Sunday at St Andrew's

Sunday 1 August 2021

Morning Worship, 10 am on Zoom 

Repeated as Evening Worship at 4 pm in Church 

 

Trinity 9

‘New Hope - New Peace’

Speaker: Phil Rodd

Series: Ephesians

'New Hope for Humanity'

1. Ephesians chapter 2 verses 11-22

 

 

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A version of the talk in video format will be available on the St Andrew’s channel on YouTube, from later on Sunday 1 August. 

 

Welcome to this service at St Andrew’s Eaton

Last week, we heard about the great doctrines of salvation. 

Today, we come down to earth with a bump; for in the very same chapter (Ephesians 2), we find St Paul addressing age-old problems –religious and cultural divisions – that don’t seem to be instantaneously resolved, despite all that Jesus has done for all people, by his death on the cross.  

Surely, as we come near to Christ, we will naturally and inevitably, be drawn nearer to one another, won’t we?

Paul knows that old divisions run very deep, but rather than saying ‘Stop this nonsense!’, he takes us deep into the meaning of Christ’s cross – and has that cast light back on to our problems…

As we begin, let’s pray that God will still our hearts and minds and speak to us in this time today.

 

INTRODUCTION                

Leader: Grace, mercy and peace

             from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

             be with you

All:        and also with you.

 

Leader: Be with us, Spirit of God;

All:        nothing can separate us from your love.
 

Leader: Breathe on us, breath of God;

All:        fill us with your saving power.
 

Leader: Speak in us, wisdom of God;

All:        bring strength, healing and peace.
 

Silence is kept

 

Leader: The Lord is here.

All:        His Spirit is with us.

 

HYMN: God has spoken

 

CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS 

Leader: Jesus said, 

‘Before you offer your gift, go and be reconciled.’

             As sisters and brothers in God’s family,

             we come together to ask our Father for forgiveness.

Matthew 5.24

             

All:        Most merciful God,

             Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

             we confess that we have sinned

             in thought, word and deed.

             We have not loved you with our whole heart.

             We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.

             In your mercy

             forgive what we have been,

             help us to amend what we are,

             and direct what we shall be;

             that we may do justly,

             love mercy,

             and walk humbly with you, our God.

             Amen.

 

Leader: May the God of love and power

             forgive you and free you from your sins,

             heal and strengthen you by his Spirit,

             and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord.

All:        Amen.

 

PSALMS 133 & 134

 

All:        Glory to the Father and to the Son

and to the Holy Spirit;

as it was in the beginning is now

and shall be for ever. Amen.

 

FIRST READING

Ephesians chapter 2 verses 11-22

One in Christ

 

This is the word of the Lord.

All:          Thanks be to God.

 

HYMN: Christ is the world's true light 

 

SECOND READING

Mark chapter 6 verses 45-56

Jesus’ authority over the natural order and over sickness

 

This is the word of the Lord.

All:          Thanks be to God.

 

SERMON (Phil Rodd)    ‘New Hope - New Peace’

A Great ‘Confluence’

In the middle of the great Amazon basin of northern Brazil, there are two great rivers, two very distinct rivers – the Amazon and the Negro.  And although at the point where they merge they’ve still got well over a thousand miles to run, they’re both over a mile wide.  They are, as I say, very distinct – their waters are a totally different colour the one from the other.  And they merge – because that’s what rivers do.  The Brazilians wax lyrical about this ‘confluence’ - ‘a confluênçia das àguas’, as they call it.  It’s a great sight – with both cultural and spiritual significances.  Poetry is written about it, and novels are set on the banks of the confluênçia, or on the waters themselves.  And many tourists catch a boat and go and gawp at it all – as I did some 25 years ago. 

 

The Amazon confluence may be a helpful way of seeing what Paul is talking about in the second half of the second chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, where we arrive at today – having been treated last week to his summary of his wonderful understanding of God’s grace – that grace that reaches out to all humanity, where we are, in our lostness, in our sin – and rescues us, simply because it is God’s loving will and purpose to do so.

 

Long Division

In our reading today, Paul begins to address the great cultural and religious divide that lay, like a massive San Andreas-like fault line, between on the one hand the families of the nations, or ‘Gentiles’ as they were known in shorthand, stretching across the world and back in time, encompassing the glories of ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, Mesopotamia and the lesser-known empires of China and the far east as well; and on the other hand the Jews – with their almost unique understand of a God who was ‘One God’ – a true and living God, true and reliable, who had chosen the Jews as his own possession, his own people.  And it seemed that almost everything the Jews did, and everything they thought, marked them out as different from all the Gentiles around them.  And throughout the Mediterranean region, Jews and Gentiles rubbed shoulders with each other, and rubbed each other up the wrong way, sometimes hurling insults at each other, sometimes hurling much worse things at each other, and sometimes living just very uneasily side-by-side.

