Sunday at St Andrew's

24 May 2020, 10am

Seventh Sunday of Easter 

Virtual Morning Prayer at St Andrew's Eaton

Series: Romans: ‘Good News for All’

Romans 4. 13-25

‘Good News: God’s Promise’

Speaker: Sheila Nunney

 

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Welcome to this ‘virtual service’ from St Andrew’s Eaton. 

Today is the Sunday after Ascension, and the Last Sunday in the season of Easter.
 

The sermon is the second in our series based on Paul’s letter to the Romans: ‘Good News for All’, in which we will focus on God’s Promise to Abraham, a promise which can be ours through faith in Jesus Christ.

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

 

INTRODUCTION

Leader:   The Lord be with you

All:        and also with you.

Leader:   God raised Christ from the dead

All:        and enthroned him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.

Leader:   God put all things in subjection beneath his feet

All:        and gave him as head over all things to the Church.

Leader:   We died, and our life lies hidden with Christ in God.

All:        We set our minds on things above.

Leader:   When Christ, who is our life, is revealed

All:        then we too will be revealed with him in glory.

 

HYMN:  O praise ye the Lord! or listen here.

 

FIRST READING

Romans 4. 13-25 or listen here

God’s promise realised through faith

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

CONFESSION

Leader:     Jesus is our high priest, tempted like us, yet without sin. He lives for ever in heaven to intercede for us. Through him we approach the throne of grace with confidence, and confess our sins.                                                      Hebrews 4. 15,16

 

Leader:     God our Father
                we come to you in sorrow for our sins.
                For turning away from you, 
                and ignoring your will for our lives; 
                Father, forgive us.

All:           Save us and help us.

Leader:    For behaving just as we wish,
                without thinking of you; 
                Father, forgive us.

All:           Save us and help us.

Leader:    For failing you by what we do, 
                and think and say; 
                Father, forgive us.

All:           Save us and help us.

Leader:    For letting ourselves be drawn away from you
                b
y temptations in the world about us;
                Father, forgive us.

All:           Save us and help us.

Leader:    For living as if we were ashamed
               
to belong to your Son;
                Father, forgive us.

All:           Save us and help us.

Leader:     May the God of love 
                bring us back to himself, 
                forgive us our sins,
                and assure us of his eternal love  
                in Jesus Christ our Lord.

All:           Amen.

 

HYMN: Dear Lord and Father of mankind or listen here.

 

SECOND READING 

John 17. 1-11 or listen here

Jesus prays for his disciples

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

HYMN: Christ triumphant, ever reigning 

 

SERMON 

You can also listen to the sermon here.

When I was a child I was horse mad and desperately wanted to learn to ride. I had made my wishes known for a very long time, but my parents wanted to make sure the craze lasted. It did! Eventually one Christmas, I opened a present and found my mother had made a riding outfit for one of my dolls - a slim 10” doll. She was attired in jodhpurs; a yellow polo neck sweater; a black velvet hard hat; little leather jodhpur boots (complete with straps and buckles); tiny yellow string gloves; and a little riding crop. But the best bits were dangling from her wrist - 5 price tags, each one inscribed with ‘I.O.U. 6s 6d’. That was the price for an hour’s riding lesson ... At last I was going to be able to realise my dreams. I was ecstatic. My mother had promised the money. She was a person of her word, so I never doubted she would let me down. All I had to do was to present a tag and believe she would give me the cash. I was right, she gave me the coins each time; I enjoyed her gift and it was the start of a wonderful experience. On this occasion it did not depend on my good behaviour, my obedience or achieving something. It all depended on my trust in her to do what she had promised.

In our reading from Romans 4, Paul talks about God’s promise to Abraham, ‘the promise that he would inherit the world’. So I would like us to spend some time thinking about this and the relevance that a promise given approximately 4,500 years ago has for us today.

1. Understanding God’s Promise

What did the promise that Abraham would inherit the earth mean?  In Genesis this is gradually fleshed out. When God originally called Abraham in Haran, he said he would make him a great nation and make his name great, in order that he would be a blessing. Then when Abraham reached Canaan, God said to him, ‘Look from the place where you are, northwards and southwards and eastwards and westwards, for all the land you see I will give to you and your offspring for ever’. Here we have the hint of the promise being for those who were to come after Abraham. A bit later God says that his descendents will be as many as ‘the stars in the sky’ or as ‘the sand on the seashore’ - uncountable. Then God confirms his covenant or promise to Abraham (Genesis 17) ‘You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations ... I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you ...I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you...’

It seems therefore that there are two elements to this promise - ‘land’ and ‘offspring’.

