The Feast of St. James the Elder, 25 July 2021
A Sermon on Romans 8:28-39 by Samuel Zumwalt
Romans 8:28-39 © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
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.
THE WORD OF GOD: HOLDS US
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We Know All Things Work for Good
There’s a five-year-old child in you and in me that cries out when loss is unbearable. That’s the voice that calls out from deep within us, “Mommy” … “Daddy.” When a death is unimaginable, when physical and emotional pain is indescribable, when betrayal was previously unthinkable… we cry out like a little child in a dark bedroom for a parent to make it all better, to wake us from a bad dream and wrap us in strong arms. As a pastor called to the emergency room by complete strangers and by dear parishioners, I have seen the confusion, the heartbreak, the shattering of lives and have heard time and again in some way or another: “This can’t be happening.”
It is understandable when a five-year-old acts like a five-year-old. But an adult who acts five beyond the first hours of loss is a sitting duck for the old enemy’s nastiest work. Satan not only tempts people to do evil, sometimes even in the name of religion as with terrorists, but, then, he attacks the five-year-old inside with thoughts such as: “God doesn’t care. God isn’t fair. God doesn’t love you. If God were really God, He could have stopped this, so what’s the use?”
The five-year-old child inside can be so self-destructive and add injury to those who love them. Addicts will use any great loss as an excuse to add another complaint and resentment against God or neighbor in order to justify crawling into a bottle or lighting up a joint or swallowing, snorting, or shooting their favorite false god into their bodies. The late poet John Prine famously wrote of a Vietnam vet he called Sam Stone. His chorus went: “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes, and Jesus Christ died for nothing I suppose. Little pitchers have big ears. Don’t stop to count the years. Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.”
When our old enemy attacks us full force at first contact and, then, sneaks up on us later under darkness when we are weak and wounded, he knows where we are most vulnerable. He knows which tack to take, which ploy to use, and which god substitute to offer us. But he is a liar. He is the thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy (Jn 10:10). So, my dear ones, why do we practice the Christian faith? (Say it with me.) So that it will be there when we need it. One more time….
Here in Romans 8:28, Paul says for the third time in seven verses: “We know” (in Greek “oidamen”). Despite sufferings, groanings, and the five-year-old prayers of adults, those who love God, those who practice loving God, those who regularly and faithfully hear God’s Word and receive the Lord Jesus as He comes to us in His holy supper: we know, nevertheless, that for those who love God all things work for good. What? All things? Really? Yes, all things!
Christ Is Interceding
In the first two years of our lives, we need loving parents to teach us object constancy. What does that mean? When a baby or toddler cries, she or he needs to know that Mommy or Daddy is still there. A loving parent goes to the bedroom door to let the child know she or he is not alone.
Someone who does not practice the Christian faith will substitute something or someone for God. An elderly veteran was in the VA nursing care unit where my mother was a geriatric nurse. He would cry out in the night: “Is anyone there?” My mother said to him: “You’re never alone. God is with you.” The elderly army doctor said: “I was hoping for someone human to be here.”
Yes, there is no substitute for human contact, which is why Christians in crisis call their pastor and why having regular contact with a Stephen Minister is such a blessing. But if a person has no faith in Christ Jesus, who is truly God and truly human, she or he will not know God is there.
St. Paul reminds us that the Christ who is interceding (yes, praying) for us in every crisis, in every loss, in every time of need is God in human flesh who was rejected, condemned, beaten, suffered, crucified, dead and buried, yet rose again from the grave and ascended to the seat of power at His Father’s right hand, and that Christ is praying for us in every tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, brutal attack, and even when we are being slaughtered like sheep, like St. James, yes… like Jesus, God’s Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world.
Someone who does not practice the Christian faith is an easy target for the devil, who wants to drive that one to self-abuse, to the abuse of others, to despair, to self-destruction, and even to suicide. Oh, how the devil’s friends, the wolves in sheep’s clothing, love company in their misery, and, they will hide behind the mask of rationality and even of compassion to seduce those who believe they are all alone, and that no one cares, to curse God and to embrace evil.
But we are never abandoned and never alone, the Crucified Jesus with the marks of the nails in His hands and feet, with spear-torn gash in the side, and thorn-scarred forehead is interceding for us always. He wants none to be lost, none left unforgiven, none to give up, and all to be saved!
I cannot say this often enough. Humans have been educated for many centuries to believe that we are the center of the universe. It’s one of the devil’s most audaciously successful schemes, and many bishops, pastors, seminary professors, church workers, and lay people have been seduced by the slogan: “Man is the measure of all things” (“People get to pick their own truth.”)
We are living in dark days, dear ones, where even people in clerical collars, others in polo shirts and shorts, and folks with ten pound Bibles are not faithful to God’s Word. How can this be? You may well have found out when you echoed the tempter’s question: “Did God really say?”
