+ A sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on August 2, 2020 +
Text: Romans 8:26-39
It was a summer that forced me to expect the unexpected.
It was the first summer of seminary and I was thrown into the deep end as a chaplain at a busy hospital on Chicago’s South Side.
I never really knew what would greet me as I walked into a room or responded to a call, so I made sure to always have a few essentials with me whenever I left the chaplains’ office: my beeper, the necessary paperwork, my prayer book, and a Bible.
And while I had a few go-to Bible passages I would use with patients and families, I made sure I had a bookmark in the eighth chapter of Romans.
I mean, there’s so much good stuff in this chapter—so much that we’ve been in this one chapter for the past three weeks of our summer sermon series, so much that speaks to us in so many different and difficult circumstances.
There’s life in the Spirit, there’s our adoption as children of God and joint heirs with Christ, there’s the groanings of creation and the Spirit’s intercessions on our behalf when words alone are insufficient for our prayers, and then there is perhaps my favorite verses in scripture, which we heard today, that tells us that nothing in all creation can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Really, for so many different things that were waiting for me in patient’s rooms or in waiting areas or in the emergency department, Romans 8 had something to say.
But I would guess that I used those last two verses more than any others that summer.
Because honestly, what a perfect summation of the gospel it is.
It’s an assurance of God’s ever-presence in our lives—even in the toughest times.
That even when we feel alone, when we’re afraid, when we’re lost, when we’re sick, or even when we’re dying, God is with us with the fullness of God’s love and nothing in all creation can ever change that.
And that’s why this passage has been a favorite not only for hospital chaplains, but also for those who are feeling alone or afraid, for those communities the church has historically marginalized, and even a favorite for funerals.
An all-encompassing assurance that God’s love is always with us and always for us no matter what.
But as we’ve been working through Romans during this sermon series and in light of the times of brokenness that we’re living in, I am hearing another dimension in these words from St. Paul that I hadn’t as much paid attention to before.
Because while these verses have a lot to say for our individual lives and our hope and trust in God, it’s also safe to assume that Paul was more interested in our collective lives and our communal hope and trust in God.
As we’ve heard during the first two parts of this series, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community of Christ-followers in Rome who are trying to reconcile their faith in Jesus with the brokenness in the world and in their lives.
And thus far in this letter, Paul is giving them his diagnosis of that brokenness as well as hope for its healing.
For nearly eight chapters now, Paul has been making a continuous and extended argument that our individual and collective lives experience brokenness because of sin—a human initiated experience in which we try to separate ourselves from God and from each other.
It’s a failing that manifests itself in so many ways including greed and fear, oppression and isolation, violence and prejudice.
But as we heard last time, in Christ we have glimpsed a new reality in which this sin is wiped away and all brokenness is healed.
And because Christ has shown us what is possible, because we have tasted what Paul calls the first fruits of the Spirit, we are left unsatisfied with the world as it is.
We groan with impatience and resolve until the world finally is what it should be, until it finally reflects God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven.
And today we hear the summation of that extended argument, the conclusion of this rhetorical arc that has stretched throughout the letter thus far.
“What then are we to say about these things?” Paul asks. “If God is for us, who is against us?”
Now hold up, Paul.
Who is against us?
I mean, just look around.
The Romans are against us.
Our neighbors are against us.
Our own families are against us.
And we sure have a lot to say about these things—the violence, the discord, the persecutions, the brokenness that’s all around us.
All the things that sure seem to have the upper hand right now.
But as large and daunting as all those realities may seem, Paul tells us there’s good news that is even bigger: God is for us.
That God has something planned for us and for the whole creation—a new life of redemption and wholeness and love.
And he reminds us that God is working within and among us right now to make that new world a reality.
And all the brokenness, all the systems, all the sin, all that is standing against us cannot compare and certainly cannot stop God from building this new kingdom.
And to emphasize his point, Paul names all sorts of things that try their hardest to separate us from God, that try to stop the inauguration of God’s kingdom.
And these are not wild hypotheticals, these are real to both Paul and the original recipients of this letter.
The hardship and distress, and persecution and famine and nakedness and peril and sword were things that they had either experienced personally or knew someone who had.
And these are exactly the systems, the hardships that are trying to keep these Christ-followers from experiencing the fullness of God’s love, from living in the kingdom that God has in store for us.
