God of the Past Present and Future
class=MsoNormal>May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in you your sight – our creator, redeemer and sustainer – Our Lord God of all – Amen
I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”(John 14:6)
Do you know these words?
Powerful words… – in my opinion it is the most powerful statement ever!
Let me say them again and let’s consider them deeply
I am the way…, and the truth… and the life…. No one comes to the Father except through me.”(John 14:6)
What do you think about when you hear this statement?...
· For some it might be a word of clarity
there is not ‘many roads’ to the mountain-top – just one
· For others you might have experienced Christian groups that have used this scripture as a defining statement of identity
And that is an understandable claim – for three times Jesus says - “I am…”
· For others, when you hear this clear statement it causes you some stress
Whether you believe it or not - whether you see it as a black and white statement… or something that you believe, but it is in need of some contextual explanation
· For some it might be very comforting
You see in this statement, a word of promise – a promise that you can rest your faith on
It is for this reason that it is part of the most popular piece of scripture chosen for funerals – verses 1 & 2 of John 14 - “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.(John 14:1-2)
· And for others it might be too hard to accept – and you understand this part of scripture as something that Apostle John wrote 60 years after Jesus and not actually the words of Jesus, removed from the situation and in light of the expulsion of the Christians from the Jews
No matter how you see it – it is a powerful statement
I AM…THE way… THE truth… THE life… NO ONE comes to the Father except through me
These are the words of Jesus the Christ, the messiah – the long awaited messiah
We, Christians, believe that Jesus came as a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets and the promises of God
We believe that God’s written relationship with humanity – the Bible – is entirely pointing us to His one, and only Son
And Jesus is the key to understanding everything about God
Jesus also says “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9b)
Now… all of this is fine, if you are in… if you are a Christian that believes in our Lord Jesus
But it doesn’t take long for our warm glow beside the fire, to cool,
When we start to think about others – others outside…
We live in a modern once thought-of ‘Christian country’ – where we ask God’s blessing in our national anthem
But what about those people in the world that have never heard of Jesus – never heard the good news of the Gospel
What about the Hindus or Budhists or any number of religions.
What about the people born deep into a Muslim country, where belief in anything other than Islam is outlawed
How are Jesus’ “I am” claims going to reach them
As a starting point, New Testament scripture reveals to us that Christianity is an exclusive group
Meaning some are in and some are out
Remember our parable just last week of the good and bad fish – or the parable of the wheat and the weeds from two weeks ago
And it is this ‘exclusivity’ that St. Paul is wrestling with, in our passage from Romans today
Paul writes: I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. (Romans 9:2)
When I was in seminary – this question about the exclusive claims of Christianity was a common topic for discussion – ultimately it is a debates about God’s salvation
Often or in fact nearly always it was a theoretical discussion – that is what happens, when people gather for countless hours of study over three years of school
They debate about what is all this knowledge of God for
And inevitably the argument moves to the question “what about the Pigmies?” – people so remote that missionaries have never reached them
And so we, like Paul, wrestle and suffer from emotionally distress with the idea of people not reached – people that haven’t accepted that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life
Yet also important are questions that are deep behind the abstract theoretical questions
They are our own questions about faith
Our own questions about the promises of God
And sometimes for non-believers it is a starting point that they simply find too difficult to get past – what about those that don’t know Jesus
Or what about all those people from before Jesus
Today St. Paul in the beginning of Romans 9 reveals to us remarkable words coming from his heart
He carries a personal burden but he is also aware that the only one who can relieve him of this burden is God working through the Holy Spirit.
These are people that are family, friends of Paul – it matters that he/we understand this point – For St. Paul it is his own flesh and blood, the Jews
For us, it might on first glance, be a theoretical question – A theological question which the biblical scholars should contemplate
But, … I bet it is more than that
I bet you have people in your life that you deeply care for, that are not Christian
Colleagues, friends… members of your own family
When Jesus says – No one comes to the Father, except through me
who do you think of that might be on the outside
And so St. Paul’s writes
3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people (Romans 9:3)
Most parents sound very much like Paul when it comes to the problems confronting their children.
Most parents would gladly substitute themselves to endure the adversities that face their children.
Even though we realize such substitutions aren't possible, we often find ourselves wishing, like Paul, that we could take the problems on ourselves, in the place of our family members.
We wish those things happened to us "for the sake of my own people."
Paul’s torturous wrestling over Romans chapters 9-11, about what does God say to the Jews in light of Christ, ultimately lead us to three chapters about the nature and identity of God
These three chapters – fed into by chapter 8, are what many scholars have called the high-water mark of Paul’s writing
And how did Paul bring his audience to this strategic point in the letter?
The theme and thesis, found in chapter one, of the letter starts us on the path for the rest of Romans:
"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. 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'" (Romans 1:16-17)
The argument begins describing that God's judgment and wrath have been revealed to Jew and Gentile alike,
Neither is standing in a place of privilege, all are guilty before God (1:18-3:20).
