Sunday at St Andrew's

23 August 2020, 10am

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

 

Series: Romans ‘Good News for All’

13. Romans 12. 1-8

‘Good News: The Church’

Speaker: James Cook

 

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

Today we continue our series based on Paul’s letter to the Romans: ‘Good News for All’. This week we focus on “Good News: The Church” and will be looking at Paul’s vision of what the church is all about and how we should live.

 

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

 

INTRODUCTION

             Grace, mercy and peace

             from God our Father

             and the Lord Jesus Christ

             be with you.

All         and also with you

 

             This is the day the Lord has made.

All         Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

 

 

HYMN:  Jesus is Lord! Creation’s voice proclaims it 

 

CONFESSION

Leader:  What God has prepared for those who love him,

            he has revealed to us through the Spirit;

            for the Spirit searches everything.

            Therefore, let us in penitence open our hearts to the Lord,

            who has prepared good things for those who love him.

1 Corinthians 2.9,10

 

Leader:        You raise the dead to life in the Spirit:

                  Lord, have mercy.

All:             Lord, have mercy.

 

Leader:        You bring pardon and peace to the broken in heart:

                  Christ, have mercy.

All:             Christ, have mercy.

 

Leader:        You make one by your Spirit the torn and divided:

                  Lord, have mercy.

All:             Lord, have mercy.

 

Leader:        May the Father forgive us 

    by the death of his Son,

    and strengthen us.

    to live in the power of the Spirit all our days.

    Amen.

 

PSALM 124

 

  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. 13-20 or listen here

Peter’s Declaration about Jesus

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

HYMN: Lord, speak to me, that I may speak 

 

SECOND READING 

Romans 12. 1-8 or listen here  

The New Life in Christ

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

SERMON

Romans 12. 1-8 “Good News: The Church”

Let me begin with a question. Why did you log on to the Zoom service this morning? Why in normal times would you be going down to church on a Sunday?  I suppose most of the time we maybe just go without really thinking about it – it’s just what we do on Sunday. But as we begin thinking cautiously about resuming services, it’s worth asking ourselves: what is it that we go to church for?

And looking into my own heart, I fear that the wider culture of consumerism within which we live has impacted how we view church and what church is all about. We go to church to hear a profound, thought-provoking sermon, to hear, to sing beautiful music, to enjoy the stillness of the space, to catch up with our group of friends. And, you know, there’s nothing wrong with any of those things in and of themselves – But there’s a danger, when we think about church in this way, that church becomes all about me, about what I’m going to get out of it. And the danger of that, of course, is that at worst church can become simply a spectator event, a performance we attend. And our whole thinking about church follows the pattern of our culture and becomes individualistic – it’s all about what I can get out of it.

But our passage from Romans today wants to cut right against such thinking about church. In these verses, Paul presents a very different vision of what church is all about. It’s not a performance or an event that we go to. Church is a family we belong to. We’re continuing our way through this letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, and this week we reach a key turning point in the letter. For the first 11 chapters of his letter, Paul has been explaining the heart of the Christian message, the wonderful good news of abundant forgiveness, cleansing and grace that is ours through Jesus Christ. But with chapter 12 Paul turns his focus from the message to the implications of that message; if this message is true, if God has radically transformed our lives in Jesus Christ, what does this mean for how we should live? 

Paul begins this new section with a plea to the Romans to respond to God in all-embracing worship and to transform their thinking to renew their minds in light of what Christ has done for us. And then from verse 3, and it’s here that I particularly want to focus, Paul turns to one important facet of how our thinking needs to change, and that’s in our relationship to other Christians, our attitude to church.

And there are three particular ways Paul says our thinking needs to change in this respect: 

we need to think rightly of ourselves

we need to think rightly of other Christians

and we need to think rightly of our gifts

Let’s take each of those in turn. 

So, firstly, we need to think rightly of ourselves

Paul begins in verse 3 by saying that how we’re to think differently as Christians begins simply with not thinking too highly of ourselves. That can often be a natural human tendency, can’t it, whether manifested in a proud, arrogant way, when you secretly want everyone to be looking at you and congratulating you, or the opposite, always worried what other people might be thinking of you, and therefore still thinking, just in a different way, that everyone else’s thoughts and words are revolving around you.

