Sunday 3 September 2023 Trinity 13, Twenty-second in Ordinary time, Proper 17
Context: particularly focused on an adult congregation, suitable for use at either a service of the Word or a Eucharist
Aim: to show that by living as followers of Jesus, God’s love can transform us and the world
You could say that the most important theological question is this: ‘So what?’ Saint Paul, writing to the Romans, explains what the life, death and resurrection of Jesus mean for us and for the world. In chapters 1-11 we learn that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God – Jew and Gentile. We discover that everyone can be saved from their sins – Gentile and Jew. We see the depths of what Jesus in loving mercy has done for us – Jew or Gentile. Our hearts are thrilled by the wonderful news that nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love. But then it is as if, at the end of chapter 11, Paul stops and asks: ‘So what? What does this mean for us and for the world?’
I was privileged to serve in the Channel Islands for nine years. Frequently I would hear described experiences of those who had been impacted by the Nazi occupation of the islands from 1940-1945: those remaining in the islands throughout the occupation, experiencing fear, isolation from loved ones, and towards the end of the war near starvation. I would hear about evacuation to the UK, cut off from their homes and loved ones – with contact being via 25 well-chosen words on a Red Cross postcard. I learned about life as a deportee in internment camps in Germany. And I read of slave labourers brought to the islands, concentration camps in Alderney, and the tragedy of three Jewish women – Marianne Grunfeld, Auguste Spitz and Therese Steiner – deported from Guernsey to their deaths in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Today, 3 September, is the eighty-fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War. In our age of anxiety and fear and mistrust, we need to hear stories of evacuation, to leave your home and loved ones; of deportation – of what it means to be forced out of your homes and taken to places you do not know; and of living under enemy occupation in a world of displacement and fear. Cross-Channel migrants. War in Ukraine. Millions of people displaced by poverty, famine, war, climate change, natural disaster. These are not only the stories of our past; they are the lived experiences of millions today.
‘So what?’ If God’s love is for everyone, for Jew and Gentile; if all have sinned and yet all can be brought into a living relationship with the living God; so what?
Today’s Epistle reading is about transformation. The transformation of our minds and our bodies – how we think, how we see those around us, and how we behave. Paul knew that our behaviour is moulded by God’s love, and our minds are renewed by God’s healing power. Why is this important? Because our world needs to see how people can live, and how the world could be.
With transformed minds, this is how Paul invites us to live: ‘Let love be genuine: hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ He challenges us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. He invites us not to give in to evil or be sucked in by the hate-filled rhetoric of our times. Paul’s words are as challenging now as they were when Paul wrote them. And they are as necessary now as they were when Paul wrote them.
You see, the transforming love God has poured into our hearts and lives through Jesus is not only for our own sake; it is so that the world can change and be changed. To the migrant and the refugee, we need to show a God whose love welcomes everyone. To the war-ravaged, we need to stand up for what is good and just, to be agents of peace and reconciliation. As our planet is ravaged by climate change, we need to play our part in the healing of our world. Transformation requires action. It begins when we allow God to start with us through the transforming and the renewing of our minds, our bodies, our spirits.
So if you are asked about your faith, or even the first eleven chapters of Romans, and you wonder, ‘So what?’, remember: ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to eat… Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.’ Demonstrating Jesus’s love in our lives, we will play our part in the transformation of our world. As Fred Pratt Green suggests:
‘God reminds us every sunrise that the world is ours on lease:
For the sake of life tomorrow may our love for it increase;
May all races live together, share its riches, be at peace:
May the living God be praised!’
(Singing the Faith #705)
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