Sunday, 3 May 2015

Sermon 3rd May - Gospel Life

Romans 1: 1-17
Faith, church and everything

Some twenty years ago, as I sat in a pew pondering what God was calling me to do I listened to my minister addressing us, the congregation as friends, his friends. I clearly remember pondering this form of address. “My friends...” “Friends, I want to tell you, explain this, talk about that...”

I wasn’t sure then about this way to talk from the pulpit.
It seemed strange to my ears and I could not decide if I liked it or not.
Some ten years ago as my probation was drawing to a close and I began to seek my first call I came across a man who also used that address, of friends, before addressing a group. He was the convener of a nominating committee, and it was he who eventually was to call me to my first charge.
The phrase still seemed a little incongruous to me; and it is not a form of address I have ever felt the need to use.
Why am I telling you this, you may wonder?!

Well my friends!
This is the first time I have really felt that phrase means something to me; and it is in part due to the historic use; part due to the apostle Paul and for the most part due to you.
For I truly feel you are my friends
I feel so very blessed to be your minister
I feel so very loved and supported and cared for by you.

The Epistles to churches – Romans, Ephesians, Galatians and all the rest, are letters of love and instruction and care. Letters from a pastor to his people. And, for many of those letters, Paul was writing to people he had never met, or had met only occasionally, yet his letters are addressed to friends.
They include instruction and encouragement, chastisement and praise, explanation and the story of Jesus – but they are all written with holy love from one to another, greeting each church as friends, brothers and sisters in Christ. They are not afraid of upsetting, nor are they worried about being correct.

The Gospel is the Gospel
It needs to be declared, shared and lived... and that is what Paul does.
 As he writes this letter to Rome, a church he has heard great things of, a church he yearns to see, but a church he is unlikely to visit, he wants to bring the gospel alive; he wants them to grasp it, know it – live it.
He calls them friends
And he offers them love
And we will visit with this letter again over the next few weeks...

Letters can seem a bit old fashioned
Hand writing is so passé!
(Who here remembers homework of pages and pages of practise letters and words?)
Paper, pen, words, legible hand writing... envelope, stamps, and a walk to  the post box... all take so much effort compared to typing a quick email and pressing send.
Or the even quicker, tapping a screen and sending a text

Yet – who here doesn’t experience a little smile when the envelope on the mat is not a typed, brown envelope, or printed statement?

An envelope with your name, written in ink, by someone’s hand is such a joy!
Whether it’s a thank you, or an invite, or news of family or friends – it is such a thrill!
When I began training for ministry a good friend who had not long been ordained advised me to get a pretty gift bag and put the nice letters and cards in it. She suggested that over the years there would be letters; and then there would be the harder times; the difficult days – that having those letters to hand would serve to lift the spirits and remind me (& her) of why we do these things.
She was right of course. I’m now onto my fourth or fifth bag; and I do look over those letters and remember the people, events and places in the words I read.
In my loft I have other letters too; from my grandma; from my various aunts; from friends in my teens, when the only way to communicate was by pen and paper. They too are full of love and joy and evoke memories...

This is the spirit of Paul’s letters too: sending love and joy; encouragement and support in the written word. He may not have been able to get there in person, but he could send them a message.

Letter writing may be becoming a lost art; but some things remain true come what may:
The gospel: Jesus Christ – son of God; who lived as a descendant of the great King David – revealed to the world by his death and resurrection
The faithful: people like those Romans in that first church; and people like you.
Living lives of faith, sharing God’s love in the actions of your every day; inspiring each other and inspiring me.
That faith connects us to God; and God takes our efforts and blesses them – this simple gospel – Jesus, Son of God carries great power, for through it we are saved, and through it we can claim the promises of God

The reading we heard today is just the beginning of a very long letter to the church in Rome; Paul begins by setting the stage: here I am; this is who Jesus is; this is God’s plan for God’s people.
I wish I could visit, but meantime here is an outline of everything you need to know:
I have complete confidence in this gospel: God’s power saves us (not anything we can do); God power is for all humanity; and the answer to everything is faith – beginning and end: faith.
The church – our church is built on faith, and everything else will follow: for with faith we know God and we live.
Gospel life: faith, church and everything
And that’s a promise we can live by.

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