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Christ in All Things
July 26, 2020 Romans 8:26-39
I can imagine someone looking at their newsfeed this week and wondering if religion hasn’t failed us.
Everywhere we turn we see the ravages of the pandemic, police brutality, sexual harassment and social polarization.
Even which brand of beans you choose has become politically charged.
But Christianity feels right at home in this world; remember, Christianity was born amidst the social and political storm of first-century Israel.
Powerful occupiers, their puppet rulers and the religious elite constantly jockeyed for power.
Neighbors feared neighbors who might be collaborators.
Poverty was crushing and desperate bandits roamed the hillsides.
Between the years of 26 and 36 – during the time Jesus was active – there were seven different armed revolts, each brutally suppressed by the Roman Army.
Much of the revolutionary fervor was born in Galilee, meaning that the Army might stop, frisk and question you just because of your Galilean heritage.
Even religious life was a battleground between new cults and bitter factions within Judaism.
This – not the peacefully serene chapel – is the world in which Christianity was born.
Jesus entered the scene bringing the Kingdom of God to every person – a challenge to all the powerful.
He offended the rich in Capernaum, members of his own synagogue in Nazareth tried to kill him, Pharisaic Jews dogged his every move, and eventually he was cruelly executed along with common criminals.
When we see Jesus in this context, we begin to get how brave and aggressive he was, and we see that our faith was forged from a hard and polarized world.
It couldn’t be better suited for us today.
None of this is a surprise, a point Paul so clearly makes about how sin has corrupted humankind – a central point of his Letter to the Romans that we have been exploring for the past couple of weeks.
He writes, (Romans 3:23) All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.
But Paul then sees how God has tried to help us out of the mire.
First, God reached out to enslaved people, leading their escape through the desert and giving them laws for peaceful, cooperative and prosperous living.
However, our nature rebelled and sin took the controls.
Romans 7:14-15 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
But Paul understands that, through Jesus, God is now trying something radically new: bridging the divine–human divide by adopting us into the family of God.
Romans 8:15b-17a … the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 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,…
Regardless of what shame you accumulated along the way, in fact you are a child of God, chosen by God, blessed by God, and loved by God.
I am moved by how Catherine Cox once said that when her daughter was born, she realized she loved her more than evolution required.
That’s how God loves you and loves me … more than is required.
God could have just washed his hands of us, moved on to another planet … but rather than condemn us, God’s heart swells with love for us.
Methodist Bishop Will Willimon tells about striking up a casual conversation in the cafeteria with a woman who worked in a neighboring office.
“How are you doing?” he asked one morning.
She said, “Okay, but we’ve been going through a rough time.
“Our son stormed out one night in a rage. We didn’t know whether he was dead or alive for three months.
“Last night while my husband and I were having dinner suddenly the front door burst open and in bursts our son, curses coming out of his mouth.
“’Thank God you’re home,’ I said ‘Please sit down and I’ll fix you whatever you want for supper’.
“My son just stomped down the hall to his room. He slammed the door and we heard him lock it.
“My husband did what he always does. He folded this napkin silently, got up from the dinner table and went to the den and turned on the TV.
“I sat there and prayed, ‘Lord show me your way. Help me know what to do’.
“Anyway, just like that Jesus told me to get up and walk down the hall and out to the garage to my husband’s workbench.
“I looked on his workbench and immediately my eyes fell on his biggest hammer. I picked it up and I walked into the house, back down the hall, and stood before the front door of my son’s room.
“I said, ’Son I just want to talk. Please unlock the door.’
“He shouted curses from inside the bedroom.
“Then it was like Jesus was guiding me. I drew back that hammer and came down with strength beyond what I have onto the door knob.
“In one blow I knocked off a whole door knob and lock and split the door from top to bottom.
“What was left of the door was swinging open. There was my son sitting on his bed terrified. I lunged at him.
“’I went into labor for you! I will never ever let you go. Understand?’
