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Faith >

Next week's readings: 8th Sunday after Trinity

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Proper 11: Genesis 28.10-19a or Wisdom 12.13, 16-19 or
Isaiah 44.6-8;
Romans 8.12-25;
Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43

PAUL is writing his letter to the Romans to those "called to belong to Jesus Christ" (Romans 1.6). He has sketched, at the start, a wilful delinquency around these addressees. Here was a whole culture infected by the failure of Adam.

"The invisible attributes of God from the creation of the world, rationally perceived in the things that have been made, are actually visible: his eternal power and godhead." But "knowing God they did not glorify him as God, but were made futile in their thinking. . . For the truth of God they substituted a lie and they worshiped the creature instead of the creator" (from Romans 1.20-23, 25).

Paul's readers, it seems, can look on with self-satisfaction; until he jolts them out of any complacency. "So you have no excuse, any one of you who judges others!" (Romans 2.1). For he goes on to show, that "all were sinners and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by his grace through the redemption effected in Christ Jesus" (3.23-4).

By Romans 5.1, Paul has reassured his readers. They can "boast in the hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5.2). Their present tribulation fosters endurance, and so character, and so hope. "And hope does not put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Romans 5.5). Sin and death had entered the world through the First Adam; their dominion is being unravelled by the Second.

In the letter's central section, Paul explores and expresses the agony of a deepening self-consciousness. It seems to be deepening only the awareness of sin and of its power. Yet again Paul hints at Adam and Eve (Romans 7.7-11). What Paul's "I" suffers, Adam and Eve had suffered before. The command not to eat the one fruit stirred their desire to eat it. Sin came to life, and they died. Sin deceives Paul's "I" through the commandment, as the serpent deceived Eve (Genesis 3.13).

But "now there is no condemnation against those in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8.1). By this week's epistle, Paul is ready for a triumphant reprise of the letter's themes so far. We are invested with the Spirit of God himself. The sufferings of the present age are not to be compared with the glory to be revealed. "For the expectation of the creation is longing for the disclosure of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility . . . in the hope that the creation itself will be freed from the slavery of corruption" (from Romans 8.18-21).

We are the brothers and sisters of the Second Adam, and are waiting for the disclosure of the glorious world in which we belong. Those whom God has chosen, called, and justified - he has also glorified (Romans 8.30). Theme after theme is picked up and brought to its resolution.

This is not to belittle the present suffering, of which Paul had spoken in Romans 5, and to which he will return in next week's epistle, right at the end of Romans 8. But such present pain is the pain of parturition. Creation is groaning in childbirth; we are groaning as we long for our full adoption as children; and, when we do not know how we should pray, the Spirit itself comes to our help in wordless groaning (Romans 8.22, 23, 26).

All creation is caught up in our renewal, and in the pain of its emergence. What we have already are the "first-fruits" of the renewed world: the Spirit (Romans 8.23). The first-fruits, the first crops gathered at the harvest, were presented to God at Pentecost - as God himself, at Pentecost, had given the spirit to the Church.

"The Spirit itself", says Paul, "bears witness together with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8.16). John Wesley preached a famous sermon, in 1767, on God's Spirit and our own. The witness of the Spirit is "an inward impression on the soul whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly testifies to my spirit, that Jesus Christ hath loved me, and given himself for me; that I, even I am reconciled to God".

This witness antecedes our making any profession at all, but that of being lost, guilty sinners. And so it must. For we cannot love God, till we know he loves us. And we cannot know his love to us till his Spirit witnesses it to our spirit.

Wesley admits the dangers of self-deception. "Madmen, French prophets and enthusiasts of every kind, have imagined they experienced this witness." Perhaps they have been quite wrong. But Wesley asks: so what? "A madman's imagining himself a king, does not proved that there are no real kings."

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