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Summer Musicals: Cabaret

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, 19 July 2020

A Sermon on Romans 8:18-27 by Samuel D. Zumwalt

Romans 8:18-27 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

SUMMER MUSICALS: CABARET

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The summer musical in common usage is usually thought of as lighter fare. This week’s musical Cabaret does not fit that description. Our reading from Romans 8 is God’s Word to a world as broken as the one depicted in Cabaret. So… let’s compare and contrast the messages of each.

Crumbling

The award-winning movie Cabaret won eight Academy Awards in 1972 but came in second to The Godfather for Best Picture. Set within the decadence of Berlin in the German Weimar Republic during 1931, the film’s musical numbers all take place on the stage of the sleazy Kit Kat Klub with one exception, the ominous “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” sung by a Hitler youth.

Based on stories by a British man who moved to Berlin to live an openly gay lifestyle, the movie depicts Brian, the lead male character, as a bisexual involved both with Sally, an American singer and lead female character, and Max, a German baron and playboy, who is also involved with Sally. The emcee at the club is a sexually-ambiguous German man. Berlin and the German republic are crumbling as the worldwide depression deepens, and Hitler and his Nazi party offer a renewal of German pride and power after the loathsome defeat suffered during World War I.

Historically, the German Republic had several good years during the mid-1920s, when American banks loaned large sums to restore the German economy, and the roaring-1920s culture was imported from America including the advent of jazz clubs. After the stock market crash of 1929 dried up American investment money, Germany deflated its currency. Everything went to hell.

The opening number “Willkommen” (“Welcome” in German) is sung to a cosmopolitan audience, addressing them in German, French, and English: “Willkommen. Bienvenue. Welcome.” At the conclusion, the emcee says: “Leave your troubles outside, so… life is disappointing? Forget it! We have no troubles here! Here life is beautiful… The girls are beautiful… Even the orchestra, is beautiful.” The film by Academy Award winning director, Bob Fosse, the famous choreographer, perfectly captures the bawdy lyrics and music of John Kander and Fred Ebb.

A cynical, licentiously danced duet by Sally and the Emcee describes the world outside where the clergy are state employees: “Money makes the world go around…“When you haven’t any shoes on your feet and your coat’s thin as paper and you look thirty pounds underweight. When you go to get a word of advice from the fat little pastor he will tell you to love evermore. But when hunger comes a rap, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat at the window…see how love flies out the door.”

The old world is crumbling even while the performers and clientele live hedonistic lives of despair. The rousing title song is sung brilliantly by, then, 26-year-old Academy Award winner Liza Minelli: “The day she died the neighbors came to snicker: ‘Well, that’s what comes from too much pills and liquor.’ But when I saw her laid out like a queen she was the happiest corpse I’d ever seen… ‘What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play. Life is a Cabaret, old chum, come to the Cabaret.’”

The message is one of hopelessly being entertained on the short trip to the grave: “Come. Anesthetize yourself with liquor, sex, and rousing songs while you watch the world go to hell around you and the clientele are increasingly Nazis.” Kander and Ebb, the composer and lyricist, both Jewish gay men, were setting the stage for the Holocaust to come. But, sadly, the film Cabaret reflected the decadence of 1970s Saigon near its end and of New York just before AIDS.

Groaning               

Paul is writing in the mid-50s to Jewish and Gentile Christians, who worship in house churches in the cosmopolitan decadent capital of the Roman Empire. This city of a million or so inhabitants was the original swamp noted for the intermarriage of prominent families, assassinations of leaders and political rivals, the worship of many gods, and sexual promiscuity. For instance, Nero, Claudius’ adopted son, became Emperor at sixteen, murdered his mother, was married multiple times including in 64 AD to another man (a wedding at which Nero played the role of bride) and was responsible for the persecution of Christians in the early 60s AD after blaming them for the fire that burned a significant portion of his capital. Nero committed suicide in 64.

Both Jews and Christians worshiped only the one God and had strict sexual ethics. They were held in suspicion by the Romans for these beliefs. Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome about 49 AD, and they had only returned after his death in 54. The tensions between Jews and Gentiles in the Roman church began to increase after the return of ethnically Jewish Christians.

The perennial human question about suffering is front and center in this section of Romans 8. Creation is groaning along with those who, through Baptism, are the adopted sons of God. Paul makes clear that we Christians do not live in a safe bubble now, completely freed and aloof from the corruption that comes with the bondage to sin, death, and the devil. No, we do not live disconnectedly comfortable lives, but in the midst of a world that is crumbling and dying, and we along with it. Our suffering is not a sign of lack of faith but part of our bearing Christ’s cross.

Now, we are groaning like the creation, like a woman with labor pains, longing for the completion of our adoption as sons. Yet, even as we groan for what will be, the Holy Spirit is praying with us and for us with groaning too deep for words. In other words, we do not know when we will die or when we will be raised in imperishable bodies. We live with the promise of Baptism.

Hoping

So, in the midst of the groaning and the waiting for what will be, how will Christians live if we are not to become like those in Cabaret who seek a physiological escape from the certainty of suffering and death. Later, when Paul is in Rome in the early 60s awaiting trial, he will write to the Philippians that our citizenship is in heaven not here. Earlier than Romans, in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he writes that we Christians do not grieve as those without hope.

