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Hello, I’m Peter Nimmo, the minster of the Parish of Cambuslang. Welcome to this Sunday’s church service. It’s great to have you join us, whether you’re watching on the internet, or if you’re listening on CamGlen Radio.
Today’s service was recorded in Cambuslang Parish Church. We are beginning to plan for how we can safely meet for worship, but meantime we continue to worship in our homes.
Joining me will be Deacon Karen Hamilton, who will lead prayers later in the service, and Jeanette Alexander who will read Scripture for us.
The Psalmist says:
Lord, your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
Let Us Pray
God of grace and love,
We rely on Your love
which you extend to us in so many ways,
extravagantly and with generosity.We live day by day
knowing that your care and concern is poured out for us
in your provision for our needs.
and beyond our imagining.
You entrust us with the gift of the good news of the Gospel
and invite us to be partners in the sharing of the message of grace.
Day by day we realise the many gifts lavished upon us
We come to You to acknowledge and praise you
for all your goodness to us.
We often appear to be choked by greed and selfishness.
We indulge ourselves and ignore the needs of others.
We are quick to protect what we believe is our own
and forget to share the gifts you have so generously provided for us.
We have ignored the opportunities for bringing the love you have shown
to our neighbours and those in need.
We are restricted in our spiritual growth
by the power of selfishness and indulgence
which take root in our lives.
We know we need your mercy, care and compassion
and seek your message of forgiveness and restoration.
Scripture tells us:
There is no condemnation nowRomans 8:1
for those who live in union with Christ Jesus.
We thank you, God of grace,
that through our faith in Christ Jesus
we live in the security of your unfailing grace.
Help us to live confidently in our faith
placing all our trust in you alone,
allowing your Spirit to influence all our thoughts and actions
that our lives might witness to your unending love.
Today is the first of three Sundays where we will be reading through chapter 8 of St Paul’s letter to the Romans. It’s a chapter which includes some of my favourite verses of Scripture- so it’s quite personal, in a way.
St Paul was always a controversial figure. He started off, as you probably know, as someone who wanted to persecute the early Christians for their faith. But then he came to know the risen Christ for himself, and became a respected missionary, preacher and teacher in the early church. He travelled around the Roman world, founding churches where he went.
But when we talk about church in the few years after Christ, we don’t mean fancy buildings or great huge congregations. A church congregation back then meant a small group of people worshiping in somebody’s house. Christian were a tiny minority, regarded with suspicion and hostility. Perhaps there are some parallels with our situation today?
Paul’s letters were usually written to churches he had himself founded, such as Corinth, and he writes to answer questions which had arisen in those communities. However, Paul didn’t establish the church at Rome, and he doesn’t seem to be answering any particular pressing questions. This is Paul attempting to explain what he believes to a group of people whom he didn’t really know.
Paul tries to explain to the Christian community in Rome what the life, death and resurrection of Jesus means- for Christians, and the world. For Jesus of Nazareth had been accused him of blasphemy by the Jewish religious leaders, and handed over to be put to death by a Roman governor who thought he was a danger to the security of the state. The crucified Nazarene was a strange figure put faith in- so Paul tries to explain what God could have been up to with Jesus.
Paul’s attempts to put into words what the life of Jesus of Nazareth have been very influential- perhaps because he was, in a sense, the first Christian theologian. I think he was a religious genius, and that we have a lot of thank him for.
At his best, Paul was a prophet of equality. He told the Galatians that, once a person came to faith in Christ,
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus[i].
Those were radical words in the ancient Roman Empire, and in the early church. They pointed to a future where what mattered was not your role in life, or your place in a hierarchy, but that you were loved by God. In this, I think, he understood the message of Jesus.
But in other places, when push comes to shove, Paul showed himself to be a child of his time. Despite the fact that he worked with female church leaders, at times he said that only men should lead worship. He encouraged slaves to be obedient to their masters. And he couldn’t really imagine something as radical as a same-sex loving relationship.
And so St Paul’s words have been used to justify slavery, to justify giving women a second-class status, and to justify discrimination again on the basis of sexuality. In the wrong hands, Paul can be dangerous.
And yet it’s fascinating to see this first-generation theologian trying to figure out what Jesus is all about. I think has much to teach us. So, I invite you to listen to him with me over the next few weeks, and hear what he has to say to us in our own situation.
Today we hear the first part of chapter 8 of the Letter to the Romans. Just before this bit, Paul has been writing about the difficulty of being a believer- of how we want to believe, and to the right thing, but often find it so hard to do so. And yet, he says, Christ rescues us from this struggle. The passage begins with a startling proclamation of faith!
