Sunday at St Andrew's

9 August 2020, 10am

Trinity 9

 

Series: Romans ‘Good News for All’

11. Romans 10.5-15  

‘Good News: Undeserved Grace’

 

Speaker: James Cook

 

 

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

 

Gaining friends and influencing people – 

it’s a lifetime’s work for so many of us, doing all we can so that people will like us:

How will we make God like us, 

   - or love us, 

   - or accept us?  

What must we do? Is this another lifetime’s work?

Or might it be a bit simpler than that?

Today we have a look at what God’s undeserved grace means for us, and for the world.

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.

Leader: Loving God, we have come to worship you.

All:        Help us to pray to you in faith,
              to sing your praise with gratitude,
              and to listen to your word with eagerness;
              through Christ our Lord.
              Amen.

 

HYMN: Stand up and bless the Lord

 

CONFESSION  

Leader:  Jesus says, 
              ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’

 So let us turn away from our sin and turn to Christ,

 confessing our sins in penitence and faith.

Leader:  God our Father,

we come to you in sorrow for our sins.

For turning away from you,

and ignoring your will for our lives;

             Father, forgive us:

All:        save us and help us. 

Leader: For behaving just as we wish,

without thinking of you;

             Father, forgive us:

All:        save us and help us. 

Leader: For failing you by what we do,

and think and say;

             Father, forgive us:

All:        save us and help us. 

Leader: For letting ourselves be drawn away from you

by temptations in the world about us;

             Father, forgive us:

All:        save us and help us. 

Leader: For living as if we were ashamed

to belong to your Son;

Father, forgive us:

All:        save us and help us.

Leader: May the Father of all mercies

             cleanse us from our sins,

             and restore us in his image

             to the praise and glory of his name,

             through Jesus Christ our Lord.

All:        Amen.

 

PSALM 105 verses 1-10 

 

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 chapter 14 verses 22-33 

Jesus Walks on the Water

 

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God. 

 

HYMN: God has spoken by his prophets

  

SECOND READING                               

Romans chapter 10 verses 5-15 

Salvation Is for All  

    

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

SERMON (James Cook)

 Romans 10.5-15:

‘Good News: Undeserved Grace’

 

Stephanie and I recently re-watched the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy of films. I’m sure many will have seen them, or better still read the books, but if you haven’t, the basic plot – and this is to massively oversimplify – is that there is this ring that has evil power and needs to be destroyed, and the only way to destroy it is to throw it into the fires of Mount Doom. And the three books (and the three films) tell of the epic adventure of Frodo and Sam to take this ring and throw it into those fires. Well, not to give too much away, after a long journey through many dangers, toils and snares, they succeed, and at the very end are rescued from the side of the mountain by Gandalf’s eagles. And, you know, maybe it’s just me, I can never help wondering why the eagles couldn’t have just carried them there in the first place. It would have saved them all an awful lot of trouble if they could have just flown in, dropped the ring, and off they went. Is it possible that they went to all that effort, when there was a much easier way?

This is a question that Paul in our reading from Romans this morning is asking of the Jews of his day, and also he asks it of us today. Last week Archdeacon Karen took us into the beginning of these middle chapters of the letter to the Romans in which Paul is wrestling with a question that he felt very keenly: why have the Israelites, God’s chosen, privileged, people largely not accepted Jesus as their Saviour? Last week, we saw Paul suggest that it was because of the Israelites’ privilege that they were blinded to their need of God, and in chapter 10 today Paul makes another suggestion: it is because they like to put so much effort in that they don’t see their need of God. 

How often are we the same? We strive to say longer and better prayers, to preach better sermons (!), to share our faith with more people, we spend lots of energy worrying whether we have done enough of these things to win God’s approval of us. Maybe we worry whether we have done enough to atone for some sin, some great failure that haunts us; done enough to convince God, convince ourselves perhaps that we’re proper Christians. Does any of that resonate with us?

No heroic feats needed – only faith

And it’s into this context that Paul brings this message of Good News, that God’s grace, God’s salvation is for the undeserving. Paul is saying that we don’t need to go to these great efforts, there is a much easier way; in fact we’ll never even be capable of ever doing enough, not even to convince ourselves. But there are no heroic feats needed. Paul quotes from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy to say this is how it’s always been. You don’t need to go on an epic quest up to heaven to fetch Christ down to come and save us – he’s already been! You don’t need to go on an epic quest down to the depths to bring Christ back from the dead – he’s already died and risen again! It’s all been done already. There is nothing more to do. Jesus has already died that we might be forgiven and washed clean; he has already risen to restore us to new life, life with God. And all that was done simply because of God’s deep love for us. No-one did anything to deserve it then, there is nothing we can add to it now. 

All we need to do, Paul says, if it is ‘doing’ anything really at all, is simply to ‘confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead’. All Paul really means by this is that we would enter a relationship with God that is from our hearts, and that we address him with our lips. There’s a prayer that my pastor in New York used to pray for children at christenings: ‘May this child always know that there is nothing they can do to make you love them more, and there is nothing they could do to make you love them less.’ We do not need to go to great lengths to earn God’s favour, to prove ourselves before him – in Christ he has already accepted us.

There may well be some, perhaps many here today who, even though knowing all this, still struggle with an inner sense of needing to prove yourself, like the child who’s never sure of their parent’s acceptance, and tries to win it by working hard at school, university, trying to climb the career ladder, marry well and so on. Others might have the opposite problem. You look at all the things you do, all the events you help out at church, the money you give away, even the collar we get to wear, and we think, well, of course I must be alright because of x, y, z. But of course, apart from the pride and arrogance that such thinking could easily lead to, the problem comes when we fail at those things, or when we can’t do those things, and we start doubting whether we are alright. 

