Welcome to our service today at Christ Lutheran! And welcome if you’re listening on the radio!
This last Sunday of October in Lutheran congregations is often observed as Reformation Sunday, remembering the work of Martin Luther and other reformers who recovered what the Church had lost. In that day they were teaching all the things we have to do to make God love us. But Luther rediscovered what the Bible teaches---that God already loves us and Christ died and rose to reunite us with the Father.
Our sermon series on the book of Romans is very appropriate on this day because Romans was a very important part of the Bible to Luther because of its emphasis on Christ’s righteousness given for us.
Luther wrote “It is worthy not only that every Christian should know Romans word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. We can never read it or ponder over it too much; for the more we deal with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes” (LW 35:365).
Know Romans by heart? I guess I’ve got some work to do!
This week we look at the first part of chapter 8. And in the first phrase, Paul sums up the first 7 chapters.
Romans 8:1-2 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation”---Condemnation is a legal term. Through Christ, the charges against us have been dropped. God has nothing against us---because of all the things that Paul has explained in chapters 1-7, we are right and beloved in God’s eyes!
Therefore we should live differently---
Romans 8:12-14 “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
An obligation---not because God won’t love us otherwise, but because, if we truly understand that our lives have been redeemed by Christ, we should naturally live with his Spirit as our guide.
Romans 8:15 “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
We cry, “Abba, Father.” Abba---A little child’s way to refer to their beloved father. God shouldn’t be just somebody we know exists, but someone we deeply love. And because of that personal relationship, we can live without fear.
If you heard Pastor John’s radio devotion this week, you heard him say---“Learning to deal with fear isn’t easy. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of criticism, even fear of death can hamstring out ability to fully use the gifts God has given us. The promises of God’s Word can help us overcome this battle with fear.”
We don’t need to be slaves to fear because of what Abba has done for us. He has made us his children. He is not a distant God but the one who lives with us and within us.
Romans 8:16-17 “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children”---
Tom Wright says---“This is a delicate matter to describe. It is, however, a common Christian experience that while many of the thoughts in our mind seem to come from the ordinary flow of consciousness within us, sometimes we find other thoughts, which seem to come from somewhere else, hinting gently but powerfully at God’s love, at our calling to holiness, at particular tasks to which we must give energy and attention. A key part of Christian discipleship is to recognize that voice, and to nurture the facility of listening to it. It is, or may well be, the voice of God’s own Spirit.”
This doesn’t mean that every thought I have comes from God. There are many—maybe most of my thoughts that come from me and my disordered brain. And the tricky thing is that our sin has so twisted our thinking that we can at times convince ourselves that what we think about something is God’s own thought.
So we have to be very careful to compare any thought that we think might be the Holy Spirit’s guiding, with God’s word, in scripture and in Christ, to see if it is consistent. If not, it doesn’t come from God but from our own wants or the world around us or from the great deceiver.
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit”---what that does mean is that there are times---probably many more than we recognize---that the Spirit reaches into our hearts and minds with a word, a nudge, a reassurance that God is with us, has something to teach us and wants to give us his love to support us.
And Paul writes that one of the key things the Spirit says is that we are indeed God’s children, God’s adopted sons and daughters, his heirs. And as heirs of Christ we will suffer, but we will also know his glory---which helps us see beyond any present troubles to the glory promised by the Lord.
Romans 8:18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Paul is saying that whatever we have to endure in the present is bearable because, as Christ’s people, we don’t just have a possibility, we have a certainty of sharing in the glory of Christ’s new life when this life is over.
In fact, the whole universe is somehow tied to our future glory.
Romans 8:19 “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.”
All creation waits for God’s children to be revealed because then things will be set right as God created them to be in the first place.
Romans 8:20-21 “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
These verses take some unpacking to get their full meaning. It goes back to the beginning when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. They chose to rebel, having fallen to the serpent’s lie that they could be like God---that they knew better than God. And so God allowed them to have it their way. But the path they chose opened the door to a fractured, frustrated life for them, and in some way we can’t understand, for all of creation.
