Romans 8.26 – end Sunday 26th July ,2020 sermon by Revd Tudor Vaughan Roberts, Weak or Conquerors or both?
St Paul must have learnt from the disciple of Christ Ananias how Jesus had spoken about his future suffering as St Luke records in Acts 9:15-16 “ But the Lord said to Ananias Go! For he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the gentiles and kings and the Children of Israel, for I will show him how much he ,must suffer for the sake of my name” Elsewhere in scripture Paul is honest about his suffering for example in 2 Corinthians 11:24:
“Five times I received at the hands of the jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked night and a day I was adrift at sea, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger from false brothers, danger from Gentiles, in toil and hardship through many a sleepless night in hunger and thirst and often without food in cold and exposure”
So, I think we can safely say that Paul did not just have a GCSE in suffering he had a PhD he really knew what suffering for his faith in Christ meant. But what Paul does in Romans 8 is not focus on his personal suffering, but on God’s big wide global picture Gods perspective on suffering and what he writes in Romans 8 from todays reading has helped Christians down the ages, that gets them a handle on how to cope with their own suffering or that of their Church, +Community, friends, and family.
So, let us look then at what this passage in Romans 8:26 ff teaches us:
Paul says “Likewise the Spirit help us in our weakness” in Romans 8:26a.Paul goes on to explain how often we don’t know what to pray or how to pray but the good news is that the Spirit intercedes for us with groans too deep for words to express.
In our psalm today, Psalm 119 verse 131, the psalmist says, “I open my mouth and pant because I long for your commandments”. Today in the UK its relatively cool, but in Greece its extremely hot, there people pant for a cool glass of water .You pant for that that your body and soul needs. In verse 136 of the same psalm 119 it says “ My eyes shed streams of tears because people do not obey your laws “So of course God groans. The Bible tells us that God is not remote, he is not a pagan stone god, the Holy Spirit can be grieved, and God can be filled with joy as Jesus was when his 72 disciples returned from their first successful mission without Jesus by their side.(Luke 10;21 “He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit”)
God groans in response to our weakness. Jesus Christ cried out on the Cross, God in the Old Testament yearns for his people to turn back to him (see Isaiah Jeremiah and Hosea) What is interesting is that Paul dare talk of weakness in a letter to the Church in Rome. Why? Because Rome was the place par excellence for the exhibition of strength power and wealth.
In a book “As The Romans Did” Second Edition A source book of Roman history Jo ann Shelton (published in Oxford) a Roman a general is recorded thus: In a Letter Zonaras Epitome 7.21 293 describes a military victory parade in Rome as follows:
“Dressed in triumphal garb and wearing bracelets on his arms and a crown of laurel on his head and holding a branch in his right hand He summoned people together, Then he praised the soldiers who had served with him collectively and individually and made them gifts of money and honoured them with military decorations, presenting arm bracelets to some and spears to others and crowns some gold some silver and if a man had done particularly brave deed he would be rewarded too. A Man who won a sea battle for example would have a crown with ships on it, a man who won a cavalry charge would have an equine motif, and booty was distributed to other soldiers who had served on a campaign. The triumphant General would ride in a chariot with is family on board and with other relatives and horses in the procession that they had captured, and at the end of the procession any slaves or prisoners excess to their need would be executed”
So, we can understand that in this Roman culture to talk about weakness as Paul did was radical. For a triumphant general his pagan gods had helped him, and his wealth and his strength were on display, fast forward to the Cannes Film Festival or other awards ceremonies today and you get the idea. Wealth, strength success talks, these things matter.
But St Paul talks of weakness, not just his weakness but that the Spirit intercedes for our weakness. This was and is radical stuff. It still is!
FB Meyer the Christian Pastor and writer wrote this:
“A moment may come in a Christians walk when we are called by God to leave some dear circle, to risk the loss of name and title, to relinquish the cherished ambition of life and to incur loss of position, suffering and dearly to drink the biter cup to enter the brooding cloud to climb the smoking mount, Ah! then we learn what obedience means and no resource but in strong crying tears etc. In such hours pour out your heart in audible cries plentifully mention the name of Father when praying. Fear not to repeat the same words Look not to man he cannot understand you but to him who is nearer than your dearest. So, shall you get calmer and quieter until you rest in his work as a child is quietened with his mother.”
Paul says the Spirit searches what is in the mind or man because the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. So, to the weak come spiritual wisdom spiritual victories. The Spirit himself intercedes for us. The same promise is made in Hebrews 7:25.
“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him since he always lives to make intercessions for them”
and St John affirms we have one who acts on behalf of the beloved 1 John 2:1 “My little children I am writing these things to you so that you might not sin. But if anyone does, we have an advocate with the Father Jesus Christ the Righteous”
Sometimes words just do not do it, they do not express what we feel. Nowhere else other than Romans 8:26 does this word groaning appear in the way it does there. As it were, literally, the Spirit takes our groans and turns them into his groans and then into prayers before the throne of grace.
The Spirit intercedes for the Saints (vs 27)
These things are true for a true believer: those who love God all things work together
For God has the eternal perspective;
We are: Foreknown,
Conformed to the image of Jesus Christ,
Those predestined are called,
those who are called are justified,
those who are justified are glorified.
Note that these are all things God does for us, not that we do not do things for God, care for the poor, pray, be generous etc, But key in this context is reminding us that God helps us before we help him.
God helps those who recognize their need of him.(not those who help themselves!)
So then is the Christin faith just for “weak people? “No!
A sergeant Major in the Army (big tough and strong) (sorry if this is gender specific)
A ballerina in a ballet company (Strong but maybe not so strong as a sergeant Major)
Both need God just as You and I do.
All of us need to flee to God for salvation Flee to God for protection. But once saved a transformation takes place.
We are: Called
We are glorified. Something of the very nature of God is as the BCP says imputed to us. You cannot go down a coal mine and not get coal dust on you, you cannot love God and be loved by God and not take on his Glory (unless you resist and say no)
So here Paul changes note and tone. It changes from an emphasis on our weaknesses to our glorification .
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all how will he not also with him give us graciously all things?
We live with these awards: No charge against Gods elect
God justifies us, he puts us right with him Christ Jesus died he is at the right hand of Got. The key theme of this part of Romans is about prayer.
So, who/what shall separate us from the Love of God?
To many people then and now, Christians can look like sheep going for slaughter.
EG Christians being murdered by Nero in the 1st Century
Protestant Martyrs being burnt at the stake by Catholic authorities late 1500’s
Jesuit Monks being slaughtered during the French/Algerian War.1954 and 1956
Huguenots being slaughtered in Paris and Nantes on St Bartholomew day.1572
Nigerian Pastors and Bishop being killed by Boko Haran Terrorists in Northern Nigeria in the last 10 years
Egyptian Christians being beheaded on a beach in Algeria 2015
Christian being forcibly enslaved and killed in North Korea and imprisoned in China (since the Communists took over)
You add to the list.
But says Paul “No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who love us” NB this doesn’t mean we don’t have real questions about suffering, of course we do, See book of Job and Jeremiah the word Why appears a lot!
But in Romans 8 we go from being “weak” to being “conquerors” and conquerors with eternal hope unlike the Roman Army Generals(unless they turned to Jesus which some of them did) who put all their hope in pagan gods glorified by people one day but dead with no hope the next.
So Christian 21st C Believer be encouraged, we may go through weakness, we may go through sufferings, but God prays for us, on behalf of us, and if we can grasp hold of this big picture it will give us hope in our everyday Christian lives (with illnesses not healed, with death we will weep with others) but God gives us the big picture, strength as we pray for brothers and sisters around the world, and hope now and through Christ for all eternity and that will help us to live the Christian life not as those with no hope but real grounded hope in Jesus who transforms us day by day.
Tudor Roberts Trinity 7, 2020
Lord your word says that I should cast all my cares upon you for you care for me. I therefore cast all my worries, needs and fears upon you right now and lord I ask that you fill me with your strength and give me a fresh hope so that I will not give up my faith in you in Jesus name.