sermon from March 12 (recording unavailable)

The Word

Introduction to the Word
And now welcome to week two of our Paul fest. To recap this is my sad attempt to make up for 30 years of neglect when it comes to the apostle Paul. This is part of my retirement preparation, carried out in the vain hope that should I meet Paul in heaven and he says, “why did you ignore me in your preaching?” I will be able to say, “did you catch the final year?”
Good news, this week’s reading is nominally better than last week’s; less talk of sin and righteousness, justification and trespass. I’m not saying that this week’s reading is easy, just better.
Here’s how we’re going to handle it, it’s a little audacious; if I do meet Paul in heaven I don’t think he will thank me for it. I have rewritten his letter to the Romans, the whole thing; but I’ve done so as Paul might have written it were he alive in 2017, and he were English speaking and a 54 year old white liberal male Canadian member of the United Church of Canada. I have written it as though he were sending it to you, the people of TSA. In so doing I hope that I am being fair to the guy. I mean, as I told you last week, he wrote more books of the bible than anyone else. He deserves respect. So I offer my attempt respectfully, sincerely; trusting that something of Paul’s spirit may be preserved. My hope is that if you hear the whole thing, rather than eight verses at a time, it may make a little more sense. We’ll see.
Hear the word starting with Genesis:
Scripture Genesis12: 1-4a
Psalm 121 p. 844
Romans 4: 1-5, 13-17
John 3: 1-17

Anthem O God, Why Are You Silent?
Dear friends in Christ, let all that follows serve as my letter of introduction. My name is Paul and I have dedicated my life to the gospel we share, to the faith that has sustained people down through the ages and which inspires us to live more fully, more freely, and more faithfully today. God’s blessings be upon you.
It is my hope to come to Renfrew in the near future and to join with your church for a time in worship and in study so that together we may grow in faith.
The age in which we live desperately needs the gospel. We are surrounded by violence and lies; people despair. But God has woven hope and goodness into the very fabric of creation. Now many remain blind to this hope but we cannot be too harsh about that for in one way or another we have all been overwhelmed by the world, we have all given in to materialism, greed, selfishness; we have all failed in relationships, we are all wounded in one way or another. When we are harsh or judgemental we simply deepen our own pain. When we are patient, when we are forgiving we find relief and even joy.
As I have written, God has woven hope and goodness into the very fabric of creation. We need to remember that God is not only found within our traditions and practices, the Spirit moves through the whole of creation. And therefore without even having heard of the gospel there are people who live it. May this truth keep us humble. God alone judges.
We do create many divisions and religious arrogance is the worst type of pride. We all think we have the answer, the path to God; we all think we are living the moral life, the virtuous life but it is all more complicated than that. God alone knows what is in the heart.
I believe that God is reaching out to all creation, to every person in creation and God delights in each one who responds, in each who says, ‘here I am Lord’. God is speaking but many are too busy to listen, many talk so much that God can’t get a word in edgeways. Some of these people may even think that they are of God, may think that they are serving God but they are not. A deep relationship with God begins in silence.
What I am saying is nothing new. Look back at our traditions, look at the prophets. Before acting, before speaking they listened. Our churches today sometimes act before really discerning what God is calling them to do. I grant that other churches discern for so long that they fail to act. We, of course, must find the balance; listening for God, responding to the Spirit.
To we of the church God has spoken most clearly through Jesus. In Christ, God has shown how through vulnerability and love, how through compassion and healing, how through justice and truth telling we can live into the freedom and peace for which we long. Trust that, believe that. Let go of illusions that life is about strength or power or self reliance. Let go of illusions that keep you from seeing the needs of others; illusions that keep you from claiming the goodness God intends or that have you hoarding that goodness and failing to share. Trust in the Word God has spoken in Christ.
It is a strange thing; we long for healing, we long for wholeness, we long for peace. We search the world for them, we read self help books, we diet and exercise and tithe to try to win these prizes but God has given them to us, freely. All that we do that is good flows out of the recognition of this truth.
God so loves the world. God so loves the world that God has woven hope and goodness into the very fabric of creation. And yet something in us, something about our humanity makes it hard for us to see that, to accept that. We turn away from that truth. We think we know better. We put our faith in money markets, lotteries, and laws and at the end of a lifetime we are surprised by our discontent. Death looms like some great adversary depriving us of one last event, one last moment. It doesn’t have to be that way. In God, with God life overwhelms death and we see not our own passing but the continuation of everything that is good and noble and pure.
As has been the case throughout time suffering is bound up in life. We have caused so much harm to ourselves and others. But we do not have to passively accept it. We can rise above it. The story of the Christ offers us a way to reimagine all suffering and use it for transformation, for new life, for resurrection. Life does not have to be defined by anxiety, guilt, and shame. Wounds can heal. We are not doomed to repeat past sins. We can be gentler, humbler, kinder; more fully human.
I know how hard this is. Just when I think I’ve got it down pat, that I have risen up to some noble plain of perfection I come crashing down again. But my point is that we never have to stay down. We can always rise again into the light and goodness that is God. We are loved by God and nothing can come between us and God; no prison wall, no illness, no personal wrong, no amount of embarrassment or fear or hatred; no terrorist threat, no economic collapse, no doctrine, decree, or pronouncement. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, ever, period.
Our’s is a faith that has always celebrated the expanding, expansive love of God. God called Abraham promising descendants as numerous as the stars. And since that day we have seen God’s embrace widen to include the cosmos. We have often thought it had reached its limit, that God could not possibly include those of other races, cultures, orientations but each and every time God has surprised us proving more gracious, more merciful, more faithful to creation than our hearts could conceive.
Sisters and brothers, do not give up on God, do not give up on the gospel, do not be conformed to the world but continue to inspire it with love. Relieve suffering, celebrate beauty, be hospitable, pray. Do what you know to be good and right. Set a good example for there are many looking to us for hope in a violent world. Don’t get caught up in petty squabbles. It’s easy to do so in close knit communities but try to keep your eyes on the big picture. Harmony and unity are in short supply and will be appreciated by those who come into your midst.
I know that you are a strong and a good community. I know that the Spirit works through you and I am sorry that I have not been to see you yet, but others had greater need of me. The time has come, I am on my way. Pray for me as I and the churches I have served pray for you.
May all that we do, together and apart, prove worthy of the God who has called us, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.