It’s almost as if Jesus thought that forgiveness was important.
Now here’s a phrase that we certainly hear and use in the community of Christian faith:
Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
So today we come to the end of our series on Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. And if you’ve only taken one thing away from the whole series, I’d like to think that it is this: Paul’s theology, Paul’s understanding of God and his understanding of our place before God, is completely caught up in the idea of grace.
So in Christ, we talked about last week, in Christ we are one body, each of us members of one another. This unity, Paul reminds us, is something we have, like everything we have, by grace; we did not create the unity of the people of God (let’s face it, we’re actually pretty rubbish at creating unity) – it’s not a human organisational unity, but a profound theological truth. Whatever it looks like, however we feel about it, we are one body in Christ.
Last week we came to the end of the first half of the book of Romans, the conclusion of Paul’s argument from grace; that we, each of us, stand before God justified, adopted, beloved children of God by God’s free gift, given to us in Jesus Christ, received by faith; a gift that nothing can take away from us, a love that nothing can separate us from.
And so today we come to one of the great promises in the book of Romans – a passage that I think I’ve probably had read at the vast majority of funerals that I’ve ever presided at:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord
Over the past weeks we’ve been exploring the central theme of Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome – the amazing gift of the grace of God, the undeserved, unearned, life-changing reality that we have been declared righteous despite the obvious evidence to the contrary, and that we have been named as beloved children of God, joint heirs with Christ, not through our good works, not through our religious observance, not through our correct doctrine, but as a gift of grace received by faith.
So after all his talk of grace taking the place of law in control of our destinies, of this amazing free gift of righteousness received by the act of faith that is receiving, after all the talk of freedom from addiction to sin, and of the struggles that we still experience in taking hold of the reality of that freedom; after declaring over and again that there is nothing we can do to earn our place before God, suddenly Paul changes tack.
“Brothers and sisters, we are debtors”
There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
It’s fairly common to see the book of Romans as divided into two main halves, with the first eight chapters being dedicated to Paul’s proclamation of salvation as a gift of grace, received by faith. So as we move into chapter eight, we move with the declaration “therefore” to the conclusion that he has been step by step building towards.
So over the opening chapters of the book of Romans, Paul has been steadily building up his case for the amazing central truth of the gospel – that it is through Jesus Christ, through the gift of grace, that we have standing before God.
In the opening chapters of his letter to the Church in Rome, Paul is walking a tightrope – or perhaps better, he’s trying to thread a needle. At the heart of his whole argument, at the heart of what he is trying to teach – indeed, at the heart of the Gospel that he is proclaiming, is that amazing, earth-shattering declaration that we reflected on two weeks ago: that we are saved by grace.
Last week, when I spoke about the Trinity, I suggested that the doctrine of the Trinity was not so much a set of formal propositions, a formulation to be learned and believed and recited, as it was an attempt to describe the indescribable, to put into words the experience of the people of God: that they encounter God – the one God, who is all in all – in many different ways: that the God who those first followers of Jesus worshipped in the Temple and the Synagogue as creator of the whole universe, and as the God of the people of Israel, was also the God spoken of in the language of the Spirit, the ruach, the dynamic divine energy experienced by the people through history and then most dramatically at Pentecost; and was also the God that had been revealed to them in human form in the person of Jesus Christ; that each of these was a true encounter with the fulness of God, but that when you come to speak of the nature of God, language lets you down, and all descriptions are partial, tentative, analogies.
The Sunday after Pentecost Sunday is probably one of the least observed festivals of the Christian year. So you are fully excused if you didn’t know that today is Trinity Sunday. To be honest, I don’t think I’d have realised either, if it hadn’t been for an argument on the subject breaking out amongst some of my theologian friends on Facebook….
And I’m absolutely sure that the reason Trinity Sunday gets so little play in the Christian calendar is that the idea of speaking on the subject of the Trinity sends preachers everywhere into fits of despair.
What do you say after the resurrection?
The gospel writers each spend a large chunk of their work on the days leading up to the death of Jesus, to the crucifixion itself, and to the events of Easter Sunday, the miracle when death ran backwards and Jesus was alive and with them again.
By contrast, Matthew devotes just 5 verses to Jesus’ appearances after that first day; Mark has half a chapter; Luke has the story of the Emmaus road, and then Jesus appearing to all the disciples and eating fish to prove he wasn’t a ghost; John gives us most, with the story of Thomas, breakfast on the beach, and the restoration of Peter.
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you”
It’s one of those words, isn’t it. We all have a pretty clear sense of what it means, the vibe of the thing, but it’s hard to pin down. Especially when it comes to the glory of God.