God With Us (Romans 8:14-39)

 

The end of the program year; the Feast of Pentecost. It all comes down to three little words:

God with us.

Romans 8:14-39

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. 18I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor 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.

We started this program year reflecting on the notion that we are “People of the Promise.” The promise of God calls us together and constitutes us as the church. In this week’s text, we see how God’s promise comes closer than our very breath.

First, a word about the calendar. On the weekend of June 8 and 9, we celebrate the festival of Pentecost –sometimes remembered as “the birthday of the church.” We find the story in Acts 2:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

These are the followers of Jesus, gathered after Easter, waiting and watching and praying together. When the Spirit shows up, the church is born. In a flash of fire and a violent wind, they are driven out of their comfy upper room to found a polyglot community called the church.

What happened at Pentecost? God came near –as close as our breath.

In Romans, Paul unfolds the nearness of God. Now, if you have not been following along up to this point, you may want to go back and read the first three installments of this blog series on Romans.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Paul’s argument in an (extremely inadequate) nutshell: In Jesus Christ, Gentiles and Jews are not separate peoples anymore. All are sinners; all are reconciled to God through Jesus; all share life in Christ and in the church.

In Romans 8, I think Paul is getting into some of the benefits of this relationship. Simply put, to know God through Jesus Christ is to know that God is near –intimately near, closer than breath. This passage is too long, to dense, too rich for a substantive treatment of the whole. What I will do here is a highlight some of my favorite portions.

but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…(v.15)

In the course of arguing for Jew/Gentile reconciliation, Paul makes a fascinating theological move. If Jewish people are God’s “natural” children, then in Christ Gentiles become God’s adopted  children. I find it a powerful image. And the invocation of Abba may well be a reference to the preaching and teaching of Jesus. We believe that Jesus was in the habit of using Abba –an Aramaic diminutive that could be translated “Daddy”—to refer to God in prayer. It is a very familiar, very intimate way to relate to God. And, in Christ, Gentiles get to claim Abba as their own.

Suffering and sighs (v.17-26).

Ascendant forms of Christianity in the United States tend to teach that suffering is optional, and may even be avoided if we only believe hard enough. But Paul takes a different tack. He seems to believe that, if we belong to Jesus, we will suffer. But then he reframes that suffering as…labor pains! Yes, we have travails and troubles. But it isn’t the pain of death. It is the pain of something being born.

And I adore the image of the Spirit groaning in us and among us. When I am too tired to pray—when I no longer have the words or the wherewithal—I can simply surrender and allow the Spirit of God to pray in me.

 “all things work together for good…”(v.28)

For my money, v.28 may be the most misunderstood, the most widely abused verse in the entire Bible. People often take it to mean that only good things will happen to those who love God. And this leads to a whole host of bad corollaries, like:

People are to be blamed for their suffering, and

People who are not suffering are good people (racial and socio-economic privilege = divine favor).

But Paul is not saying that bad things do not happen to believers. After all, in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, Paul actually brags about his sufferings.  (He was beaten! He was shipwrecked! Etc.). I think what Paul is saying is that God always works for good, that God always tries to bring the best out of every situation and circumstance. And if that is true, than we always have a choice about whether or not to cooperate with God in seeking the good.

What then are we to say about these things? (v.31-39).

And the passage ends with a lyrical celebration of what I take to be the very heart of the Gospel: NOTHING can separate us from God’s love. Bad things can and will happen, but none of it can serve to separate us from that love.

As one of my teachers liked to say, when summarizing the theology of Uncle Karl: “God is with us and for us and refuses to be God without us.”

That’s it –the Gospel in three words:

God with us.

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