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3901 Davis Blvd., east of Airport Road

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The invention of Christianity

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Thoeni
Rector

Jul. 26, 2020

  When I was in seminary my fellow students and I would occasionally muse about such inane and bizarre questions as would Luther be a Lutheran today? If Martin Luther came back to life and showed up in a Lutheran parish, would he like what he experienced? Would he find a home there?  Would he find it to be a place that would nourish his spiritual needs?

  In the same fashion we would consider such things as whether Calvin would be a Presbyterian, or whether Wesley would be a Methodist. But we never considered whether Thomas Cranmer would be an Anglican. Of course he would, because we all know that the Anglican Church is flawless.

  Of course, the logical extension of all of these considerations is whether Jesus would be a Christian. That is an interesting question. Scripture tells us that Jesus was a devout, if unorthodox Jew. The Gospels never make clear that Jesus intended to start a new religion.
 
 Jesus didn’t invent Christianity. Neither did Peter or John or James, nor any of the twelve disciples who followed Jesus so closely during his years among us.
 
  Scholars and theologians have debated the question of who invented Christianity. Now, as faithful Christians, the correct answer would be the Holy Spirit, God himself leading and forming us into a new people. But if there were one individual who could be credited with imagining, conceptualizing and articulating just what God was doing in Jesus it would be the apostle Paul.
 
 We could safely say that the apostle Paul invented Christianity. We could even go so far as to say that his letter to the Romans was one of the most decisive and important documents in the invention of Christianity. I would go even further and say that the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans is ground zero, as it were, for that invention.
 
  The eighth chapter of Romans is a very complex chapter and it touches on such profound issues as the power and and weakness of the Torah, the sacrificial death of Jesus, our being made children of God, the duality of spirit and flesh, mourning and hope, and even, some would say, predestination.
 
   This chapter is so dense, so complicated that it has taken us three weeks to read its 39 verses. This chapter is so dense and complicated that I have successfully avoided preaching on it for three weeks. But this morning Paul ends this seminal chapter with a flight of poetic brilliance that states clearly our deepest hope and our priceless faith: God loves us.
 
  Romans is sixteen chapters long. This morning’s reading is the last verses of the eighth chapter. It is a pivotal chapter. Not only is it right in the middle of the book but it also sets forth the pivotal message of our complete, total, entire and irrevocable salvation through Jesus Christ. 
 
  By the end of this middle chapter of Romans, Paul has used the word sin at least 53 times. He has told us about the perils of sin, how it has injured us and set us apart from God. But in the next In the next eight chapters, for the rest of the book of Romans, Paul only uses the word sin twice and both of these are used to express our salvation not our condemnation.
 
  Paul uses beautiful and lofty words and he asks rhetorically, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” The answer is obvious: no one.  But Paul answers this question better and with more grace and depth than we could or can imagine: 
 
   For I am convinced 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.
 
   Nothing, no thing, can desert us from God. Not what we have done, not what we might do in the future, not our feelings of unworthiness, not our infidelities or angers or passions or bone-headed mistakes. Nothing can or will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
 
  That is the message of Christianity. There is no distance between us and the heart of God. God is not mad at us. Sin is real, but the love of God is more so. Our faithfulness may be flawed but God’s faithfulness is not. If nothing, no thing, can separate us from the love of God then that means we cannot either. 
 
  There are those who would say that John 3:16 is the Gospel in a nutshell: 
 
  God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son  that whosoever believes in him should perish but have  everlasting life. 
 
  I cannot argue with that. But I would add words from this morning’s passage: 
  For I am convinced 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. 
 
  It may not be as pithy as John’s verse. It may not be as easy to remember. It may not fit so easily on a placard that we can post on our front lawn. But it is beautiful and it is true. 
 
  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.