Into this universal human reality Romans 3 tells us that: "the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe" (Romans 3:21-22).
Paul is wrestling with God’s nature – God’s relationship to humanity – and specifically God’s relationship to God’s chosen people – the Jews
This wrestling with what scholars would call supersessionism is not limited to St. Paul – it has been a matter for the church, since the beginning
And the church hasn’t always understood God’s heart in this matter
Christians have seen Jews as the scapegoat – the source of problems in society
For some they have gone as far to claim that it is because Jews killed Christ
This is, of course absurd, but it reveals a deep seated confusion
So when Christians seek to establish multi-faith relations with their spiritual ancestors, the Jewish people, the response is often a sceptical one
How, the church could have provided a safe harbour for anti-Semitic ideology and action for so many generations is perhaps our greatest failing.
Martin Luther, who is maybe my favourite protestant reformer, wrote an extremely racist and embarrassing 65,000 word piece called “On the Jews and Their Lies”
We haven’t always understood Romans 9-11 – we haven’t always got it right
And yet, yet… the answers were there all along – the response to relationship with our Jewish brothers and sisters is there in Paul’s writing
Simply put…We are to understand God as the perfect arbitrator of justice and mercy
We are to understand that when God makes a promise – when God makes a covenant
Thou, it might - and in all likelihood will, be broken by us – it will never be broken by God
God is steadfast – God’s faith in us is permanent
And so the Jews are always under the promises of the covenant
As recently as 1965 – The Roman Catholic Church has officially changed their position on their relationship with the Jews – with a document called NOSTRA AETATE
Where before the church has had a murky and at times despicable attitude in regards to Anti-Semitic behaviour and practices – history of the European pograms and the Holocaust are a real black eye for the Church
The church has come out with a very clear position in favour of the Jews
The church states that the Jews are people of the first covenant – and God is steadfastly faithful
As important and wonderful as this statement is – and it is an historic statement
St. Paul made this claim all along
Scripture has been there declaring this merciful and grace filled position from the beginning
S. Paul will not have a part in any religious understanding that paints God as unfaithful to promises God has made.
This also carries resonance with us, Christians, again it is important in our understanding of the nature of God
If God is steadfast in the covenant with Jews then by God’s nature God will be steadfast with the promises revealed in Jesus Christ
Our relationship with our Hebrew brothers and sisters can be understood as how St. Paul, later in Romans will use the image of grafting to describe gentile Christians.
Christians, as "wild olive shoots" have been grafted "to share the rich root" of a cultivated olive tree (11:17).
History demonstrates God's longstanding graciousness. It becomes a history in which Christians share, a history (and future) defined by God.
Does God's history (past promises) matter for God's future (pledges about what lies ahead)?
Romans reveals an unyielding commitment to an understanding of God's utter faithfulness.
Remember, too: Jesus didn't just come in the flesh. He came in Jewish flesh.
God became incarnate as a Jew, as a covenantal heir in the long lineage of a people who have known God's presence and contended with God through thick and thin.
“The past,” wrote William Faulkner, “is never dead. It is not even the past. History is the continuous river of time and past events are rocks that help you keep your feet dry.”
While people still divide into two camps – one is applying the brakes, the other accelerating:
One group caressing antiques, the other in love with the latest models.
Christianity is not limited to such polarities
[at it’s best] – it selects treasures from both old and new. It believes our father’s God is our God today with more to say.
It respects the past and future, so the future may one day be a past to deserve respect.
It will not have the old and the new at sword’s points, but in perfect combination.
Faith takes old men, young men, tradition in addition to adventure.
It will not be reckless or hidebound, but it will go to the ends of the earth, to the end of time, in whatever transportation is available.
Listen to the list of attributes that St. Paul reminds his readers about his kin
4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5to them belong the patriarchs (Romans 9:4-5a)
Not only are the Jews the recipients of all that God has to give, but they are the people from whom the seed of promise has come as they bear the very gift of God to the nations:
Paul states in our final verse today "And from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen" (9:5b).
Paul has saved the greatest of God's promises to last. The identity of the Messiah is the greatest of God's gifts to Paul's kindred – the Jews
And they are our spiritual older brothers and sisters
It’s all in there… the Bible
God is the God of the Past, Present and Future
As we come up with new ideas about how a Christian should respond to certain social issues – God through the pen of St. Paul has provided it already – it’s all in there
God is mercy – God is Justice – God is steadfast faithfulness
God’s nature - is the way, the truth and the life
God is the God of the Past, Present and Future
Thanks be to God for His steadfast grace - Amen
 Illustration Sourcebank - #2642 – History, Past
 Illustration Sourcebank - #2392 – Past, Future – The Parables He Told, by David Redding