Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 03 2023

Posted on September 4, 2023, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service. 

September 03, 2023

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost 

Romans 8:14-39
Matthew 28:17-20

Worship Service Video Sermon Video Sermon  Audio

Sermon Text:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve touched on the history and origin of the creeds. That they were created to establish some commonality about what Christians believe about the Trinity.

We’ve talked about the connection between these statements and scripture, and that when we remember that connection, it keeps the creeds from just being words on a page that we recite from memory. And that it opens our hearts to God’s presence and activity in our world today.

And that that helps us live in response to the love God brought to us as Jesus – not for the purpose of earning that love, but because we’ve already received it.

And when we’re open to God’s presence and activity in the world, and when we live in response to God’s love for us in Jesus, we become aware of God’s Spirit at work in us. We come to more fully understand that the creeds aren’t just beliefs that we agree on intellectually, but that they’re an expression of our identity as children of God.

And our identity as Christians is something that’s formed throughout our lives, and it’s what Paul addresses in his letter to the Romans.

Because of where this letter is placed in the Bible, for us it’s often thought of as the introduction to Paul’s theology – and it was an introduction of his theology to the Christians living in Rome. But Romans is actually the last letter that he wrote, and he wrote it about thirty years after his conversion on the road to Damascus.

So, he was about fifty-five to sixty years old, and he’d been living as a Christian for a while and he knew what he was talking about. And even though he hadn’t met the Christians in Rome, he didn’t spend time in this letter introducing himself as a person. Instead he devoted it to his understanding of Jesus because that was the more important thing.

In this letter, Paul pushes the Romans to rethink how they’re living, to redefine their social obligations, to reconsider who or what determines their standards and the way they interact with society. In essence, he’s asking them to think about the source of their identity.

Where this really starts to gain some traction is in the part leading up to our reading today and Paul’s explanation of a life according to the flesh versus a life lived in the Spirit, and that the Spirit leads to life.

And for the Christians living in Rome, that meant living a life that wasn’t defined by Roman politics, culture, or social order. And instead living a life that was defined by God and God’s activity in the world – which was hard to do living in the capitol of the Empire. But Paul promised them that even though living this way might seem to be unmanageable at times, God was faithfully at work in them.

And the proof of that is God’s Spirit. The same Spirit that was present at creation, that guided the Israelites through the wilderness, and that was given to the apostles at Pentecost was at work in the Roman followers of Jesus connecting them to one another as a community.

In other words, whether they were Jewish or Gentile, the believers in Jesus were in relationship with one another and with God through the Holy Spirit. Even when they couldn’t figure out how to get along, when their cultural differences threated to overtake their community, God’s Spirit held them together.

And through the Spirit’s work, groaning and interceding on their behalf in the times when they didn’t know what to pray or how to move forward, their identity as followers of Christ was formed.

When we confess our identity as Christians, the part about the Spirit is often the most difficult piece to wrap our minds around. We can look at the world around us and say, “Yes, I believe God created this.” We can read scripture, especially the gospels, and say, “Yes, I believe God came to us in love as Jesus.”

The Holy Spirit is different, though. When we say, “We believe in the Holy Spirit” – that seems to be all that we say. But the part that comes after is connected to it. And, side note, the statement that we believe in the “holy catholic church” – “catholic” with a lower case “c” means universal.

And side note #2 – the better way to say that statement is “we believe the church to be, or is, holy and catholic” because the church is not the fourth part of the trinity. And now back to the Holy Spirit.

When we confess that we believe in the Holy Spirit, the depth of our belief is in our experience of the Spirit in our lives and in our hope for the future – the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Martin Luther breaks it out into even more detail. He reminds us that it’s the Holy Spirit that calls us through the gospel, enlightens us with gifts, makes us holy, keeps us in the true faith, forgives our sins, will raise us up on the last day, and give all believers in Christ eternal life.

In other words, what we believe about the Holy Spirit is that it’s the source of our faith in God. It’s nothing we do or don’t do. It begins with God’s Spirit, and our faith – our identity in God – is formed as we live our lives in response to God’s initial action.

And what we learn as we live is that God’s Spirit holds us together as a community of believers. It’s what allows us to disagree on things and work through our differences. It keeps us together when tragedies strike. It rejoices with us in times of celebration.

And it goes beyond these walls. The community of believers exists as the body of Christ wherever we go. And as we live and learn and grow in our faith, we come to realize that through the Spirit, God has continually been working to bring all of God’s children together into that one body.

That as God’s children, no matter our background, no matter what struggles or suffering we have been through, there is nothing we have done and nothing anyone else could do that could separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And that promise is a lifeline in a society like ours, where it’s easy to feel as though we’re all alone and on our own.

All of this works together as God’s Spirit continually forms and shapes our identity into the people and community God calls us to be. We take that with us into the world, lovingly sharing it with others. And as we do, the body of Christ continues to grow and strengthen.

When we confess what we believe about God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, they aren’t just beliefs that we agree on intellectually. They’re expressions of our identity as children of God. They’re acknowledgments that who we are comes from God, and not anything we say or do.

That gift keeps us in relationship with God, with Jesus, through the Holy Spirit throughout our lives. Thanks be to God! Amen.