Flow of grace, voice of truth 

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 29.15-28

Psalm 138

Romans 8.26-39

Matthew 13.44-58

©Suzanne Grimmett

Water is a great gift of life for which we are grateful to have flowing, hot and cold, out of our taps for our need. Normally it flows effortlessly through pipes, but if our plumbing is not up to the task, the result is expensive and wasteful. Unfortunately, we have had a first-hand experience of this at St Andrew’s this week when we discovered that due to the increasing pressure of the water flow to cater for higher density living around us, much of our plumbing is no longer fit for purpose. I have found it a relevant, if uncomfortable, metaphor as we seek to live into the mission of the church in our time. The structures of our communities have changed in fundamental ways in the past fifty years and the church has moved from being in the centre to the fringes of an increasingly disconnected social fabric. How are we to share the good news, “bringing out treasures old and new” from a church ill equipped to handle the pressure of contemporary life alongside global and climate instability? One US report published this week suggests, ‘we as a society face an “in between” state — between the ending of cultures of endless growth and the groping beginning of a culture learning from the earth how to live good but simpler lives.’[1] Perhaps the way we are to navigate our way to greater goodness and simplicity in the church is to recognise and appreciate what treasures are ours to share with a hurting world; both treasures that the church has revealed down the ages and some which are created for this particular time and place.

At times we may feel overwhelmed by the need of the world and unsure of our own capacity or ability to make a difference. To this St Paul’s words in Romans should come as a great comfort. God’s Spirit comes not to make us into super people of extraordinary ability but rather gathers us up as the ordinary people we are, helping us in our weakness. Neither does God swoop in and bail us out of our problems. In the face of the rise of the Nazis to power, Dietrich Bonhoeffer commented that “to turn to God in a time of greatly expanded human powers is a moral cop-out. It sidesteps or deflects human responsibility”.[2] Who can act but us as we see the enormity of the world’s pain? As the ancient Jewish Rabbi Tarfon wrote, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither can you abandon it.”[3] It may be that as we speak the truth and act for justice we encounter some who would question who we think we are to believe we could make a difference. When that happens, it may help to remember that even Jesus encountered those who were sure he had nothing to say simply because he had grown up amongst them; a hometown Nazareth boy.

So while we are called to such responsibility, it is only as we surrender to the Spirit that we are enabled to begin the work. In trying to live this truth I find great encouragement in the whole book of Romans, but particularly in this chapter. Paul’s words speak of a life where there will be suffering and trouble of all kinds, both for us individually and for the world, but where we are never abandoned by God.  I always imagine St Paul saying these words with great passion as they were recorded on the scroll;

 It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? ……Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?….No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:33a, 35, 37)

Paul was a man who had lost everything and yet had been found, blind and yet now saw clearly, dead to all his former priorities and attachments and raised to vibrant new life. This same abundant life is available to us all because Christ has reached into the brokenness of this world and the brokenness in ourselves,

…covering the distance between who we are and who we can yet become… the bridge between old and new, the church as it is and the church that is yet to be revealed through the power of God. These are the kinds of joyful utterances we hear all through scripture about the God who sets free the captives, lifts up the lowly and feeds the hungry with good things- it is what erupts when we stumble across the pearl for which we would sell everything once we understand its priceless value. It is a treasure often found more easily by those who are rejected, excluded or oppressed. Today, more than ever, we need the good news as narrated not on the lips of those esteemed by the world, but by those whose powerlessness has robbed them of voice and agency.

How do we manage to miss this treasure? I suspect Paul’s answer would be by “living according to the flesh” By this he is not making any moralistic statement about sexuality and nor is he suggesting that the body and the material world is inherently sinful. Quite the opposite, as when Paul describes sin, it is as a turning away from the divine self-offering that can be seen everywhere in creation and instead turning inward to the self and to the structures and means to support self-interested power, wealth and security. As we seek to gather for ourselves what should rightly be shared or remain silent when the powerless cannot raise their voice, or when we ignore systems and structures which are comfortable for us but perpetuate injustice, we are “living according to the flesh” according to Paul. Paul knew by experience that a life turned inward is no life at all, and that the well-being of our neighbour is caught up with our own in the economy of God. We cannot hurt another without hurting ourselves. If this seems too high a bar and you know you have failed to live into this kind of loving mutuality, we can hear the promise of Paul’s conviction that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Why we think our own sin and weakness would be able to keep us from that love is part of the conceit of humanity. Our salvation is the work of God from beginning to end. Yet it is also the paradoxical nature of grace that its work in us prompts us to greater agency and responsibility. It is ours to share this treasure we have and ours to discern how to be the church in this time.

It is of course not just the church under pressure, but a society and a planet feeling the pressure of change and needing to create new containers for our common life if humankind and all creation is to survive and flourish. The good news which surprised Paul and led to him creating such passionate words is needed more than ever. Humankind will continue to lose its way whenever it is held in the bondage of self-interest and the will to power and domination. While some of our church structures no longer serve us well, the ancient and eternal Word of God continues to liberate those who, in surrendering to the Spirit, find the way through death to life. Change is necessary if that word of love and freedom is be heard in our time. The church must cease relying on societal position and privilege to be the vessel for its message. Indeed, it has ever been the way of the God revealed in scripture to choose the weak, the lowly, the excluded and the vilified as bearers of the most wonderful news the world has heard. It should not surprise us that we who have much, need the humility to listen to those who have little.  The church and the world needs these little ones- the victims, the oppressed, the silenced- to speak the truth written in their suffering and lift up their voice to proclaim the God who gives power to the powerless. When we learn to listen and attend to such voices, our church will be renewed in its mission and our communities set free to receive the Christ who brings healing to all. Then the Spirit will flow freely and treasures new and old be found and shared for the life of the world.


[1] Welcome to the Great Unraveling: Navigating the Polycrisis of Environmental and Social Breakdown as quoted in A Great Unraveling? https://lutheransrestoringcreation.org/sunday-july-24-30-year-a-mundahl23/

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer as quoted in Larry L. Rasmussen, The Planet You Inherit, Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2022, pp. 104-105

[3] Rabbi Tarfon (approx. 70-135 CE) commenting on Micah 6:8 in “Pirkei Avot”