Reflection, Reading and Prayers for Sunday June 14th (Sunday after Trinity)

Romans 5:1-8
Therefore, 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. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and 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.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person— though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.


The OT story for today is a familiar one; it tells of the appearance of the Lord to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre, (Genesis 18.1-15). Abraham looks up and sees three men approaching. Immediately he welcomes them to his camp and prepares a feast for them. After the meal they tell Abraham that he and Sarah are to be parents, despite their great age. In disbelief Sarah, hiding in a tent, laughs and is rebuked by the visitors for they claim, nothing is impossible for God. In due time Sarah conceives a son and God’s promise to make of Abraham a nation which will be a blessing to all nations begins to be fulfilled.
That story is part of the back catalogue for Paul’s teaching in his letter to the church in Rome. He draws upon the experience of Abraham to illustrate that we don’t always get what we deserve, with God we get far, far more! The idea of justification by faith is one Paul explores frequently in his letters. He is convinced that a complete change of mindset is essential in his readers if they are to be welcomed into the freedom that Christ offers. He argues that the idea that God has somehow to be cajoled into caring about his creation by elaborate rituals and promises of obedience must be rejected as false. For Paul, God is as we meet him in Jesus. To helps us understand the nature of God as Father Paul draws a picture of a people at war with God, fearful, and alternatively rebellious and broken; seeking but never truly trusting in God’s blessing.
Into this war-torn landscape the Father sends the Son, to announce a final and unshakable peace accord. No one else has the authority to declare an end to the hostilities but God. In Jesus the Son, God takes upon himself the work of transforming enemies into friends. Jesus declares on the cross his whole-hearted solidarity with us. He stands with us so that we may ultimately stand where he belongs, in the Father’s presence. This declaration of peace, so freely offered, shifts the very ground we stand upon. It is as though the soldiers in the first world war had gone to sleep in the trenches and woken up in their own beds at home, their recent warfare no more than a distant dream.
All this Paul declares has been done for us whilst we were ignorant of God’s love and lost in our own self centeredness. But the transportation to this new place of peace with God is still one we need to wake up and recognise as real if we are to enjoy the riches of our new home. We need to explore and make our own, the freedom and peace we have been given. To occupy the land God has invited us to inhabit. To discover the cost of discipleship. As Bonhoeffer so succinctly put it, salvation is free, but it will cost you everything.
In just a few sentences Paul contrasts this ‘once and for all’ gift of salvation with the slow transformation that gradually changes us into the likeness of Christ. He explores the life of discipleship by discussing the impact of suffering. Suffering he says produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us. I am familiar with these words because in our household they are frequently quoted at me when I grumble, and I grumble a lot! But the familiarity should not rob us of the power of the message they are seeking to convey. That suffering is an inevitable part of life in a fallen world. We cannot avoid it although that is no reason to seek it out. The suffering that comes to us as part of life, can and will, make us stronger if we persevere with thankfulness and trust in God. Remaining open to love, even as we are suffering enables us to rest in the new land God has brought us into. We are now living in a place characterised by peace with God, our hope is that what we experience now in part, we will one day experience fully.
Christians are by nature a people of anticipation; we look forward to God completing in us what he has begun. This is our hope of glory; that we will see God face to face. David Ford in The Drama of Living describes salvation as being a relationship of intimacy with God where we hold one another in a gaze of love and mutual knowing. In our age of separation, where we are missing seeing people face to face, I find this a powerful image to reflect upon. It simplifies religion in an almost scandalous manner and implies that so much of what we worry about in church life is irrelevant. At the same time, the scriptures we have looked at today remind us that God has taken the initiative in the ‘drama of living’. It is he who has engaged us with the look of love and held our eyes until we could see and understand that we are treasured by our God. The bible refers to this as grace; the free and undeserved, self-giving love of God. It is the message Christ proclaimed not only through his teaching but also in his death and resurrection. Grace is the foundation on which the Church was built. God’s initiative taking Spirit has led Christians ever since into new adventures, equipping them to be agents of change for the coming of his Kingdom. We have no reason to believe that this time of waiting and preparing will not result in a similar experience for us today. Let us pray for ourselves and one another that we will have the wisdom to recognise God leading us and the courage to follow.
I have been musing this week about change and how it happens. Some changes are rapid, others slow, some chasms are leapt in one stride, other mountains are conquered one step at time. However we choose to get from one place to another, change is a characteristic of life that we all have to come to terms with. Perhaps there is a lesson here for the Church. Over the past months we have had to change in ways none of us could ever have imagined. We have closed our buildings, met on-line for worship, worked out how to live without cash and supported one another over the phone rather than face to face. None of us would ever have chosen these changes but we have made them to protect and care for one another.
Now as we are reflecting upon what church life will look like as we immerge from this time of lockdown perhaps we need to step back and listen again to the scriptures and let the stories we have told for generations, inform the direction we want to go in the future.
God, ground of our hope, when we are cast down or dismayed, keep alive in us your spirit of hope. Fill us with all joy and peace as we lead the life of faith, until by the power of the Holy Spirit, we overflow with hope; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen