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Sermon for Trinity 7

Read or listen to a Sermon on Romans 8:26-end for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity.

26 Likewise 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.  
27 And 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.
28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, 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 within a large family.  
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 are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?  
32 He 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?
33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
34 Who 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.
35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted 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 convinced 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.

Romans 8:26-end

How often do you feel assured? How often do you feel anxious? According to the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, anxiety is a fundamental part of the experience of being human. There are so many things outside of our control that we cannot predict. We all have anxiety in some form, and we all desire assurance in some form. Now, to be assured of something is to feel secure and certain. And what follows in our reading demonstrates that there are two things that we can be certain of. When we turn our gaze towards the heavens we can be sure that we are understood and our future is secure. So let us begin with how well we are understood. 

How much do we want to be understood? When we get into heated arguments with others, we often find ourselves fighting not to persuade but only to be understood. Disagreement can become more bearable when we understand each other. When we are misunderstood, then the frustration builds, then the tempers get frayed. The desire to be understood seems to be a need we all have. Being constantly misunderstood causes anxiety; being fully understood brings assurance.

When you have been in an argument have you ever had someone intervene to support your case? Often in those moments it can be quite a release to find someone articulating what you meant better than you were able to express yourself. Sometimes we might see someone on the news arguing persuasively for a position we feel passionately about but have been unable to express. We want to be understood. Often this becomes the foundation of relationships with friends and partners. ‘I like so-and-so because he or she really understands me.’ They ‘get’ me. When we are fully understood and accepted, we feel the assurance we crave.

In verse 26 of our reading we hear that the Spirit intercedes for us in our weakness. He advocates for us when we do not know what we should pray for. To have someone intercede for us means we have someone who joins with us and articulates our requests on our behalf. It is a great thing to know that the Spirit who dwells within us also prays for us – He even prays in groans too deep for words – I wonder how many of us struggle to verbalise our prayers. How familiar is the experience when we bow our heads and time stops. What is the problem we want to be delivered from? What is it we really want? Perhaps we can’t put our finger on the issue that is causing us trouble. Sometimes the intensity of our thoughts and emotions can be so strong that we can only pray ‘O God, help!’ In those moments, our mis-pronounced and inarticulate attempts to pray are honed, shaped, and directed towards their target by the Holy Spirit. Because of the Spirit working on our behalf, our prayers hit the mark every time and we are understood.

So the Spirit can help us fill in the gaps of our prayers when we struggle to string the right words together. But He also helps us with all our other prayers. Paul writes in verse 26 that in our weakness we do not know what to pray for as we ought. And this is where the Spirit helps us. But what ought we to pray for? The answer comes in verse 27. The Spirit intercedes for the saints (that is, you and I) the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We ought to pray for that which is according to God’s will. We therefore need to come before our Lord with humility. In our weakness, (that is, in our finite human condition) we cannot presume that all of our requests are synonymous with the will of God. Sometimes what we ask for is not what is best for us, and only God can see that. We therefore need to temper our prayers with the condition ‘if it is your will.’ It is the role of the Spirit to take those petitions and express them in a way that perfectly matches the will of God. What God’s will is for us will emerge in the verses that follow.

In what remains of chapter 8 we find assurance in a different form. We are given some certainty about our future. In the verses that follow, we discover some tremendous promises of extraordinary weight. Verse 28-30 sets the foundation:

For those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose

and

Those whom he foreknew he also predestined…and those whom he predestined he also called and those whom he called he also justified and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Let’s take a moment to think about that: ‘All things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose.’ All things. Not some things, not even most things, but all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose. If you are able take this morsel of truth and truly ingest it, then it will change your life. If you love God then He will work all things together for your good. The divine creator of all existence, the supreme sustainer of everything that is, who governs from the vastest panorama to the minutest detail will work everything to your good. How can that not change your life?

Now, before I continue it is worth making sure we fully understand what constitutes our good. The clue is at the end of verse 28: ‘according to His purpose.’ What is God’s purpose for us? Verse 29 says that God ‘predestined us to be conformed to the image of his son’ and those whom he predestined he eventually glorified. This sounds pretty esoteric, what does this mean? It means that our highest good and our ultimate purpose is to become like Christ and to be glorified. In other words, we are to be transformed into people who are infused by the ethic of love and, who like Christ will be raised in glory to a new life beyond death. That is what it means to be glorified and that is the future glory that Paul talked about in our reading last week. Our frail and failing bodies will be transformed into his glorious body as we are cleansed from the terminal condition of sin. One day our bodies will be perfected and we will sin no more. That is our good, and that is what God works all things towards. All things work towards our transformation into the people we were made to be.

So we can see that our good does not mean financial success, our personal prestige, our continued health, our power, influence, or ambition, they are all paltry and drab in the face of the glory that is dawning on us. God has something better for us.

And not only that, verse 29 and 30 show that what is coming is engraved in eternity. Before we even existed, God knew us, he predestined us, called, justified and glorified us. The course is set. Though full weight of glory God intends for us is in the future, the decision appears set in the past. Whatever the God who dwells in eternity beyond the bounds of time, has decided, that is what will come to pass. It is for that reason that ‘glorified’ appears in the past tense. From our perspective, bound as we are by the linear progression of time, it is yet to come. From the perspective of God, it has already happened. The future of those who love God is so certain that it can be said that it has already happened. We are on a trajectory towards increasing Christlikeness and glory in the way a well-aimed arrow set in motion is on a trajectory to its target. God has set us on our course and we will hit the mark.

So what then can be done to us? 

Such is Paul’s confidence in the power of God that he hurls a series of questions into space in a spirit of bold defiance. 

He challenges anybody and everybody, in heaven, earth or hell to answer them and to deny the truth they contain. But there is no answer. For no-one and nothing can harm the people whom God has foreknown, predestined, called justified and glorified.

(Stott, The Message of Romans p.254)

If God is for us who can be against us? Who shall bring any charge against those whom God has called? Who can condemn us when Jesus paid our cost? Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Though our enemies fashion the heaviest javelin, harder than diamond and sharper than a razor, and throw it with Herculean force and laser focused precision, they shall no more be able to pierce our confidence than a blade of grass can penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise. The truth remains: all things continue to work for our good as we edge nearer and nearer to glory. In this way we can dare to say that we are more than conquerors. We not only conquer our adversities under the providential hand of God, they actually work for our good. Our adversities are not just defeated, they have become our servants. 

So let us pray.

Heavenly Father we thank you so much for the assurance you have given us. We give thanks for the way that you understand us, for the way that the Spirit draws alongside us in our prayers and we thank you for the certainty of our future. Lord God please help us when we pray. Let us become aware of your presence within us and around us. 

And finally, we thank you for the way you work all things for our good. Please give us the confidence to rest upon your unwavering care for us.
All this we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.