God Is With Us
July 30th, 2017
Romans 8: 31, 35, & 37-39,
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Hear now these words written by the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the early church in Rome, Romans chapter eight, verses 31 and 35, and continuing on with verses 37 thru 39.
Romans 8: 31, 35, & 37-39
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against 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?
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.
May our hearts be comforted through this reading with the assurance of God’s presence in our lives.
The first think we need to do is acknowledge God’s unconditional love. Then we must come to grips with the notion, as spoken of by the Apostle Paul in our lesson this morning, that God’s love is present to us at all moments and at-all-times in our lives! Having considered this notion as modern-day Christians, I now want you to ask yourself a question. How does this scripture make you feel? Does it give you comfort? Does it cause you to stop and say: Wow! For some of us it may cause us to ask questions. What questions does this passage raise up for you? Most of us here this morning, we are listening from the point of view of a believer in the love and grace of God. Yet, what about the listener who has just gone through a tragedy or a loss? Or how about you, whom are new to this line of thought and belief? Let us pray, let us hope that this passage reassures us ‘all’ of the presence of God in our lives – at all-times and in all-situations!
When I was just starting out on my journey of becoming a disciple of Christ, my dear step-mom, Eleanor, counseled me on which books of the Bible where most helpful, most informative. Of course, she pointed out the gospels, especially the gospel of John. Then, she spoke of Paul’s letters. The two which she lifted-up for me were: his letter to the Romans and the church in Corinth, first and Second Corinthians. However, she spoke mostly of the letter to the Romans; saying this was the place to begin when working with new members or starting up a Bible study group. Clearly, she was not concerned about Paul’s biases or his humanness. Eleanor was enthralled with his messages shinning a light on the fullness of God’s love and the hope it gives to “all” who read these verses with an open heart. She and I did not agree on all points of theology, yet, she sure knew the Spirit of God’s love and the importance of the Apostle Paul’s letters for a struggling community of early Christians!
Because of Eleanor’s inspiration I have often asked myself some basic questions when studying scripture. One is: “If you were instructing someone or leading a Bible study – what would you lift up as the primary point?” Sometimes, to answer such a question, one may need to go back to the proceeding verses of scripture, to be sure we are on target with the “context” in which the message is being given. Verse 31, at the beginning of our lesson asks us about something said before in Paul’s letter. “What then are we to say about these things?” What things you might ask? With this in mind let’s look back a few verses, starting with the end of verse 15 “When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” This is very important for us, we whom were born as Gentiles, not Hebrews brought up in the Jewish faith. As Christ is the Messiah, the Savior, as first spoken of in the Jewish Torah, then later this writing was placed in our Old Testament! Paul is reminding us that we are rightfully brought into the family of God, thus Christ Jesus is also our Messiah, our Redeemer!
We can also glean a bit more insight as we listen further to what, and in what context this conversion was taking place. The Apostle Paul was speaking to the new Christians in Rome about their suffering, as Christianity was not yet a sanctioned religion, thus they were subject to persecution and oppression. Paul writes: “18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Hope is that which you and I cling to in the Twenty-First Century as well! For life, as we know it, may be a whole lot better than it was at the time of Paul’s writings, but we are still mortal and people are still persecuted for their beliefs, and profiled and set apart for their ancestral heritage! So, by digging a little deeper into the setting for which this apostle was speaking we learn that they too, needed hope. They too needed to hear about God’s love, God’s constant presence, God’s steadfast faithfulness, despite and in the midst of the hardships of life!
