The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, 26 July 2020
A Sermon on Romans 8:28-39 by Samuel D. Zumwalt
Romans 8:28-39 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles
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.
SUMMER MUSICALS: CAROUSEL
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Do Christians have a reason for joy? This week’s musical Carousel raises our eyes to eternity, but the conclusion to Romans 8 is God’s Word to Christians, who long and lose and love.
Carousel is Rogers and Hammerstein’s second musical. After the huge success of Oklahoma, both the composers and critics wondered if they should continue to write together. Yet they were able to do what operatic legend Giacomo Puccini could not. They convinced Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar to allow them to reframe his serious work Liliom as a musical. Opening on Broadway in April 1945 a few weeks before the end of the war in Europe, Carousel had a run of 890 performances and was filmed in 1956 with Gordon McRae and Shirley Jones as leads.
The central characters are Billy Bigelow, a carousel barker, and Julie Jordan, a millworker, who live in a village on the coast of Maine. When the widowed owner of the carousel sees Billy’s attraction to Julie, she jealously tells the girl to stay away. Billie mocks the owner and is fired. When the mill owner sees Julie with Billy, he offers to escort her home so that she does not stay out past the curfew for millworkers. She refuses and is fired. Their longing for each other is so powerful that it costs them their jobs, but they cannot admit to their feelings. The song, “If I Loved You,” captures the scene: “If I loved you, words wouldn’t come in an easy way, round in circles I’d go… Longing to tell you but afraid and shy. I’d let my golden chances pass me by. Soon you’d leave me. Off you would go in the midst of day, never, never to know how I loved you… if I loved you.” Now unemployed, they marry and are forced to live with Julie’s cousin.
Billy is thrilled when Julie tells him she is pregnant, but, without a job, he worries about how to provide for his family. You can’t just live on love. So…he agrees to join in a plot to rob the owner of the mill, but it all turns disastrously bad. Facing capture by the police, Billy falls on his knife in the movie version and Julie arrives as he is dying. She covers him with her sweater, strokes his hair, and finally tells him that she loves him. She despairs at being both widowed and a mother. Cousin Nettie serenades Julie with the much loved song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
She sings: “When you walk through a storm hold your head up high and don’t be afraid of the dark. At the end of the storm is a golden sky and the sweet silver song of a lark. Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain though your dreams be tossed and blown. Walk on. Walk on with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone. You’ll never walk alone.”
In Molnar’s play Liliom, the male character is in purgatory but is able to do one good deed for his daughter. In the musical and film, Billy is told by a heavenly official that fifteen years have passed on earth, and that if he can help his daughter Louise, he will be able to get into heaven. Louise has grown up bitter having been mocked as the daughter of a thief. Billy appears to her and attempts to give her a star he has stolen but she refuses his gift. Later, at her high school graduation, Billy whispers to Louise: “Listen to him. Believe him” as the graduation speaker, the town doctor, tells the kids not to be held back by where they come from. When he speaks the lyrics of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the class stands and sings the song. Louise smiles, places her arm around a classmate’s shoulder, and joins in the song. Billy whispers in Julie’s ears that he has always loved her. His task accomplished, Billy follows a guide to heaven.
Life is difficult. We Christians do not live out our faith surrounded by bubble wrap. The past two weeks we have heard in Romans 8 that, even though Christians are adopted sons of God through our Baptism into the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection, we still groan and suffer here. Paul has learned very well that the Christian life is marked by loss. We are disciples of the Crucified Son of God, who calls us to forget ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him. The Bible does not teach that, because our Lord suffered we won’t, or because our Lord died we won’t. As attractive as the health-wealth gospel may be, the overwhelming witness of Scripture says otherwise.
Like Billy and Julie in Carousel, we often long for that which is not good for us. You can fall head over heels in love with a person whose self-centeredness is toxic and whose self-absorption over perceived slights makes her or him unwilling to grow and change with the help of God. You can be intellectually seduced by the rhetoric of people who have never worked at a real job and have never created anything of beauty or worth. You can become embittered by comparing yourself to others, coveting what they have, and destroying yourself by wallowing in victim ideology.
Life is difficult. The forces of evil are at work inside our heads and hearts, inside our relationships and dwellings. Like the coronavirus, like cancer, the evil one is always looking for a host. When losses accumulate, when disappointments mount, and when hurts add up, we are most vulnerable to the various temptations to destroy that which is good, beautiful, and true. Ask yourself what good has ever come from your choosing to yield to the malevolent voice inside your head.
We have no guarantee that our dreams will come true in this life. That does not mean we ought not to try nor does it means that, like on the Wheel of Fortune game show, the contestant behind you won’t cash in on your hard work if you hit bankrupt. Good guys often finish second in this life, but that does not mean we should give up and let evil win. What if the woman walking her dog in this city had not acted when she heard the cries of a newborn boy tied in a trash bag and left to die by his terrified 18-year-old mother? What if Harriet Beecher Stowe had not written against slavery? What if Abraham Lincoln had just decided to give in to the opposition party?
The death of God’s Son Jesus in flesh like ours looked like defeat to those who nailed Him to the cross, those who clamored for His death, and those who watched on with despair. Losing His life meant forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation to all who are baptized and trust Him.
No one can love us as much as God loves us, because every human being has a shelf life that must expire. People will often say “I love you,” when they are getting what they want from us. Real love is cruciform, cross-shaped. God’s love is love poured out for those who are unlovable.
As Paul’s 8th chapter of Romans rises to its crescendo, he names seventeen obstacles that cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus: “tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword… death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things to come, powers, height, depth, nor anything else in all creation.” Jesus has already been through it all ahead of us!
When you flatten your outstretched palm to receive the true Body of Christ and His most precious Blood today, don’t be seduced by doubts that say: “How can bread and wine do anything?” It’s not a symbol or a mnemonic device. Jesus has promised you are receiving Him. Period. We don’t just talk about Jesus, sing about Jesus, pray to Jesus, and listen to Jesus. We receive Jesus!
Now think about that. The One who loves you more than His own life promises that you receive Him in that Host and Cup. He doesn’t disappear into a black hole. Emmanuel is with you and in you as you go to face whatever you have to face. Nothing can separate you from Him. Nothing!
Life is difficult. In Carousel, Billy gave into despair and ended up dead. Julie had to raise a daughter by herself on a millworker’s salary. Louise grew up without a Daddy and with her schoolmates knowing he had died a thief. Our longing often leads to losses that are hard to bear. We never know which of those seventeen obstacles that Paul cited will stand in our way next. Thanks be to God, redemption doesn’t come through our own reason or effort. Jesus saves!
Imagine for a moment that you are standing in front of one of those mall directories with an arrow that says: “You are here.” That’s today, but it’s not tomorrow, not next year, or eternity. If you are baptized, you have Jesus’ promise that nothing in all creation can separate you from His love. That means you know where you are going, with Whom you are going, and that you can be certain that He is bringing you safely through whatever you are facing today, tomorrow, and all the rest of your days. If that doesn’t give you joy, then I don’t know what will. So… “Walk on. Walk on with hope in your heart and you’ll never walk alone. You’ll never walk alone!”
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
Summer Musicals: Carousel
“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:
5. Do you hope to be saved?
Yes, that is my hope.
6. In whom then do you trust?
In my dear Lord Jesus Christ.
7. Who is Christ?
The Son of God, true God and man.
8. How many Gods are there?
Only one, but there are three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit..
- 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.
- 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. 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 8 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.”