Sunday 27 August
Year A: 12th Sunday after Trinity (Proper 16)
Liturgical colour: Green
- Exodus 1:8-2.10
- Psalm 124:1-8
- Romans 12:1-8
- Matthew 16:13-20
Letters make up about a third of the New Testament. They are written by real people addressing real situations. They also offer insights into the ideas and difficulties around at the time of writing; not least the ongoing tensions between Jewish heritage (St Paul’s own as well as the religious authorities of the day) and the Christian faith as it emerged as an offshoot from that heritage.
The letter to the Romans is thought to be the last definitely written by St Paul, probably in Corinth around AD57. The content is much less impassioned and personal than we are used to from Paul. What makes the letter so important is that Paul writes it from a perspective of over 20 years’ experience of teaching, preaching and helping encourage and sort out churches in lots of different places and circumstances. It offers the fullest and most closely reasoned statement we have of his understanding of basic Christian truths. In fact, it has been called his Gospel Manifesto.
Paul’s main message in this particular passage (Romans 12:1-8) is that all stand equally condemned by God’s standards. He argues that Jewish law proposed an ideal that was impossible to live up to and gentiles were excluded even from that. Everyone was therefore stuck in failure with no way out. However, Paul goes on, all are also equal in that we share the one means of acceptance by God, i.e. faith in Christ. This faith leads to liberation from sin, enslavement to the law and death.
Furthermore, once we accept Christ, God’s forgiveness and love invites us to reshape our way of thinking and living in response. In short, we enter life in the Spirit, and the opportunity to transform ourselves, our relationships and our world.
This involves living life in the Spirit rather than the law and what Paul terms the flesh, the wants of our physical body. He speaks of turning our minds away from our petty preoccupations with essentially mundane and earthly focused desires that we usually spend our time dwelling on intently. Rather we should look to the Kingdom of God and allow our minds to be transformed into more vibrant and kingdom focussed ways of thinking.
Countless lives have been transformed by this letter and continue to be.
I don’t know about you but I am quite attached to my self-centred mundane desires! And I find it very difficult not to be quite a lot of the time. Fortunately, the Spirit doesn’t go away just because we forget about it. Rather, life in the Spirit just is. It is like the air that we breathe whether we think about it or not. But, the more we remember to breathe deeply of it, the better things become. It reminds me of a story I heard a long time ago about a ruler in an ancient kingdom.
The ruler gave each of their subjects a gold bar; all the same size and standard. They could do with it what they wanted. However, the ruler invited them, if they would like, to make a bowl out of the gold and bring it to a party. There were mixed reactions to this request, especially since it seemed like the ruler had given them a free gift but now wanted it back.
Some people decided to hide their gold for a rainy day. Others decided to make a bowl out of some of the gold and keep the rest. Others still decided to use all of the gold to make as big a bowl as possible.
The day of the party arrived and each of the subjects came along. Some had empty hands, others had quite small bowls, and others had such large bowls that they were struggling to carry them.
Everyone had a wonderful time at the party. Then, at the end of the evening, the ruler invited the guests to a special room. The room contained all of the bowls, ready to be returned to the person who had brought them. However, the bowls had been transformed. Each and every one had been filled to the rim with precious diamonds. There were mixed reactions!
There is one other comment I would like to make about this passage. Verse three (Romans 12:3) says that we should not think more highly of ourselves than we should. This is not to say that we should think we are worthless beings who should know our place! (Although sadly, that is the message some people hear from the church.) Rather Paul is saying, we need to hold onto the reality that it is God who is the source of all good things, not us. It is important that we embrace and share the gifts God gives us. Just remember where the gifts come from and don’t try and take the credit for them ourselves.