Sunday, February 14, 2016

Navigating Good and Evil - Romans 7 and 8

Sunday evening's reflections on Romans 7 and 8 - the first of a series for Lent: Navigating Good and Evil, related to the IBRA Bible reading notes, Fresh From the Word 2016

When Moses led the people to freedom and the promised land and shared those Ten Commandments the people had to cope with 40 years of wandering through the wilderness.  It was a time of hardship, a time of difficulty, and a time of all sorts of things going wrong, and all sorts of temptation.  It took quite some navigating to get through the wilderness wandering.

When Jesus came up out of the Jordan in the strength of the Holy Spirit he went into the wilderness for 40 days.  It too was a tough time, a time of hardship, and for him a time of very real temptation.  It took quite some navigating to get through the time of temptation.

We stand at the beginning of Lent.  40 days of journeying towards Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter.  And Our Bible readings through Lent invite us to go on a journey that takes quite a bit of navigating.  It’s a journey that involves Navigating good and evil.  It’s quite some journey.  And if the first week of readings are anything to go by quite tough at times.

More than one person has said to me, I’m not sure what he’s on about!  And I have to confess I’ve wondered too!

When it comes to navigating we live in a Sat Nav age.  You key in the destination and you follow precise instructions.  Go wrong and the instructions will get you back on the right track.  And it’s all there for you on a plate.

Even if you use what one of the youngsters of one of the Scout leaders in a priceless comment described as ‘a paper sat nav’ – an atlas, the map books we use are accurate and precise so long as we follow them exactly.

I have a feeling people think of the Bible as a Sat Nav – key in the destination and it will get you there as you sit back and follow the instructions.  Go wrong and it will set you right again.

I don’t think the Bible is like that.

It’s not too like to pick up on our course at Explore – though I hope this Tuesday and next you join Michelle at Explore to explore the treasures of our faith in all sorts of creative ways that can then feed into the Christian Arts Festival in April.

Our course on the Bible is called Making Good Sense of the Bible Together.   It’s been great working on the course with Faith Taylor.  Last Tuesday some really fascinating insights about the way the bible works as poetry touching on the mysteries of life emerged through the discussion.  But those insights were not spelled out in the booklet that accompanies the course.  Someone was frustrated that the booklet had directed us to some very difficult verses of the Bible and not given the answer we had arrived at.

Faith’s response was superb – with some feeling and enthusiasm she said, ‘that’s the whole point’.  We’ve arrived at that understanding because we have had the conversation and shared together.  That’s the whole point of the course, she said, very perceptively, We make Good Sense of the Bible together.

It’s good to have a conversation about difficult passages in the Bible.  Not so that someone can tell us what the right answer is, but because in the conversation something emerges that touches the mystery in the words of the Bible.

One of the things that I think is a bit different about the IBRA bible study notes is that they come from a mixture of different people with different experiences of faith, different ways of reading the Bible and you won’t get just one clear definitive point of view.

Think of yourself as entering into a conversation as we share in navigating good and evil, specially in these first readings with Julian Bond as we asked where does evil come from and what is evil like today.

Instead of taking us through one book of the Bible, we jump around different texts.  Some find that disconcerting – and actually I like getting to grips with a whole book at a time.  But I think it goes to something very interesting about the Bible.

The Bible is a collection of 66 books written by probably a lot more than 66 people.  Many of the books have been re-worked by other people, ordered and arranged and then put together into what we see as the Bible.  These are all people of faith who have been touched by God as they have lived in the real world and grappled with the very issues we grapple with today.

One way to read the Bible is to look out for the way there’s almost a conversation going on between different people in the Bible.   Reading the Bible, looking at different passages from different writers at different times is a bit like entering into the conversation.  The great thing about that is that they have all journeyed this way before and they have all had to Navigate Good and Evil.

Actually, come to think of it: that’s another way of navigating today.  Find someone who’s been there before and follow their directions or let them show you the way.  We are going to have a day of prayer thinking of the churches of our area in our SW Midlands Area of the Federation down at our Stapleton Road church in Bristol – it’s in a fascinating area of Bristol and the church is really very much in the heart of inner city work.  When, I think it was Shirley and Dee, were going there they wanted help to get there – I gave them directions.  But it took some finding!   Find someone who’s been there before!

One thing I noticed in Julian Barnes notes is that he says, almost each day, In my opinion.  This is what I think.  At first that riled me. And then I thought that’s interesting.  He’s inviting us into the conversation.

