Sermon: Pentecost 8, 30 July 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Struggles- Romans 8:26-39

-One of the most famous verses of encouragement in the Bible,

-Comes here in Romans 8 where Paul writes;

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

-If that was a wall plaque in an office,

-Or a cross stitch on a mantlepiece,

-I’m sure anyone who looked at it would get a warm flush of reassurance.

-But with any passage of scripture it always pays to look carefully at the context.

-Whatever Paul writes,

-You know comes from a deep experience of the issue.

-Which is probably another clue that this verse contains a truth,

-That shouldn’t be treated with a superficial acceptance.

 

-When a faction within the Corinthian church questioned Paul’s credentials as an apostle,

-He wrote back to them saying;

“Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys encouragement, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.”

-So when Paul says all things work together for good,

-You have to understand just how inclusive that statement is.

-He really does mean all things.

-He means all the things that we in a soft, self-centred culture would judge as unacceptable work conditions.

-He means all those things which threatened his physical and emotional well being.

-All those things which were frightening, menacing and painful.

-Paul clearly puts no limitations on ‘all things’.

-This is no Pollyanna palliative or rose tinted cheerleading.

 

-Already in ch8 Paul has made it clear to his readers that life in this world will involve struggles.

-Ch7 was a pretty sobering presentation of the spiritual struggles we’ll face as followers of Jesus,

-And the second half of ch8 warns of the physical struggles that’ll come from living in a fallen and broken world.

-And in case his readers have an optimistic gloss over how bad life could get he quotes Psalm 44;

“For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” Romans 8:36

-One of the characteristics of the Psalms is the realism of the emotional responses of the various authors.

-King David is quoted as being a ‘man after God’s own heart’.

-But if you read the account of his life in 1 and 2Samuel,

-You could be forgiven for thinking that God must have a fairly lackadaisical attitude to morality.

-Samuel chronicles David’s somewhat dodgy behaviours,

-But in the Psalms you see into his heart,

-You see what drives him,

-What motivates him,

-What terrifies and excites him.

-You see into his soul in victory and failure.

-His heart truly is open.

-And that’s how it is with lots of the other Psalms,

-They’re brutally honest about how the author is feeling.

 

-Psalm 44 is like a downhill slide into despair.

-It starts off in high praise of all the things that God has done for Israel in the past,

-Which just makes the present situation all the more devastating, V8;

“In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to your name for ever.” Psalm 44:8

-V9;

“Yet you have rejected us and abased us, and have not gone out with our armies.” Psalm 44:9

-Usually when a writer says God has rejected them,

-It’s because of rightful judgement on Israel’s sinfulness.

-But not here, vv17-18;

“All this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten you, or been false to your covenant.18 Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way, yet you have broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness.” Psalm 44:9

-So bleak is the Psalmist’s condition he dares even to accuse God;

“Because of you we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Psalm 44:22

-This is God’s fault.

-God’s asleep on the job.

-He’s hiding his face,

-He doesn’t even care about their affliction and oppression.

 

-Have you ever been in a hole so dark that you wanted to say that to God?

-Have you ever been in a place so black you have said that to God?

-Religion is the opiate of the masses?

-Christianity is a crutch?

-I don’t think the Psalmist, Paul or thousands of Christian martyrs would agree with either of those sentiments.

-Paul is underlining what the Psalmists knew,

-That trust in God will not magically remove all the struggles and trials that will come with faith.

 

-And that may be why Paul progresses from the power of the Holy Spirit in the believers life,

-Through a recognition of the brokenness of this world we live in,

-To an insight into prayer.

-I don’t know any follower of Jesus who has not found times when prayer has been difficult.

-The irony of course,

-That Paul alludes to,

-Is that in the times of deepest struggle,

-We may also struggle with prayer.

-We don’t know what to pray.

-We may even wonder whether it’s worth praying at all.

-The writer of Psalm 44 may have been teetering on that edge.

-But Paul offers this piece of encouragement when we find ourselves spiritually mute;

“(Likewise) the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

 

-We’re not alone.

-The Spirit knows both our heart and God’s will,

-It’s he who formulates the words on our behalf.

-No wonder that Jesus at the Last Supper promised the disciples,

-That he’d send another Advocate to them.

-In light of what Paul is going to say next,

-It’s worth hearing Jesus’ the following words that came with that promise;

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:26-27

-When the Spirit comes into our lives,

-He’ll teach us everything we need to know about our life in Christ,

-And he’ll remind us of all that Jesus has said to us.

-That’s an important thing to remember,

-Because Paul is also going to encourage us,

-As we’re going through our struggles,

-To remember what we’ve learnt about God’s nature and character.

 

-Paul has given us that great verse of encouragement;

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

-But maybe you’re question is,

-How do we know all things work for good?

-What’s the basis of such a claim?

-What assurance do I have that that’s true?

-Here’s the first part of Paul’s answer;

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.” Romans 8:29

-In all of God’s plans and purposes for you,

-All the events of your life,

-All the highs,

-All the lows,

-Every single thing that has shaped your life,

-Has been set in motion by God in order that you would become more and more like Jesus.

 

-By now you would have noticed a little phrase I regular slip into a sermon or a prayer,

-‘To be the person God created us to be.’

-We were to be like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before they sinned.

-We’re to be God’s image in the world,

-We’re to represent God by ruling over the creation,

-We’re to work in this world as God is working in this world.

-And we’re to do all that in intimate relationship with our God.

-Jump forward to the gospels and see what Jesus did when he came into our world.

-He did just that.

-He was the image of the invisible God, Colossians 1:15,

-He was obedient to the calling of God,

-He worked to restore the brokenness of this world,

-He brought healing and health,

-He overcame evil,

-He ruled over creation,

-All the while walking in a close and intimate relationship with his heavenly Father.

-And Paul says;

“those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,” Romans 8:28

-God’s plan and Jesus’ work was to redeem us for his new family,

-To be his image in the world,

-Just like Jesus.

 

-And notice those two powerful words that have stimulated the late night conversations of every youth group that has ever existed,

-‘Foreknew’ and ‘predestined’.

-Paul puts them into a temporal order for us;

“Those whom he foreknew he also predestined . . . 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:28

-Now we are way to old to be dissecting the finer points of predestination and election,

-But that’s not Paul’s point here.

-What Paul wants us to understand through all the struggles we face,

-In order to know that all things do work together for good,

-Is that every link in a chain of salvation is in the loving and firm hands of God.

-That’s why his final claim is that nothing;

“will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:39

-Because we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

-Neither death nor life,

-Angels nor rulers,

-Things present nor things to come,

-No powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,

-Will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-Why?

-Because God is for us.

-So much for us,

-That he gave his Son Jesus to rescue us from the death we deserved.

 

-You may not feel it,

-You may believe you’ve lost it,

-You may strain to express it,

-But in the midst of what ever your struggles,

-You need to let the Advocate speak for you,

-And cling to that promise of Jesus to those he calls brothers and sisters;

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:26-27

-Because;

“ . . . all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28