Wardie Logo Pink

Sunday Service, 27th September 2020

Call to Worship

Turn towards us, God of grace,
for you are always loving towards those who turn to you:
Steady our steps as we seek you,
for you are faithful to all your promises.
We shall praise you and not be afraid.

Hymn 154 – How great thou art. Listen here.         

Prayer

Lord God, you are our life-giver and our source of love and hope. You give our lives beauty and gentleness and you reveal to us things which we sometimes fail to see. In you we live and move and exist. You are our true home.

We praise you and thank you.

You have reached out to us in the life and example of Jesus. In his life on earth he touched lives in his teaching and healing. Through him we have become your people. Whatever our background; whatever our hopes and needs; whether we come before you today in joy or in sadness; in all we face we find we are one in you and you hold each of us in love.

We praise you and thank you.

The Church is wherever God’s people are praising, whether in a building, in a small group or at home alone. Wherever we are church today help us to be aware of your presence.
For the opportunity to worship you:

We praise and thank you.

Hear us, O God, as we ask forgiveness:
For the hurt we have caused you and for the hurt we have caused other people;
Lord, please forgive us.
For the unkind words we have used and the things we have failed to do;
Lord, please forgive us.
For our unwillingness to forgive while depending on your forgiveness of us;
Lord, please forgive us.
For our selfishness and greed, our jealousy and pride;
Lord, please forgive us.
Compassionate God, hold us when we stumble and lift us up when we fall.
Hear us now as we pray further in the words Jesus taught his disciples, saying:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. For ever. Amen.

 

In Dalmeny and Queensferry Churches we are doing “The Bible in a Year.” We have embarked on five weeks on the Epistles. I preached on Romans last Sunday and did that in three sections. I am using two of them today.

Reading        

Romans 8: 31–39 (NRSV)

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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.

Reflection

This passage is one of the best-known passages from Romans. I use it very often in funeral services and I describe it as “probably the most powerful words in the whole of the Scriptures.” Charles Wesley had for long been familiar with the scriptures but it was on reading these words from Romans 8 that he felt God’s presence within him and he was moved to write one of his greatest hymns which we’ll sing at the close of our worship.

In Chapter 8 Paul is moving towards the conclusion of his reflections on grace. He reviews his thoughts on life in the Spirit and introduces his thoughts about ways of living – living according to the flesh or living according to the Spirit. Living according to the flesh is living according to the standards of the world while living according to the Spirit means setting our minds on God and the Holy Spirit. Paul then stresses that we have an obligation to live according to the Spirit and, in so doing, become children of God.

Choosing to live by the Spirit is an inner transformation and that transformation forms the centre of Chapter 8. But it’s not all plain sailing. Paul does not deny the reality of suffering in the lives of Christian people but he does not attribute it to the intentional will of God. He interprets suffering as a family event so, when we are part of God’s family, while we may suffer we also share in the assurance of being glorified, just as Christ is glorified.

The whole question of suffering in the world is vexed and vexing. Why would a loving God cause suffering to his children? Shelves of books have been written on the subject but I don’t think there is any satisfactory answer. For me, God does not bring suffering – and I don’t believe he can prevent it either. That to me would be just as problematic as saying he brings suffering. Suffering is part of the human condition. People become ill; people die when we would much rather they didn’t; terrible natural and human-made tragedies happen; pandemics happen. I believe God is there with us in our suffering. God knows about suffering – his son was put to death on a cross. Suffering remains a mystery but I believe it is an area of life where we can see his power most clearly.

From talking about grace and faith Paul turns to hope. Living in hope means we live with confidence that nothing lies beyond the scope of God’s loving purpose and power. But, of course, hope and faith require patience. I’m not at all sure that patience is one of my strengths, at least it doesn’t come easy.

The convictions of the earlier part of Chapter 8 lead to the powerful conclusion which we read. Paul recognises that many things in life appear to contradict the affirmations he has made. Suffering is real but the conviction that God is for us is also real. If Christ died for us then what in the world can make us doubt God’s love for us? He lists the things which might appear to separate us from God and then affirms that none of those things, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And Paul doesn’t just think this – he knows it with absolute certainty. The GNB says: “For I am certain” but I think the best translation is: For I am convinced. That means he has thought this through and come to a considered conclusion. It’s that considered certainty which makes these words so powerful.