If there are some here today who struggle with that sense of always needing to prove yourself, even after many years of being a Christian, still wrestling with whether you have done enough, still feeling that there is more you need to do to wash that failure away, there must be more effort you need to put in to be truly sure that God accepts you, well may you rest in this truth, in this good news, that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more, nothing you can do to make God love you less. Christ has done it all.

It does not depend on our effort, but on God’s grace – and that is an unshakeable rock, a firm foundation upon which to build our lives.

All are welcome – but need to be told!

The natural consequence of all this, of course, is that if all we need to do is call upon God/put our faith in him, and if we don’t need to be born in a particular place, or do any particular rituals, or follow any particular practices, or go to any particular places, then it is open to literally anyone. If God’s grace is for the undeserving, and no-one deserves to have it, then it is for everyone. Anyone and everyone is welcome to receive this free gift, this free gift of acceptance, of forgiveness, of God’s unmerited grace. 

But here there is a problem, which Paul turns to in this series of rhetorical questions that closed our reading. This gift might not require heroic feats to receive, it might be open freely to all – but how will people receive it, how will they call on the name of the Lord if they don’t hear about the gift, about the Lord Jesus? They can only call on someone they have heard of. Many of us will have been born in a context where we were taught about Jesus by our parents or at school. And it can be easy to forget that there are many around the world, and increasing numbers in this country who have never even heard the name of Jesus, let alone know anything about him. But how can they hear of someone when no-one has told them. And how will anyone tell them unless someone goes to them to tell them?

Brothers and sisters, we have wonderful good news to share, good news of a God who is reaching out in love to restore us to himself, to forgive us all that we have done wrong, to give us a new start, to make us into the unique individuals that God made us to be. Let us not hold back from sharing this good news. Paul ends with yet another Old Testament quote, also from Isaiah. ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ One Christian writer tells the story of a Filipino pastor he knew who ministered to churches that were in remote, mountainous areas. There were no roads, he had no car or bicycle, not even any shoes. Yet he would regularly trek to each of these distant villages to bring them good news. The writer writes: ‘His feet were wrinkled, rough, and rugged. After hearing about his mission in the mountains, I thought his feet looked beautiful.’ What do your feet look like? Do you want beautiful feet? Is God calling you? And you might be thinking, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, I couldn’t go trekking round the world at my time of life.’ Maybe, though, there are others you could support. But also, what about the people in Norwich, the people in Eaton, the people in your street, the young people in our schools who have not yet heard the good news? Could you be the messenger to bring it to them? Could you be the one with beautiful feet?

 

A version of this sermon in video format will be available 
on the St Andrew’s channel on YouTube, from later on Sunday 9 August.  

 

HYMN: Immortal love 

 

PRAYERS 

Thanksgiving

We give thanks, Heavenly Father, for the wonderful world that you have given us, and for all your love and care:

For the warmth of the sun: O loving Father,

All:          We give you thanks and praise.

For the rain which makes things grow: O loving Father,

All:          We give you thanks and praise.

For the woods and the fields: O loving Father,

All:          We give you thanks and praise.

For the sea and the sky: O Loving Father, 

All:          We give you thanks and praise.

For the flowers and the animals: O loving Father,

All:          We give you thanks and praise.

For families and holidays: O loving Father, 

All:          We give you thanks and praise.

For all your gifts: O loving Father,

All:          We give you thanks and praise.

Everything around us rejoices; 
therefore give us joyful hearts 
to praise you in your glory, 
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  

All:          Amen.

The troubled areas of the world

Dear Lord, we come to you, in sorrow for the parts of the world suffering in many ways, the people of Beirut as they mourn the loss of so many people, tend the injured, comfort the bereaved and rebuild their city.  We pray for those who suffer from the effects of war, fire, famine. From the global pandemic ravaging so many continents. Please enable scientists and those searching for treatments and cures. You are a healing God, we plead with you to heal our world.  In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  

All:          Amen.

 Church and community

Thank you Lord for all those who were ordained last week, especially James, we pray for him and for Stephanie as they continue to serve you here in Eaton, that they may know your blessing, your joy and your peace in their home, in their ministry and in their lives.

Thank you Lord for the reopening of Churches and for different forms of worship taking place today, for those who will be attending, that they may find being together a blessing and a joy, in spite of the enforced restrictions for worship and fellowship.  We thank you for modern technology that has enabled some of us to worship at a distance. Keep us in your peace and love as we wait to be able to rejoice freely in heart and voice, as we remember that you are not distanced from us in any way and understand the longing of our hearts.

We pray for those who are unwell, in any way…

Silence as we bring our own concerns and needs to the Lord…

Lord in your mercy

All:          Hear our prayer

A prayer for those we love

Heavenly Father, 

we bring to you in our prayers all whom we love,

knowing that your love for them is so much greater than ours,

and that your will for them is for their good.  

So, guard them in your keeping O Lord, 

and give them now and always your richest blessing

for Jesus Christ’s sake.  

All:          Amen.

 

The Collect for today

Almighty God,
who sent your Holy Spirit
to be the life and light of your Church:
open our hearts to the riches of your grace,
that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit
in love and joy and peace;
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.

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: We have a gospel to proclaim 

 

THE BLESSING

Leader:     Christ the good shepherd,

who laid down his life for the sheep,

draw you and all who hear his voice,

to be one flock within one fold;

and the blessing of God almighty,

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

be among you and remain with you always.

All:          Amen.

Leader:    The peace of the Lord be always with you

All:         and also with you.

 

 

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND REFLECTION

 

  1. In what ways do you feel a need to prove yourself 
    to God, to win his approval?

 

  1. ‘There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, nothing you can do to make God love you less.’ What does this mean for you?

 

  1. Do you have/want beautiful feet?

 

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