Sermon preached by Rev Dr Sam Cappleman Ordinary 15 Year 2011
Christ In Us - Pauls' letter to the Romans
It’s not quite clear why Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, probably from Corinth. It is one his most powerful letters but he’d never been to Rome before he wrote it. Perhaps he was writing because he hoped to visit the church there sometime in the future and wanted to introduce them to the essence of his teaching. Some people also think it looks as if he was trying to encourage the Gentile Christian believers to show a bit more respect to the smaller number of Jewish Christians there.
Whatever the reason and whatever he hoped, it did not turn out as he expected. Shortly after he wrote Romans he would travel to Jerusalem where he would be arrested. After 2 years in prison in Caesarea, he claimed his right as Roman citizen to be tried before the emperor and so finally did arrive in Rome, but in chains.
Romans does indeed contain the essence of much of Paul’s thinking and teaching. By the time we get to chapter 8 of Romans, Paul is in full swing. Paul’s great theme and mantra is that faith in the death and resurrection of Christ are the only grounds for acceptance by God. He’s spent some time in the preceding chapters explaining that everyone falls short and are condemned by God’s standards; but through Christ we have a forgiveness and can make a fresh start and can enjoy full acceptance by the creator God.
Our reading today starts then with an expression of praise to that God, who has broken the bonds of slavery to sin and death. Through Christ, God has accomplished what the law could never do.
Those who believe in the death and resurrection of Christ have become everything that the law intended them to be, but could not achieve through the law alone as it was corrupted through the sinfulness of humanity. The good the law might have achieved was rendered ineffective by humans who are self dominated by indwelling sin.
But through the inward renewal of the Spirit, our lives are transformed and empowered and given an eternal perspective.
In short, the law tells people what to do, but does not and cannot empower them to do it. It is though God’s Spirit alone that we are enabled people to overcome the weaknesses of the flesh and arrive at the goal that the law once proposed. Through the Spirit we find reconciliation and peace.
As Paul explains, the Spirit is the manifestation of the Father’s presence and power in the world, and through it we have peace and life today, and in the world to come.
It’s as if Paul is contrasting two collections of three key words. The old way which is summarised by the words law, sin, death and the new which is summarised by the words Spirit, transformation, and life.
That’s why Paul opens today’s passage by proclaiming that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, there is just the promise of transformation and life.
But for the early Christians, Jewish or Gentile, this new life was not without difficulties. In the Old Testament you knew where you were. The law was black and white. It might be difficult to keep, but at least you knew what it was, and there were plenty of people who would be only too willing to give guidance and interpretation should you so wish!
Within the understanding of the law, God’s Kingdom was a place, essentially the Promised Land of Israel, a geographical, political and social kingdom with clearly defined borders, law and leaders.
What Paul preaches throws a new haziness onto previously clear boundaries, both in terms of the law and in terms of the Kingdom. The new way of being in Christ has some of the features of the old system – love, justice and good neighbourliness – but these things were no longer enshrined in the structures of the law and society.
The old, clear boundaries defined by law and tradition were no longer so clear, and if anything a hindrance to the new way of living.