Paul’s letter to the Romans is the most accomplished work of his that we know of.

It is in a league of its own when compared to the other letters of the New Testament.

This is probably because of two things: firstly it is a very late letter and Paul had refined much of his thinking by the time he came to write it. Secondly it isn’t just a pastoral letter encouraging or admonishing the recipients, it appears to have been written for a wider audience.

Paul is about to return to Jerusalem, to take the offering that has been collected for the church there. But he is not sure if he will even get there and even if he does what the reception will be like.

So he puts pen to paper as it were.

He gets his thoughts down in case he never gets another chance.

Sure he is looking forward to the possibility of visiting the church in Rome, should he survive the trip to Jerusalem. And if he does he knows he may even get to go to Spain afterwards; his big dream.

All these plans.

But none of them may come to fruition; so he produces an extraordinary piece of work that sets out the relationship between Jew and Gentile, and how salvation is achieved.

It could well be his last will and testament.

It is a monumental piece of work.

So much so that when John Taylor was at Queens theological college and was asked how he went about training ministers for circuit ministry, he replied ‘we teach them to wrestle with Romans’. Wrestle with Romans and you are on the way!

The letter was Paul’s baby, it demanded much of him. But he had no photocopying facilities, nor could he save it on the hard drive or memory stick. He had to stick it in the post.

He had to let go of the baby he had brought to birth.

But in so doing he brought to birth so much faith in the lives of others.

He gave hope in despair, direction in the chaotic uncertainty of life and he brought about the church we now belong to.

He writes of labour pains.

Creation itself has been groaning in a travail that could only be described as labour pains. Until now….

Until now, for the story of salvation that began in a garden with a man and a woman has unfolded to that moment when through the new Adam the whole creation, the whole created order, is reconciled to God having earlier fallen.

But for Paul that is not the end of the story.

He has by now come to the point of realising that the end of time may not be quite as imminent as he once believed.

And so we too groan inwardly he says because we too are still on the path of salvation.

  • We have not yet achieved the full glory of God.
  • We still see as if through a glass dimly.
  • We must pursue the life that in all its weakness can only be strengthened by the Spirit who intercedes for us.

And this is where we must learn in our own context from what Paul has to say in his.

  • We are not perfect.
  • We do not have all the answers.
  • We need one another.

And ultimately we need the one who called us not only into being but also together.

We do not choose God, God chooses us.

We do not choose to be with one another, God decrees it to be so.

We shall therefore be judged, we shall be judged by how we relate to one another and how we can together overcome differences of opinion to ensure that the mission of the church is not diminished by our shortcomings but strengthened by the witness we may offer as ones who have learnt to love as God has first loved us in Christ.

This is an imperative.

It is absolutely vital.

Not only for our own salvation, or even for the future of the church, but for the very world itself.

I have rarely known our world to be as precarious as it is today.

It was pretty scary growing up in the dark days of the Cold War.

Then after the Berlin Wall came down 26 years ago it seemed that we could be on the verge of a new era, one of peace, one of freedom from fear.

The feeling didn’t last long: The Balkans, Rwanda, 9/11.

Today we face the ideological threat of ISIS influencing young people across the world through social media.

Today Europe faces the existential threat of a resurgent Russia seeking to claw back the influence it lost post communism.

Our own nation is not immune to these challenges and are we united in facing the challenge? We have never been so divided.

The recent General Election highlighted that division.

  • Scotland and the rest of the UK.
  • North and South.
  • Affluence and poverty.

We live in difficult days.

To believe otherwise is to be deluded or dishonest.

Paul was neither.

Today we face a daunting task.

As well as a world facing global conflict the Church in this part of God’s world is in danger of being seen by so many as utterly irrelevant.

We face a daunting task.

We may be concerned that we are being called to embrace changes that we never gave time of day to before; but God will give each of us the courage to take it one step at a time.

We may be worried what this may entail, what further cost it will bring, but God will shoulder the burden.

We may not have a clue as to where it all may end up; but God knows and through trust we will have nothing to fear.

Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.

