Sermon for Sunday March 18th 2012 – EVENSONG
Hope and Life
“I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.” ’ Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.”
My subject this evening is Christian Hope and the Christian Life. But we have to begin I think with this reading from Exodus. God has heard the cry of the Israelites in their harsh oppression and remembering his Covenant, his unbreakable Oath – Whilst we think of Love as the Pre-eminent aspect of God, the Scriptures speak more of his Faithfulness. God is Faithful, for as St Paul says, he cannot deny himself. To be faithless is to deny your very being. – and so God in his Covenant faithfulness has decided to rescue His people from Egypt. To claim them for himself.
And he tells Moses to go and tell the people, “but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.” They were so down they did not even have the energy to look up – they had nothing to hang their hope on. How on Earth could this be so . . . and to be frank who can blame them. For when We speak of hope, we have something similar in mind. I hope something will come along – I hope the weather will be better tomorrow – I hope aunty Jean will get well soon. But if we ask Why do you hope these things, then we have to say - nothing really, I just hope they are true. And this is as far as it probably could be all that the Israelites could mean by hope also – a vague wish, based on?? Well based on very little, indeed based on the words of a strange God whom they did not know – Remember when they Cried out in their oppression, they didn’t cry out to God, they just Cried out! Based on the words of a strange God through the mouth of one of their own who had grown up in the Egyptian court and then got them all into trouble by killing an Egyptian and trying to set himself up as some kind of saviour and then fleeing who knew where to suddenly arrive back and say “God has been speaking to me’ and all the while they have been whipped and driven and tormented and forced to make bricks without straw. A labour camp of the worst sort, in all but name a Death Camp. Humanly speaking their situation in hopeless. I doubt any one of them listened to Moses, and they certainly didn’t pay any attention. Imagine being Moses and having to declare it!
No they didn’t even have the vague wish kind of hope for there was Nothing to base it on . . . which brings us to Christian Hope and one of the most densely argued sections of St Paul’s densely argued letter to the Romans. This reading is So significant that it is unusually read here at Evensong as Well as being part of the three year lectionary cycle – but it is not easy. I remember early in my years as Vicar in Hellifield. There was a diminutive lady in the congregation, a widow by the name of Barbara. And She was on the rota for readers and had this passage to read. And she came to me afterwards and said – I haven’t a clue what any of that meant! And it was at once highly understandable, and at the other deeply regrettable, for in some sense if we don’t get what this is about, we really don’t understand Christian faith or life at all.
Paul here in these carefully worded 11 verses in a very real sense tells us the Good News. He speaks of the past and the future and their concrete relationship to the present. It is masterful theology. And it reveals a staggering Hope about which there is Nothing Vague – and the Extraordinary nature of the Christian Life. So if you will permit me – I shall take a few minutes now to unpack what he says.
Verse 1 (Yes I am Really going to unpack this :) ) Therefore since we ARE justified by faith – ‘Therefore’ reminds us that we are in Chapter 5 and Paul has spent much of the preceding 2 chapters proving that if we put our Trust in God, abandoning trust in anything or anyone else, then That is sufficient to put us right with Him – we are Justified by Faith, by placing our trust in him.
Well what is the consequence of doing that? When we let go of everything else and trust God instead, ‘we have Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’. Christ in his death and resurrection has brought us access into a profound relationship with God – he has opened the door to the Rich Life of God and we enter into that Peace through Faith - this Grace in which we now stand Vs 2 – And then Paul makes an Extraordinary claim and it is the first mention of that word Hope –at Peace with God, Made right with Him, Standing in Grace, we boast in our Hope of sharing in the glory of God!! We boast in our Hope of Sharing in God’s Very Life!! This is Extraordinary and we may well say hope in what?? Paul, you have gone to far!! But Notice that this is not a baseless hope – this is no vague wish, for Already God has acted – Our position for hope is Not like that of the Israelites in Egypt who are addressed before God rescues them. No! It is based on what God has Already done. The security of hope is the Past even of the death and resurrection of Jesus. So our Hope, our Faith has a Solid Past foundation upon which we base our Future Hope. And because it is Such a Breathtaking foundation, it gives rise to a similarly breathtaking Hope. That we might share in the glory of God.
Then Paul changes gear – having given the foundation for the Future hope – he then speaks of how we Now enter into that Hope.. throughout Lent I have been teaching on the Christian Practices – if you like the Essence of the Christian Life an I have said over and over again, that that is no more or less than entering into the very Life of God. We enact His Generosity, His Love, His forgiveness, His Hospitality, His Life. (details on my website). In other words that we begin to live the future reality in the present, based on the firm foundation of the past.
