A Homily for Trinity 11
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Romans 8:26-39
Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen
The prophet Isaiah proclaims: “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” This is a foreshadow of the things to come at Christ’s death and resurrection the soul who trusts in Him is set free from the condemnation which comes because of sin. This is the great Christian hope: first that we have been given new life, and in that new life we are being sanctified and secondly that on the great last day we will share in Christ’s resurrection and walk once again with God, and so we are called to awake and sing.
How are we to live in the interim? How are we to behave as children of the living Lord, who are being corrected, strengthened, and molded into mature Christians? The Epistle lesson gives us directions into this, for the Christian has been given the Holy Spirit, he or she is strengthened by and guided through its operations.
To be a Christian is to be humble – we are called to the throne of grace, called into a life in Christ not because we are good, not because we are strong, not because we are morally competent, but because we are weak. We are called to give up all that we are proud of, or to use a psychological term – to give up our ego. For God uses our weakness to make us great Christians, for when we become weak we learn what it is to trust God fully for all that we need.
When we become weak, Christ through the spirit, becomes our hope and salvation, for this is not earned nor bought, but given freely to His children.
The Spirit is not only a sanctifying force that draws us closer to God, he also intercedes for us. Knowing the will of God, he takes our prayers and carry them to the throne of the king of kings. When we read that the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered this is not referring to tongues, for as we discussed last week – tongues are not a universal gift, and perhaps not even what we assume in the modern world that they are. Instead, this is a universal gift for all people. What exactly it means we aren’t entirely sure except that he takes our prayers and translates them for the Lord to hear.
However, the next thing I want to bring your attention to may help us understand this a little better – the spirit searches the heart of the Christian. He knows why your heart laughs in and delights in the dancing of bugs in the evening sunlight, he knows why you cry yourself to sleep in the lonesome evening, he knows why you take joy in seeing your children grow and blossom into men and women, he knows why your heart skips a beat when you see the one you’ve loved well, he knows why your heart is tempted to sin, and why your heart aches when the road seems too long and lonely to bare. The spirit searches your heart and knows it all, and he carries your deepest wants, struggles, and pains to the Lord.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t have to pray because the Lord knows it all. No, this should only encourage you to pray more, for the spirit takes our imperfect petitions and makes them perfect. Our words are the words of children running delightedly or with sorrow to their heavenly father. Perhaps, all we can get out are tears and the question why or happily little babbles, but the Lord understands them perfectly just as parents often understand their children when no one else does. So, we come with our prayers, in our sorrows and joys, in the day to day routines and in the great choices of life.
But here’s the catch. Orthodox belief does not allow us to believe that if we pray for a Ferrari or a macmansion we’ll get it. We may be blessed with many worldly possessions, and as such we are to use them to the glory of God, or we may be blessed with very little, and we are to use that little bit to the glory of God. Certainly, we are to carry all our sorrows and cares to the Lord, but the spirit intercedes while submitting to the will of God. We are to reject the prosperity Gospel that seems so prevalent in our culture and takes on insidious tones. For God is not some sky fair god granting us our every wish and whim. Christ didn’t die so that a preacher could have his own Leer Jet and a set of Bentleys, Christ died so that we may walk with God for eternity.
And after all, which of these is a greater thing?
But what of the heartache! The tears! The seemingly unanswered prayers? You may be asking. The will of God is to draw our hearts into a closer and deeper relationship with Him. The will of God is that we would walk at peace with him growing in our trust of him through the valleys of tears and over the mountains of joy. There are times that this may seem easy, times when it may seem hard, and times when it may even seem cruel, but God is with us, strengthening us in Christ and drawing us closer to him through all of it. I tell you this so that you are prepared for the valleys because they will come, and if you expect your walk with Christ to be sunshine all the time, when the clouds come you will be disappointed. So, instead pack the umbrella of faith in Christ and set out in joy, knowing that the rain of sorrow will come and go.
Perhaps the greatest and most profound illustration of this that I can think of comes from the story of the Ten Boom family. Even though I’m about to giveaway the ending – I encourage anyone who hasn’t read the book or watched the movie to pick up a copy of one or the other because it is a profound story of trusting God. Towards the end of this story, shortly before the sisters are separated and Corrie, the one who recorded the story, is to never see her sister again, a confession is made in the bleakness of a Nazi prison camp. One of the sisters confesses her trust in the profound love of God. For the Christian sisters, in the end God’s love abided even there; their hope was not a worldly hope but an eternal hope, a hope that one day they would be free from all the pain and sorrow of the world. The love of God is working even in the harshness of human tragedy and sin, working to draw men and women into his warm embrace, working to sanctify our souls so that one day we will enjoy communion with Him.
When we say that something is theologically good – such as God is good, or that He is working all things for good – this is what we are talking about. We are talking about the eternal perspective. When we say, he is working things for good we are talking his sanctifying out soul for a life with Hiim. Almost always we take a very short term view, but God takes the long-term view. This is what tripped up Adam and Eve, they picked immediate pleasure over God’s eternal goodness.
Think for a moment about the last time that you got stressed out. It was probably something that was resolved relatively quickly – in an hour, a day, a week, a year. What is a year in the perspective of eternity? Do you think you’ll remember that anxiety when you’re in the presence of the Lord after the great last day?