Nature itself is not what God intended it to be because sin has distorted the very fabric of the universe. Creation though it is beautiful, is not nearly what God intends it to be. Adam and Eve’s sinful rebellion was allowed by God, but what they started and we continue---led to the frustration of all the universe---yet with the promise that one day all would be restored.
But in the meantime----
Romans 8:22 “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
We hear and see the groans of creation in earthquakes, tornados, wildfires, birth defects, disease. Something like cancer shows the problem all too well. Cells that for a time grow as they should, but then mutate and grow out of control. There is a lot of groaning.
And I’ve done my share of it. You can probably think of times that the groaning of creation has caused you to groan as well.
A few decades ago, Stephanie and I had 3 little boys under the age of 4---hard to do unless you have twins, which we did. And then we got the news Stephanie was pregnant again. It took us a little to embrace the idea, but then quickly God gave us his love for this new little one on the way. But then Stephanie started with complications. She needed several blood transfusions, spent some time in the hospital. And we were so excited about this baby. But then Stephanie went into labor 3 months early. Rachel only lived a few hours.
A few years later at age 64, my father died very suddenly from an infection he got, probably from people he visited in the hospital as a pastor. Shouldn’t pastors be immune from stuff like that?
For a while after both those events, I groaned a lot. Why did things like these happen? What do I do now? What kind of a life is this?
But then the Holy Spirit helped my spirit to see that those tragedies in my life were the result of living in a world broken by sin---where human bodies are imperfect and pregnancies don’t always work out right and where diseases are a real danger. Our whole creation is groaning.
In 1868 Charles Spurgeon wrote---“Creation glows with a thousand beauties, even in its present fallen condition; yet clearly enough it is not as when it came from the Maker's hand—the slime of the serpent is on it all—this is not the world which God pronounced to be "very good."
But it is the world God has placed in our hands to care for and protect. God created us to be under him yet over the world as his caretakers. Not to abuse his creation at one extreme or worship his creation at the other extreme, but to care for it---until that day as Paul put it---“the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay”.
In verse 23 we hear---
Romans 8:23 “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
And so we groan in life, but that is not all there is. Even though we groan inwardly, “we have the firstfruits of the Spirit as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
What we have now is only the firstfruits. There is much fruit, so many blessings from the Lord, to enjoy now in this life, but it is only the firstfruits---a smalltaste of the coming feast in heaven---which gives us a powerful reason for great hope.
Romans 8:24-25 “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
We wait for it patiently? We? Maybe you, but not me! I hope Paul is talking about an ideal we can work toward because I’ve got a lot of work to do on that! We can all get very impatient when we are surrounded by such groaning---campus shootings, monster hurricanes, cancer, global terrorism.
But like a siren that drowns out the sound of everything else, that groaning can mask the beautiful music that God is playing.
And we only ever hear part of the music. A few weeks ago, a Daily Bread devotional reading described how everyone hears a piece of music differently. Even the musicians hear only part of it. They hear the part they are playing most clearly. But even electronic monitors don’t give them a perfect hearing of all that is happening. If someone is having trouble playing their part as it is written or is singing off key, that may be all we hear.
And if life is off key, that may be all we hear, even when the rest of life is beautiful.
And so we wait---sometimes groaning, eagerly, but patiently for all the notes to come together.
On this Reformation Sunday, we tend to think of Luther as the triumphant hero who rediscovered the truth of God’s grace for us. But Luther also carried many burdens in his fight for God. During one period Luther was very depressed and worried. His wife Katherine endured this for days. One day, she met him at the door wearing a black mourning dress.
"Who died?" Luther asked.
"God," said Katherine.
"You foolish thing!" said Luther. "Why do you say that?"
"It is true," she persisted. "God must have died, or Doctor Luther would not be so sorrowful."
Her therapy worked, and Luther snapped out of his depression.
God is alive and well. He hears our groaning and in Christ and through his Holy Spirit, he is always with us to share our pain and to give us hope.
And it is a hope we can trust because we already have the firstfruits---In every moment of joy, in every hand outstretched in love, in every glimpse of creation’s beauty, in every offer to walk with someone in distress, in every song sung to God’s glory, we get a small taste of what the future will be in its fullness---when God liberates you and me and all of creation for eternity.