St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh
Midweek Devotion 2nd September 2021
Led by Rev Craig Meek
Welcome everyone to online worship with St. Giles’ Cathedral. My name is Craig Meek; I’m one of the Assistant Ministers here at St. Giles’ and I’m delighted that you’ve joined me today for a few moments of reflection and prayer together. May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ permeate our lives, soften our hearts, and open our minds today, friends, as we listen together for a Word from our Lord.
Our lesson today is taken from Paul’s letter to the Romans, a portion from chapter 2. Friends, hear the word of the Lord.
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favouritism.
For hundreds of years, the Book of Romans has played a particularly important role in the history of Christian theology. And it’s not difficult to see why; for in its pages, the Apostle Paul makes a number of wonderful assertions about the righteousness and faithfulness of God, the claim of grace upon human lives, the nature of our hope for tomorrow, and the ways in which we ought to live in the present day. It is an extraordinary book, and yet it’s one with which I find myself wrestling from time to time – and today’s text is no exception.
What in the world does Paul mean by these statements that appear to interpret the law as binding upon everyone and everything? And what are we to do with these obtuse, conditional statements that seem anticipate his further claims in chapter 3 – that everyone has failed to live up to the law, both Jew and Greek? Or better: what do we make of this curious line ‘do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?’
We can’t answer all of these questions today, but perhaps we can venture a few thoughts about a few of them. First, I might suggest that Paul’s words need to be read in the context of the entire letter. What looks like a sort of conditional view of salvation and divine judgment in our text here is really Paul’s setting up his point: None of us are righteous apart from Christ Jesus; that is, none of us are righteous on our own, for our righteousness comes from faith in our Lord (chapter 3), whose grace claims us in the waters of baptism (chapters 5 and 6), regenerates our lives, and renews our world (chapter 8). At least to me, these seem to be the most important ideas to which Paul points his readers through the opening chapters of his epistle.
Secondly, and I think this lies at the heart of the matter, Paul tells us that God’s kindness leads us to repentance; that is, God’s grace precedes God’s law. God is not good to us because we’re obedient to a set of rules; rather, God is good to us because God delights in our lives, and the law is a gift that teaches us to enjoy God’s goodness. The irony, of course, is that we fail to live in terms of the law and squander the fullness of God’s blessing. But even so, all is not lost; for in Jesus Christ, the fullness of God’s blessing is given to us anyway, even if for now we must wait to see it in full. For such is the faithfulness of the Holy and Almighty One – the one whose love knows neither boundaries nor conditions and whose loving kindness refuses to let us go. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Holy and Almighty God, the Psalmist tells us that your love for us and our world stretches to the skies; that your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your faithfulness unwavering. Teach us, Lord, to love the things that you love; to care for and about the things about which you care. For though we so often fall short of all that you wish for us and desire us to be, your loving kindness is like an open gate that leads us to repentance and life in abundance.
But your love is not an invitation to escape from the world, Lord. Rather, it bids us to live in it as covenant partners in redemption, fostering those rhythms of grace and mercy that restore, heal, and bring peace where so often there is distortion. And so hear our prayers, Lord, in solidarity and with love, for the people of Afghanistan and Myanmar; for Haitians rebuilding a devastated country; and for those in the American south without power. Hear our prayers, Lord, for any who are oppressed by unjust systems and racist or sexist policies; for any who are alienated from either themselves or the world.
May your peace touch those who are disturbed; may your comfort touch those who are distressed; and may your strength touch those who have grown weak. Have mercy on your people, Lord; Christ, have mercy on your people everywhere.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is heaven. Given us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever. Amen.
Friends, I hope that this brief devotion has been an encouragement to your today, and that you’ll join us again another time. Until then, may the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace, both this day and for evermore. Amen.
Dieterich Buxtehude Ciacona in G