My second mom was absolutely-right about Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. There is a lot to be gathered and learned about the audience to which he was speaking. From this added learning, we can come to know more about the depth of importance our lesson brings to us modern day Christians, as we too, struggle with life, we too struggle with our humanness! These earlier verses go on to speak of our weaknesses. In doing so Paul lifts us up, reminding the listener that one must look to the Living Spirit of God for strength and guidance! Listen to these verses starting at verse 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.” Seems that early Christians also needed to be urged on to develop better habits of speaking with God in prayer! He is assuring them that if they keep an open heart the Spirit of God will act as mediator, bringing their needs, bringing our needs, our heart-felt prayers to God. Continuing-on: “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.” We must offer a ‘thank you’ to this devoted Apostle whom opens-up his heart, giving us insights into how God’s Living Spirit is here for us in the midst of our worldly and materialistic world!
Verse 28, just prior to our lesson for today, is the linking sentence that brings this whole passage to life! “28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” This reassurance to these early believers is also an admonishment, reminding the believer that they, that we are to do our part in this relationship with the God, whom is always with us and always loves us! Our part in this union “is that we are called upon, we are charged to love God!” With the words of Jesus to guide our thoughts we look to the gospel according to Matthew, chapter 22, verse 37: Jesus is responding to an inquiry of the greatest commandment! “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind!”
These are the things which the Apostle Paul was speaking, as he wrote to the listeners of a ‘bedraggled’ group of early Christians, in the new and struggling church in Rome. “31 What then are we to say about these things?” Pastor William Loader says emphatically: “Paul stakes everything on God’s goodness. That is also the heart of the gospel which he preaches.” Listen again to key points of our lesson for today, the very heart of the Apostles message. 31b “If God is for us, who is against us?” 35 “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul ends this lesson by listing and clarifying that he believes there is nothing that stands between God’s love for us. Nothing at all, unless it is we ourselves! This is an extravagant message of hope! The fullness, the completeness of the Almighties ever present love – shall propel us into a state of hopefulness! Every fragment of these words, lifted from Paul’s letter to the early church in Rome, is filled with hope and reassurance of God’s love, God’s faithfulness and God’s presence in our lives always!
If you are struggling with acknowledging and accepting these words then you need to ask yourself a question! “What gets in the way of God’s love for you? How can you put these things aside?” /Larry Broding/ If you are listening to me speak today, or you are listening to or reading my manuscript on our website, then at the very least, you are seeking God’s love or searching for answers to your life’s problems and or realties. Let go of your fears. Let God be God in your life. Yes, you and I are mortal… our life spans are limited in the space of infinite time. It doesn’t cost anything to latch onto the hope being offered to us today. Only a commitment to respond to God’s love with gratitude and faithful trust. Our local church is a place where we are encouraged to build fellowship with one another. This may take some effort on your part. Fellowship is not a one-way street. To be a part of community you need to ‘reach out’ and participate in it! Become part of the team that scurries around in the fiber of this church and come to know what it means to belong to a fellowship.
“Paul’s conclusion reminds us that biblical revelation requires a response.” /Robert Deffinbaugh/ “Nothing will separate us from the love of God!” With-this-in-mind, once someone hears this passage – what response do you feel would be appropriate? Reflect upon this during your times of meditation and prayer. (You do, of course, set aside time every day to pray and meditate; yes?) If there were to be a response expected of you what do you think it ought to be? Some would counsel saying: “our response to such love as this ought to be humility, then gratitude must leap from deep within very souls!” Others may suggest to us that our response needs to be manifested in multiple ways. Action, is a response! Filled with the knowledge of God’s presence in our lives we ought not be afraid to go forth and do wonderful things in God’s name! Fear, needs to be fully eliminated from our consciousness!
Once we acknowledge and accept God’s unconditional love, we must respond to it! How do we do this?
If you are unsure of how to respond… relax for a moment. God is right here with you. Take a breath, let all your worries and concerns leave you as you exhale. Now breath in the love of God. Let the love of God fill in the spaces where those burdens once lodged. God knows everything about you, your joys, your sorrows and all those things you are clinging onto that weight you way down. Exhale, letting these be cleansed from your being. Breath in once more knowing God’s love is filling your lungs, empowering your very being to expand and blossom into all that God has envisioned for you. “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…” Self-sacrificing Deity.”