It is easy to understand ‘the land’ as referring to Canaan, the promised land, where Abraham stood when God told him to look north, south, east and west and that is probably how he understood it. But Abraham was also told he would inherit ‘the world’, that God would make nations from him, so perhaps we should see the promised land as referring to the whole world - God wanting to make a difference to the whole world through Abraham and his descendents. We know from our reading of the Old Testament that his descendents failed to have faith in the promise and repeatedly turned their backs on God; they were not righteous in his sight. So he sent Jesus into the world to enable humankind to be restored to a right state before him - something which Phil spoke about last week. Jesus paid the penalty for the sin of the world (all the unrighteousness) and thereby made it possible for men, women and children to receive the gift of righteousness by his grace. To slightly adapt something I read recently, when we receive this gift of righteousness from God, our mistakes (sins) are not ‘rubbed in’, but ‘rubbed out’. How wonderful! In Jesus, the promise he gave to Abraham was restored.

But that was not all, for as we read the New Testament, we come to see that the land Jesus was claiming included the world (many nations). Think for a moment of the Great Commission he gave his disciples in Acts 1.8 - he said they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth - another concept of the north, south, east and west God promised to Abraham. However, even this is restrictive, because we know that Jesus also stated that his kingdom was not of this world; it includes this world (and the entire universe), but also the kingdom of heaven - the new promised land - the land promised to all who are made righteous by the grace of God. And we know that when Jesus returns at the Second Coming, he will make everything new and there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21). This is the focus of God’s Promise. Yes, we have to remain on this earth until our physical death, as living expats of the heavenly kingdom, but knowing that it will be our final resting place. As our Gospel reading reminds us, Jesus came to give eternal life to all whom God had given him.

This leads us on to considering who Abraham’s offspring might be. Does this mean the entire Jewish race, offspring in the physical sense? Well, ‘yes’ and ‘no’. It is not referring to the physical descendants of Abraham, but the spiritual. Those who have had their sins forgiven (atonement); those have been made right with God through Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, are through his resurrection made righteous (justified) and can be born anew into the living faith. So yes, a Jewish person by birth can become Abraham’s offspring spiritually too, if they accept what Jesus has done for them. Similarly, those of us who are Gentiles (non Jews) can also become descendents of Abraham if we are willing to accept this gift of righteousness. We become new creations in Christ. And Paul tells us in Galatians 3, in Christ there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female, ‘For you are one in Christ. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.’

So Abraham’s offspring are all those who will accept and act on God’s promise.

2.  Realising God’s Promise

To return for a moment to my mother’s ‘I.O.U.s’. I knew that each one was the promise of a riding lesson, but I still had to physically present each tag to her in the belief that I would be given the money and then I had to physically go to the riding stables, believing that when I presented my money I would be able to partake in the riding lesson. If I had left the tags on the dolls wrist, the promise would have been useless to me. I needed to have faith at each step of the way to realise the promise.

The New Living Translation of Romans 4.16 tells us that God’s ‘... promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham’s. For Abraham is the father of all who believe.’

So does that mean we do not need to keep the 10 Commandments, or pay any attention to Jesus’ summary of the commandments about loving God and our neighbour as ourselves?

Think about Abraham for a moment - he did not have the Law to keep - it was not given to Moses until about 430 years later; certainly he did not have Jesus’ summary of the Law. Rather he was encouraged to have a right relationship with God through faith, believing that what God said would happen and allowing God to guide him through his life.  Living in this way he came to know God and understand how God wanted him to live his life.

We have the 10 Commandments and Jesus’ summary of the Law and know through bitter experience that we are totally unable to keep them. They are certainly a good guide to how we should be living, but if we were to rely on keeping the law in its entirety, then none of us would be able to become children of the promise, for as Phil reminded us last week, Romans 3.23 says, (and again I use the NLT) ‘For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.’ Failure to keep the Law brings punishment - separation from God - but if we are willing to admit our failures and put our faith in God to forgive us and allow him to lead us forward, then we will be enabled to be heirs of God’s Promise. As one of the characters in C.S. Lewis’s book ‘The Great Divorce’ said: There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done”, and those to whom God says, in the end, “thy will be done.” How awful to be in the latter group. As we pray the Lord’s Prayer, may we always mean what we say in those words ‘Thy will be done’ or ‘Your will be done’.

Finally, let us think about 

3. Living the promise

Theory is one thing; the practice is quite another. I have lost count of the number of times that people have said to me ‘It’s all right for you, you have plenty of faith, but I don’t have any.’ I don’t think either of those comments were accurate. So I want to suggest a couple of aids to faith.

