St Peter’s Bexhill Evensong 7th June 2015 www.stpetersbexhill.org.uk
Jeremiah 6 v 16-21
Romans 9 v 1-13
Romans 9 v 1-13
Walter Waggerin is the author of a fabulous book simply called ‘Paul’ written as a novel. I really like the way Waggerin presents Paul. He doesn’t have him sitting studiously over a table but rather pacing up and down as thoughts tumble out and his scribe is doing his best to keep up and capture everything correctly.
Paul is a man of great passion and enormous energy and creativity.
We see evidence of that in the Letter to the Romans, what some have referred to as Paul’s Magnum Opus, his great work.
We do need to be very careful with passages like this however. Sadly over the years some Christian’s have taken a text out of context and made it a pretext.
In living memory we recall those who twisted Scripture into a swastika and found a way to legitimize the slaughter of the innocents, God’s holy and ancient people, the Jews.
Paul here is speaking as a good well educated Jew and pours out his passion for his people because they didn’t recognize the day of visitation. They failed to see in Jesus the promised and longed hoped for Messiah.
The word that shines out of this passage and many other of Paul’s writing is that of grace.
He reminds them that Abraham was elected by God by grace. He reminds them that Isaac, the younger was blessed over his older sibling.
The challenge Jesus put before his people was that they had failed to live out and up to what God had called them to be and to do.
Through Abraham all nations would be blessed, would know God’s favour, would seek to emulate how God’s chosen people lived, to set store by their laws and ways of being in the world.
Jeremiah, one of many, many prophets who came with a message, a radical message. Radical in as much it was a call back to God’s original plan and purpose that somehow had got lost and blurred.
Hear, you earth:
I am bringing disaster on this people,
the fruit of their schemes,
because they have not listened to my words
and have rejected my law.
or sweet calamus from a distant land?
Your burnt offerings are not acceptable;
your sacrifices do not please me.”
God’s people were called to be a light to the Gentiles and Jesus calls them blind guides because they lay heavy burdens upon people.
Their yoke is a heavy one and hard one to bear, Jesus’ yoke is easy and full of grace and love.
Paul saw in Jesus Israel personified.
If you look carefully at the Jesus story you will notice that he lives and fulfills all that God had originally purposed for his people.
Jesus is a child of promise, a grace child coming through Mary, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.’
He enters the Jordan on the East Bank and walks across, is baptized, and emerges on the West Bank, just as Joshua had done as the Israelite's entered the Promised Land.
Jesus grace chose twelve disciples, not on any merit of their own, but as a divine choice. Twelve disciples, a new Israel is being called into being by grace.
Jesus feeds people with manna from heaven, he offers living water from the rock, he raises the dead, and he has authority over the forces of evil and over the forces of nature.
Jesus lives an authentic human life as God first intended.
Pertinent to our reflection on the subject of welcoming people is Jesus’ tirade in the Temple.
If we see this incident wholly about turning the temple into a market we have missed the point.
For a brief and yet significant moment Jesus halted the burnt offerings and the incense, the ‘work’ of the Temple.
The Temple, the place where God could be approached and accessed.
But who could draw near to God?
The High Priest could get right up close and personal – but that only once a year. Good male Jews could get a bit closer. Woman could enter the court of woman and then the Gentiles in the outer court with a sign forbidding them to go any further on pain of death.
The courts of the Gentiles were the market was, the closest place those who were not God’s chosen people could get had become a market place.
Remember the curtain of the temple being torn in two as Jesus died.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.
Why is this important?
I don’t suppose for one moment somebody from God’s ancient people suddenly came up with an idea of exclusivity. The idea that creeps upon people who begin to think they are something special. From there it is but a short step to think we have come to this exalted position by our own merits and devotion and dedication to the law and to the worship of Almighty God.
Well meaning, well intentioned, but says Jesus; you have missed the very point and purpose of your being called as God people, to be a light to the Gentiles. To demonstrate to a watching world how a people should live in accordance with God good providence.
Instead, says Jesus, you have made yourselves an exclusive club, and even within that club you have a hierarchy.
I come says Jesus, and I will embrace and bring wholeness to a woman troubled with an issue of blood. Then to demonstrate that the power and authority of God still rests and resides in me I will go straight from there to bring a young girl back to life.
Why does it matter and why is it important?
Because little by little we as part of God people of grace can just as easily form an exclusive club. We can kid ourselves and claim to be inclusive, however we need to tread carefully and examine closely.
Have we made the worship of God so particular and peculiar that it excludes people who don’t know what to do and how to conduct themselves?
Is our language strange and foreign to visitors and strangers?
This isn’t too dumb down our acts of worship or for them to be devoid of mystery. However perhaps we need to pay attention to the temple with its various courts and offer ways people can engage with God at different stages. But never, ever excluding anybody from anything. It can be valuable to engage with God as profound mystery exemplified perhaps by a High Mass. Equally important is the opportunity to engage on a deeper more personal level, perhaps with contemporary style worship and music.
And always, always remembering we gather in Grace as a people of Grace to be filled with yet more Grace that we may be people of Grace out in the world Monday to Saturday.
GRACE = God’s Riches At Christ’ Expense.