 

In our passage this morning (Ephesians 2.11-22), we hear echoes of these ancient tensions surfacing again, as Paul seems to reference some of the well-worn arguments.  For example, in verse 12, Paul addresses these new Gentile Christians, and describes their former state before they came to know God in Christ, describing them as having been ‘without God’.  They’ve travelled a very long way, in other words.  But there’s an irony here, because the Greek word translated here as ‘without God’ is related to the word ‘atheist’ – a word that strangely enough the pagan Romans used to accuse first the Jews and then the Christians – as neither Jews nor Christians had statues of their gods.  Nor did they offer sacrifices, or consult oracles, or do any of the other things that pagans did in their many and varied forms of worship.  In fact, Paul went further by declaring boldly that these pagan deities worshipped throughout the Roman world, were actually non-gods; and those who worship them are actually giving themselves over to some kind of make-believe fantasy.  

 

There would probably also have been Jewish Christians among Paul’s readers as well – and it soon becomes clear that they weren’t exactly let off the hook either – as the comments he makes about circumcision (in verse 11), is equally described as being totally without value for Gentile Christians.  Paul says although Jews regarded circumcision as the ultimate badge of those who ‘belong to God’, in reality it’s just something that’s made in the flesh ‘by human hands’ – which is just the same way that the Old Testament prophets used to describe the folly of idol-worship – idols ‘made by human hands’.  

 

The good news of Christ, says Paul, transcends everything that’s gone before.  And it’s those who belong to Christ who are the true people of God.  Verse 13: ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.’

 

Continuing Tensions

Paul’s was taking a bit of a risk in all of this – the risk of antagonising nearly everyone in the churches that he’d founded – who were either from pagan gentile backgrounds, or from pious Jewish backgrounds.  The situation reminds me again of the confluence of those great Brazilian rivers.  We might think assume that what happens at that great merging is that the lesser river, the one we westerners probably haven’t heard of (the Negro), flowing into the greater one – the Amazon, and being subsumed into it.  And our maps mostly show that happening – the Rio Negroflowing into the larger Rio Amazonas.  But for Brazilians, neither of the two rivers that come together are called the Amazon; they’re only given that name once they merge – because it’s by their merging that a new river, the Amazon, is born.  

 

Which is exactly what Paul says happens here, between Jew and Gentile.  Verses 14-16: ‘He, Christ, is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.’

 

Yes, there may still be hostilities, from time to time – and often Jewish and Gentile disciples of Christ found it hard to reconcile their different outlooks.  Again, it’s just like that river, where for many miles the black waters of the Rio Negro being of a different temperature from those of the brown Rio Solimoes, just won’t mix together.  And you get these very strange photos.

But God’s work has been done.  In the cross, former enemies are brought together – they are reconciled, made one.  ‘For through him,’ (verse 18) ‘both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.’  And for Paul, it was the work of the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit filling and transforming the lives of the new believers (from any and every background) – that was the ultimate evidence of the new birth in Christ.

 

‘We are made one’

Friends, the quality of that new birth – the new birth in Christ – hasn’t changed since Paul’s time.  We are made one.  Period!  We can’t live like those two rivers, flowing side by side, but not really mingling with those who are ‘not like us’.  And you know, churches that are defined along class lines, or race lines, or wealth lines – are not truly living out the truth of Ephesians chapter 2 – where we’re told of ancient hostilities reconciled by the cross of Christ.

 

Sad to say, our dear old Church of England – along with many other denominations – has often struggled with these issues.  And it’s doing a lot of soul-searching again at this moment – as some of you will be aware – both over race issues, and over issues concerning human sexuality.  For too long, the western churches have acted as if those coming into the church – especially those who are ‘different’ in some quantifiable way – that they must become like the white middle-class norm.  

 

St Paul’s response is simple, in verse 15: ‘Christ has created in himself one new humanity – one new humanity… thus making peace.’  The church must not reflect the divisions of the world around us, simply, because – we are one.  And we have a duty, a sacred calling, to the world around us to show how that can really work. 

 

So if there are those in the body of Christ who make us uneasy in some way – whether they’re black/white, gay/straight, old/young, or whatever – these are attitudes that simply don’t fit in the new life that Christ has given us through his death on the cross; they will grind and creak and jar, and cause everything to malfunction.  It may be that we’re all OK with each other here at St Andrew’s; but if we harbour a sense of spiritual superiority over those in the neighbouring parish, or to the happy-clappy people up the road, or the high church people with their ‘idolatrous images’ (or whatever), the only way forward is repentance, and a seeking after the way of reconciliation.  Because deep down, we must learn to discover that we’re only made complete as Christ’s body as we come to value, to cherish, those who are ‘not like us’.

 

For we are to be ‘no longer strangers and aliens, but…  citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone’ (Ephesians 2.19-20).  To him be the glory, in his church and in his world, now and for ever.

