Themes Worth Remembering: Romans 8
Jul 26, 2020
8th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Romans 8:26-39
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
You have heard me say it often; the eighth chapter of Romans is one of my favorite portions of scripture. In fact, it is so significant to me that after I last preached on it, having commented that memorizing the entire chapter is a goal of mine, I tried to do just that. I was not successful; the need to review the section I had just learned every day, before adding new verses, did me in. But, perhaps one day….
Also, I tried to remember when this passage became significant to me; I have just a hint of a memory that it was read at my brother's funeral when he died at age 16, one of those worst times in my life that Pastor Weaver talked about last week. But, when I looked for an "order of service" for that day, I did not find one. Still, today's reading is a likely choice for a time such as that.
In any case, while I appreciate the entire chapter, it is the portion that we read today, which is particularly near and dear to me (as long as it's being read from the NRSV). We learn a great deal about God in the last 13 verses of Romans 8. So, today, I want to focus on four themes; please feel free to look at the passage in your bulletin, or get out your Bible at home, to make it easier to follow along.
The first theme is that the Spirit helps us. Specifically, the Spirit helps us to pray. (Look again at verse 26-27.) When it comes to prayer, the problem that the Apostle Paul is addressing is not that we know what we need but lack the right words for requesting it; it's that we do not know what to want. So, the Spirit intercedes, saying prayers on our behalf, but aligning those prayers to God's will. (1) In other words, the Spirit adapts our prayers to fit the will of God.
Commentator Richard Donovan asks us to consider what it would be like if God answered every person's prayer, as asked. The result would be chaos, he writes. (2) Here's a somewhat humorous example: let's say I'm out at the garden praying for a long, steady rain, while the kite fliers in St. Hilary's field request a brisk breeze, but no rain, while the merchants across the street petition for a windless, no cloud day; now that could be an unsettling weather conflation. (Besides, does God orchestrate the weather; I don't think so.) By running our prayers through the Spirit-filter, God spares us that, and other unhelpful prayers. The Spirit helps us.
Theme number two is that God works all things together for good. When we read verse 28, "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God's purpose," it's important to think of God as the subject of the sentence. God works all things together for good. It is God who has the power to bring good out of bad – it is not that the negative disappears, but God is present in the midst of difficulty and suffering so that the positive can happen too.
And, the ultimate "good," the "big picture" that cannot be overwhelmed by imperfect circumstances, is that we are members of a large family, of which Jesus is the firstborn. The events of Jesus' death and resurrection unfolded according to God's plan (that's the meaning of the term "predestined), and our inclusion among those who are called, justified, and will be glorified was a part of that plan. In that way, all things certainly have worked together for good. God works all things together for good.
The third theme is that God, through Jesus, is for us. The us is those who God called, justified, and will glorify, gifts of God's grace so that no one is excluded, although not everyone acknowledges his or her place in God's family.
God, through Jesus, if for us. Paul asks in verse 31, "If God is for us, who is against us?" His intention is to say that since God is for us, it really does not matter who is against us. And then he makes his point by arguing from greater to lesser. If God has given the greatest thing, his Son, then God will give the lesser things as well. And, even more importantly, God's Son, Jesus, intercedes for us, is our defender, reversed our condemnation and effected our salvation. No one can undo what Jesus has done as our advocate.
We are not just conquerors, but more than conquerors. In the Greek, Paul uses the prefix from which we get the word "hyper." We are not just winners; we are hyper-winners. Over what? We are hyper-winners over "all these things."
Commentator Scott Hoezee says that Paul is describing "the everyday realities of life that threaten us, that make life unhappy, dicey and difficult. And please notice that Paul does not say that we are more than conquerors over all these things, as though to say that if we are faithful enough, these difficulties will never come our way in the first place. We are not victors over these things but in them. We do not lead victorious lives because we get spared the pain of this world but rather like Jesus himself we find victory smack in the middle of this life's worst realities." (3) God, in Jesus, is for us.
And, finally, number four: God, in Jesus, is with us. Our Lord suffered and is with us when we suffer. Even the worst that the powers of Sin and Death have to offer will be shown to be a "slight momentary affliction" when compared with the glory that will be revealed to us, as is proclaimed earlier n Romans 8.
In the closing verses, Paul lists that which threatened people of the first century and all who came after them, "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, not height, nor depth, nor anything else ins all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Commentator Hoezee suggests that when we read those words, we imagine assembled before the apostle Paul a long line of people who represent typical Christians of his day and ever since. Coming up to him one by one, they have things to ask.
Let me quote him: "And so a woman whose body is riddled with cancer comes to Paul and asks, 'Do my tumors separate me from the love of God?' And Paul says, 'No!' A just widowed woman who senses the reality of death so keenly her whole body aches with the grief of it asks, 'Does my dear ones death separate him or me from the love of God? And Paul says, 'No!' A man whose clinical depression means he may spend the rest of his days tethered to a vial of Prozac asks, 'Does my depression separate me from the love of God?' Paul says, 'No!' The woman with addiction shuffles up shame-faced, eyes downcast as she mutters, 'Am I such a bad sinner that I am separated from the love of God?' and Paul says 'No!' Finally, before this goes on and on, Paul says, 'Listen everyone! There is nothing in all creation that can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! That covers everyone, everything, every conceivable situation you can ask me about.'" (4)
So, my friends, whatever comes to your minds that has you wondering if God is separated from us by it, whether it be Covid 19 or your own doubt that everything I've said today is true or fear of the future, none of it can separate us from God's love in Jesus. Romans 8 makes it clear: The Spirit helps us. God works all things together for good. God, through Jesus, is for us. God, through Jesus is with us." Those are themes worth memorizing. AMEN
(1) Commentary on Romans 8: 26-39, Mary Hinkle Shore, www.workingpreacher.org
(2) Romans 8:26-39 Biblical Commentary, Richard N. Donovan, 2008 and 2011, www.sermonwriter.com
(3) Lectionary Epistle: Romans 8:26-39 by Scott Hoezee, www.cep.calvinseminary.edu
(4) Same as #3