Prayer is the cry of the heart from the baptized to our heavenly Abba (Daddy). We hear the promise of our Baptism that we are God’s adopted sons for Jesus’ sake, but like our Lord we cry out from the cross. Think of your worst moments, dear children, when the pain is not an illusion. What pain? Physical suffering when your body reminds you of your mortality. Emotional suffering when you know betrayal, loss, and abandonment. Spiritual suffering when you hear the taunts of the old evil one whispering in your ear that no one loves you, not even God, and your only way out is to put yourself out of your misery. Not knowing how to pray, we cry, “Abba!”

Why do we practice the faith? So that it will be there when we need it. When do we need it? Always. Like athletes training, dancers practicing, musicians rehearsing, writers with pen in hand or at the keyboard, yes, like learning a foreign language, we immerse ourselves in the practice of the faith: singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; hearing, reading, and studying God’s Word; reading the works of great Christians and conversing with spiritual friends; serving those inside and outside the Church; not clinging tightly to God’s resources but sharing generously. Yes, in the practice of the faith, we learn to cry out with faith in hope from the cross: “Abba!”

We are not alone. We are not abandoned. Just as Jews brought the firstfruits of their harvest as an offering at Pentecost, so our Abba has given us the Holy Spirit in Baptism (Acts 2:38) as the firstfruits. The Holy Spirit assures us of our sonship even in the midst of suffering, even when we groan most for the completion of our adoption. Even when we pray wrongly, or do not know exactly what to ask, the Holy Spirit prays with groaning too deep for words. He gives us hope!

Many of you hearing or reading this sermon are groaning over the crumbling around and within. Out of an abundance of caution during this coronavirus season, some of you have not been able to receive the Lord’s true Body and most precious Blood since March or April. Some of you live alone and rarely see or talk with anyone face-to-face. This being isolated and cut-off is not good for you or anyone. We know it is not from God, because the very nature of the Church is to assemble. Meanwhile, the devil’s assemblies are happening out there wherever there is burning, violence, looting, and killing. And the very worst godless politicians say those assemblies are OK but assembling for Christian worship is not. Thank God, you can still worship online.

We Christians are people of hope in the midst of the crumbling and groaning. The answer will not be found in a coronavirus vaccine, in mask wearing or handwashing, in protesting or the ballot box. The answer will not be found in an escape into this world’s cabaret with its pretty poison. Our only hope is Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, through whom we will be raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. Cling to Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Master. For your Abba, your heavenly Daddy, has promised you will be raised to eternal life in a glorified body. Place all your hope in Jesus as you cry out with Him in the power of the Spirit: “Abba! Father!”

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt

szumwalt@bellsouth.net

St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church

Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin Insert      

Summer Musicals: Cabaret

Praying

“Look in mercy, O Lord, upon your family and pour out upon us the gifts of your grace, so that, aflame with faith, hope, and love, we may always watch and pray, and walk in the path of your commandments; 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, 617-618).

Listening

Romans 8:18 “...the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Origen [Late 2nd – early 3rd century Bible scholar in Alexandria, Egypt]: “There is nothing which is worthy of comparison with the future glory. For how can what is mortal be compared to what is immortal, what is visible to what is invisible, what is temporal to what is eternal or what is perishable to what is everlasting?” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Romans, 221).

Romans 8:19 “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”

St. Irenaeus [Late 2nd – very early 3rd century Bishop of Lyons, France, and defender of the faith]: “God is rich in all things, and everything is his. It is therefore fitting that the creation itself, having been restored to its primeval condition, should without restraint be under the dominion of the righteous” (222).

Romans 8:22 “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “Do not be worse than the creation, and do not derive pleasure from the things of this life. Not only should we not cling to them; we should be groaning at the slowness of our departure from this world. For if this is how the creation behaves, you ought to do so all the more, seeing as you have the gift of reason” (225-226).

Romans 8:26 “…but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

St. John Chrysostom: “So we ought to yield to the Creator of our nature and with joy and great relish accept those things which he has decided on and have an eye not to the appearance of events but to the decisions of the Lord. After all, he knows better than we do what is for our benefit, and he also knows what steps must be taken for our salvation” (230).

Romans 8:27 “… the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

St. John Chrysostom: “He does not inform God as if God were ignorant but intercedes so that we may learn what it is that we should pray for and to ask God to give us things which are pleasing to him” (231).

Reflecting

  1. Is the God to whom I address my prayers more in the image of Santa Claus than the Lord God?
  2. Am I aware the Holy Spirit may indeed be praying for the very opposite outcome of my own?

Learning

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:

1.Do you believe that you are a sinner?

Yes, I believe it. I am a sinner.

2.How do you know this?

From the Ten Commandments, which I have not kept.

3.Are you sorry for your sins?

Yes, I am sorry that I have sinned against God.

4.What have you deserved from God because of your sins?

His wrath and displeasure, temporal death, and eternal damnation. See Romans 6:21, 23.

Doing

  1. Pray for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.
  2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. If you haven’t previously done so, please ask for a new devotional booklet when you return to corporate worship or when you drive through to receive the Body and Blood of Christ this weekend. Daily lectionary readings are on p.190 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Year Two, Week of 7 Pentecost).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.”