Sermon for Sunday 3rd September by Joy Whitelaw (Lay Reader)

Although the readings today follow on, from last Sunday, both in Romans and the Matthew’s Gospel, today I am going to mostly concentrate on Romans.

I found the reading as we have just heard it, is difficult to follow, as Paul rapidly fires twelve instructions in quick succession, which makes it quite confusing when you first read, or hear them.

If we look back in Acts at Paul’s early life and beliefs as a Pharisee, he appeared to be more militant and passionate than many Pharisees. This was evident from the time he watched the stoning of Stephen, and his subsequent persecution of the Church in Jerusalem

Paul believed that to torture, throw into prison, or even kill those followers of the Way was, as he saw it, essential to preserve the lives of the Jewish people. He was passionate about this work and greatly feared.

He was going to do the same in Damascus. Then came his transformation on the road to Damascus. we are told he had a vision of Jesus, who asked him why he was persecuting him.

From today’s passage Paul appears to be just as passionate, but now fueled

by his  belief that Jesus Christ is the Way. He is writing to believers in Rome and appears quite worried about them.

He goes on to give instructions for the way they should live their lives and, by their example, be able to encourage and teach others.

Paul is asking a lot from them, most of which will not be easy. He is writing to those, to whom he appealed in verses 1,2, just before this passage, to present themselves as a living sacrifice and  be transformed by the renewing of their minds.

Now he is giving them ways to live, which rely on their renewed minds, and their ability to discern “the will of God

His words remind me of the “Ten Commandments” but with a difference.  He starts by exhorting them to remember “Love is genuine, hate evil, and hold fast to what is good”.

Then Paul goes on with his instructions for the way they should live their lives. He is encouraging them to be alongside others and to show love in all situations they face.

How should they live?

How should we live ?

The first verse today is about love, and love is throughout the reading, they are to show mutual love for each other, in extending hospitality, living in harmony, and peaceably with all.

What I think most of us would find more difficult would be to bless those who bully or persecute us, if it happened to us – perhaps by bullying at school or In the workplace

Could we offer food and drink to our enemies.

If to love each other, includes our enemies, there are times I think we would find that very difficult to follow, particularly when we hear of tragedies and conflict in the news, on television or radio.

How do we feel about those who are carrying out atrocities around the world

It is very difficult to think that we should be praying for those who are killing others because they are not the same as themselves, or don’t have the same beliefs, or are in the way of their insatiable desire to have power.

It is easier to pray for those suffering from them.

We need to remember that In his words to them, we should also be thinking about our lives and how we live.

Paul tells them  to realise that their lives will include periods of suffering, and that they will need patience, and to persevere in  prayer. It is the same for us. The times we need to pray most are the times when life is difficult. They are also the times when it can be hardest to pray.

He is not offering an easy life, but as in today’s Gospel reading,  to follow Jesus is to deny themselves, pick up their cross, and it was never going to be easy.

As  disciples, they  should expect  the good and the bad times.

Paul also tells them there will be times of hope and to rejoice, and they should rejoice when others rejoice, and weep when others weep.  We should do the same.  We should show love and empathy with the joys, and sorrows of others

Today Paul has been talking about love and being alongside all at all times, the good and the bad.  He presents the Lord as being a loving God until we arrive at verse 19.

Then, Paul gives us a different view of God.  God as the avenger, and he quotes “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” and they, and we, are to leave it to him.

But why in the middle of spending the rest of the passage in encouraging the Romans to love all, which at that time would have included the non Christian population of Rome, and the surrounding area, did Paul address vengeance by the Lord, as being so important.

I don’t find that easy to understand

He goes on to talk about giving food and drink to their enemies. Also he has already in verse 17, told them not to repay evil for evil, but they should think about what is noble in the sight of all.

There is no doubt that Paul’s words to the Romans would have given them a strong message as to what was expected of them, if they were to follow the teachings of Jesus, and help to spread the word to the Gentiles in their area.

We should also think about his words, as much of what he says is relevant today.

It is important to be able to laugh and enjoy each other’s company.  It is equally important to be there for each other,and others through times of sorrow and distress

The message from Paul for us to remember, is “Let love be genuine” in all we say and do, and his final words,

“Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil by good