Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, July 20, 2014
We Have Hope - July 20, 2014 - Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11) - Text: Romans 8:18-27
You may remember back at the beginning of this season, the season of Pentecost, I told you that the color for this season is green. Green is the color of growth and so that is what we do during the long Pentecost season, we hear God’s Word and we grow in our faith. We have been growing as we have been listening to Paul teach us about the need to hear the law and the Gospel; to properly distinguish between the law and the Gospel; that we are at the same time sinners and saints; that we are on our way through this road of life to heaven; and today Paul continues teaching us. This morning we hear that this road of life may not always be an easy road, but we do have the promise that God is with us as we travel this road of life and that no matter how bad things might seem to get while we are here on this earth, they are really nothing compared to the glory that will be ours in heaven.
Paul begins by describing our present sufferings. We begin at verse eighteen, “18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (v. 18-22). There has been much debate over the years as to why there is suffering in this world. Some have asked the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” And here Paul explains that suffering is a result of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Before Adam and Eve sinned everything was perfect, was good and even was very good, but after Adam and Eve sinned, God punished Adam and Eve and cursed the earth.
So, now the whole of creation is subject to the curse, is subject to death and decay. This is not a happy scenario. Sin brought death. The bottom line is that at the moment of conception, we begin our journey toward physical death in this world. There is simply no way around it. All people, all animals, all things in this world are subject to death and decay.
But the good news is that this is merely a temporary thing. Our suffering in this world is merely a temporal suffering, in other words, it is only while we are living in this world. Our suffering is not, and will not ever be an eternal suffering. An eternal suffering is eternal spiritual death in hell. By faith in Jesus, who suffered the eternal punishment of sin for us, in our place, we will never suffer that eternal punishment. Certainly we may at times suffer for the consequences of our sins, our actions, while we are living in this world, but thanks be to God we will never suffer the eternal spiritual punishment of eternal spiritual death in hell.
So, although we may experience some suffering at the present time, we still have hope. Paul outlines our present hope beginning at verse twenty-three, “23And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (v. 23-25). Yes, we have hope. We have God’s promise, that is that He has taken care of everything, that He has fulfilled everything in the Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus took care of our sins. He took care of our inborn, original sin as we call it, that is that sin with which we are born. And He has taken care of the punishment for our actual sins, those sins we daily commit, those sins of thought, word and deed, those sins of omission, not doing what we should be doing and those sins of commission, doing what we should not be doing. Jesus paid the price, on the cross for all sins, all sins of all people, of all places, of all times, and most especially for your sins and my sins.
Not only do we have hope because we have forgiveness, we also have been given faith. Through the waters of Holy Baptism we are given faith and thus are saved. Through the Word of God we have what He declares, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. Through the means of grace, that is through the Word of God, through the sacred acts of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, through the gift of confession and absolution, we have exactly what our Lord declares us to have, faith, forgiveness and life, even eternal life. These are not things we get ourselves, but these are indeed gifts from our gracious and loving Lord.
And thus we have hope. Of course, we understand, as Christians, that our hope is not the same as the hope of this world. Hope in this world usually refers to something that is a maybe, an uncertainty. Our hope as Christians is a certainty. Our hope as Christians is a confidence. As we fix our eyes on Christ our Savior, our hope embraces, expects, trusts and patiently awaits the gifts our Lord has to give to us.
Not only do we have hope, but we also have help. Paul goes on to tell us of our present help. We pick up in our text beginning at verse twenty-six, “26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (v. 26-27). The work of the Holy Spirit is to give us faith and as we have said, He gives faith through means, namely through the means of grace.
Not only does the Holy Spirit give us faith but He also works to strengthen and keeps us in faith and this He does as well through means, the means of grace. Sometimes I believe this is where we tend to sit on our grace as Lutherans. And I believe we sit on our grace because we do not actually believe we are sinners, at least not too bad or too big of sinners, after all, we are constantly told by the world that we are pretty good people and there are a lot of people who are worse sinners than we are in this world. What we fail to recognize is that God’s demand is perfection. When we place our imperfect lives next to God’s demand of perfection, then we see just how sinful we are. As I have mentioned to our Bible class, one of the differences between we Lutherans and other denominations is that other denominations confuse the Law and Gospel and turn the Gospel into Law. They suggest that we should be and we can be the good people God would have us to be and as we grow in our faith we do become the good people God would have us to be, and actually we become so good we really do not even need Jesus any more. As Lutherans we believe that as we grow in our faith we see more and more just how sinful we truly are and how much more we need to cling to Jesus, just Jesus for our salvation.
I believe this understanding or misunderstanding explains our misunderstanding of what God means by regular worship attendance. I believe that as members of this congregation we believe that we are in worship on what might be considered a regular basis. And you know how I encourage making regular, and diligent use of the means of grace. Now, by regular I believe that for some people that means once a year, or once a month or once every other week. Thus, we may be regular, according to our own definition of regular, but we are not really diligent. To be regular and diligent means that God wants us to be in worship whenever the doors are open for worship. Now, I know, for some of you I am preaching to the choir, because you are here every Sunday, but some of us are not here every Sunday. Understand, I am not saying this to shame anyone or to belittle anyone, I am saying this because, if we really believe that our Lord comes to us through means and that the Holy Spirit strengthens us through means, and that we are sinful, imperfect human beings in need of forgiveness, then we will desire, we will want to make sure that we are where the means are present and the gifts are being given. So, I guess this is one of those areas where the Holy Spirit still has work to do, at least on many of us. And where we are to encourage each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Yet, the Holy Spirit has more work and that is that He also prays for us. Certainly we are to pray for ourselves and others, but we do not always know for what we need to pray. We may think we know what we need, but more often than not we only know what we want. God knows what we actually need. And thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit does pray for us, because, again, who knows better what we need and what we need to be prayed for than the Holy Spirit.
What does this mean? We are reminded that when God created the world He created everything perfect, holy, and sinless. Everything in the beginning was good and even very good. In the beginning there was no sin and there was no death. In the beginning there we no temporal consequences for actions.
But then man messed up what was perfect. Eve and Adam disobeyed God. They questioned God, “Did God really say?” They desired to be like God, knowing good and evil. They partook of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, the forbidden tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and they brought punishment and death into the once perfect world. Adam and Eve sinned and yet God did not reject them. Instead He came and promised to mend the relationship that was broken between Himself and His creation. He promised to take care of the punishment which He had imposed on Adam and Eve and all humanity, the punishment of eternal spiritual death.
Jesus came, God in flesh in order to bring us back into a right relationship with God, with Himself. Jesus did what God demanded and what mankind could not do. Jesus lived perfectly. He obeyed all God’s commands perfectly. Then He took our sins and the punishment for ours sins upon Himself. He suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty for us in our place. And He also suffered much of the temporal consequences for our actions for us in our place as well. Jesus died. But death and the grave had no power over Him, because He rose from the dead, victorious over sin, death and the power of the devil. Before He ascended He promised that He would come again and that He would send the Holy Spirit to work on us.
Today the Holy Spirit continues to work. He continues to come to us. He continues to give, strengthen and keeps us in faith. He continues to work through the means of grace, as we make regular, every Sunday, and diligent, everyday use of the means of grace, reading our Bible, remembering our Baptism, confessing our sins, coming to the Lord’s Supper, He works to strengthen and keep us in faith.
And finally, we have hope. Just as God fulfilled His first promise, to send a Savior and just as Jesus fulfilled that promise, so we know that Jesus will fulfill His promise to return. Ours, then, is a certainty that Jesus will return. And so we spend our time getting ourselves ready and keeping ourselves ready for that return.
God never promised that life would be easy. But He does promise that He is with us and that He will be with us as we face the trials and difficulties in this world. And we know for certain that whatever we do suffer in this world, is really, nothing, compared to the eternal glory which we will share in heaven. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.