 

A version of the talk in video format will be available on the St Andrew’s channel on YouTube, from later on Sunday 1 August. 

 

PRAISE RESPONSE 

Leader:        This is love, not that we loved God,

All:             but that he loved us and sent his Son.

 

Leader:        He is the sacrifice for our sins,

All:             that we might live through him.

 

Leader:        If God loves us so much

All:             we ought to love one another.

 

Leader:        If we love one another

All:             God lives in us.

cf. 1 John 4.10-12

  

HYMN: Spirit of God most high 

 

PRAYERS (Kevin Pinnock)

In Christ there is no East or West
 

In knowledge of our union with God and each other, and the peace we have through Christ, we enter now enter a time of prayer for ourselves, each other and the world. 

 

Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of the church, a community of your people that you have gathered together to worship, serve, pray and love. Give us strength to live as ambassadors for you in the world. Help us to always remember your faithfulness towards us, and especially through the life and sacrifice of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and to live our lives in obedience to your will in faith, submitting to the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives, so that we may walk in spirit and truth. 

 

We pray for your blessing on all Christians wherever they may be, and may they be strengthened by the power of your love. We especially remember and pray for those who are denied the opportunity to express their faith openly and are persecuted for their faith. 

                 Lord in your mercy,

All:           hear our prayer.

 

Creator God we pray for your whole creation; for all peoples throughout the world, that their lives be respected and revered regardless of creed or colour, gender or sexuality, wealth or status and for a responsible sharing of precious resources and the conservation of our fragile and beautiful world.

 

Our world seems to be forever caught up in violence and conflict. Through the media we are witnesses to terrorist violence in so many parts the world. As we continue to pray for peace and goodwill towards all people we also pray for the innocent victims and their families caught up in conflicts which are not of their making. We pray for our world leaders, give them wisdom to make global decisions with mercy and peace in mind. We also pray for our community leaders and those in public office dealing with difficult situations and especially for those dealing with the ongoing Pandemic. Help us to always be aware of the part that we can play by always acting carefully and unselfishly.

 

As we pray for your world we ask that you take from us all hatred and prejudice.  Give us your spirit of love for all people whatever their race or creed and give the same spirit of acceptance to all world leaders that, through mutual understanding and common endeavour, peace and prosperity may be increased throughout the world.

 

                 Lord in your mercy,

All:           hear our prayer.

 

Loving God, whose son, Jesus Christ, understood people’s fear and pain before they spoke of them, we pray for all who are affected with illness, grief or despair.  Bring healing to every broken life, relief to all who are in pain, hope to the dying and strength to all who care for them. May we always offer gentle support to those in trouble sensitive encouragement to those in need, and strength and support to those in their weakness.

 

In a moment of silence, we lift before you those that we know who are in particular need of your help today. 

Almighty God, we ask you to draw close to all of those on our hearts. May they be aware of your healing presence, and we ask you to provide your peace and comfort for them at this time.

 

                 Lord in your mercy,

All:           hear our prayer.

 

Father we pray for those whose hearts are saddened by the death of someone close and dear to them; give them a patient faith in this time of darkness and strengthen them with the knowledge of your love, confident in the promise that those who believe in you will live though they have died, and now share with you the joys of heaven.

 

                 Lord in your mercy,

All:           hear our prayer.

 

Lord, bless our homes and families with the joy and peace of your presence. Help us to build bridges of tolerance and understanding between the different generations and cultures. Help us to be mindful of those who have no homes, families or friends. Make us grateful for all that we have so that we may use every endeavour to ensure that every person has a home to call their own and feels wanted within their own community.

 

Gracious God, lead us as we go forward into another week strengthened and upheld by your love, in the knowledge of the peace we have in you, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Collect for today

Almighty God,

who sent your Holy Spirit

to be the life and light of your Church:

open our hearts to the riches of your grace,

that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit

in love and joy and peace;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

All:        Amen.

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:

 

All:        Our Father in heaven, 

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come, your will be done, 

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation 

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power, 

and the glory are yours

now and for ever. 

Amen.

 

HYMN: O praise ye the Lord

 

THE BLESSING 

Leader:   May God, who gives patience and encouragement,

             give you a spirit of unity

             to live in harmony as you follow Jesus Christ,

             so that with one voice

             you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord 

                  Jesus Christ;

             and the blessing of God Almighty,

             the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,

             be among you and remain with you always. 

All:        Amen.

 

Leader:   The peace of the Lord be always with you

All:        and also with you.

 

 

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND REFLECTION

 

  1. What would you consider to be the great social and cultural divides of our time?

 

  1. Are both sides of these divides properly represented at St Andrew’s, or in the wider church?  If not, what if anything should we do about it?

 

  1. In the light of St Paul’s teaching, what might a truly ‘Pauline’ church look like in 21st Century Norwich?

 

 

 

 

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