But the antidote is not therefore to think lowly of ourselves, to have a low self-esteem. No, what Paul says is ‘to think of yourself with sober judgement’. So, don’t think of yourself as too important, but also don’t think of yourself as having no importance or value. And how we’re to go about doing that, Paul expresses in that difficult phrase at the end of verse: thinking rightly of ourselves will be done ‘according to the measure of faith that God has assigned’. What Paul I think is saying here is that when we try to measure our importance or our value, we should do so by the faith that God has given us, by the faith we have in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, a faith that says ‘I am fallen and broken and can do nothing to help myself, but I am loved by a God who so valued me that he died on a cross for my sake.’ 

Such faith is profoundly humbling because it tells us that we’re not nearly as capable and competent and worthy in ourselves as we often like to think, but also profoundly encouraging because it reminds us that in God’s eyes we are of immense value and worth. And so by measuring ourselves by that faith that we have we’ll be prevented from thinking too highly of ourselves or too lowly of ourselves.

But the key reason for Paul why we should think rightly of ourselves is because as Christians we’re not merely a collection of individuals but members of something bigger, and this is our second point, that we should be thinking rightly of other Christians

Humans seem to have a natural tendency to want to break up into little groups of people who have shared interests or come from a similar background. And that can make perfect sense: it’s often easier to make friends with people who are more similar to you, and such social groups can feel safer, more comfortable. 

But in Christ, something radically different has happened. Jesus, through his death and resurrection has not saved merely a collection of individuals who have nothing to do with each other, apart from a shared interest in religion – like a football or knitting club. Paul earlier in the letter, spoke about how when someone becomes a Christian they become united to Christ; and if we are all united to Christ, then that means we are all united to each other. And to this diverse group of Christians, Jews and Gentiles, and other social groups who wouldn’t otherwise have had much to do with each other, Paul doesn’t simply say, ‘Try and be nice to each other for the hour or so you’re together, try and at least say hello to someone from a different group to you’. No, what does he say? He says something much more astonishing, something that would have been profoundly shocking in that culture. He says ‘we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.’ 

The shocking thing is that Paul is saying to this group of disparate people, ‘You belong to each other’. Whatever happens, they belong to us, and we to them. The analogy Paul uses to describe the church is that of the body, which carries with it a strong sense of our attachment to each other. A number of years ago I slipped and fractured my elbow, and still today it’s not right and there are periods when it aches quite a bit. But it would be ridiculous of me to think to myself, ‘my arm’s really annoying today, I wish it would go and join another body to annoy, so I didn’t have to put up with it’. Or ‘let’s leave my arm over there in the corner and pretend I’ve not noticed it.’ Whatever happens, every part belongs to the rest. 

And so, if you’re a Christian here today, look at the different screens: these are your brothers and sisters. They belong to you, and you belong to them. You might look around and see some people who you don’t really like, some people you find a bit annoying, some people you might pretend you’ve not noticed: they belong to you; you belong to them.  Are you thinking rightly about other Christians – or rather, they’re not just ‘other Christians’, they’re your brothers and sisters. 

But if we’re thinking rightly about our brothers and sisters, well we’ll want to love and serve them well, and so we’ll have to go back and think rightly about ourselves, and especially about our particular gifts. So this is our third point, thinking rightly about our gifts, and here we’re looking at verses 6-8, where Paul lists the different gifts we each might have.

I wonder, what’s your family or household life like? Or what’s your wider, extended family life like? Now no family is perfect, but I imagine as we think about our families or households, and the people who make them up, we’ll recognise I hope that each member has something unique that they bring to the life of the family. There’s the person who’s good at cooking, the person who’s great at telling stories, the organiser who can always be relied upon to get anything done, the person who might be quiet but always has something thoughtful and reflective to say. In our household, Stephanie and I work as a good team when hosting, because she’s much more sociable than I am, she’ll often be able to entertain our guests while I clean up in the kitchen, and that suits us both well.