There is no condemnation now for those who live in union with Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit, which brings us life in union with Christ Jesus, has set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 What the Law could not do, because human nature was weak, God did. He condemned sin in human nature by sending his own Son, who came with a nature like our sinful nature, to do away with sin. 4 God did this so that the righteous demands of the Law might be fully satisfied in us who live according to the Spirit, and not according to human nature. 5 Those who live as their human nature tells them to, have their minds controlled by what human nature wants. Those who live as the Spirit tells them to, have their minds controlled by what the Spirit wants. 6 To be controlled by human nature results in death; to be controlled by the Spirit results in life and peace. 7 And so people become enemies of God when they are controlled by their human nature; for they do not obey God’s law, and in fact they cannot obey it. 8 Those who obey their human nature cannot please God.
9 But you do not live as your human nature tells you to; instead, you live as the Spirit tells you to—if, in fact, God’s Spirit lives in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ lives in you, the Spirit is life for you because you have been put right with God, even though your bodies are going to die because of sin. 11 If the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from death, lives in you, then he who raised Christ from death will also give life to your mortal bodies by the presence of his Spirit in you.Romans 8:1-11
If you are a parent, or a teacher, you will know that we have to be careful what we say to children. For children listen to authority figures- parents, teachers, even ministers- and take in every word. Because it is said with authority, they think it must be true.
I read the other day that the comedian Eric Idle, who became very famous as part of the Monty Python team, was often told by his teachers that he was ‘Idle by name and idle by nature’. Now, that can’t be true, because even comedians don’t get to the top of their profession unless they work hard at it. But it stung, and it hurt, because even if the teachers thought they were jesting, young Eric took it to heart, and it affected him for years. Authority figures have to watch what they say.
The reverse is also true. Authority figures can really build people up and make them feel good about themselves. I think there’s almost something like that in the first words of the text we read this morning. With all the authority he can muster, St Paul proclaims:
There is no condemnation now for those who live in union with Christ Jesus.
And, with all the authority I can muster, I ask you- if you take away nothing else from today’s service, I hope you will remember those words.
As I said earlier, Paul had just been writing about the struggle of faith. We all know how it is- it can be a struggle to be faithful to Christ. St Paul uses words which are, sometimes, a bit confusing for us.
Quite often, translations of this passage speak of ‘flesh’ and ‘Spirit’. By ‘flesh’, Paul doesn’t mean that its some kind of sexual temptation that draws us away from faith. It’s much wider than that. It’s anything that might draw us away from faithfulness to Christ. It could be greed, it could be some hobby or interest that take up all our time, it could be some other belief- a philosophical or political concern that isn’t’ compatible with Christian faith.
So, the Good News translation which we’ve just heard avoids the word ‘flesh’ and, I think helpfully, translates the Greek as ‘human nature’.
So, for example, Paul writes,
Those who live as their human nature tells them to, have their minds controlled by what human nature wants.
And then he goes on to say that:
Those who live as the Spirit tells them to, have their minds controlled by what the Spirit wants.
Paul is sure that we cannot live lives faithful to God if we rely on human effort. But, thankfully, those who put their trust in Christ are forgiven and set free by God: ‘There is no condemnation now’ for we who have put our faith in Christ.
For with faith in Christ comes the gift of the Spirit. God’s spirit at work in our lives helps us follow Christ more closely. Paul writes:
If Christ lives in you, the Spirit is life for you, because you have been put right with God.
So- know that you are not condemned by God. Know that you have been put right with God- in other words- God has forgiven you. And know that you have the gift of God’s Spirit to live courageously, lovingly and gratefully.
For we live in an age where there is no end of things to worry about. These are stressful, worrying times. Coronavirus is causing chaos in the world. Some people are using this crisis to make the world even more chaotic. So we can find ourselves worrying about our own health, the welfare of those we love, about how society is going to get through all this, about whether we can trust our politicians to do the right thing.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Jesus advised his disciples,
Do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own.
For Jesus taught that we should put our trust in God. That can be difficult for some people, because they might have heard that God is angry, and judgemental. Telling them not to worry about tomorrow, but to instead trust in God, might just be adding to their worries, if they think God is watching their every move, ready to pounce and punish if they do anything wrong.
And that’s why we have to hear what St Paul is saying to us in the first sentence of our reading today. If you have put your faith in Christ- there is no condemnation! You are forgiven, and not only that, you have the gift of God’s Spirit to help you live as a Christian.
There’s plenty to worry about these days, but we don’t need to worry about God. Faith is there to help us, not hinder us, as we go through life. So let’s face these days with determination, and joy. For we are not condemned, but forgiven. God’s Spirit is at work in our lives, and God’s grace is our support. Amen.
Thank you for joining us for worship today. Thanks to Jeanette Alexander for the Bible reading, to the Cambuslang Worship Band for the music, and Fraser Hamilton for filming and editing.
Of course, the pastoral work of the church continues. So if you have a request for prayer, want to let me know about any pastoral matter, or if you would like just to chat, do get in touch- I’m happy to talk to you any time. My phone number is on the Cambuslang Parish Church website.
And now, a blessing:
There is no condemnation now
for those who live in union with Christ Jesus!
So go in peace,
and may Christ live in you,
the Spirit be life for you
and the grace of God
be with you all. Amen.