Paul’s Story

This can now be listened to here

Gate Pa – Year A  14th Sunday of Ordinary Time,
Psalm                          Psalm: 45:10-17                                                                                 
First Reading              Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67                     
Second Reading         Romans 7:15-25                                             
Gospel                         Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30                              

What I want to say:
I want to explore Paul’s letter to the Romans by looking at the summary in Romans 1: 16-17. Using this I want to tease out what the God’s righteousness looks like, what faith looks like and what the Gospel of God might be.
What I want to happen:
People to reflect on what stories define their lives, and how the gospel of God might change all that for them.

The Sermon

       1.      Introduction:

Last week I introduced St. Paul.
For those who were not here there are a few copies of my sermon available at the door.
 some edited highlights:
-          Paul is Jew – that will be important today
-          not write all letters that have his name on
-          letters were written to particular people at particular times to address particular issues
o   not written to be read as anything more than that
o   mostly written by scribe and then was taken to the church addressed by someone who would read it out and then answer questions – knew what Paul meant
o   not written to be read as authoritative for next 2,000 years
§  need to pay attention to who written to, why it was written, and social context written in and for.
-          Letter to churches in Rome is unique
o   not been there and so not know people as well, and they do not know him.
§  not off the cuff but carefully thought out and reasoned
-          wrote it to help various house churches
o   some of whom were Jewish Christians – had to be a follower of Torah to be a Christian
o   some were Gentile Christians – Torah following not that important
-          help them overcome significant differences and come together on what did unite them to support his mission to Spain.
-          what would unite them?

       2.      Paul's Introduction

Paul begins his letter with
“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures,  the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh  and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,  through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ…”
This is following standard formula of letters of that time – beginning with statement who is sending it
in this case an extended statement
Paul a servant of Jesus Christ,
called to be an apostle, - talked about his use of that term last week
set apart for the gospel of God,
To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
è in part we are quoting Paul when use service begins on p 404

Key term in all this is “Gospel of God”
this summarises the story of what God has done
the story that Paul believes should help the churches of Rome overcome their serious differences and unite them to support his mission
the story that the rest of the letter tells.
this is where we so often go wrong
we cut up his letter to fit the systematic theology we think he is trying to present, and miss the grand story he is telling.
      like the gospels, the theology is in the story.
so what is the story he is telling
big story
      God’s covenant with Abraham and then Hebrew people
                  through them God would restore all humanity
                  renew creation
      God’s enduring faithfulness to this covenant
      fulfilling of that promise in life, death and resurrection of Jesus
this story is summarised in 1: 16-17

       3.      The Gospel of God

 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” NRSV

16-17 It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else! God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: “The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives.” Message

Two important words here are righteousness and faith
righteousness of God
            we have met this term earlier this year
            term that has often been misinterpreted to mean the righteousness God gives to God’s people (that allows them into heaven)
            that meaning is entirely missing from Jewish texts of same time
-          Paul is a Jew
-          still sees world and God’s activity in world through Jewish eyes
-          didn’t stop being Jew on road to Damascus
-          he just radically rethought how God was working out the covenant.
Righteousness of God always refers to God’s covenant faithfulness, God’s justice, God’s ongoing cosmic restorative justice
            all about God’s work restoring right relationship between God and humanity, and humanity and creation
the big story is all about God’s righteousness, God’s covenant faithfulness
so the letter is all about God’s faithfulness to the covenant.
it is also about Israel’s lack of faithfulness to the covenant
Torah was means by which people of God remained faithful to covenant
would be means by which covenant would be fulfilled
but Israel was drawn away from living Torah
worshipped false gods
including the false god of entitlement and self-importance
rendering them as equally under judgement as Gentiles
                  (another theme of Jewish writing of this time)
How then does God remain faithful to the covenant and the purpose of the covenant in light of this unfaithfulness?
that brings us to the second word - faith

       4.      Faith

“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.””
what is faith?
            too often come to mean believing in ideas, doctrines about god – out there
            become intellectual exercise – If I accept as true certain ideas about god then this will happen – I will get into heaven
this is not what Paul is talking about
he is talking about faithfulness
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faithfulness (of the Messiah, Jesus the Christ in his death) for faithfulness (to the covenant)
Paul understands everything from a Jewish perspective
            it is all about the covenant
            it is all about God’s faithfulness to the covenant – God’s righteousness
            Jesus does what Israel was always unable to do
                        Jesus is faithful to the covenant – even to death
                        becomes the means by which power of idols is broken
                        humanity is restored and creation renewed
“so what” you might ask

        5.      So what?

Paul’s letter to Romans is all about this story
and Paul wanted hearers in churches in Rome to see themselves in this story.
story is not over
it is still being worked out
wanted this story to shape how both Jews and Gentiles who were part of house churches how they saw the world.
            that both were now included in covenant community
and to be faithful to God and God’s ongoing faithfulness to covenant
to be faithful participants in God’s ongoing work restoring humanity and renewing creation
we all use stories to understand who we are and where we fit into the world
most of the time we are not very aware of them
but they are there
big part of counselling is helping people come to know the stories they use
            and to actively work to change the ones that are harmful
Donald Trump for example has lived his life in this story where
            he is the greatest person alive – most successful business man – wealth is all down to him
-          done nothing but good with his businesses
-          greatest tv personality
-          most popular president
and anyone who says anything to the contrary is telling lies
è fake news
è that is the story playing in his head
groups of people have stories they use to make sense of their world
Americas has been that they have always upheld freedom and democracy – even when they helped overthrow democratically elected governments and replaced them with military dictatorships
in this country it is that coming of the British was good for Maori and that now New Zealanders are white and speak English and that everyone who lives here should try to be like that.
these stories are powerful and hard to change
in my work as supervisor and spiritual director – big part of that helping people pay attention to the stories that define them and their relationship with God
            stories often revolve around needing to be good enough, work hard enough to earn God’s approval, approval of others, their own approval.
In Romans Paul is offering another story
more than that
Last week and week before – in his discussion on baptism
Inviting all stories they had previously seen themselves as part of
            Jews with their story of primacy of place and only people God would work through
            Gentiles with their stories that shaped how they saw themselves and their place in God’s community
as washed away
in baptism they and we are given a new story to understand ourselves and world by
story that starts with God’s righteousness – God’s justice and faithfulness to the covenant.
what does it mean for us to see ourselves as part of this story
part of God’s renewing of creation
part of God’s restoring humanity
next week I am away and Marie will be leading the service
            our celebration of sea Sunday
but Sunday after we will resume our journey in Romans
resume our work seeing ourselves as part of this story.