader:    The peace of the Lord be always with you.

All:          and also with you.

 

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND REFLECTION

 

  1. When situations (or what people) tempt you to give up the struggle to love and to forgive as Christ loved and forgave?

 

  1. How does our human anger differ from God’s wrath?

 

  1. Can you think of any examples of the ‘redemptive power’ of Christian love – that love that ‘makes a difference’ (see p.12 above)?

 

  1. Can you think of any situations – personal to you or in the wider world – that need this kind of redemptive love?

 

 

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