I do not mean to diminish the pain of anxiety, no, I know too well how difficult anxiety can be for those who travel through it. Rather – to encourage you – day by day, trust a little more that the Lord is working through your valleys of sorrow to His glory that you might be walking with him a little closer. That His rod and staff are your guide in the here and now and in the eternity with him that we look forward to.
Let us also recall for a moment the prosperity preacher we just spoke of. The poor man who has chosen a Bentley over eternity with God. He has traded his soul for something that will rust and fade away; for the things of earth and fleeting, but life in Christ is forever. This doesn’t mean we can’t have nice things – but it does mean we should treasure the things of God more highly than the things of earth, that possession come and go, but a life with God, that is forever. Let us be leery of those that would tempt us away from Him. Let us always be running towards the Lord of lords in our pains and in our joys.
And now we arrive at a difficult part, a part that perhaps made you a tad uncomfortable when you heard it this morning, the saint writes: For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
What do we do with this verse? Is it really saying that God only predestines people to come to him? Well – Anglicanism has often been split on this issue and for the sake of brevity, I don’t want to delve too deeply into it for this subject of predestination and free will for it takes a great deal of discussion, understanding of nuanced arguments and pastorally, I don’t think today is the day to have those discussions.
Instead, let us understand that it is God’s grace that draws us to Him, that He takes our heart and makes it his. Why only some come to Christ and others don’t, this something of a mystery. Here is what I propose for now: that we trust that it is by God’s grace that we know Him. Those who do not are something of a mystery to us, instead we are to be Christ’s faithful witness in our community, proclaiming His goodness, grace, and mercy boldly that others might know as well. From that point of stepping out in faith, letting His light shine in the darkness, we trust that He will complete the work, drawing more men and women on to Him.
This past week I ran into a fellow pastor at a coffee shop. We both started our ministry here at the beginning of this month and we were talking about the challenges and joys of our beginnings and how God has worked to get us here and is working now. He told me of a quote – that I wanted to share with you all. For, I believe, we all want to see our church grow, and to be a faithful witness in the community. The quote was from John Wesley who said - “Catch on fire and others will love to come watch you burn.” This is the call of the Christian, assured by the promise of our salvation to catch on fire – letting the light shine, and if you do that – others will come, and that fire will spread.
For those who by God’s grace catch fire – those who have been called unto Him and have responded with joy filled hearts, they are justified by Christ, and are being sanctified that one day we may dwell in His glory. Our call is to burn for Christ, and our hope is the future glory we will enjoy in eternity, so let us burn brightly and hope boldly.
Now I want to read you three phrases from the New Testament lesson because they are central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
If God be for us, who can be against us?
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
This is our hope that we find in Christ – for Christ’s death on the cross was a death of deep shame, a death reserved for the worst of the worst. In dying that death, he took on our own condemnation and so it is him who will judge us in the last days and those who have put on the white robes of the blood of Christ will escape judgement. If God the father was willing to let this happen to the son, to a very part of himself, for our sake, how good must his will for us be? What could possibly separate us from the Love of Christ?
One of my favorite things about reading St. Paul is his lists. He lists sins, and virtues, hopes, and sorrows. As I read them I imagine him pouring his heart out over a desk or to a scribe, getting excited as he rambles off the lists, then taking a deep breath and getting back on track. We are blessed with two lists today, they are lists of things that won’t separate us from the love of Christ, none of these things will separate us for he questions the reader: shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword (separate us)? The answer is a resounding no. None of these things shall separate us. So, take heart dear Christian, yay though I walk through the valley of death, the Lord is with me.
He recalls further proof that we are not to grow despondent in our walk – he cites Psalm 44 and states that even death will not separate us from God. For we know that we must die to ourselves to live to Christ, likewise we must die in the end to partake in the eternal resurrection when we will enjoy a new and glorified body. As we become more familiar with scripture, we know the promise is that after death there will be the resurrection, we will be given new bodies and we will walk with God. Our Old Testament lesson reminds us of this. No, not even death can separate us from the love of God, so take heart whether your troubles are many or few, whether you are persecuted or live a peaceable and quiet life the Lord is by your side.
Dear Christians, remember: we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. We are not conquerors because we are strong, nor are we conquerors because we are intelligent, nor are we conquerors because we are rich, or American, or college educated, or skilled at this or that. We are conquerors through Him, that is Jesus Christ, who loves us. We are conquerors because in our weakness he is strong. Take heart if you feel weak or sad or lonely, for it is not in your merit that you overcome death, nor that helps you through this day and night. Rest your trust in Christ and let his light shine through your lowliness.
Our lesson this morning ends with another great list from the saint: For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If none of those, then can separate us from the Love of God, what then can? A vicious man? Certainly, angels are stronger than any man and even Angels cannot separate us. A government gone bad? Certainly, spiritual principalities are more powerful than them? We could examine this list all day but we will still find that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. So, take heart dear Christian.
Take heart and sing the Psalmist: THEY that put their trust in the LORD shall be even as the mount Sion, * which may not be removed, but standeth fast for ever. For when our trust is in the Lord, nothing may sway or move us away from our life in Him and there is nothing that can separate us from the love of our God. May our hearts and minds then burn brightly in our new life in him, looking ever forward to that last great day and may that burning attract others to come and worship the King of Kings and the Lord of lords.
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen