July 26, 2020
A man goes to the doctor with a swollen foot. After a careful examination, the doctor gives the man a pill big enough to choke a horse. "I'll be right back with some water," the doctor tells him.
The doctor has been gone a while and the man loses patience. He hobbles out to the drinking fountain, forces the pill down his throat and gobbles down water until that big old pill clears his throat. He hobbles back into the examining room. Just then the doctor comes back with a washbucket of warm water, "Okay, after the tablet dissolves, soak that foot for about 20 minutes."
That large pill was actually small when put in a washbucket but it would heal a swollen foot. Our gospel story is about how small things can make big changes in our lives-- A mustard seed grows to a tree; a tiny bit of yeast leavens three measures of flour. Consider how in our world today a small thing has been making big changes, look at COVID 19! This microscopic virus has changed our world!
Today's Romans passage shares the promise that God is with us and God is for us. God has not retired and left us to cope on our own. God is active; past, present and future, God's participation goes on and on. Our passage begins with a role of the Holy Spirit; interceding for us us when “we do not know how to pray as we ought”. This promise is important to me because I confess I seldom know just how I ought to pray. The temptation is often to come to God with a list of requests and call that prayer. But prayer includes so much more; it is praising and listening and giving thanks and interceding for others... and it is coming to God when life seems too much to bear. When everything is worrisome and we're not sure where the path is leading us, God knows our heart which reveals, through the Spirit, our prayers to the Creator. I don't understand and don't expect that any of us do, but it is a consistent theme of scripture, God knows us intimately; even what we don't know or understand.
One of the most misused verses in scripture comes next, one many of us can recite from memory because it sounds so good. It sounds at first take that God is controlling every detail so nothing bad can happen. I don't know about you, but I recognize that there are bad things that happen in this world. “And we know that all things work together for good...” Note first what it doesn't say, “all thing that happen are good.” The history of scripture show bad things happening over and over and over. From Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit to the flood destroying the world; fire and brimstone wiping out Sodom and Gomorrah, the children of Bethlehem massacred by Herod's troops, Jewish patriots put to death on the cross. I'd be hard pressed to call those things good. Even the death of Jesus, we call that day Good Friday, but what a terrible death for an innocent man. Evil won for a time. But God takes all things and works good out of them. Paul wrote it of Christ's Passion, “It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God.” The history of life shows that humankind continues to practice evil, to suffer, to die and so we need a Savior. And that evil, that suffering can certainly hit Christians as well as anyone else. Go doesn't always cause the suffering, but God always walks with us through it and works good for us.
Paul goes on to tell us that God predestined us to be conformed to the image of Jesus. That does not mean everything in life has been predetermined; there is after all free will. Rather, it means that you have been chosen by God for salvation. Israel Kamusandu wrote this, “Many theologians have misunderstood the word predestination, but in this chapter, Paul uses the concept in reference to God’s original intent: the salvation of humanity. In other words, salvation is not ours but rather, it is located in God’s five-fold plan, which is: “called, provided, acquitted, justified and glorified.” (Romans 8:30 says those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.) Thus, the journey of Christian perfection is conceived by God stretching from conception to eternity.” We are predestined for salvation, and this understanding should lead us into a life of action—love, kindness, patience, forgiveness, humility—the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We are not on this journey alone. Certainly God is enough, God is sufficient for our life and for our salvation. But we are called to more than solitary faith. And so we gather in person or online. And so we serve those in need. And so we offer forgiveness and patience to those who upset us.
Paul writes, “If God is for us, who is against us?” But doesn't it sometimes seem that there is an awful lot in this life working against us? Our message is that God is greater than anything that opposes us. As we talked about in bible study on Tuesday, it can be hard to accept that God is all-sufficient. We want to do something to make things right, to earn our way; to be worthy for the gift God offers. I read this on a blog by John Munier, “Jalen Rose was a basketball player for the University of Michigan and in the NBA. Now he’s a TV and radio personality. On a radio show not too long ago I heard him talking about athletes negotiating their salaries. He said something like this: In this life, you do not get what you deserve. You get what you can negotiate.... He is saying that... We only get from life what we can force other people to give us. If we want to do well, we need to spend our energy increasing our leverage. We need to try to negotiate a better deal. Some of us bring this view of life to the church. Our faith becomes a negotiation with God. If we do x and y and z, then God, we think, has no choice but to do what we want in return. We can wrestle salvation, peace, and happiness out of God if we just use the right technique and get the right leverage.”
Paul tells us that is not the way it is with God. What we need to hear from the whole of scripture is this, God is for us! We aren't here negotiating our salvation, we don't just get the rewards we've earned. Because God is for us Paul declares that you are more than conquerors through the God who loves us. God is for us and there is no power that can separate us from that love... unless we, by our own free will, choose to deny God.
You are here because you have recognized God's call. Today we are reminded once again that we do not earn our way into God's heart. God chooses you. You are God's; and nothing can separate us from God's love. We don't just survive, we are conquerors over the things that seek to separate us; hardship, distress, persecution, famine...death, angels, rulers, powers...”pandemics”. Nothing in all creation is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Do you really hear that? Nothing can separate us from God love in Jesus. Nothing. You are chosen, justified, glorified, saved, secure. Praise be to God whose love and mercy knows no bounds. Amen.
Hymn: Thine is the Glory