United Presbyterian Church of West Orange


June 25, 2023

Seminarian Henry Norkplim Anyomi

Scripture Readings:

          Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39


Opening Prayer

        Dear God, here we are in Your presence, yearning for a refuelling and a comforting that only You can give. We need You, Lord. Our world needs You. Would You touch all grieving hearts and soothe the pain of our communities, Lord? Lord, would You calm our minds and bring us rest here and now? Thank You so much for today. Thank You for our world. Thank You for UPC and for all that You will do in our midst today. And now, Spirit Divine, please breathe afresh on us. In Jesus’ name. Amen!



I was about nine or 10 years old when the incident happened. My little self was striding happily homewards in the company of a family friend, Fo. We were returning from a vendor’s where Fo had bought a delectable local snack, kose (fried bean cakes). It was specially done and we both couldn’t wait to have a bite of them. Midway, Fo bumped into a friend of his and a long conversation started. I stood at a distance as I didn’t want to eavesdrop on the conversation of the elderly. Seconds turned into minutes and there was no end in sight for the conversation. Abruptly, Fo paused and waved his hand to me, muttering a few words with it. I had only caught a part of the message, but to my little mind, that was enough signalling – one that meant the bean cakes had been gifted me.


I ran home exceedingly thrilled. What good riddance! I had earned myself a decent quantity of savoury bean cakes. And I would waste no time eating up the whole bag of bean cakes. But no sooner had I finished than Fo showed up asking for them. I was so confused and ashamed … But what had he meant with that signal?

Disappointed, he clarified that he had meant I should take the lead with the bean cakes. “Oh, Norkplim, what have you done?!” I asked crestfallenly. Fo, a good-natured man, made light of the issue, pardoning my conduct. But my new name among my neighbourhood’s youth and children would be “kose” (bean cake). Kindly take note, not of my erstwhile nickname, but of the story, as we will pick it up again as we go along.


Friends, our biblical meditation today begins in Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome, commonly called Romans. The church in Rome was composed of Jews, non-Jews, predominantly Romans, but possibly a handful of other nationals as well. As may be expected in all multicultural environments, there were disagreements among them mainly about what should constitute right living for believers. The dominant suggestions of the time emphasised human actions and ideals – what should be done or not; what should be eaten or not and how it should be eaten; how people needed to appear – customs they needed to observe, generally speaking. These weren’t wrong per se, but they were a bit too heavy for some, especially given the diverse backgrounds and cultures they had come from. There was discord as a consequence. So, Paul’s letter sought to underline Jesus’ death and resurrection and what new life in him means.


At the core of Paul’s message was an invitation to life with Christ. Specifically, this is what Paul terms as being “alive to God in Christ'' or what the Contemporary English Version (CEV) calls, the “life” given by Christ which invites the saints to “live for God'' (Romans 6:11).


Notice that Paul had every credibility to talk about “new life” and “God’s gift” to the early believers because he was a living testament of them – a changed man from religious intolerance and persecution of Christians. His former opposition to Christianity and his persecution of its adherents vis-à-vis his turnaround and missionary exploits spoke to the very things he talks about in Romans 6, “new life” and “God’s gift.” He had come to realise that this new life could neither be earned nor worked for.

Rather, it is given and sustained through God’s grace, not inactions and actions necessarily. Paul was simply inviting the believers to awaken to God’s grace and emphasise sin less. Yes indeed, if overcoming sin was what necessitated Jesus’ coming to earth, sin shouldn’t be our preoccupation as beneficiaries of God’s grace. Instead, this grace and new-found life should. Friends, that’s the crux of Paul’s solemn invitation to us all this morning.


