Sermon for Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 20, 2014
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Romans 8:18-27
Sermon Theme: “Suffering, Glory, and Perspective”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Commentary; Believer’s Bible Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; original ideas)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Two preachers were talking over coffee about the sorry state the world is in as well as the problems in their churches. One confided in the other how his congregation was moaning and groaning and complaining about the miserable problems in their church, and they were making things worse.
“So to your congregation, it’s always raining,” replied the other preacher.
“No, it’s more like tornadoes and hurricanes!”
His friend laughed, “Perhaps your congregation needs a new perspective on things, — a sense of humor. So, Sunday, in your sermon, why don’t you tell them this story:
“A young boy and his father were watching a movie on television together when the hero of the film asked a woman, ‘Why do you work as a woman of the night?’ She replied, ‘To find $300 on my pillow in the morning.’ The father squirmed in his seat, embarrassed that his little boy was watching this movie with him. The little boy looked up at his dad and exclaimed, “Wow! She must have had a big tooth!’”
If you’re alive in this world, you know that at times you’re going to have to go through some suffering; there will be times of great difficulty. Your perspective is very important. The Apostle Paul expresses his perspective in the opening sentence of our sermon text where he says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
In fact, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of our present sufferings as light afflictions which are only for a moment, but he describes the glory as an enormous and eternal weight. If we could appreciate the glory that will be ours, we could count the sufferings along the way as trivial.
Without hope of relief, the long days of suffering would be intolerable. Paul himself suffered an affliction and several times prayed for help, asking God to remove his source of irritation. But the answer always was to the effect that God’s grace would be sufficient to help him handle his problem. So Paul learned to look beyond the present, to look ahead to future life where he would be freed of bodily pain.
I guess each of us has our own way of dealing with the stings and hurts and disasters in life. Those people who are without hope just throw up their hands and give up. Because of God’s promises we have great hope, so we never have to do that. Some people cope with the trials and tribulations of life better than others.
Years ago, I had a friend in Bellville, now deceased, who changed my perspective on life. When I met him, he was in a wheel chair, paralyzed from the waist down, and I was immediately impressed by his spirit and attitude. He had a twinkle in his eye, laughed a lot, especially at his own jokes which he told over and over, and had a great zest for life! In spite of the fact that he was stricken with polio as a child and remained paralyzed the rest of his life, he went to school, became a certified funeral director, and with strong arms and hands, helped his father embalm bodies in the funeral home which they owned. In his spare time, he invested in the stock market and was a very wealthy man when he died.
We had this standing undertaker joke. Whenever I would see him, I would ask, “How’s business?,” and he would answer, “Dead.” And I would say, “Oh, I’m sorry,” and he would reply, “Oh, no, that’s good!” To hear him explode in laughter at that interchange was well worth visiting him.
On weekends, we’d go to his parents’ cabin on a small lake, bolt his wheel chair to the middle of the boat, fish all day, and kill bullfrogs with the boat paddles at night. In my years of knowing him, I fried more fish and frog legs than you could count. Paralyzed from his chest down, he never lost his zest for life, and he never lost his Christian faith which was very strong within him. He was a much better Catholic in those days than I was a Lutheran, I must confess.
As E. Stanley Jones said in one of his books, “We see that the universe had to be hard. But it is not ‘a vale of tears;’ rather, it is ‘a vale of character-making;’ and character cannot be made except in the strain and stress and struggle. We cannot cry out and say, ‘Why hast thou made me thus?’ for the Lord hasn’t ‘made’ us yet, He’s only in the process.”
Today’s sermon text from Paul’s letter to the Romans is actually a continuation of last Sunday’s epistle, and to gain the perspective we need as we struggle with the struggles of life, we need to back up to those previous verses of last Sunday. There Paul says that although we are all created in God’s image, we have all become slaves of selfishness and sin. The fulfillment of God’s promise is that through Christ we are adopted into God’s family. We can call on God as Father. We have received the Spirit of adoption as sons and daughters and thus we can address God as “Abba Father,” which means essentially, “Dearest Daddy.”
Paul says in last Sunday’s epistle, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.”
Just as a child can go to his or her earthly father and say, “Dearest Daddy, can you help me,” we can now go to our Daddy in heaven and, like a child, ask Him in the same way. In today’s text, Paul says, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” You see, we are “born again” in Baptism through faith. Labor pains are the necessary prelude to new life, even though in this case, we are “born again” through adoption.
The story told about Bernard is one of many such stories. By the age of 13, he had been shuttled from one foster home after another. At school, although he was very bright, he was always the center of some major disturbance. He was known by all for causing trouble in the classroom. The trouble he caused was his way of expressing his insecurity and lack of belonging.
In spite of that, his current foster parents decided to adopt him. When they told him the news, questions tumbled out of his mouth: “You will be my real mother and father? Your home will be my home? I would belong there? I can call you Mama and Daddy?” Tears rolled down his cheeks as he hugged his new parents. “This is the first time I ever belonged anywhere!”
People who have spent much of their life outside the church, not knowing about Jesus, and thus not having a personal relationship with him, have felt somewhat the same way when by grace through faith they were saved. “This is the first time I have ever belonged anywhere.”
Indeed, life is full of sacrifices, failures, disappointments, anxieties, struggles, and hurts and pains. Being a reborn child of God gives us a new perspective, a perspective filled with promise, hope and joy! May it be so for each and every one of you! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.