ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who dost govern all things in heaven and earth; Mercifully hear the supplications of thy people, and grant us thy peace all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Epistle Romans 12:6-16a
Gospel S. John 2:1-11
The Collect. As well as this collect, The Prayer Book has collect prayers for peace each week in both the morning and evening services. It is a great thing for which we must pray. Some people, it seems, pray for nothing but peace. Others pray for nothing but action and may forget that they need peace first. However, the Bible brings the two together, praying “for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (1 Timothy 2:1,2). True peace is ‘the peace which the world cannot give’ and is only given through repentance and faith in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is by being “justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Romans 5:1). The life of the justified man is then worked out in the life of the Christian as our Epistle reading demonstrates. While surrounded by terror, apostasy and heresy, as well as a god of individualism that can influence us unwittingly, the peace that the Christian believer possesses is a great marvel and a powerful resource to motivate Christian service.
The Epistle. This section of the great manifesto epistle continues the previous Epiphany reading on our life of reasonable service based on evangelical faith. The ‘peace’ theme of the collect will help us understand the various areas of Church life in this section in which Christians are called to work together. The church members have obligations to each other as well as to those outside. All is to be done to the glory of God and of course there is a priority to those of the “household of faith”. To think of others in your congregation as being in a way part of your household is a great challenge to the typically inward looking micro family of 21st Century Britain that may become ruled by a full diary almost to the exclusion of kindnesses.
Peace is maintained within the Body of Christ, the Church, by carefully ‘minding our own business’. This does not of course mean we should not care for one another! Here Paul exhorts each believer to do his own part, but only his own part. This is a challenge to those who would meddle with other people’s business or seek to do things in the church that are not their job!
The first verses (6 to 8) of this section deal largely with the public ministry of the Word within the congregation. It is all a question of ‘giving’, whether it be by prophecy, ministry, exhortation, ruling or showing mercy.
Verses 9 to 16a deal with attitudes, and consequently with behaviour, of church members. Though brief there is much here and so verse 9 speaks of very deep and difficult things such as that we must “love without dissimulation”. That means to love without hypocrisy or acting. We must be sincere and not just leave things at the level of mere pleasantries as is the manner of that still sizeable section of society often found in churches known as ‘polite’. Perhaps the most obvious way to do this is to talk to folk and see if there is anything you can do to help them without being pushy. It may simply involve mean making a regular phone call but may show itself more in times of special needs.
This Christian peace has to act towards those with whom there is no peace and yet, in doing so, remain faithful to the Lord. We are told here to, “Abhor that which is evil”. To do this today brings the accusations against us that we have various phobias but there is a difference between godly hatred and worldly hatred. Worldly hatred is full of blood and revenge whereas while a godly man hates evil, he “blesses those who persecute him”. Verse 14 is quite emphatic about this as it repeats “bless” and restates in the negative, “ and curse not”. We must remember that such an attitude is not only vital to defend ourselves against charges of bigotry, it is the very word of the Lord Jesus Christ. (See Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:44). We also note, contrary to the unfounded but persistent allegations of liberals, that the Apostle Paul says exactly the same thing as the Lord Jesus.
This section provides a very useful and challenging checklist for godly behaviour. We should “examine ourselves”, repent and pray for grace. While we must emphasise that such behaviour is only acceptable to God if based upon evangelical faith, these good attitudes and works should not be despised. To despise good works is to be a hypocrite. It shows a man to be unrepentant and one without a real love for God or thankfulness for His great grace.
Space does not allow a full explanation of these many exhortations but let us note the last one as the section interestingly ends in the middle of a verse. The command here is to, “Be of the same mind one toward another” and to “condescend to men of low estate”. To “condescend” here literally means to “take off together” and such is one of the joys of the Christians life. All must enter in by the narrow gate, whether they be men of great status or those of low position. The high fliers may have to bend down rather low to get in but in they come too and inside there is this great fellowship of humbled men in awe of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Gospel. Neil and Willoughby in ‘The Tutorial Prayer Book’ write, “It is not difficult to understand how great an effect must have been produced upon the minds of the worshippers, when for the first time this Gospel, exhibiting the true relations existing between the Lord and His mother, was read in English instead of Latin”.
Though He does so miraculously, Jesus nevertheless shows kindness and generosity at the wedding at Cana, where He performs His first sign miracle. He leads by example as well as by His infallible word.
The problem with wine and drinking in the miracle has been dismissed by some as being an area that has changed over the years, saying that moderate drinking of weak alcohol was once permitted to believers. Nowadays the sinful alcohol industry and the gross abuse of alcohol call for extreme care in the use of alcohol by Christians, if not total abstinence.
The power and authority of God to which we refer in the Collect is here seen in Jesus. He was and is the One who can provide. He provides peace to what could have been a disastrous wedding and He provides peace to the sinner who turns to Him for salvation. He also answers the prayers of His people in all their needs, sins and distresses.