And here we see how clearly we enter the life of God – for we boast in our sufferings – for the Life of God is Suffering in the World, we can only walk in this Life following our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ – there is no other way. If we Trust in God, we Will find ourselves in conflict with All that is not God, BUT say Paul, Suffering produces Endurance – endurance character and character Hope. As I have been teaching these past few weeks, if we push past that first terrible resistance to Living out the life of God, we discover the Life of God available to us. The more we enter in the more we know of this Life of God in us and So we Grow in that life, Suffering, Endurance (God Endures though all the mountains are worn away, He endures), Character (the fullness of God’s being more and more revealed as we walk in this path, Growing in Love and Generosity and Forgiveness) and finally - there is is again Hope. We Work from Hope founded upon the work of Christ – to Hope –the End is found in the beginning. You see we begin with this seed of Hope – given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and Like All Life – it produces of its Own – we Grow in Hope.
And now Paul moves again, from the future Hope to its breaking into the present. ‘Verse 5’ ‘And Hope does not disappoint us because God’s Love has been poured into our hearts through the holy spirit that has been given us.
This is SO important. The Holy Spirit – the very Life of God is given to us. His Love poured into our hearts and Out into the world. In other words, this future hope - this scandalous Hope that we will share in the Glory of God – share in His Life is found Present Expression as he shares his life with us here and Now.
The Hope is based on the Past work of Christ – it has a firm foundation – as we step out in faith, through suffering, endurance and character grow which produce More Hope and that Hope is already Now partially realized. So our hope is not only now based on what God has done pouring his life out for us Christ in the past but also his continual pouring out of his life for us in our present experience. We are Tasting the future.
The Christian Life is Based on the past, future directed and Present enacted – our Vocation, our Call it to live out the Life of the future, Here and Now. This is the Fruit of Faith.
So Paul makes this stunning and Wonder Full case for a Concrete Hope, Based Solidly on the Past work of Christ – Growing as we enter into the Life of God ourselves as Christ’s disciples – Given Present re-inforcement by God Living in us now by His Spirit.
And then he leads us in a meditation of the wellspring of all of this. Bringing us back again to the work of Christ on the Cross, this Spring of Life. Paul wants us to Wonder more and More. If you are at all unsure of God’s Love for you –meditate on this. For it was while we were still weak, Then at the Best time Christ died for the ungodly (Not the immoral, by the way, not the moral, no he died for those who were without God – God’s Love does not depend on us except in that we are far from him – that is the basis of His love – his love is poured out for those who do not believe – those like the Israelites who did not, who could not listen, because of their broken Spirit, and their cruel slavery. God proves his love for us that while we were yet sinners – while we had nothing in us to commend ourselves, like the utterly unlovely, That is the measure of God’s Love. Like the Father loving the Prodigal, Wasting his love on the wastrel. God’s Love is breathtaking for it Loves where NONE is shown in return. THAT is why we may have So much confidence in the Love of God precisely because it does NOT depend in anyway upon us..
And How Much that One fact can transform our Christian Life – that God’s Love is shown to us for no reason that we have anything to do with except our mere existence. Truly Unconditional Love. And So Paul now works up to his final Crescendo. Having Spoken of the past work being the Sure ground of our faith, he has Shown Just how wonderful that work is – if the death of Christ for you is Not enough – just consider that it is Utterly Gratuitous!! ‘Much more surely then’ he goes on, Much more surely that we have been put right by his blood , shall we be saved from the wrath of God’ Because this whole Salvation is an act of Gratuitous Love. There is NO basis for Fear.
For if while we were yet his enemies Christ died for us – the wrath of God is shown to his enemies, YET he takes the wrath upon himself, absorbing in himself for the sake of Love – If God makes his enemies his children through the death of Jesus, HOW much more surely will we be Saved by His Life.
In other words, Having started out on this journey into the life of God, we discover we are given his Life that we might more fully live the Salvation Life – which is of course the Life of Christ and so we rejoice, boast, glory in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Karl Barth in his magisterial commentary on the Epistle to the Romans puts it like this ‘When once again people have God’ No longer without God and without Hope ‘they have all the fullness of life and its blessedness’ . . . because through the death of Christ, they are now filled with the future of God’
This is our Hope, This is our Life. The Past work of Christ – the present Life of God poured into us by the Holy Spirit as we live both In and towards the Glorious future of God.