Sunday at St Andrew's

12 July 2020, 10am

Trinity 5

 

Series: Romans ‘Good News for All’

7. Romans 8.1-11: ‘Good News: No condemnation!’

Speaker: Phil Rodd

 

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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’.

In chapter 8, we hear Paul address those inner voices that undermine us, that sap faith and confidence. Those voices that condemn us despite the words of salvation that are spoken over us in baptism, despite the life that God’s own Holy Spirit causes to grow in us.

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:           Faithful one, whose word is life:

come with saving power

to free our praise,

inspire our prayer

and shape our lives

for the kingdom of your Son,

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

HYMN: Come, let us join our cheerful songs

 

FIRST READING

Romans 8.1-11 or listen here.

Life in the Spirit

 

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

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.

 

HYMN: Speak, O Lord, as we come to you

 

SECOND READING 

Matthew 13. 1-9 & 18-23 or listen here.

The parable of the sower

 

This is the word of the Lord.

 Thanks be to God.

 

SERMON (Phil Rodd)

Romans 8:1-11:

‘Good News: No Condemnation!’

 

So, today we come to one of my favourite chapters in the whole Bible.  I remember committing the whole chapter – all 39 verses of it – to memory when I was still a student the first time around.  And it didn’t take long, either – and it stayed there (here!), firm as a rock for decades.  And even today I still do a pretty good job at quoting some pretty good chunks of it. 

It starts, though, strangely enough with a bit of an odd word.  Condemnation.  An odd word.  With a bit of an old-fashioned ring to it maybe – perhaps something of a cold and legal feel.  And yet somehow it seems built in to our modern psyche – our way of thinking.  How quick we are to condemn!  It used to be just the newspaper column writers finding some reality TV star or other minor celebrity to condemn, but today almost everyone is at it – particularly in the world of social media, when no one talks to anyone who has a different opinion – they just lob great dollops of expletives at each other.  

I remember the first time I preached on this passage, it coincided with the release of the big screen film version of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement, all about a personal search for forgiveness in the face of personal condemnation.  A great book, and certainly worth a read.  

The thing is that for many of us, the tendency to judge and condemn others is rooted in an even stronger tendency to judge and condemn ourselves.  ‘He’s his own worst critic,’ is a description we often hear.  I’m certainly my own worst critic!  I may really enjoy bombing around my favourite 30 mile circuit on my lightweight bike – Cringleford, East Carleton, Bracon Ash, Tacolneston, round the masts a couple of times, then home via Spooner Row, Wymondham and Hethersett with the exhilarating following wind. I love that ride; but even at my advanced age, there’s still something of the competitive teenager sulking that I can’t beat the next guy (especially when the next guy happens to be my brother!). 

Perversely, it’s often precisely in those areas of our lives that can bring us most fulfilment – it’s those same areas where we’re most prone to feelings of condemnation.  Like when things don’t turn out in our families, our children or our grandchildren, as we think they should.  And we turn in on ourselves and say ‘Maybe I could have done a better job at bringing them up – maybe I was too mean – or maybe we spoiled them – or maybe I should have been a better Christian’… whatever that means.

WHAT IS IT THAT CONDEMNS US?

But what exactly is it that condemns us?  What is it that gives so many people a ‘down-er’ on themselves?  And why do young people particularly struggle so much with poor self-esteem, and end up trapped in a world of eating disorders, drug abuse, violence and harmful sexual relationships?  

Probably, though the symptoms differ from one generation to the next, the root causes remain the same: a basic lack of understanding of who we are, of what we’ve been created to be, and particularly of who we are in Christ.

CONDEMNATION CONDEMNED!

What we see in the eighth chapter of Paul’s greatest epistle is Paul putting the final nail in the coffin of all these feelings of self-condemnation, guilt over past failures, sin and poor self-esteem.  Because finally, a line in the sand has been drawn.  There is no condemnation because simply and straightforwardly the condemnation has passed to Christ, the only one who could stand for us, as one of us – perfect man and perfect God.

A NEW DEBT

And the result of this?  The result of this condemnation being done away with?  We can expect some good news.  And Paul doesn’t disappoint – but he goes about in a rather odd way!  It’s there in verse 12:  debtors!  ‘Brethren, we are debtors!’  It’s one of those verses that retains the starkness of the original Greek better in the archaic language of the King James Bible.  The word order of the Greek suggests something more like: ‘Debtors! – that’s what we are!’

It’s a word that stands out in this great chapter all about the new life in the Spirit – that life which has brought us and is bringing us to be at one with Christ and with the love of Christ – and ultimately free of all obligation, free of any fear of condemnation.

And into that vision of glory, Paul shouts the word ‘Debtors!’ at us.  Except that the debt we owe is of a different kind.  Oddly enough, this debt is the good news!  ‘we are debtors,’ in verse 12, ‘not to the flesh’.  The flesh – that’s Paul’s shorthand for the sinful nature – everything in us which for whatever reason innately leads us away from fellowship with God and brings us closer to sin.

But if we’re not in debt to our old sinful natures, who or what does have a claim on us?  The answer is in verse 9, where Paul says: ‘But you are not in the flesh (you’re not controlled by the sinful nature, in other words); you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.’  

This is a really key moment in this point of Paul’s letter, and everything that’s been going on has been leading us to these verses.  Paul’s been saying that the ‘Law Project’ – God’s gift to his people, has only served to highlight sin, not to change sinful nature.  It’s God’s new gift to his people, the Holy Spirit, that is the fulfilling of the Law.  

