Sermon, June 18, 2017

Sermon.06.18.17

St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Genesis 18.1-5, 21.1-7; Psalm 116.1, 10-17; Romans 5.1-8; Matthew 9.35 -10.23

 

On Trinity Sunday, we briefly looked at the mystery of our experience of God as three persons – as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – while realizing that God is One, a Unity. We noted Richard Rohr’s idea of the divine dance, a circle dance in which each is part of the other (Rohr, Richard. The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation). In concluding, I stressed we should not allow our doctrines to separate us from communally sharing and experiencing the love of God. To quote, “While doctrine is important, we need to remember this doctrine reflects our experience. I believe it is more important for us to celebrate our shared experiences than it is for us to set about correcting each other’s doctrinal position” (Ort, Sermon.06.11.17). Does that mean, when it comes to doctrine, that anything goes, that we are free to believe anything, that doctrine is of no importance? If you left thinking that, let’s back up and dig deeper.

There are basic doctrines that are essential to the Christian faith, e.g., sin, grace, salvation, covenant, righteousness from God, justification, etc. Over the next few Sundays, we will look more closely at Paul’s letter to the Romans and examine how Paul systematically and beautifully presents the basic themes of salvation. At that time, the Church of Rome was very likely a small collection of house churches composed of Gentiles and Jews which often led to some fundamental conflict. From the structure of Paul’s letter, we can conclude they needed a clear exposition of the gospel and the basic tenets of the Christian faith.

Our reading from Romans 5 begins: “Since we are justified by faith…” (NRSV); or variously, “The result is this: since we have been declared ‘in the right’ on the basis of faith…” (N. T. Wright’s Translation). The use of “since” should alert us to the fact that some previous action has gone before. Let’s briefly explore what Paul has done in Romans 1 – 4.

After a rather lengthy introduction, Paul tells us righteousness from God is revealed in the gospel. Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’ (Romans 1.16-17; NRSV)(Cf. Habbakuk 2.4). Paul then details the lack of righteousness of all humankind – both Gentile and Jew are under sin. Everyone stands under God’s law, yet no one “’will be justified in God’s sight’ by deeds prescribed by the law” (Romans 3.20; NRSV). So, what is the function of the law? As Paul says, “For through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3.20; NRSV).

Having set forth our utter lack of righteousness, our consciousness of sin through the law, and our understanding that we deserve to be declared guilty and to suffer God’s judgment, Paul then shares the good news, the gospel:

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3.21-24; NRSV).

 

All who believe and put their trust and faith in Jesus Christ are justified, are made righteous, through the grace of God. As Paul points out, we are “justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law” (Romans 3.28; NRSV). Our justification cannot be earned. So, what happens to the law? Is it made null and void? Lest we think that, Paul states, “Do we, then, overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Romans 3.31; NIV). The law continues to fulfill its function; it makes us conscious of our sin.

Perhaps you are wondering, if righteousness from God comes through belief in Jesus Christ, what about those who lived before Christ? St. Paul addresses this question in chapter 4 when he asks, “What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? . . . For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4. 1, 3; NRSV; Cf. Gen. 15.6, 22). Paul further stresses that the promise of inheriting “the world did not come to Abraham and his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4.13; NRSV).

We can briefly summarize Romans 1-4 as follows: Everyone stands under God’s law; everyone has sinned; no one has been, is, or will be, justified by adherence to the law. The law functions to convict us of our sins. Our justification is a gift of God which comes in response to our faith, our belief, our trust, in the saving works of God, especially through God incarnate in Jesus Christ.

In Romans 5, Paul tells us the significance, the importance, the benefits of justification. Note how he begins this passage: “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Romans 5.1-2; NRSV). In other words, since we now stand in a righteous relationship with God, we are at peace with God. Our hearts and minds are no longer filled with enmity toward God. As Christians, we understand that this takes place through the atoning work of our Lord Jesus Christ. We come with Christ into the presence of God.

I like the way N. T. Wright (Paul for Everyone: Romans) translates these verses: “The result is this: since we have been declared ‘in the right’ on the basis of faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus the Messiah. Through him we have been allowed to approach, by faith, into this grace in which we stand; and we celebrate the hope of the glory of God.” As Wright observes, “allowed to approach” is temple language; we are now granted access to the “holy of holies” such that we stand in the presence of God, in the very grace of God. Having experienced the awesomeness of God’s love, Paul says “we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God,” or as Wright puts it, “we celebrate the hope of the glory of God.” A better sense of what is meant by boasting is that we are “basking in glory” (Haslam, Chris. http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/apr11l.shtml). In the presence of God’s glory, we begin to understand, to envision, God’s original intent for our life. We catch a glimpse of what, and of who, God would have us become.

Having a sense of that vision, we are now able to bask in our sufferings. Why? We can trust that through the goodness of God, we are being transformed into Christ’s likeness. Through suffering the pain of loss, we learn endurance. Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. The transforming work of God is taking place; the pre-eminent place of self is being eroded, or worn away, that the image of God may show forth more clearly. The process yields a strange admixture of pain and joy. Paul reminds us, “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” (Romans 5.5; NRSV). Our existence is being filled with the love of God.

Paul reminds us that Christ died for us, the ungodly, at the right time, in God’s time, when we were still weak and sinful. As Paul says, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8; NRSV). Righteousness from God was revealed in Jesus Christ. In response to our faith, our belief, our trust, we receive God’s gift of justification – we can stand in right relationship with God such that the work of transformation can begin.

Amen

 

 

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