Reflections 14th July 2020
This week we are at long last (in England at least) able to resume worship in church! The form of that worship is going to be very different to what we have been used to with a number of restrictions on what we are able to do but this is a significant landmark in our gradual journey out of lockdown. Whilst many of you may have concerns about meeting together in church, please be re-assured that there are very rigorous guidelines which have to be followed to minimise any risk of infection and clearly if you have any of the signs of Covid-19, much as we would love to see you, please don’t risk passing the infection on to others. After so many weeks now without services in church and having missed so many of the great festivals of the church year, it would be good if as many of us as feel able to do so to join together in church to once again be able to hear and respond to God’s word and to pray for the needs of the church, the world and ourselves even if we are unable for a while at least to join in singing God’s praises.
The statistics show that we are continuing to see a steady decline in the number of new cases and the number of Covid related deaths which is cause for much thanksgiving. The real test will come over the coming weeks as we continue to relax the lockdown restrictions. As events in Leicester as well as in the USA and parts of South America have demonstrated, although we may have shielded ourselves from it, the virus is very definitely still prevalent and if we relax the current lockdown restrictions too quickly and fail to observe the basic social distancing and hygiene practices, there remains a real risk that there will be a rapid rise in the number of infections requiring further local or more widespread lockdowns.
Our lectionary readings for this week continue our journey through Paul’s letter to the Romans and this week we come to verses 1-11 of chapter 8. Perhaps one of the most loved chapters of the Book of Romans, these verses provide us with great encouragement as they assure as that “therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” Paul has been building his case about the inability of the law to save us from sin – not because the law is sinful but because we are unable to obey the law’s requirements because of our sinfulness. Now Paul assures his readers then and now that there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This isn’t just an empty statement for Paul goes on to tell us why this is the case – “for what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering”
The law was (and is) powerless to save us because we were (and without Christ still are) unable to obey its commands because of the sin that is within us. But the wonder of the gospel is that God has intervened to save us. That intervention wasn’t just God standing on the side-lines and throwing us a lifeline or a lifebelt rather as we might do if we saw someone in difficulty in the water rather God sent His only Son Jesus Christ in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.
That reference to the sin offering takes us back to the Old Testament and the sacrificial system where God graciously allowed an animal to be sacrificed as a sin offering as a substitute for the life of the sinner. That sacrifice should have served to remind the individual of the awful consequences of their sin, of the punishment that was theirs by rights but which God had allowed to be substituted by the sheep or goat offered instead.
In Jesus, God provided the one perfect sin-offering so that the righteous requirement of the law might be met in all who have accepted what Christ achieved for us as he died on the cross and thus who have God’s Spirit living within them as a token, a sign or a seal that God is with us.
If we jump to verses 10 & 11, Paul tells us that “if Christ is in us, even though our body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you”
One of the realities of the human condition is that we will all face death one day but amidst death, we are enlivened by the power of God’s Holy Spirit living within us day by day. We quite literally have the same power that raised Jesus from the dead living within us invigorating us day by day. It may not always feel that way but with God’s Spirit at work in us, we have the same mighty power that raised Jesus from death to life at work within us, empowering us in this life and assuring us that when such time that this life comes to an end, we have the certainty of being united with the countless throngs who will be singing God’s praises through all eternity.
Despite what the world might try to tell us, we need to stand firm remembering that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ”. Our freedom cost nothing less than the death of God’s own Son. Having paid such a price, God is not just going to turn his back and walk away from us and to assure us, God has given us His Spirit as his living presence alive and at work in us.
The collect for the fifth Sunday after Trinity
Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the church is governed and sanctified: hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people, that in their vocation and ministry they may serve you in holiness and truth to the glory of your name; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever, Amen
We continue to pray for our own vocations and ministries as well as for Veronica, that she would soon be able to resume her ministry amongst us. Pray for one another that we might minister to one another and those around us in these difficult times. Pray for the resumption of church services that they would be both a blessing to all those who attend and a witness to those around us. Pray that the Covid-19 crisis would draw many to seek Jesus and help us to guide them to Him.
Please continue to pray for our leaders, for wisdom and discernment as they seek to balance the conflicting needs to maintain restrictions to avoid the spread of the virus but at the same time trying to rebuild the economy. Please continue to pray for all those who have been impacted by the virus through the loss of a loved one, through illness or economically. With many redundancies being announced, the impact on many individuals and families will be significant.
As the schools break up for the long summer holidays, please pray for teachers and all who work in schools that they would be able to find rest and refreshment and be able to prepare for the coming term and all that this will entail as all children return to school.
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