THE WORK OF THE SPIRIT

So in an odd kind of way, says Paul, we owe a debt to the Holy Spirit – the very Spirit who sets us free.  How does he do that?  How does the Spirit set us free?  What, in other words, is the Holy Spirit all about – and why is he so important?  Well, quickly, two things:

1.    Firstly, it’s the Spirit that enables us to put to death the deeds that come from our old nature, the nature that’s passing away, that’s changing.  Oh yes, we can try, try, try to be good, we can try to overcome our sins.  But where our sin is the innate tendency we have to do what’s wrong, there will always be a tendency to bring us back to those same sins.  In many ways, it’s the harsh realities of our life in this world depicted in the gospel reading from Matthew 13, the parable of the sower – where everything appears so tough, so harsh: be it the rocky path, and the weeds are so vigorous, and the birds are so voracious as they gobble up the tiny, vulnerable seed.  

And yet, that tiny seed is in the hand of the Sower.  And that Sower knows what he’s doing.  As Paul says in Philippians chapter 1, he’s ‘confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’  The Spirit is already at work – our role is, through worship and bringing ourselves continually to God in gratitude, to work in partnership with the Spirit in his work – and to be aware that it is his work, not ours.  

2.    Secondly, the Spirit sets us free by declaring us to be God’s children.  We’re sons and daughters of God, even as the suffering, resurrected and risen Christ is the Son of God.  Resting as Christ rests in the presence of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, in a continual circle of fellowship and love.  The Spirit of sonship given to us gives us the right to take our place in God’s presence – not a right that we demand, but a right that comes simply because divine arms are opened out towards each one of us, his previous sons and daughters.

Now, to him who is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.

 

A version of this sermon in video format will be available on the St Andrew’s channel on YouTube, from later on Sunday 12 July.  

 

HYMN: In Christ alone my hope is found or listen here.

 

CREED

Leader:   Let us declare our faith in God:

All:         We believe in God the Father,

              from whom every family

              in heaven and earth is named.

              We believe in God the Son,

              who lives in our hearts through faith,

              and fills us with his love.

              We believe in the Holy Spirit,

              who strengthens us

              with power from on high.

              We believe in one God;

              Father Son and Holy Spirit. 

              Amen.

 

PRAYERS (James Cook)

Our loving, heavenly Father, we thank you for the wonderful words from Romans we have been reflecting on this morning. We praise you that though we are wearied by guilt and our daily struggle with sin, you proclaim that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. We praise you that though we can feel trapped and enslaved by bad habits and patterns, in Christ Jesus you have set us free. We praise you that though we can so often feel weak and resourceless, you have given us your Holy Spirit to dwell within us, your Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and gives new life to our mortal bodies. We thank you for your love for us, and pray that this morning we would, by your Spirit, be renewed in our love and devotion to you, and would go out this week to live and serve afresh to your praise and glory.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer.

Loving Father, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to gather pace around the world, we cry out to you for mercy. We pray for all those working on drugs and vaccines, that you would aid and speed their efforts, and that an effective treatment may soon be found. We pray for those making policy decisions, that they may have all wisdom and understanding. We pray for those in the health service, particularly in those parts of the world where hospitals are being overwhelmed, that you would strengthen and sustain them, and that through their skill many would be restored to health. We pray for those who are anxious and fearful, that you would comfort them and grant them your peace. And we pray for ourselves that you would grant us the strength to be your light and salt in the world at this time.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer.

Gracious Lord, you are the King of kings and Lord of lords – we pray for all those in positions of authority around the world, that they would govern their peoples with justice and humility, and with a concern for the needs and well-being of all. We pray especially for the people of Hong Kong, and we plead with you, loving Father, for an end to the injustices they are experiencing and for peace to return to that city, your peace which surpasses all understanding.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer.

Loving Father, the giver of life and health, we pray for the work of our charity of the month, The Leprosy Mission. We pray that in these financially challenging times, you would provide the resources they need to continue their work. Give wisdom and insight to those seeking a cure for the disease, and grant skill and sympathy to those who are caring for the sick. May they be able to reach all those who need their help. We pray that you would draw near those who are rejected by society because of their illness, and that you would further the LeprosyMission’s efforts to end the stigma surrounding this disease. 

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer.

Gracious Lord, we pray finally for our church family here at St Andrew’s. We pray for wisdom as we consider how and when to resume services in the church, and with difficult decisions to be made we pray for a spirit of unity. We pray for those who are unable to join us on Zoom and missing terribly the support of Christian fellowship, that you would be their rock and their refuge. We pray for those we know of in our community who are unwell, and we take a moment to hold them before God in our hearts…. 

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer.

 

A prayer to collect together all our intercessions today

Almighty and everlasting God,

by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified:

hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,

that in their vocation and ministry

they may serve you in holiness and truth

to the glory of your name;

through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,

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: And can it be that I should gain 

 

THE BLESSING

Leader:    The Spirit of truth lead you into all truth,

give you grace to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

and strengthen you to proclaim 

the word and works of God;

and the blessing of God almighty,

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

be among you and remain with you always.

Amen.

Leader:    The peace of the Lord be always with you

All:          and also with you.

 

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND REFLECTION

  1. Who or what do you tend to be critical of, or judgmental of?  
  2. Who or what makes you feel a sense of condemnation?
  3. What do you feel about the cry ‘Abba, Father’?
  4. Which is your favourite verse from Romans 8.1-11?  Why?

 

 

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