Well, the same should be true, even more so, in the church. We’re each unique people, each with something unique to bring to our church family. Paul lists seven particular gifts here, but this is not supposed to be an exhaustive list – they’re just examples. But notice what is on the list. There are the more obvious roles such as teaching. There are the roles we have rotas for, such as serving. And there are things which we don’t have rotas for. We don’t have a rota for giving encouragement. So a gift doesn’t have to be for something that has a clearly defined role. A gift is anything we have that can contribute to the life of the church family. It might be praying for others, it might be having a listening ear; or it might be helping out with the Sunday school or serving the tea and coffee. It’s our way of loving and serving our brothers and sisters.

It might seem very ordinary, there might not be a rota for it, but whatever your gift it is still something you have to contribute.

So, let’s be careful not make coming to church all about what I’m going to get out of it. Jesus has united us together as one family, one body in him – we belong to one another. So let’s not think too highly of ourselves, but in everything be thinking how we can best love and serve our brothers and sisters with the gifts God has given us; whether it’s now as we meet together or as we leave beyond these walls to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in the wider world let’s be true family in Christ.

 

A version of this sermon in video format will be available on the St Andrew’s channel on YouTube, from later on Monday 24 August.  

 

HYMN: Spirit of holiness, wisdom and faithfulness

     

PRAYERS 

How Precious Oh Lord
Is Your Unfailing Love
We Find Refuge In The Shadow Of Your Wings
We Feast, Lord Jesus, On The Abundance Of Your House
And Drink From Your River Of Delights
With You Is The Fountain Of Life
In Your Light We See Light
With You Is The Fountain Of Life
In Your Light We See Light

(Phil Rogers, 1982, Based on Psalm 36: 7-9)

Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer

Holy God, we pray for your church and ask that it might always provide a solid foundation upon which we can anchor our lives.  We especially pray for Christians who pay a heavy price for their faith; who daily experience hostility, from their governments, employers and neighbours, as a result of their identification with Christ.

Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer

Holy Father, we pray for a world that needs peace,
a world that needs wisdom, a world that needs healing. We place into your hands
the leaders of every nation, the poor and vulnerable of our own and every land,
those who live in fear, and all who hold the lives of others in their hands.

Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer

Creator God, you created us to be stewards of your creation but we have chopped down forests, polluted the air, poisoned the rivers and seas, destroyed the places where animals live and then pursued them to extinction. Forgive us, and help us to protect your creation by being careful about how we use the earth’s resources so that there will be clean water, clean air and plenty of wild birds, mammals and insects to maintain the ecological balance of each environment and habitat.

Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.
Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Diocese of Exeter)

Gracious God, we pray for governments and authorities who are developing strategies to contain and deal with the COVID-19 virus and those in the health services who may be risking their own lives to care for sick patients. We especially pray for the situation in the UK and the procedures that have been put into force to try to halt its spread. Help us all to be responsible in the things that we do in our lives to prevent the spread of the virus by taking heed of the recommended precautions and avoiding situations which may make things.

We pray for the ill, the lonely and distressed especially those tormented by fear arising from the Global Pandemic.We pray for healing and wholeness in their lives and we pray for ourselves. Help us to bring life and love, joy and hope, to those who live in despair; and grant understanding, wisdom and knowledges to all those treating the effects of Covid-19 and the many other illnesses and diseases in this world, and to all who are working in relief agencies across the world.

Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Father we pray for those whose hearts are saddened by the death of someone close and dear to them; give them a patient faith in this time of darkness and strengthen them with the knowledge of your love, and that you are the one who transforms our bodies into likeness of your glorious body, fit for heaven.

Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Father God, help us be reliable and honest in what we do, and friendly to all we meet in our daily lives. Help us always to give our best, to work to our fullest and never be ashamed to confess your name.

Merciful Lord, 

accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, 

Our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Amen

A prayer to collect together all our intercessions today

O God, you declare your almighty power

most chiefly in showing mercy and pity:

mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace,

that we, running the way of your commandments,

may receive your gracious promises,

and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure;

through 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.

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: Before the throne of God above 

 

THE BLESSING

Leader:     May God, who gives us patience and encouragement,

              give us a spirit of unity

              to live in harmony as we follow Jesus Christ,

              so that with one voice we may glorify

              the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

              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.How are you tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought?

 

2.How is it a challenge for you to think that you belong to other Christians, and they belong to you?

 

3.What are your gifts?

 

 

 

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