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Sermon for Trinity 5

Listen to or read a sermon by Revd Aron Donaldson on Romans 8:1-11, for Sunday 12 July 2020, the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:1-11

When was the last time you felt snug, cosy, relaxed and safe? In Danish this feeling has its own word ‘hyyge’ (hoo-gar) and an entire lifestyle has been built around it. In my experience I tend to get this feeling when I can hear rain pattering window panes. When I looked around to see if anyone shared this reaction to adverse weather I found that little communities have been set up around appreciation for the rain and thunderstorms. Many people who suffer from acute anxiety report feeling calmed when they hear the soft crackle of a continuous downpour. There is even a website called rainymood.com that is devoted to playing recordings of rain in order to help people relax, study or even go to sleep! 

What is it about what we often call ‘bad weather’ and feelings of cosiness and relaxation? No one seems to know exactly, but I think it may have something to do with contrast. When we hear cold, wet rain outside we come to a greater appreciation of the warm, dry conditions inside. Because we feel protected and safe we are able to observe and enjoy what is happening outside our walls.

When Paul writes in the first verse of chapter 8, we find we are similarly secure.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1

There is no condemnation. The word condemnation is an interesting one. It is often used to show strong disapproval of something, but it seems Paul has its legal connotations more in mind. To condemn in this case is to pronounce judgment, to declare a sentence; to sentence someone to a particular punishment. In the context of scripture, condemn often has connotations with death. For example in Psalm 79:11 the phrase ‘condemned to death’ can be found.

However, there is another definition of condemnation. We can hear of buildings being condemned. In this case, condemnation is when something is judged to be unsafe or unfit for purpose. It is often the case that this occurs when a building has begun to deteriorate and fall into ruin. Slowly, over time, buildings begin to dilapidate until they become derelict and are condemned.

In the condemnation of buildings we see the result of the inevitable process of entropy that is at work in the universe. Entropy is the general trend of the universe toward death and disorder and it is physically inevitable. The part of this truth that particularly confronts me is the certainty that in billions of years even our Sun and along with it every other star in the sky will go out, one by one. As we will see next week, this is referred to in Romans 8:21 where creation is described as being in ‘bondage to corruption’ or in ‘bondage to decay.’ This grim aspect of existence is not alien to scripture. We can therefore say that, in a manner of speaking, that the whole universe is to be condemned like a deteriorating building.

Now that is all very, very far in the future and very, very far away from us, but that doesn’t mean that we are not affected. Entropy is immediately close at hand. For example, in our own bodies we see it at work. After a certain point our bodies begin to deteriorate, until one day they fail and we die. 

It is a sobering and sombre thought. And that thought filters into our everyday lives. It throws up questions like: what is the meaning of it all if the universe is on a general trend towards death and decay? 

‘The earthy hope men set their hearts upon turns ashes – or it prospers; and anon; Like snow upon the Desert’s dusty face lighting a little hour or two – is gone’

Omar Khayyám The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Or: How do I make the most of the time I have now? As time moves relentlessly in one direction we can be gripped by past actions we now regret. We can be haunted by the things we have done that cannot be undone. They are indelibly marked in a place we cannot return to.

‘The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.’

Omar Khayyám

Such reflections on the inevitability of entropy and its accompanying anxiety is something we can feel acutely or it can be something we suppress and push to the back of our minds. But we will have to face it one day. This uneasiness is something that is common to all of us. Which brings me back to the beginning of this sermon: it is possible that in some circumstances, adverse weather can calm anxious people.

What is the circumstance that transforms this adversity into peace? It is the verse we heard earlier: there is now, ‘no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ 

As we looked in chapter 6 three weeks ago, we have a connection with Christ. We are united to Christ. This is echoed in the phrase ‘no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ We are in Christ. We are united to Him and He is eternal. It is through Christ that we have access to eternal life. Before creation existed, before time itself began, Christ existed. As Paul says in Colossians 1:15 

‘Christ existed before all things, and in him all things hold together.’

Colossians 1:15

Taking refuge in Christ is the way out of condemnation and the relentless march of time. And the way this happens is through the Spirit.

For the whole of chapter 8, we will see Paul refer time-and-again to the Spirit as our link to eternal life and our source of assurance. In our passage this week, the Spirit is associated with life over and over. If we have the Spirit, if we set our minds on Him, then we are plugged in to the abundance of life that Christ earned for us on the cross. And this is eternally secure. There is now no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus, who live according to the Spirit and in whom the Spirit lives. There is no going back. We are safe and protected.

 I don’t think any preacher put this assurance as well as James Smith did in 1859:

There may be affliction, deep, sore, and complicated affliction. There may be temptations, terrible and distressing temptations. There may be fears, alarming and terrifying fears. There may be sins, yea, there are sins, for there is no man that liveth and sinneth not. Yet, ‘there is no condemnation.’ …

There is…now no condemnation: though our graces are imperfect, though our services are faulty, though the conflict within is severe, though Satan and the world do their worst against us, and though in many things we all offend, still there is no condemnation. To us the promise belongs, ‘No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord; and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.

James Smith The Believer’s Triumph pp. 10, 12

Because of Christ’s death for us on the cross and our union with Him by the Spirit living within us, there is no condemnation. We are justified, forgiven and secure. We are rescued from a deteriorating creation and the regret of the past is washed away in torrent of God’s forgiveness. It was in response to this good news that Charles Wesley could sing:

No condemnation now I dread
Jesus, and all in Him is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness Divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own

Charles Wesley, And Can it Be?

From this vantage point of safety and security, we can find peace in the midst of thunderstorms and rainy days. The cold, wet downpours of life can patter against our windows and we can recline into the safety of Christ by the help of the Spirit. Indeed, because of our safety we can even enjoy that which humbles us and puts our lives within a grander, panoramic, perspective. For example, the terrifying experience of being tossed to and fro in the deadly chop of the English channel can be transformed into awe when viewed at a safer vantage point such as atop a cliff watching the same waves crash against the rock face below. In the first situation one is in fear of great danger. In the other, one is in a safe position that nevertheless doesn’t lessen the power of the spectacle and in so doing it can produce amazement and exhilaration.

So, those in Christ, for whom there is no condemnation, can withstand the imposing powers of time, entropy and death in the way the person sitting behind a window observes the rain driving against the window panes. We can experience an unshaken peace as we shelter in the eternal Christ, by the Holy Spirit, in whom there is life forevermore. And from that vantage point we can learn to find joy in the midst of bad weather. For there is now no condemnation for we who are in Christ Jesus.

Amen.