Sermon for Solemn Evensong & Solemn Benediction Sunday 10 June 2012
Sermon preached by Fr John Pritchard
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. A friend of mine, had throughout her life, (through her own admission) struggled or even rebelled against being brought up a Christian. However, the manifestation of this struggle led her in her religious life to embrace Judaism and its practice.
Through progressive Judaism, the teaching and the law, she came in time to understand the rich Judaic history, and through the memories of her upbringing in the Christian faith, patch together more fully how Jesus is the means by which we come to faith and relationship with God through whom God’s purpose and our salvation is revealed. She appreciated that the Old Teaching enlightens us to understand the fulfilment of God’s promises to his people through Our Lord Jesus.
So having trod more deeply in the ancient tradition than many of us will, she squared the circle, made connections with the old and the new and in a genuine leap of faith, gained her own integrity in being a follower of Christ, not abandoning what she had learned, but growing to a greater maturity in faith.
But this left her with issues; what about this ancient people of God still living by the Law as we live by Grace and faith.
She epitomised what Paul struggled with in his letter to the Romans; how to reconcile those who lived in the law, to those other than the Jews who live by faith. And who were not descendants of Abraham.
We have a long history of Gentile Christianity, but Paul did not, Paul was a Jew as well as a Christian, so Paul needed to interpret the eternal promises of God as alive to the Jews as well as to the Gentiles in order to understand salvation, and the promise of His Glory to come. To Paul, Israel once called to a special relationship with God, now stood rejected. They couldn’t take the step in faith to acknowledge Jesus. Yet Paul couldn’t reconcile the idea that God would go back on his faithful promise to this ancient people.
For in Paul’s world and experience, God is calling for himself a people composed of both Jews and Gentiles, and on the human side, entry into this people is solely on the condition of faith, not because of birth; for the Grace of God which surpasses all understanding surpasses even the law, and the lineage that was important to the Jews, and the faith of the gentiles must be authenticated by Paul.
Paul, acknowledges the special place of God’s ancient people, but also acknowledges that in Christ, we are to understand the people of God being a multi-racial people who are still the heirs to the promises made to Abraham. Promises not only for the circumcised, but for the uncircumcised; the Promises of God for all people, not just an elect few; as Paul writes in Chapter 4, Vv. 13-14 “For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.”
Paul realises the command of Christ to make disciples of all nations, and sees the people of God as a people who exist through faith, faith “in Christ” alone, and the promises of God belong not only to a small community of people, but to all who come to God, who come to Christ through faith. But if entry into the people of God is solely by faith, and for Jews and Gentiles equally, what then happens to Israel who was called to be God’s people through the Law, a birth right of old?
Paul squares his circle by re-imagining a definition of Israel. He reminds us in his letter to the Romans, that before the Law, there was faith, and that Abraham came to God through Faith and then received the Law, Israel came to God through faith and then learned the Law. This means not only that the “true Israel” is narrower than historical, racial Israel, but also that it is capable of becoming broader by the admission of non-Jews through faith alone.
Paul opens the door, dismantles the rules for the elect and imagines a way by which all are called, all given to be God’s people. I suppose this is what we have come to perceive in our own life that before we ever come to discipline ourselves in “the law” as we might perceive it, we come first and individually to God, and Christ Jesus, through faith. We believe.
It is in that faith, and though we are not worthy, but that grace abounds and we find ourselves worthy to come into his presence in this place and worship him. For what God offers us is unconditional, irrespective of birth-right, if only we are prepared to offer ourselves unconditionally to his service and purpose in the world, then will become through Christ his people, and share his glory in the world.
We need only be committed to losing ourselves, our identity in him. Amen.