This is our final week in our mini-series on the book of Romans. The book continues for another 8 chapters after this, and I'm sure someday we will come back to it. But for the rest of the summer, we are going to switch gears and study Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The reason we did Romans first is because I wanted us all to be confident in our theology before we start talking about ethics. Theology then ethics. We must know deep in our bones that we are saved by grace through faith regardless of works before we start talking about the works. Otherwise we could get all caught up in judging our worth by the things we do. So Romans first, then the Sermon on the Mount. In this mini-series we have followed Paul's line of thinking which began with the reminder that everyone is the same, equally valuable and equally susceptible to the cosmic force of sin in the world. We all drift towards idolatry, towards putting our security in something other than God, towards judging our righteousness by ever-changing standards. No one escapes this. And so God has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Somehow, through Jesus, everyone is made righteous, everyone is justified. The good news of that is that we are free from having to justify ourselves, or from letting other people's opinions justify us. But this incredible freedom isn't a license to keep sinning. With greater freedom comes greater responsibility and God calls us deeper into our identity of being blessed to be a blessing. We won't ever get it perfectly right; we will always feel pulled back and forth. But through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we get better and better. And that same Spirit continues to remind us that we cannot be condemned when we don't get it right. This first half of the book closes by addressing how people who live by the Spirit are to orient ourselves in the suffering of the world.
"let us listen now in the reading of Scripture for the word and the wisdom of God." - Iona Community Worship Book
Scripture: Romans 8:18-39
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is the Word of God for All People. Thanks be to God.
I'd like to start this morning with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Actually, we all know the Second Law of Thermodynamics; even if we don't know that's what it's called. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that on a day like today, your delicious iced coffee is going to get tepid and watery because the ice is going to melt before you're really done with it. Iced things warm up. And hot things cool off. That's the Second Law of Thermodynamics. On a grander scale, the Second Law of Thermodynamics also says that weeds are going to grow through your mulch. And your favorite clothes are going to get holes in them. And the ceiling in this gorgeous old church is going to leak. In simplest terms, the Second Law of Thermodynamics says that everything falls apart. Inside a closed system, unless we add some kind of energy to keep things in order, everything becomes disorderly.
This is the scientific explanation of suffering in the world. Left to it's own devices, everything falls apart. Suffering, chaos, disorder—those are real things in the world, whether you give a scientific explanation or a theological explanation, we know it's there. This is where our text starts today. But we trust that God will someday overcome the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Our Christian hope, our expectation, is that one day God will reverse this Law. That's what our text is about today. As we wrap up our discussion of Romans, we are going to end with a rock-solid affirmation of who God is, who we are, and where we trust creation is heading. What I'd like to do is simply lead us through this text, paraphrasing and explaining, helping us follow the line of Paul's argument. It might be helpful for you to follow along in the Bibles in your pews, so I'll give you a minute to find the verses on page 1757.
We begin in Romans 8 verse 18, which says "we consider that the sufferings of this present age are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed in us." But this is not a text about escape. This verse is not talking about our personal sufferings now compared with the easy life we will someday have in heaven. This verse is talking about the sufferings of the world now compared with what God is accomplishing in the midst of those sufferings. The text says that the whole of creation waits and groans in birth pains. Not in unproductive pain, but pain that is part of the process of something new coming alive in the midst of the suffering. Creation is in bondage to decay says verse 21. In bondage to decay, that's the ancient way of saying the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Creation is in bondage to decay. But God is the energy outside the closed system, working constantly for freedom, and so all of creation groans as this this freedom is being born.
And we ourselves are also groaning and waiting to be fully established as God's children in a creation where God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven. That's where everything is headed, but we aren't there yet. And we feel that don't we? We groan with it; we groan with the suffering of the innocent; we groan with the vitriol of partisan politics; we groan with the escalating violence here and around the world; we groan with the short-sighted exploitation of our natural resources. We groan, not just for our own suffering, but for the suffering of the world. We groan. And we wait for something to happen.
