Thursday, June 22, 2023

Saved from the Wrath of God

The following is a more or less verbatim transcript of the sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity. I have lightly edited it for clarity, but it is not meant as a written version of the sermon.

The sermon itself can be listened to wherever you get your podcasts or at this link:

Saved from the Wrath of God

The Second Sunday after Trinity 2023

Romans 5:1-11

We don't appreciate today what a major issue for the early church the Gentiles believing in Christ was. Jesus came unto his own, that is, to the Jewish people. He came as the Jewish Messiah in fulfilment of the Jewish Scriptures, and what is more, he largely confined his ministry while on earth to the Jews. He says in St Matthew's Gospel, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 15:24). In our reading this morning, when Jesus sends his 12 disciples out on mission, he tells them to go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:5-6).

Now, he did tell his disciples that after his ascension that they were to go beyond Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and away to the ends of the world (Acts 1:8). But nothing during their time with him had prepared them for what it meant when Gentiles started believing in Jesus. How were they as Jews to welcome Gentiles into the people of God? In Romans chapters one to four, St Paul explains that as all are equal in sin, all must find salvation the same way.

And the way that they will find salvation, he tells the Roman believers, is by the way of faith in Christ. St Paul explains that God forgives and accepts all who come to him through faith in Christ. Having explained this in the first four chapters, St. Paul concludes in our reading this morning, ‘having been justified by faith, we have peace with God, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand’ (Romans 5:1-2). Justification is not the only thing that happens to us when we come to Christ in faith, but it is an important, indeed essential, part of it.

Being justified by faith, however, is not the end but the beginning. St Paul writes of how we boast of our hope of sharing in the glory of God (Romans 5:2). St Paul describes how the suffering we experience now produces in us endurance, and how that endurance produces character, and how character produces hope. Hope that does not disappoint us. Hope! Hope is something that is in short supply in our world. We read and hear of the existential threats facing humanity almost daily. Jesus himself warned his disciples that they would hear of wars and rumours of wars, that there would be natural disasters and plagues (Luke 21:10-11).

We sort of thought war was on the way out, didn't we? With the arrival of nuclear weapons, we didn't think anyone would be mad enough to risk large scale war. And now we see the unthinkable. War again in Europe. Not just a local squirmish, but a war which is even now having global consequences. This week, African leaders visited Kyiv because the war is now impacting on food supplies on a global level. It is a war that carries with it the threat of nuclear destruction. And while this war is going on, there is the threat of another war in another part of the world – in Taiwan.

Natural disasters such as earthquakes and famine continue. But looming over us now are the natural disasters with a human cause. Global warming is producing climate change. We have all heard about it. But despite all the publicity and all the warnings from scientists, we are doing next to nothing about it. It is no wonder that young people who have the most to lose are especially worried, and they are right to be. We have seen the wildfires and the floods, and we've seen how even in New York in the past few days people have had to stay indoors because they could not breathe, the air quality was so bad. Scientists warn that there is worse to come.

And we don't need reminding of plagues, do we? We've just lived through a plague, the like of which most of us thought we would never see. And just as we were congratulating ourselves on having got on top of some of the world's most infectious diseases, COVID came along to remind us of how vulnerable we are. And while COVID has been terrible, it could have been much worse. It could have been a far more fatal virus.

The sense that all is not well with our world goes some way to explain why many people don't want children. The birth rate in Hong Kong, for example, is now at its lowest level since records began. In half of the world's countries, the birth rate is now below the level needed to replenish the population. Before I was ordained, I worked for a short time with Oxfam and two of the things we were most worried about while I was working for Oxfam were starvation and overpopulation. Now we're worried about obesity and underpopulation. It's ironic, to put it mildly.

Not only are young people not wanting to have children, rates of depression and mental illness are on the increase. And this is before we talk about artificial intelligence and the societal scale risks it poses to humanity. You will have read recently how those who invented AI have issued a statement saying, and I quote, ‘mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war’.

Jesus warned his disciples about these things. He told them they would happen, and he told them not to despair or lose hope because the end is not yet (Luke 21:9). These things, Jesus said, must happen. Most of us feel there is not much we can do about them anyway. But it doesn't stop us worrying. What I want to say this morning is that real though these existential threats may be, the real threat to each of us is much nearer home. The real threat is personal and individual. It comes from within us, not from outside. The threat is internal to us, not external. It is a threat that comes from the sin and unrighteousness in each one of us.

St Paul writes, ‘for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth’ (Romans 1:18). While we are still sinners, we are subject to the wrath of God. And so, we can have no hope, no hope, that is, until we find peace with God. The amazing thing, writes St Paul, is that it is God himself who has taken the initiative to make peace with him possible. St Paul writes, ‘but God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8).

This is the Gospel. We can have peace with God, we can be forgiven, but we need to be clear, there is nothing automatic about this, nor is it something that can be earned. St Paul tells us that it is only something we can receive, receive as a gift by faith in Christ. It is by faith that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, St Paul writes. But more than that, St Paul says, ‘we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.’ (Romans 5:11).

We boast in God! But here's the thing: we don't want to boast in God. June is ‘Pride Month’. I don't know if you've noticed, but it used to be called ‘Gay Pride Month’ or ‘LGBT Pride Month. It is interesting how ‘now ‘Pride Month’ has become much more. It is interesting how popular it is regardless of your sexuality.

‘Pride month’ has become popular with all people because of the ideology behind it. An ideology that is now the ideology of society, regardless of your sexuality. It is the dominant ideology, at least amongst us. It's an ideology in which we ourselves are central. And what's not to love about me? What's not to be proud about in me. It's my identity, my needs, my wants, and my desires that matter to me, and they should matter to you too. Pride in who I am is what counts. And in the same way that the letter in the middle of the word defines what sin is, so too the letter in the middle of the word ‘pride’ defines what pride is. It's I, me. The Bible calls it idolatry, and the wrath of God is being poured out on all those who in their idolatry suppress the truth by ungodliness and unrighteousness.

We can boast in ourselves all we like, but all we are doing is boasting ourselves to judgment and destruction. St Paul tells the Roman believers, and through them he tells us, that our hope lies in sharing the glory of God. St Paul writes, ‘much more surely, therefore, since we have now been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God’ (Romans 5:9).

Jesus in warning his disciples not to worry about all the existential threats they saw in the world around them, warned them instead to worry about the false prophets and messiahs who would lead them astray. Don't worry about the wars, don't worry about the earthquakes, don't worry about the plagues, but do worry about false teaching. Because false teaching is much more dangerous than earthquakes and famines, plagues, and wars.

Many are being led astray in our own day and led astray, sadly, by teachers in the church who tell us that we have nothing to worry about, that God's just too nice. He won't judge you. He won't get angry with you. He's too loving for that. But St Paul writes that he is not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God to salvation (Romans 1:16) and the reason why the gospel is the power of God to salvation is because we need saving. Thank God, he has made that salvation possible. Possible to all of us, without exception, but only through faith in Christ.

It is through faith in Christ that we are justified and given hope, and it is through that faith that we will be saved. The hope we have in Christ is a real hope. St Paul writes, ‘and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us’(Romans 5:5).

May we find peace with God today through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and may we too be able to boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.


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