Here’s a suggestion. Write a paraphrase of the end of Chapter 8 including present-day extremes which Paul might have used if he had been writing today. Some might be the same things Paul mentions. Others might be specific to now.

With the rising numbers of coronavirus infections and the increased restrictions to our lives once again, perhaps he might have said that Covid 19 can never separate us from the love of God.

Reading       

Romans 12: 1–8

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhorting; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; and compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Reflection

In Chapter 12 Paul moves from talking the talk to encouraging his readers to walk the walk. We need always to be careful not to make those things a false distinction as the practical instructions which form much of the remainder of Romans are firmly rooted in all that has gone before. Paul urges followers of Jesus to respond in an appropriate way because of what God has already done for humankind and not in anticipation of some reward. The phrase in verse 1 translated “this is the true worship you should offer” has also been translated “this is your reasonable service.”

It’s a long time since I last quoted the late Professor Willie Barclay. He said this: “Real worship is not the offering to God of a liturgy, however noble, and a ritual, however magnificent. Real worship is the everyday offering of life to God, not something transacted in a church, but something which sees the whole world as the temple of the living God.”

The opening of Romans 12 challenges us to live not in conformity with the demands and desires of the world but in obedience to the will of God. Of course, knowing the will of God isn’t always intuitive. God’s will is for us to live in harmony with him and with other people. Just how we do that is something we have to work at as we go along and often we get it wrong. Paul saw Christianity as a faith which should be in the world where followers are called to be Christ-like amid the conflicts and pressures of life. Sometimes it feels as if it might be easier if we lived in an enclosed order.

There are some good phrases in this chapter. My favourite is “Work hard and don’t be lazy.” If you are ever tempted to think you can have salvation by works then that could be your text. As a child I was always berated by my Granny if I was sitting reading a book, or, worse still, lying on my bed reading a book. She would ask me: “Can you not be doing something?” and she memorably told me one day that when I got to the gates St. Peter would ask me what I’d done and not what I’d read. How I wish I could argue with her about that assertion now! It has influenced me all my life and I find it very difficult to do nothing, although I am better now at thinking that reading a book is “doing.”

John Austin Baker was Bishop of Salisbury in the 80s and early 90s. He wrote this:

Love begins as love for one or for a few. But once we have caught it, once it has taken possession of us, and it has set up its own values in the heart of the self, there are no limits to those it can touch or to the relationships which it can transform.

Amen.

Prayer

The opening and closing words come from the Church of Scotland worship ideas for today. This is a reminder that of the many people who are worshipping together today, be it at home, online or indeed in church buildings.

God, who makes us with the Earth
God, who gives us to the world
God-with-us in our struggles
Hear our fears and needs
Hold our hand as You walk beside us
Advise, encourage and guide us.

We pray for the world, we think of all those who need food, shelter, peace, comfort. We pray in sorrow for all these needs unmet and for how overwhelming it seems to share your love with all.

We pray for those affected by and battling wildfires, for those who have lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods, for those displaced and for those who are in at-risk areas.

We ask for companies to put employee lives and the environment before profits and to use their positions of power to be good and ethical examples. We pray for fairness in taxes – for companies to pay what they should and for discernment in how we use and support companies so that we stand with those who act responsibly.

We pray for the wider Church; for all those working to set and maintain rules and regulations, for those making decisions when the answers are not easy to find. We give thanks for those here at Wardie who are facing similar situations and for all those who are working to keep us connected as a Wardie family.

God we give to you our complaints, our moans, our worries, our joys, hopes and desires – we bring to you our real and everyday lives. As we begin this new season we seek guidance and wisdom in our own lives and so we take a moment of silence to bring our own prayers before God.

God we ask for support and perseverance when we struggle, we ask you to show us a sustaining sign when we get things right. We pray for all those who are connected with us by being here today and all those who are connected with us in our individual lives.

Pray for peace in our hearts, and the fuller joys of Christ in our lives.

God-with-us,
Hear our fears and needs
Hold our hand as You walk beside us
Advise, encourage and guide us.

Amen

Hymn 396 – And can it be. Listen here.

Blessing 

Creator God, enable us to offer your blessing in our loving and your peace in our serving.
Lord Jesus, lead us into the demands of our lives with hope, so that we meet with you in our homes, our work, our places of learning.
Holy Spirit, help us to recognise you in those whom we meet in our lives.
And now, go in peace to love and serve the Lord. In the name of Christ, Amen.