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Confidence: Boasting or Binding?

Trinity Sunday, Common Lectionary Year C

Romans 5:1-5

©2019 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Scripture audio file
Reflection and activity audio file

This week, we read and explore the Scripture together, by using our hands to create a weaving of this text with this community, around the core thread of our common faith in Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:1-5
Here’s what Paul wrote, re-translated from Greek into today’s language.

So, then, it has been the work of God, through the life, dying and rising of Jesus Christ, not our work, that brings us into a living relationship with God. Just when we think it is us who must approach God, we discover that God has already done it, through Christ, coming to us!
So then, we can straighten up our neck, and stand tall, confident that we are all somehow entwined in God’s glory!
And there’s yet more! Not only can we stand tall in glory, but we can stand confident in Christ’s entwining in our times of suffering, so that even this suffering becomes, with Christ in us, that which produces stamina to endure the time of trial. And it is this entwining with Christ that enables us to stay true to who we are, our character shaped by the glory and the hope, and love of God in Christ, into all of which we are bound.
And in this is our hope, our confidence our strength, that God’s love is woven by Christ-with-us into every beat of our heart, into every fibre of who we are as God’s children, through this gifting of Ruach, God’s Lively, Wild, Brooding, Holy Spirit.

This is Gospel, Good News, and it is Paul’s testimony to the Early Church, passed on to us, for our rejoicing,
Thanks be to God.

Reflecting Together.
Now, I said we’d midrash this with fingers, so I’m going to take a pause here, and explain some mechanics for us all. We’re each going to be given a piece of paracord.
This first one is the cord which represents God in Christ, this is the Christ cord, the core.
Next you can choose one of the longer cords.
This one represents you as an individual, and as a member of this community of Christ’s followers.

The letter of Paul speaks of God in Christ, and Christ’s core action in our lives as individuals and as a community. What we’ll do is create this * with the two cords you’ve been given, with a simple Trinity weave (known to most of us as a braid!)

I’m going to give you the instructions step by step on the screen, but we’ll do the tidying and finishing at connection time, because some of you may want to keep re-braiding it. (see photos below for more guidance)

As I give the instructions, I’ll weave in my reflection on the work we’re doing in conversation with Paul’s letter.

Step one.
Paul wrote that it is the work of God, in his coming to earth in Jesus, living this life with us, suffering everything, including death with us, rising from death, and defeating all that robs life of justice and hope with his life. That core is this: red for Christ, red for his love, his heart, his death at hate’s hands.

Even before we come on the scene, there is Christ.

Step two
The second colour, is both you as a person, and this community, and all the communities of Jesus followers. That includes Paul and his faith companions in Rome. Although they were apart, separated by sea, they were still together, still one. Sometimes when Paul writes he mixes up his singular yous and plural yous, just like being part of human and faith community; we’re unique individuals who are better together.

So we fold it in two so that there’s a loop. Me/Us.
We put the front of the loop on top of the red cord,
and wrap it from front to back and round to the front again.

We have begun to be connected, entwined with Christ!
And so we begin to braid. And as we do, we hear again what Paul said about this entwining.
“Just when we think it’s up to us to approach God, we discover God has approached us, and bound Godself to us, through the life, death and rising of Christ!

Step 3.
As you braid lengthens, can you feel how much stronger it is? We are better together, with Christ, than one wobbly strand. We’re strong. Paul then uses a greek word ?????????, which although translated 400 years ago into English as “boast”, it has its roots in the word for neck, and means straightening the neck.
Try that.
What happens to the posture of a slave, or a woman, or a gay person, or a sick person, when with the strength of a community, rooted, bound, woven with Christ, with the Gospel Good News that all life, all creation, is good, wholesome and loved?
They straighten the neck, they can stand straighter, more confident, proud even, to be so entwined with none other than God.

Step 4.
Now, as I read this next piece of the letter continue your weaving/ braiding, and let the words of Paul accompany your braiding.

Paul wrote:
Through Christ’s entwining we can keep our confidence, stand tall, in our times of suffering, so that even then, with Christ in us, we have the stamina to endure the time of trial.
And in that endurance, with Christ entwined with us, we can stay true to who we are, our character shaped by nothing less than the glory and the hope, and love of God in Christ, not the distortion of suffering.

Step 5 is the binding of our trinity weave so it will hold, endure, stay strong, stay true.

You need to have a longish bit of the Christ cord,
and enough left of the short cords to tie two knots around the Christ cord.

And it’s a bit fiddly, and you may want to stop here for now and just braid because I’d rather you weren’t frustrated with the knotting, and are able to hear what I have to share with you.

Some people think, and have preached that this passage is a moral exhortation to
“Suck it up buttercup,”
or that somehow suffering is good,
because it produces endurance, and character…..
or that it’s about the morally strong coming through to the end.
If that were the case, it wouldn’t be Gospel!
How many good souls do you know and love
who have suffered terribly, unjustly, unfairly?
How many communities, races,
nations have been wracked by suffering we can’t imagine,
and have been crushed by it…
Does this mean they’re weak, not worthy of God’s saving? No!
I hope we’ve seen that there’s a thread of God
strong as steel running through Paul’s letter to the Roman Church that says
Absolutely not!

Look at the red cord in your hand. The Christ one.
Without it you couldn’t have made the weave.
Look at how it is woven into your strand, into the community’s strand, it’s there from beginning to end. And before and after!

What Paul is saying is that no matter what,
when we (one of us, or some of us, or all creation) suffers,
we are already bound to God, and to one another.
We never have to endure suffering alone,
and that’s why we can stand tall, and confident, proud that we are in whatever mess, whatever suffering, whatever global challenge, whatever struggle for justice, we’re in this with God, together.

Which brings us to

Step 6: Slip knots
God binds Godself to creation, and that binding doesn’t end.

So, we with two simple slip knots we make the bracelet complete. A Circle.
No beginning, no end, no way to slip off from God’s entwining care…

It fits, this circle, slides into place and holds us together. Always.
It travels with us, on our wrist, reminding us
through whatever happens, whatever trials, sufferings,
we endure, whatever assaults to our character.

A few chapters later in his letter,
Paul reaches his ringing hallelujah conclusion.
He’s described the weaving of God’s love, made known in Christ, gifted by the Holy Spirit, into your life, my life, all life, and beyond all living.
Again he straightens his neck, stands tall and confident when he smiles at us with words so true,
so binding, they make us weep, by times:
no suffering are worth comparing to the strength of God’s love.
“For I am persuaded, confident, that neither death, nor life, not things to come for things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to unbind us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38)

Amen.

We close in prayer:
God, Creator, Christ, Spirit,
when our necks are bent,
or when the necks of others are bent,
entwine us, weave us with you,
so that with your strength, your love, your hope, your glory,
we can straighten our neck, all necks,
and stand tall, confident that nothing, nothing will separate us from your love. Ever.
Amen.

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