July 26, 2020

Sunday Online Worship July 26, 2020

Passage: Romans 8:26-38

July 26 Sermon

Romans 8:26-38

“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.  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.  We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.  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.  And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.  What then are we to say about these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?  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?  Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 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.”

You know, I ready struggle with some of these words.  It talks about some things that we struggle with as Methodists, as Wesleyans.  John Wesley pushed against this whole idea of predestination.  He said it was an abomination.  What glory would it give to God if you are already preordained to be redeemed or not redeemed?  What if whether you were redeemed or reprobated was decided before you were born?  Wesley said that was not who God is.  That was not his understanding of God.  And it’s not mine.

I remember one affirming moment, or I hope it was an affirming moment, when I was going before my board of ordained ministry in this conference several years ago and they looked at my paperwork and the answers that I wrote, and one commented and said “Well, one things for sure, Jim is a Wesleyan.”  And I am.  I am.  That’s how I understand God.  My understanding is that we are all children of God and that God wishes to be in relationship with us all.  With ALL.

But there are some problems with that.  There are some things that unsettle and disrupt our life when we embrace that.  Paul talks about the things that cannot separate us.  I want to share with you some things today that can separate us.  It has to do with what’s in our hearts and minds and the environment around us.  You know, I think we can all agree that there are things that have happened in our lives that we cannot see the good in and that are not redeemable like pain, suffering and injury.

Stuff happens.  Bad stuff happens.  It’s all around us.  But one of the things that challenges me this week as I read a blogger who is a United Methodist pastor, a guy named Jason Marcelli.  He was talking about a lot of stuff, but one of the things that resonated with me is when Jesus talked about how to relate to your enemies.  You know that part?  That’s a hard part.  Jesus said to love your enemies.  One of the things I liked that Jason said was how that kind of presupposes that as a follower of Jesus you’re going to have some enemies out there.  Wow!  What do I do with that?  What do I do with my enemies?

And he referenced this Baptist pastor from Mississippi who was a freedom rider who as a young pastor in the mid-1950s to early 1960s was a civil rights worker.  He was white man named Will Campbell.  Campbell points out that there are enemies with a little “e” that we all encounter and then there is the big “E” Enemy and that is the Devil.  That is Evil.

Now, we know that Christ conquered Evil at the cross.  But it still lingers.  It’s still trying to get a toehold in our hearts.  And it exists.  What can separate us from the love of God?  Permitting evil to speak to our spirits and to cause us to divide.  God’s children, even those that we see as enemies, we are unwilling to come to table with our enemies, small “e”, and seek understanding, seek reconciliation, seek forgiveness.  This comes from both ends.  That is truly kingdom work.

When we pray that God’s will be done that’s the will we are praying for.  We pray for delivery against evil.  You find it in those systems that seek to dominate.  You know, the scripture says that it’s the Gentiles that lorded authority over others.  Jesus’ idea of leadership was not about dominance or dominating one over another.  It was about servanthood.  It was about being a servant leader.  To be one who served, one who is willing, as Jesus did, to take his outer tunic off, tie a towel around his waist, and wash the feet of his disciples.  That is Jesus’ quintessential model of leadership.

When you see factions trying to divide, separate, and create fear, which develops into hatred, that can separate us from the love of God.  When we find ourselves deriding another looking for opportunities to put down another, that can separate us from the love of God.  Wherever you see people trying to divide rather than unite, those kinds of things will separate us from the love of God.  We must push against that and find ways to build bridges.

I remember visiting my Grandpa Martin one time when I was seven years old.  He had only a few more weeks to live. They lived in a little town in north-central Illinois called LaSalle.  LaSalle had a twin city. Now this isn’t like St. Paul and Minneapolis which were huge cities with a river running through the middle of them.  There was a little creek that ran between Peru and LaSalle and it ran into the Illinois River because both towns were built along the Illinois River.

As I’ve told you before, I have a twin brother and we used to have scrapes and things like that.  Grandpa took us aside and he said “Don’t fight, don’t fight with your fists.  Fight with words.  Use words and understanding.”  Then he told us a story about when he was a younger man in LaSalle.

If he was still alive today, he would be probably 140 years old or something like that.  But he said that everyone would go to church on Sunday and I believe it was Peru that was mostly protestant folk and then LaSalle was mostly Catholic.  And he said everyone would go to church on Sunday morning in their respective churches, and then on Sunday afternoon, after being fortified by a great Sunday dinner, the protestants would line up on their side of the creek separating Peru from LaSalle and the Catholics would line up on the other side and they would throw rocks at each other.

Let that sit there with you for a moment.  One party trying to dominate another with a defined division, deriding one another, trying to cause injury to one another.  The thing is folks, we’re ALL children of God.  We are all God’s children.  They made enemies of one another because they were different tribes with different understandings and different life experiences.  There may have been some social and economic issues there as well, different privileges.  One was lording it over the other.  Their focus was on the small “e” which they chose to define as enemy.  Do you think that’s in God’s will?  I don’t.  I’m pretty sure it isn’t.

We need to join together.  Whatever tribe you ascribe to, wherever you see yourself, or who you relate to, understand that we are all God’s children and we need to join hands where the big “E” Enemy is.  It can be within us as well and within each other.  But hand in hand, we can join together with Christ to vanquish that evil in our lives.  Sometimes it takes a lot of soul searching.  Sometimes it takes reflection and looking deep within each of ourselves.

Do I really want too repost that meme?  What is it really communicating?  Is it communicating division?  Or is it a way of communicating understanding and reaching out?  Is it communicating love?  Or hate?  Is it communicating discomfort or comfort?  Is it categorizing an entire tribe of folk in a negative way?  Is it holding one group over and above another?  Folks, we’ve got to stop pitching these rocks at one another.  We have to stop it.  We have to be not even reaching down and looking at those rocks to pick up.  Instead of throwing rocks we need to be finding a way to build a bridge across those divides.  Because that is what the Spirit is groaning for and speaking to our spirits.

If you feel disrupted and uncomfortable with what is going on around us, then you need to investigate why you feel so uncomfortable and test those thoughts.  Maybe we don’t even have the words to pray.  But the Spirit, in union with our spirit, will hear that and will form a pray that is within the will of God.  But we have to pray about it.  We have to yield our spirit to the Holy Spirit.  We have to allow that to happen.

Folks, the next time you see something that outrages you, that pushes against another group in our society, take a breath first, pray about it, and don’t react with a fight-or-flight type of thing.  Let it rest for a while and then pray about what you can do to be a bridge builder with the stones around you rather than finding a way to pick them up and throw them.  Use them to build up, not to tear down.  Use them to build and to create, not to destroy.  That’s God’s will.   In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.