So, now’s a moment to enter into the conversation.  What do you make of this question Julian Barnes has been asking: Where does evil come from?  Navigating good and evil is quite some challenge.  What do you make of evil?  How do you begin to answer that question or maybe how do you begin to grapple with that question?

Sharing ideas

I felt I wanted to enter into the conversation this week as well.

Two passages caught my eye, though maybe the way I read them is a little different.

When it comes to navigating good and evil Romans 7 and 8 are very powerful for me.

They kind of ring true.

Paul has in Romans set out his take on the Gospel of Christ.

it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:17

He offers an indictment of Nero’s Rome – then acknowledges we all get things wrong but God sets things right

For there is no distinction, 
23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 
24they are now justified by his grace as a gift,
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 
25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood,
effective through faith.

Three wonderful pictures – from the law court, the slave market and the temple.  A wonderful transformation for those who come into the presence of Jesus.

There’s something wonderful in the way we can all share in this new life – a life of grace

Therefore, since we are justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 
2through whom we have obtained access to this grace
in which we stand;
and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 
3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance, 
4and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope, 
5and hope does not disappoint us,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts
 through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

This is wonderful poetry – I have rearranged the words into short lines!

Powerful stuff.

And we share in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Then we come to Romans 7

It’s great.  You would think it would be wonderful.  But sometimes it isn’t.

Something gets in and niggles away and goes wrong.

I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 
17But in fact it is no longer I that do it,
but sin that dwells within me. 1

8For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh.
 I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.

19For I do not do the good I want,
but the evil I do not want is what I do.
20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it,
but sin that dwells within me.

You know exactly what you should do but you don’t do it.

This rings true for me.  Not least caught up in the system.  I know I want to look after the environment but for all sorts of reasons that are also good I find myself using my car again.  I want to break free from the economic system, but I find myself caught up in the system too.

This is one of those moments when the genius of William Tyndale with his ear and eye fo rhte English language comes into its own in the Authorised Version.

The commonest 20 words in the English language are all the little ones – they tend to be the oldst.  So many words are single syllable words in Shakespeare and also in the AV.  You can almost weigh them.  2 syllable words are twice the weight of single syllable words.

The good that I would I do not.
The evil that I would not
That I do.

Wow powerful stuff.

And it touches each of us.

Then you come to Romans 8.

I counted them. Count them for yourself.  I came to 20 references.

It is in Romans 8 that Paul for the firfst time in Romans talks of the Holy Spirit.

This is where in navigating good and evil the Christian faith becomes good news, gospel.

We are not on our own in making the journey.

We have a strength from beyond ourselves in the Holy Spirit of God who is alongside us.

There are times of groaning when we  are navigating good and evil.  And we cannot cope.

It is at those times that God is with us, the Holy Sp;irit is the strength we need.

There is therefore now no condemnation
for those who are in Christ Jesus. 
2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus
 has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

It’s language that works for me.

There is a freedom.  No condemnation.  We are forgiven.

More than that we have that strength of the Spirit with us.

There is a groaning in creation – a groaning that we are all too aware of.  But it is the groaning that heralds something new, new birth, the groaning that is labour pains.

It has to be one of my favourite verses – we have a presence with us in the Spirit of God, unseen yet very real.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

Navigating good and evil.

For the journey there is the presence of the love of God in Christ – and nothing can separate us from that love.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will hardship, or distress,
or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors
through him who loved us. 
38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor rulers,
nor things present, nor things to come,
nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

These are the things that make for the nastiness in our world – as much as in Paul’s world.  And there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So then, what next.

Navigating good and evil – we have a path to follow – spelled out in Romans 12

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, 
by the mercies of God,
to present your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
 2Do not be conformed to this world, 
but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,
so that you may discern what is the will of God—
what is good and acceptable and perfect.

9 Let love be genuine;
hate what is evil,
hold fast to what is good; 
10love one another with mutual affection;
outdo one another in showing honour.
11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering,
persevere in prayer. 1
3Contribute to the needs of the saints;
extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you;
bless and do not curse them.1
5Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep. 

16Live in harmony with one another;
do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; 
do not claim to be wiser than you are. 

17Do not repay anyone evil for evil,
but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 

18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you,
live peaceably with all. 

19Beloved, never avenge yourselves,
but leave room for the wrath of God; 
for it is written,
‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ 

20No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them;
if they are thirsty, give them something to drink;
for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.

21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

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