  • Faith requires trust in the focus of our faith. I have already stated that I trusted my mother to give me the money for my rides. Why, because I knew her; she had my best interests at heart; for seven plus years, I had experienced her loving discipline and guidance; I knew she would not do anything to intentionally harm me; I had experienced her love. My faith in her grew as I repeatedly stepped out to test her and found I could trust her.  Similarly with God. It is as we build our relationship with him; trust and act on his promises - not just his promise to Abraham, but his many other promises in the Bible; and learn to live our lives in the way he directs, that we gradually find our faith in him deepening. As Psalm 34.8 says: ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.’ Our focus should not be on our faith, rather on God in whom we have faith.
  • Faith requires patience, as Abraham found out.  For example he had long years to wait for Isaac to be born, in the knowledge that he and Sarah were beyond their child bearing years; then his faith was seriously tested when God asked him to sacrifice his long awaited son, Isaac. Yet, Paul tells us that ‘Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger ... he was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises’ vs. 20-21 TLB.

How is our faith in God during this Coronavirus pandemic? 

  • are we able to trust God to guide as through whatever the difficulties; whatever the personal cost; whatever the fears we may have; whatever the pain and sadness; whatever ...?
  • are we giving ourselves time to build our relationship with God; getting to know him better; reading his word; trusting his promises; learning how he wants us to live our lives; perhaps committing to memory the Bible verses Phil gives us each week? Are we willing to keep stepping out in faith to follow God day by day?  So that, with Abraham, we can say that we are ‘fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises’.

 

CREED

Leader:        Let us affirm our faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God:

All:             Though he was divine,
                  he did not cling to equality with God,
                  but made himself nothing.
                  Taking the form of a slave,
                  he was born in human likeness.
                  He humbled himself
                  and was obedient to death -
                  even the death of the cross.
                  Therefore God has raised him on high,
                  and given him the name above every name:
                  that at the name of Jesus
                  every knee should bow.
                  and every tongue proclaim
                  that Jesus Christ is Lord,
                  to the glory of God the Father.
                  Amen.

 

PRAYERS (Jane Elphick)

With undivided heart

And ceaseless songs

Give thanks to God.

His love and truth proclaim,

His mercy still the same;

And for His Holy name

Give thanks to God

We pray for world leaders - seeking for a way out of the perils of Covid 19, as they look for ways to deal with the strain on the Global economy, that leaders from around the world will hear of God’s love and truth, and will fall before Him in repentance for the way in which mankind has disobeyed His law and rule as Creator God.

Silence…. as we bring areas of the world laid upon our hearts, refugees, displaced, starving, persecuted any kind of suffering.   His mercy still the same!

Lord in your mercy… Hear our Prayer

Exalt His name and His eternal word

He is our God

Before His throne

Our every prayer is heard,

He is our God.

Let kings declare His Praise,

Sing of His words and ways,

For through eternal days

He is our God.

Remembering that He hears our every prayer, let us bring before Him our Royal Family. The Queen and Prince Philip in isolation, for the safety of the whole Royal family.  The Government, for wise leadership in all the decisions that have to be made about education, the NHS, the economy. 

For local government here in Norwich, caring for the homeless, the hungry, the unemployed. That the reopening of shops will happen at the right time, that wisdom and compassion will be exercised in all decisions. 

He is our God.

Silence for our own prayers…

Lord in your mercy… Hear our prayer

He reigns in glory

From His throne above,

He is the Lord.

And in our weakness

Meets us with His love.

He is the Lord.

His purpose cannot fail

Though fears and foes assail,

His love shall still prevail,

He is the Lord.

(from Psalm 138. Timothy Dudley-Smith)

He reigns in Glory – We pray for the Church, knowing that His purpose never fails!

The Archbishops, the Bishop of Norwich, our local clergy especially Phil and Sheila. We are so grateful for their gifts of love and leadership at this time.

We are grateful for modern technology that enables us to share together in worship and fellowship, week by week.

We bring before our loving God those who are unable to join with us, because they are in areas where they have no signal, that they will know the Lords closeness to them and not feel isolated and left out and abandoned.

We pray for those in our community who are sick in any way, in hospital, care homes or in the Hospice, for those who take care of them.

Silence for our own prayers….

Lord in your mercy… Hear our prayer

Though fears and foes assail, His love shall still prevail, He is the Lord.

A prayer to collect together all our intercessions today

O God the King of glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ<
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
we beseech you, leave us not comfortless,
but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us
and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
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: God is working his purpose out or listen here (3 verses only).

 

THE BLESSING

Leader:   May God give to us, and to all his people
              in times of anxiety, serenity;
              in times of hardship, courage;
              in times of uncertainty, patience;
              and at all times a quiet trust in his
              wisdom and love.
              And the blessing of God almighty,
              the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
              be with you, evermore.
              Amen.

 

Leader:   The peace of the Lord be always with you

All:        and also with you.

 

 

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