The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

July 26, 2020

Summary

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that
neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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. (Romans 8:37-39 ESV)

It’s powerful stuff these last verses of Romans 8 – more than conquerors, neither death nor life, and then
neither anything up or down or in between can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nothing can separate us from God’s love! It’s a great message. It’s one of confidence. It makes you want to
punch the air – yeah! And I think it is one of those texts that pastors keep in their ‘back pockets’ ready to pull
out and use in pastoral situations. What a message to tell someone – nothing can separate you from God’s
love!

So if it’s true, why isn’t Zoom crashing with people wanting to join? Why aren’t Lutheran Radio UK’s
resources stretched to the max? Why aren’t people – pandemic or no pandemic – banging on church doors to
be let in? Why aren’t Christian churches of the world packed to overflowing? Why does Christian England
and sadly many individual Christians pay lip service to God but have no apparent relationship with him?
There are numerous reasons – and while I accept that there is often pain or ignorance behind whatever
reasons are said for pushing Jesus away, still none of them valid! – and one of them might be the observation
that there seems to be no appreciable benefit in being a Christian. Every religion talks about something in the
hereafter so the Christian view of heaven doesn’t really persuade and hell is disbelieved and mocked anyway
so the ‘eternal benefits’ argument is often found wanting. When Christianity rode in on the coat tails of
colonisation, it was often viewed as a cargo cult because of the benefits that were attributed to it which were
more a difference of technology than anything religious but followers came and wanted the benefits that the
missionaries had – and, yes, many met and followed Jesus but again not everyone. Like the people fed by
Jesus with bread and fish who wanted to make him king, who followed him to Capernaum, and to whom
Jesus said in effect “you’re only following me for the food”, people have – still today – an uncanny and
disturbing ability to seek God’s gifts and benefits rather than him. What’s in it for me? Life is really all about
the First Commandment after all.

Paul’s words in our text do point us back to God in Christ Jesus and that is good but the context, the
situation, is hardly what a person would choose. For us to be told that God works for good suggests to me
that it isn’t always obvious. We are told that God has called us, justified us, glorified us and we’re getting
ready to punch the air again except we are directed to the cross and the truth that if God’s Son is sacrificed
for us – and raised so that we are not condemned – what makes us think that life with God is on our terms?
The air punch dies going upwards. This is where the prosperity preachers get it wrong. Paul doesn’t say that
the benefits are on our terms but that the benefits are under the cross!

We readily receive and accept affluence and ease, no pain or hardship as God’s love; we praise God for
healing and help and struggle when it doesn’t come the way we think it should. And Paul reminds us that in
this world Christians are sheep to be slaughtered. That gives us pause – to get our bearings – where is the
attack coming from?

Christianity is not a neutral thing but it daily challenges, attacks this world’s way of doing things, our sinful
flesh and its way of doing things, and death and the devil and their way of doing things. We should not be
surprised then if the world, our sinful flesh, and death and the devil fight as well. Paul makes it clear
Christians cop it particularly because they are Christians ‘for your sake (Lord) we face death all day long’. In
other words, being a Christian is not about easy street and prosperity as a right, as a benefit, but is about
crosses and death and struggle and existing in situations when the love of God in Christ Jesus can seem far
away. That’s why pastors quote this text to people in hospital, in suffering, in pain, in torment, in apathy, in
despair, in the shadow of death – to counter the dominant moment – the experience – all the words raging
inside about lack of God, absence of God, pain, and suffering. That is why pastors quote this text and many
many other texts because it is the Word of God – and Jesus is active and not sitting on his hands, remote or
uncaring.

Two things happen when we hear the Gospel in the face of hardship and misery. The first is that the Gospel
itself works on us and draws us to Jesus – may be back to Jesus – and gives us his perspective. Maybe it’s
only for a day at a time and then the trouble shouts and tries to drown Jesus out – maybe the pain returns in
an hour – maybe we hear part of our brain mocking us and saying we’re stupid while there is another part of
us returning to the message of the cross and all its “for you’s” – Baptism, Holy Communion, personal
absolution, declarations of God’s love, so many promises in Scripture – and the Holy Spirit takes all this and
binds our wounds and props us up, forgives us and helps us restart or keep going. Yes, it can be hard – the
struggle to breathe physically or spiritually, the questioning of God’s goodness and so on but the Holy Spirit
is tireless in his work for us.

The second thing that happens when we hear the Gospel I can’t talk about … literally. I don’t know what it
is. But it is my observation that God doesn’t leave his people abandoned even when life is experienced as
abandonment but somehow confirms his Word in them. I have heard too many testimonies – stories about
‘coincidences’, about ‘despair meeting God’ like Job and the storm who finally was silenced – even the
despair was silenced, or even miracles not to say that God’s Word creates faith and strengthens us in it and
people are given signs or moments or certainties still today – personal ones, intimate almost, only for them
(in fact I think they have little value in being told to others) which confirm God’s Word and lead them back
to God’s Word. They – we – hear ourselves saying, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of
eternal life’ (John 6:68) – and there is life with Jesus in this world, in this mess. The Gospel – God’s Word
leads us back to Jesus – and nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord!
As the world operates with a cargo cult mentality, Christianity will always look weak and suspect. The
Gospel, however, is the Good News of Jesus coming into all situations and indeed leading us at times into
tough situations that call for endurance and obedience. The Gospel focuses on Jesus. Without wishing to be
overly mystical about it, Christianity is all about Jesus and meeting him, knowing him, and trusting him and
through him glimpsing the mysterious Trinity of Father and Holy Spirit as well as discovering, sensing,
believing that this God is the only real God, the only true God and he actually loves and cares for us. This
love does have benefits to be sure, we just can’t demand them on our terms. We learn to grow closer, to trust
Jesus for who he is rather than for his gifts and blessings.

We learn to live by God’s grace and keep our eyes focused on Jesus. We face each day in the certainty that
God is good and he truly loves us. Only that Gospel message can help us live in every single situation on this
planet.

Bible References

  • Romans 8:37 - 39
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