Do not be afraid for I have redeemed you.

I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.

I have always wanted to be famous. Not just because I wanted to score the winning goal in a World Cup Final, or the winning run in the decisive test against the Aussies or to stand outside Number 10 as the incoming Prime Minister. No, I have always wanted to be famous so that I could appear on Desert Island Discs.

There would be a range of styles, from Rutter to Lennon, they’d all be there. We have never before been so exposed to such an eclectic range of music styles as today.

When Brian Keenan was in captivity he found that even the humming of a generator become for him the music of the world.

‘I knew there was no music and yet I heard it….all the music of the world was there….the music played on and on ever-changing, ever-colourful.’ (An Evil Cradling)

We may not have been in such a dire place as BK but we have all experienced darkness and at that time music may have been a source of comfort.

The singing of Abide with me at the Cup Final since 1927 and the RL Challenge Cup Final since 1929 is a classic example of how lyrics and accompanying tune draw our emotions to a level that could otherwise never be achieved with those first crowds remembering the losses of the Great War a decade before.

Our hymns or music for our funeral are carefully chosen to paint a picture.

Also in times of joy – witness young people on the dance floor amongst friends celebrating a special birthday

Music is a significant part of life

It has been ever since the 1st human to pick up a rock or stick and beat it against another in order to create a rhythm

The reasons behind our sophisticated methods for creating music today are little different from those who produced basic sounds millennia ago

Our need to express something beyond words, leads us to draw upon art and music, to capture in image or sound what is impossible for us convey in any other way.

It is said that if pop music were art then the Kinks Waterloo Sunset is a Turner masterpiece.

And what of the sacred music and song we draw upon to express or nurture our faith?

‘Sing to the Lord a new song’ (Psalm 98) compels the psalmist.

It’s easy to sing when things are going well; not so easy when times are tough.

When the people are settled in Zion and access to the Temple without restriction the words of the psalms can readily trip off the tongue.

But when the people are in exile, far from home and memories of liberation from the hands of the oppressor seems impossible the psalmist would ask ‘how can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’

Nevertheless it is still possible.

We can sing of a God who will never leave us nor forsake us

We can sing of a God who rights every wrong

We can sing of a God who brings us safely home.

We live in difficult and dangerous days.

The General Election was the most significant in a generation.

The UK is now more divided than for a very long time.

The inequality of society is almost as great as it was a century ago.

The publication of Britain’s rich list published 2 weeks ago makes interesting reading with the richest 1000 people in the UK now worth 547 Billion – a figure that is twice what it was a decade ago.

Clearly the recession hasn’t hampered wealth creation, it’s just that the rest of the UK don’t seem to have benefitted from it.

Other figures published at the same time as the Sunday Times rich list reminded us that 20,000 people a week now visit a Trussel Trust foodbank, 20,000 a week in one of the world’s richest economies.

And further afield conflicts threaten to destabilise our entire world.

Eastern and even central Europe is tense because of Russia’s apparent desire to claw back the influence it lost at the end of the Cold War.

Europe’s southern borders are threatened by one of the most evil ideologies in history.

Islamism is an aberration of Islam – and we need to challenge it in every way we can.

The times are tough, these are difficult days

But we have been here before and by the grace of God we have not only survived but flourished.

So we can still sing a new song to the Lord

The psalm speaks of past events. It reminds us of the fact that God has acted and will therefore act again

Nothing, absolutely nothing can block God’s path.

So we too can still sing a new song to the Lord

It is a song that is counter cultural

It is a song of hope in the face of despair

It is a song of justice in the face of inequality

It is a song of truth in the face of fundamentalist fantasy

Ask again about the song you sing in your daily life

Is it a song of fear and suspicion?

Of apathy and condescension?

Of hostility and division?

Or is it a song of peace and plenty?

Of embrace and hospitality?

Of inclusion and unity?

By their songs you will know them

Ours is a song of eternity

One that builds on the experience of the past and looks to a yet more glorious future.

By their fruits you shall know them could so easily be rewritten: by their songs you shall know where their strength comes from…