But even though it may seem like these worldly systems have the power, even if it seems that something as ephemeral as the love of God cannot possibly be enough to defeat them, Paul assures us that we can confidently put our trust in a God who sent God’s own Son to come among us, to help us experience this new world firsthand.
That the fullness of God slipped into human skin and was born as one of us, entering our broken world, to show us what is possible and reveal to us what is surely coming—a world where the hungry are fed, the lowly are lifted up, the captives are set free, and all people can experience the fullness of God’s love.
And even when the powers of this world tried to stop Jesus and his new kingdom, even when the empire incited violence and declared him an enemy of the state, even when the legal systems put Jesus to death by hanging him on a tree, Paul reminds us that God’s commitment and love still triumphed.
That God defeated death itself and raised Christ into a new life giving us a foretaste of what God has in store for us and the whole creation.
This is the essence of the gospel.
This is the pure good news that Paul is so eager to share.
That no matter what, God is always with us.
And even more, that God will surely triumph over the powers of this world to heal the brokenness, to dismantle all oppressive systems, to wipe away all sin and bring us all into a new reign of life and love and wholeness.
Now, perhaps this message of unbridled optimism and hope sounds a bit dissonant to our ears right now.
With COVID cases on the rise again, with restrictions returning, and relief funds drying up.
With oppressive systems still reigning, protests continuing to be met by violence, and with deepening societal divisions.
With uncertainty bordering on hopelessness around employment and schooling and even voting, perhaps this gospel message seems just a little too pie-in-the-sky to make a difference in our lives.
I mean, we’ve all experienced these things, these symptoms of the brokenness of our world, or we know someone who has.
Perhaps our Roman Christian ancestors felt the same way, I don’t know.
Or perhaps this is exactly the word of assurance we’ve been craving these months, these years, these millennia even.
Perhaps it’s exactly the good news that we need.
The reminder that God has and does personally experience the brokenness of this reality.
The promise that God is working within and among us to do something new, to bring life where we can only see death, to bring healing where we only experience brokenness.
That Christ is actively absorbing our pains and is bringing us into a new community that will love and support us.
That God is working with you, with me, with all those who experience God’s love to transform our groanings and our sufferings in order to build a new world.
And nothing, nothing in all this world can ever stop that work.
That God has guaranteed victory and will certainly triumph.
And no matter what is trying to stop us, no matter the systems that are built to keep us down, no matter the fears or divisions or oppressions, we need not fear because nothing in this world can ever separate us from the love of God that we have experienced in Christ Jesus—a love that heals and removes distinctions, a love that gives hope and inspires perseverance, a love that we have seen most clearly on the cross and that even death cannot overcome.
As wild and daring as it may seem given the world as it is, Paul is telling us that we don’t have to look at the future with foreboding and despair, but like our Roman ancestors in faith before us, we can put our trust in Christ Jesus our Lord and join him in working to build the brighter future that he has promised will come.
And when we trust in that promise, we unite our work with the whole Body of Christ as together we partner with God in making that promise a reality.
My friends, there is no doubt that we are facing tremendous challenges right now, whether in our personal lives, the changes and future planning of our congregational life, or the realities of the world around us.
But even bigger than these challenges, even larger than all the brokenness, even stronger than our fears, even more assuredly than our doubts, we have the assurance of the love of God forever with us.
We have the promise of a God who will be with us through it all to bring us all together into God’s perfect future.
What then are we to say about these things?
Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will hardship, or distress, or pandemic, or racism, or division, or finances, or uncertainty, or brokenness?
Because sometimes it sure feels like they are winning—sometimes it sure feels like we’ve been suffering all day long and more.
In the face of all these things we are more than conquerors through the one who has experienced it already, who stands with us forever, who loves us through it all.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor coronavirus, nor systemic oppression, nor governments, nor violence, nor loneliness, nor money, nor our own doubts, nor our own actions, nor things present, nor things to come, nor anything else in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is the third part of a seven-part sermon series entitled “Broken: Good News for Tough Times.”
The other sermons in the series can be found here:
- “Broken Bodies, Healing Spirit” – July 12, 2020
- “Groaning in Labor Pains” – July 19, 2020
- “Nothing” – August 2, 2020
- “All-Inclusive Love” – August 9, 2020
- “Fulfilling the Law” – August 16, 2020
- “Ever Faithful, Ever Merciful” – August 23, 2020
- “Not Waiting on the World to Change” – August 30, 2020
6 thoughts on “Nothing”
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