I am convinced

A Sermon by The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Genesis 29:15-28, Psalm 128, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:44-58

“I am convinced that … nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of Christ.” I am convinced – that’s one strong statement! It’s spoken by St Paul with all the conviction he can muster as he comes to the end of the first half of his Epistle to the Romans. After eight chapters of often dense, and, to us all these years later, at times difficult to comprehend, argument as to who is in and who is out, Paul is convinced. His conviction is simple and straightforward and is found in Romans 8 verses 35 – 38.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …. I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Just what is the issue Paul has been arguing? He is writing to the church in Rome, apparently preparing the way for his first visit. As happens in many communities, including churches, there were divisions. Some thought they were better than others because of their background, their schooling, their life experience, their generosity, their open-mindedness, their nurturing of the old ways, their embrace of the new. You know what it’s like – we have all experienced this sort of thing, we are all guilty of it from time to time. It’s the classic Annie Oakley ‘Anything you can do I can do better’ approach to life. It’s the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son – ‘you owe me, Dad, I’ve always been here, never let you down.’

Well, says Paul, there’s a surprise for us all. In God’s eyes all have sinned, all have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), of what we were made to be, of our wonderful glorious potential to love God and love our neighbour. No one has room to boast. No one can claim to be better than the other. All, using classic theological language, all have sinned. That language sits uncomfortably with us today – even those of us for whom it is familiar, who gather to confess our sins each week, who pray ‘O Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’

The genius of St Paul was to realise the liberation that comes when we do finally admit that we are all in the same boat, we are all, alike, sinners. We can stop trying to earn our way into God’s good books, stop trying to pretend that we are someone and something we are not and can never be. And instead, turn to God, be embraced by God’s love and, using two beautiful biblical metaphors, allow ourselves to be carried on the wings of eagles (Exodus 19:4) or be gathered as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37). This realisation that God loves us, each one of us, no matter who or what or where, is again illustrated in biblical metaphor when we think of a pearl of great value, buried treasure, a lost sheep or coin, a child welcomed, a leper embraced. If the profligate sowing of seed in recently heard parables is indeed the love of God shed abroad – then we are, we must, be included in that love.

All this, argues St Paul, is to do with grace – the free, unearned, unasked for, undeserved love of God shed abroad.

But surely there must be a cost to it all? St Paul is quite clear that there is a cost – but not to us, not to you and me. The cost is seen in the Cross of Jesus, and him crucified. The cost is in the love of the Father who, despite the cries of the Son – my God my God why – allows the very worst of human nature, the darkest of sin, the depths of depravity to have its way. The cost is for the one who said “This is my Body, this is my Blood – take, eat, drink, do this in remembrance of me.” The cost is for the one we confess as the “Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.” The cost is the incredible, unbelievable, unimaginable power of God which raised Jesus from the tomb – that ruach, the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, which brooded over the waters of chaos and brought into being this rich and beautiful world we live in, which was breathed into the earth creature called Adam. It is the same Spirit which ‘intercedes with sighs too deep for words.’ (Romans 8:26)

So what do we do? Sit back and carry on as normal? Keep sniping at each other? Look for someone to blame? Point fingers and make snide comments about who is at fault? If the grace of God is so freely given, is there any need to change?

In St Paul’s writing there is usually a “Therefore.” God has done this through the cross of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit THEREFORE …. And that is as true in his letter to the Romans as in other writings.

There are two particular ‘therefores’ in Romans. The first is found in chapter 10, the second in chapter 12. The first is the imperative to share the good news of God’s love. Those who come to Evensong tonight will hear these words from Romans 10, written when thinking about those who have not yet responded to God’s love.

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? (Romans 10:14)

There is a clear imperative to spread the Gospel, to be the messenger Isaiah wrote of: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Isaiah 52:7  & Romans 10:15). This is no less than the Great Commission found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising and teaching…”

The second ‘therefore’ I draw your attention to is found in Romans 12 (and many other places in Paul’ writing).

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Our ‘good works’, our keeping of God’s Law in a mechanical sense, even our regular attendance at church, do not earn us the right into God’s Kingdom. But once we have caught a glimpse of the love of God in Jesus; once we have knelt at the foot of the cross; once we have been washed in the waters of baptism, eaten from the altar, shared the Peace with our brethren, then a natural consequence will be to produce the Fruits of the Spirit. There are many biblical references to fruit – both good and bad – but the classic definition belongs to St Paul:

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Imagine a world where politicians, for example, took a step back and asked themselves, ‘Will what I am about to say bear fruit as defined by St Paul?’ Where a similar question was asked when tempers are raised between members of households, in the workplace, or someone cuts in front of me a little too quickly on the motorway. In these strange coronavirus times there is a lot being said about ‘community.’ It may be that living intentionally in the fruits of the Spirit is the most generous and loving thing we can do to build community and support one another.

“I am convinced” was our starting point, “I am convinced that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of Christ.”

The question I leave you with today is this: So what? What difference will this conviction of Paul’s make in your life, in mine, in my neighbours, in our communities?