Dear Church Family
I trust you are all well. Thirteen worshippers gathered tis morning for our first service in four months. All went well and the warm weather offered the opportunity to fellowship outside after the service. Here is the sermon text as promised.
Best wishes Alan
Who would have guessed back on March 4th that it would be 16 weeks before I had the privilege of leading you in public worship again? Weird does not even come close to describing it.
Ironically had plans gone differently I would not have been with you today, but be chugging somewhere along the Danube having experienced a passion play in Oberammergau and on our way to Salzburg for ‘A Sound of Music Experience’. We have swapped it for what has now been called a staycation, on The Isle of Wight, in September.
I will say this, God could not have laid on a better bible passage for me to open up today than the early verses of Romans chapter 8.
First, I want to dwell on verse 1 from the ever-helpful Message translation.
(Rom 8:1) With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud.
I have a couple of pictures of under the black cloud to share with you.
The first is from dear old Eeyore A.A. Milnes famous depressive donkey. I had a fun half hour looking up Eeyore quotes. I chose just one of them for this morning.
Oh well Pooh it’s still snowing.
It’s still freezing cold BUT at least there hasn’t been an earthquake.
The second picture is of a cartoon man under a cloud of depression. Churchill famously called his depressive illness ‘the black dog’.
For many people, the past four months have been like being under a low-lying black cloud. So many things seem to have been snatched away from us. Among those things have been the simple things that make life worth living ,like embracing our children and grandchildren. So, what is the path away from the darkness that has enveloped all of us?
Well as any Sunday School child knows. The answer is always Jesus. Jesus is also St. Paul’s answer here. The darkness he speaks of is not the one that has floored us.
Not a darkness of four months duration, but a darkness that entered the world at The Fall. The darkness of sin. It became very clear in the early days of seeking a vaccine for COVID that it was not going to be easy. Some illnesses can be attacked and eradicated with a powerful vaccine, some are more complex and need fighting in a number of ways and on a number of fronts. In the same way, sin takes many forms and shows its symptoms in many ways. One thing we don’t need however is a track and trace.
Everyone of us is infected.
Earlier in Romans Paul declares ‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. None of us is untainted by it. No not one.
However, Paul has good news in verse 2 and I quote: –
(Rom 8:2) A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.
As we look to the future, the world’s politicians have sought to encourage us with big positive words.
Our Prime minister has urged us to build build build. Our chancellor has invited us i.e. the whole nation out for a meal and told us that he would go Dutch and pay half. These things are good messages, we need encouragement.
President Trump has encouraged the American people by expressing his faith in them to make a better future; calling them the finest nation there has ever been.
Again, encouragement is good. We need to build one another up. The bible tells that if we do that, we are fulfilling the law of love.
We have a good bishop in this diocese, He has done a fantastic job of encouraging the workers in his part of the vineyard. He sent Carol and I a personal message of encouragement in which he said how much he values our ministry. He has asked his staff to phone around all those who have been shielding and they have done so on a regular basis.
As we look around at what has been happening spiritually in our nation during lockdown, there is much to be encouraged about. There has been a fourfold increase in the number of online Alpha Courses for example.
The Apostle Paul had been through great hardship but in Romans 8 he brings an enormous outpouring of encouragement. For much of his early life he was zealous for, but crushed by, the demands of the law. He had such a strong awareness of his own sin that he called himself the chief of all sinners. When the strong wind of the Spirit of Christ first came to him it was with such power that it literally knocked him to the ground. When he arose, he was a different person with a very different outlook.
His new voice was the voice of a renewed sinner whose sin has been taken to the cross and dealt with by the power of the risen Christ. That voice resonates so strongly through Romans 8.
It is his spiritual state of the Union Address.
His 4th of July speech.
He had been liberated from a tyrant but for him it was not an Independence Day it was a totally dependent day.
Dependent on the overwhelming victory of Christ.
Verse 5 gives his rational for this: –
(Rom 8:5) Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God!
As I have said in my online reflection, Carol and I have been worshipping at Holy Trinity Brompton and we will do so again later today. During one service there were several testimonies from people who had done Alpha online. One person spoke of how he, as a seeker, had been filled with the power of the Spirit as he sat at the breakfast bar in his own kitchen, attending Alpha via his laptop. He testified that he had been such a sceptic that if he had gone to a church among a group of people, he would have suspected emotional manipulation and mass hysteria.
He said this.
‘In my own kitchen with my own off button available, surrounded by my own dirty washing up, I knew it had to be real. If it works here it works everywhere. Not only did I feel the touch of the Spirit, every not yet Christian in my group did. I know that this is a whole new beginning and that God is real and relevant to my life.’
The only thing that stands between the experience of Paul, around 45AD the experience of all the Christ followers there have ever been, my experience between 1968 and now, the only thing is time.
Jesus is the same Lord
God is the same Father and
the Blessed ‘go between God’, Holy Spirit is common to all those experiences.
The words of Paul in Romans 8 are words for today. Let me close with his state of the union address and as I read apply these truths to yourself.
(Rom 8:10) But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms.
(Rom 8:11) It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!
Amen to that.