But we don't wait passively. We wait actively. We wait hopefully. Not the kind of hope that is wishful thinking, but the kind of hope that is confident expectation. As Christians we have an absolutely certain expectation that one day all of creation will be free, that one day God is going to make everything right. To follow Jesus means to decide that when it comes to ultimate reality, we trust God's promise more than we trust what we can see. We trust that the God-energy outside our closed system will one day overcome our natural chaos. To follow Jesus means to practice hope as a spiritual discipline. Not ignoring what's happening around us, not withdrawing from the world, but following the example of Jesus who willingly joined in the suffering of the world. God calls us not to avoid suffering, but to stay present to it, and to hope.
One way we do this is through our prayers. Now this text doesn't say anything about what God does because of our prayers. It simply assumes that as we groan with the suffering of the world, we will pray. Sometimes we feel like we don't know how to pray. We don't have the right words, or we don't know what to pray for. And this text says, "Don't even worry about that." Because the Spirit is with us. We don't pray through our own power, but through the power of God. The Spirit prays alongside us, in our words and even when all we can do is sigh. And whatever our prayers are, the Spirit directs the intention of our prayers in line God's will.
Here's an example. Some people wonder if they SHOULD pray for healing. Well, if we believe that it is God's eventual plan for the world for no one to suffer illnesses, then as we pray for healing, we are praying in line with God's will for the world. If we pray with the purest intentions we can, with love and compassion in our hearts, then we don't have to worry about what we pray for. God knows.
Which brings us to that glorious and complicated verse Romans 8:28. And we know that in all things God is working for good, together with those who love God, who have been called according to God's purpose. There are a few different versions of this in the ancient Greek manuscripts and you can honestly translate it a couple different ways. I think this way is the most consistent with the other things said about God in this passage. "Things" in general can't work together for good. "Things" on their own fall apart. But God can and does work for good through all things, and if we love God and try to live according to God's will for the world, then we will work with God as best we know how. Regardless of the situation, God works for the good. Regardless of the suffering, God works for the good. I don't believe that God causes suffering. I believe that God can redeem suffering when we invite God into it. This is part of our hope, our expectation.
If we are called according to God's purpose, then we are confident not only of what God is doing but of our place in it. Verse 29 about "those whom God foreknew he also predestined," that's not about God deciding who gets to be saved and who doesn't. It's about God accomplishing in us and through us all that God has already promised to do. If God says it, it is as good as done. We are bound by time and space but God is not. So even if it's not yet done according to our perspective, it's already done according to God's perspective. And our part in it is assured, as long as we continue to participate. This verse says that God knows us. God sets the horizons in advance (that's literally what "predestined" means: pre-horizoning). God has called us. God has made us righteous. And God has welcomed us to participate in God's own glory. Even if we haven't experienced all those things yet. They are as good as done.
"So what shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" An even more accurate translation of that is "SINCE God is for us, who can be against us?" God has proven God's love for us by allowing Jesus to sacrifice himself. So who can call in our debts? God has made us righteous. Who can condemn us? Who has a more accurate perspective than God? God has already declared who we are and whose we are, and that's the end of the story. Jesus himself intercedes for us. You know what the word "intercedes" means in Greek? It means to hit the bulls eye. It was used in the ancient world as the opposite of that word for sin which means to miss the mark. We have missed the mark, but Jesus has literally hit the bulls eye on our behalf. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
And so the finale. Who could possibly separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship separate us from Christ's love? NO. Will distress separate us from love? NO. Will persecution separate us from love? NO. Will famine separate us from love? NO. Will nakedness separate us from love? NO. Will danger separate us from love? NO. Will violence separate us from love? NO.
No. Suffering has always been a part of the experience of humanity, and God's people are not excluded from that. But suffering does not separate us from love.
NO. "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." Let's read this together: "For I am CONVINCED that neither death or life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
No matter what we are facing, no matter what suffering there is in the world, no matter how inadequate our prayers may feel, we will maintain our hope. As we close, let me share with you a quote I love: It says, "Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it."
We are called to a life of obedience and faithfulness, but God is ultimately responsible for the outcomes. And God's love will get the last word. Amen.