“I think we are now on a different footing’, she said”.
I believe God is just like that.
Romans 8:1 … there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,…
Yes, we’ve messed up and fallen short but God loves us just as we are, just too much to leave us this way.
Part of becoming an adopted member of God’s family is that the Holy Spirit becomes available to intervene for us when we don’t know what to do.
Romans 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
Paul’s syntax here defines the problem differently than we usually think of it.
Sometimes people tell me that they don’t know how to pray, as if getting the words right is what matters.
But our problem is not that we need help finding the right prayer words for requesting what we know we want.
Rather, we do not know what to want.
In the midst of our confusion, if we are willing, the Spirit intercedes, aligning prayer on our behalf to the will of God for us.
God created you, loves you, and will not abandon you.
I was caring for Wyatt the other morning and he got himself all riled up, red faced, flailing his arms and legs, and crying out of control.
I gave him a bottle, which soothed him for a minute but then he slapped it away.
He reached for a shiny toy – which distracted him for a moment, but then he was back to crying.
All this time, I understood that what he really needed was a nap, but he resisted it.
All he knew was that he felt miserable, and so he kept thinking that a bottle of formula or a toy would help – but by nature he fights sleep, so he stayed miserable for a long while.
Americans have largely lost faith in our institutions.
We are less patriotic than at any time in our history with 71% of Americans saying they are angry about the country.
Trust has to be earned and then maintained, and we haven’t done a good job with that trust.
Of course, there are fundamental differences about what we are angry about.
Yet only 17% of Americans today say they are proud of the state of our country – and the number one reason for our pride is because of our scientific accomplishments, no longer because of our moral position as a world leader.
Yet science itself is under attack as never before in modern times – attacking scientists who warn about climate changes and who want to help control our exposure to the raging pandemic.
We had one great task this year: to manage and then defeat this pandemic and we’re failing at it.
There is no better illustration of how we have failed to care for the common good.
The natural response to threat is fight or flight.
But the Kingdom way Jesus brings is different.
Romans 8:36-37 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Imagine a recent widower sobbing from grief coming to Paul and asking, “Will my grief separate me from the love of Christ?”
Paul emphatically says, “No”.
A COVID-19 patient asks, “Will this virus separate me from the love of Christ?”
A woman broken by the abuse she’s suffered asks, “Will my shame separate me from the love of Christ?”
A dying person asks, “Will my death separate me from the love of Christ?”
And on it goes until finally Paul says, “Listen everybody. There is nothing in all of 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 could ask me about.”
But notice that Paul says, In all these things.
He does not say, Over all these things.
The Coronavirus, for example, doesn’t distinguish between Christians and non-Christians – God doesn’t make the virus disappear for the ones who go to church.
God is with us in all the pain, shame and suffering that chaos, human sin, and evil itself can throw at us.
Together with Christ we go through it – even through death.
Our society is obsessed with winners.
Sports figures are paid untold millions of dollars.
The most glamorous stars are treated like royalty.
Your car, your house, even the physical appearance of your partner signals the world whether or not you are a winner.
We even elected a reality show host whose claim to fame was publicly humiliating losers.
But Jesus pierced through the human paradigm of winner and loser, showing preferential concern for the outcasts of his time, and eventually losing his life to conquer our sin – to reunite us with God by bridging the gap between human and divine.
Out of suffering, together with God we create something good.
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Remember that popular series of Left Behind books?
The idea is that people who believe in Jesus are raptured to heaven just before worldwide suffering begins.
But the author got it wrong – Christianity is not an avoidance of pain and suffering.
Christianity was forged in a world of suffering and conflict and it is a faith for our world of suffering and conflict today.
In the midst of this messed-up world, we are forgiven our sins, given God’s strength and guidance, find inner peace … but not to avoid the world’s reality, but to live through it and serve those who suffer.
Just like Jesus.
And by the way, through all those troubles we find meaning and, ironically, we find true joy.