Because you and I are in this sinful flesh with hardened hearts and too clever minds, ought we really to think we are better than our first parents who had intimacy with God and yet rebelled?
Do you really think that if we only pick a more conservative denomination, on the one hand, or parrot this age’s false stories about race, gender, justice, etc., on the other, that we will be safe?
After 40 years as a pastor, 45 years of church work, and 67 ½ years of life in this world, I have no illusions about myself, and I beg you to have none about yourself. We are sinners and remain unrighteous, especially when we are convinced we are right and spiritually mature, so my hope (and I hope yours) is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and Jesus’ righteousness.
St. Peter and the others preached the Gospel on Pentecost, and the crowds were cut to the heart and cried out, “Brothers, what must we do?” Peter said: “Repent and be baptized.” For when we have been buried and raised with the Lord Jesus Christ as St. Paul urges in Romans 6, when we have been marked with Christ’s holy cross and sealed with the Holy Spirit, when we the children of God cry out, “Abba! Father,” we know that nothing… nada… nichts… rien… nihil… oute… nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Nothing!
That’s why we practice the Christian faith. So that we know that Christ Jesus is right here with us in the trenches, when all hell is breaking loose around us, and when we feel alone and afraid.
On our own, left to our own pride and self-defense, even with a small group of relatives or acquaintances around us, we are sitting ducks for the devil’s wily ways and empty promises. A bad relationship will take you away from God, because that other person wants you to be her or his god… and we mere mortals and all our stuff make lousy gods. Mature Christians know this!
We strive to: pray daily, worship weekly, read the Bible, serve others at church and in daily life, are in spiritual relationships, and, yes, give sacrificially of time, talent, and resources, because we know who made us, we know who gave us what we have, we know who loves us, we know who has bought us with His precious blood, and we know the eternity of joy that await us with Him!
So… I beg of you, don’t be a child in an adult body with adult resources. Don’t go it alone. The Living Word of God holds you and holds me always. Cling to Him in faith. Call on Him always. Never give up and never give in to the lie that nobody cares. Christ Jesus died for you. You can trust Him no matter what and no matter when. He will bring you safely through. He’s got you!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
The Word of God: Holds Us
“O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 618).
Romans 8:28 “...for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “For if tribulation, or poverty, or imprisonment, or famines, or deaths or anything else should come upon us, God can change them into the opposite. For this is one instance of his ineffable power, that he can make painful things appear light to us and turn them into things which can be helpful… Even opposition and disappointment are turned into good…” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Romans, 233-234).
Romans 8:31 “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Origen [Late 2nd – early 3rd century Bible scholar in Alexandria, Egypt]: “It is because the Spirit of God dwells in us and because the Spirit of Christ, or Christ himself, is in us… because we act in the power of God’s Spirit, because we have received the Spirit of adoption, because we are children of God, heirs and fellow heirs of Christ” (237).
Romans 8:37 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
St. Basil the Great [4th century Bishop of Caesarea, Turkey]: “He conquers who does not yield to those who lead on by force, but he is more than conqueror who voluntarily invites sorrows for a demonstration of his endurance” (242).
Romans 8:38 “For I am sure that neither death nor life…”
Origen of Alexandria: “… he who believes in Christ shall live even if he dies… because Christ gives us eternal life” (242).
Romans 8:39 “… nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
St. Caesarius [6th century Bishop of Arles, France]: “Spiritual souls are not separated from Christ by torments, but carnal souls are sometimes separated by idle gossip. The cruel sword cannot separate the former, but carnal affections remove the latter. Nothing hard breaks down spiritual men, but even flattering words corrupt the carnal” (243).
- Does my Lord’s resurrection, to which I am joined in Baptism, sustain me in times of fear?
Christian Questions with Their Answers
After confession and instruction in the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the pastor may ask, or Christians may ask themselves these questions:
What has Christ done for you that you trust in Him?
He died for me and shed His blood for me on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.
Did the Father also die for you?
He did not. The Father is God only, as is the Holy Spirit; but the Son is both true God and true man. He died for me and shed His blood for me.
How do you know this?
From the Holy Gospel, from the words instituting the Sacrament, and by His body and blood given me as a pledge in the Sacrament.
- Pray for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.
- Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
- Invite someone you know to attend the New Disciples Class on August 15 at 9 a.m.
- Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend the importance of and great need for self-examination before receiving the Sacrament of the Altar. If you have never considered making a private confession before a pastor, please do so… not for the pastor’s sake but for yours.
- Set aside time daily, preferably first thing, but when you are able to focus, to hear the Word of God, to reflect upon that Word, and to ask the Holy Spirit to grant you grace to be shaped by and conformed to that Word. Daily Bible readings may be found at www.stmatthewsch.org. Daily lectionary readings are on p.183 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Year One, Week of 9 Pentecost). New Portals of Prayer devotional booklets are available in the narthex.
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”