The Tree of Life
Romans 5: 1-5 is for some like going into a Haighs Chocolate Shop. You don’t know where to start.
For some, without getting gender specific, it will be like going to a new hardware store and eyeing off tools, gadgets and fascinating inventions.
For others, again without being gender specific, it’s like having an hour to spend at a Spotlight store. I do know of one person of a certain gender for whom that would be purgatory.
Or it is like a visit to a good bookshop….. where do I start.
That’s what this Romans scripture is like. It’s about justification, peace, glory, grace, hope, suffering, perseverance and character. But very subtly it is also about the Trinity of God.
Justified through Christ – peace with God – the Holy Spirit’s pouring out.
This is a text that overwhelms me. It is like when you are going on a trip and you think of every possible event and climactic change you could face, and you end up with so many clothes they will never fit into your case. In this case substitute sermon for case.
I am awed at the Apostle Paul who was so inspired by the Holy Spirit that he could write these words. He summarises the entire Christian message, indeed all the New Testament, in five verses. He has that power and conciseness that we preachers usually labor in vain to attain.
The verses are like a beautiful tree that is strong and healthy in its roots, is well fertilized and watered, and from which grow the fruits of those verses.
It is like patterned water flowing from a beautiful fountain from a powerful well-designed source.
As I look at the fountain of Scripture, all that flows from Romans 5: 1-5 is in verse one. Everything flows from where verse one says we are justified by faith. That verse is the soil, the root system, the trunk from which the rest of the verses flow.
So rather than try to overpack the suitcase and create difficulties for us all, let us think on that word translated as justified.
And once we have walked around the trunk and branches, then later on we can do a little plucking on the peace of God, suffering, perserverance, developing character and the rest.
We’ve seen some attempts at self-justification in the media lately. Recently a banker, post-suicide attempt, claimed that he was not responsible for the fleecing of investors and the wrecking of a number of businesses and lives. In Parliament, after humiliating the deputy premier, and MP tried to justify himself.
Often when polls come out, politicians try to justify their elevated or lowly status. Or their travel with boyfriends and mothers.
There is a new dance out called ‘The Politician.’ There is one step forward, then a step back, then a sidestep.
Or there are the tragic revelations of what went on in the Anglican and Catholic Churches that have been so prominent in the news. Every church is smeared when one is shown to have failed the vulnerable. And while we thank God that nothing of that nature has been evident in the Uniting Church, we have no grounds for complacency or self-righteousness when our leaders have been flirting with homosexuality for the past 15 years. Again we see a lot of self-justification.
Most of us specialize in self-justification. People today avoid taking responsibility for their actions. Some driver who causes a calamitous accident had a bad childhood and was on drugs at the time. A man recently lost a lawsuit against McDonalds claiming their food has made him fat.
Self-justification is a common part of our lives.
Sometimes it is necessary when we are wrongly accused. There is something in our inner core that we seek to protect from being assailed, belittled and demeaned.
But to change tack a little, there are some things in life we cannot do for ourselves. So in our community we need doctors, plumbers, mailmen and mechanics. We need things done outside our expertise.
And that applies spiritually as well. Some things we can’t do for ourselves.
Before we have faith in Christ, we can’t make ourselves acceptable to God. We can try, and we do. We try to show God that we are nice blokes and girls and that there are a lot of people worse than us. We try to work hard for God and hope that makes us acceptable. We endure Presbytery meetings, Synods and more. Surely that must count for something?
But there is still a huge gulf between us and God. To be acceptable to him we have to have three things: perfect faith, perfect love and perfect obedience. This equals the perfect life. In other words we have to be Jesus himself.
If we are honest we know we need help. We all fall short of the glory of God. We need a helper who will lead us into all truth and make us acceptable to God because we can’t change ourselves into perfect people.
We need help because our self-justification does not count before the Lord. We need a helper.
Do you remember Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? He comes to where the Holy Grail is to be found but there is a huge gap between his cave and the entrance to the cave he needs to get to. But Indiana has studied the charts and believes that if he steps out he will be okay. And he does and he is. Miraculously a walkway appears under his feet and he traverses the chasm safely.
That is the same for us. As we step out in faith we are undergirded not by a walkway, but by a cross. Christ has bridged the chasm for us, between our faith, so tiny it makes a mustard seed seem like a watermelon. Love so variable that it gets washed away in the flood waters of judging others. Obedience more fickle and less reliable than the daily weather reports that leave you stranded, coatless and umbrella-less at bus stops.
We have one who justifies us. He bridges the distance between us and his Father by the cross and lets us cross over. And as we do, the Father looks upon us as if we were His son and accepts us, welcomes us, forgives us and places us in His Kingdom and his church.
Romans 5:6 tells us Christ came to our aid. ‘For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.’
So we have walked around the trunk of God’s tree of life today. We have fed on the fruit of it in the Lord’s Supper whether we have great or little faith; abundant love or selective love.
Scripture shows that Christ has made us acceptable to the Father, and the Holy Spirit helps us to believe. The Good News is that the tree of life can be planted in our garden, in our soul, where its fruit can grow beautifully.
By George Robert Iles