Our worry is often the fact that we are human and imperfect as a result. Even now, we may be thinking to ourselves, “I’ve got a mouth problem,” or “I don’t have XYZ qualification,” or that “I’m a people person and don’t want to lose friends …” Friends, which is better? The approval of God or the company of humans? Further to the point, no matter what weaknesses there are, God is able to use us, just as we are. Oh yes, we don’t need to be prim and proper, refined, or have it all together … As is often said, “God qualifies the called.” Just like Paul, when God has worked on us and fixed our brokenness, our testimonies become undisputable before our hearers. Let’s also remember, God’s called us to live for God; not to double down on our sinfulness. Indeed, as we learn in 2 Corinthians 3:18, God’s Spirit “makes us more and more like our glorious Lord [Jesus].” So, let’s be encouraged and yield to the Spirit of God.


Let’s come to our Matthew 10 reading now. As we do, my mind goes to Rev. Becca’s message from last week, “Sent Out.” As we may remember, Rev. Becca reminded us that our being sent out requires us to lean on God’s promises, though all things may not have been figured out yet. Matthew’s message to us is akin to that. Here, Christ sends us out with the Good News (of God’s grace and new life in Christ), with the caution that we may face push back and animosity. God reassures, however, that our every need will be supplied. And what’s in that assurance really? The God who tends to the needs of the little sparrow and knows every strand of hair upon all heads will meet our needs. Yes, Dear Friends. In accomplishing God’s mission on earth, we are never alone.

The question we may ask ourselves is: “do we realize that we are sent by God?” Again, “precisely where has God sent us?” We may want to ponder these over.


Friends, out there (in the world), Jesus expects faithfulness of us. Jesus expects that we “acknowledge” him before our respective audiences. This, I believe, relates to loving others and one another (John 13:35 New Living Translation). Our love proves to the world that we are Godsent. And this is what love means: that we create spaces where all are welcome rather than see man-made identities; that we unite where divisiveness predominates; that we forgive where unforgiveness reigns; that we are inclusive where others malign … That’s what it means to mirror Christ; that’s what it means to be Godsent – to be sent out.


As our reading shows, this is no mean task. Indeed, Jesus acknowledged it – our mission will “set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother …” Let’s be mindful, however, that our Lord didn’t mean this literally, at least, not in my estimation. But as I’ve mentioned, we, as God’s envoys, are different – we pursue heaven’s culture which may be opposed to the dominant culture.

Remember my childhood anecdote? People were unforgiving and ridiculing – my mistake became my identity. But Christ doesn’t do that! In Jesus, our past is gone – indeed, he gives us a new name – not one reflecting our missteps, but one that matches his grace. This way of life, people may find odd. Hence, we ought to be ready to be opposed, ready to be called names, ready to be sidelined, as a Godsent people … But no matter how hard the world comes against us, God’s grace and supply will be there all day, all night, 3651/4 days, throughout our lifetimes.


Talking about supply, I couldn’t help but think about the uninterrupted work of the Holy Spirit in believers’ lives. Unlike in my narrative where my little mind tried to figure out what the message from Fo meant, believers are never without help, especially when in distress.

The Spirit of God is perpetually with us on this journey of doing God’s will in the world. The Spirit reminds us of God’s promises to us; guides our steps; teaches us to love like God; gives us self-control; gives us peace, and so on and so forth. Rest assured that God’s Spirit will keep us out of evil and make sure that we bring honour to God.


To close this message, may we always remember that God has given us new life through Jesus and expects us to hold onto God’s grace instead of our sins. God’s grace invites us to live for God (an ability we have by God’s Spirit). Being sent out means our standards may vary from those of the dominant culture. We need, however, to remain on God’s side, bringing God’s peace and love to every experience. As we do, we will never, ever be alone, thanks to God’s Spirit. May it be so. Alleluia. Amen!


Closing Prayer

        O God our help in ages past and our hope for years to come, thanks for Your presence this morning. Thanks for Your word and its assurance in times like these. Thanks for carrying out Your mission on earth. Let Your kingdom come and Your will be done. We pray that You will renew in us today a passion for Your work among creation. Touch our lives; touch our families; touch our communities; touch America and the world at large. May the earth be filled with Your knowledge, peace, and love. In Jesus’ name. Amen!