Sermon from Rev. Zickler for July 30, 2017

fhp20170730 Sermon Proper 12 2017
July 30, 2017
Romans 8:28-39

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  This morning the text for our meditation is the Epistle Lesson previously read.

This Epistle lesson may be one of the most comforting passages in all of the Scriptures.  And that says something because there are some extremely comforting passages, aren’t there?  Passages that remind us of God’s care, provision, and love for us.  But here we have those words that tell us that nothing in all creation, “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Likewise, we hear that comfort that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  And when our hearts are troubled, we cling to those words, our hearts are warmed and our fears are relieved, at least somewhat for a time.  And yet in this passage, there are words that should be of supreme comfort, but we often won’t approach them with a ten foot pole.  Even as a pastor I rarely address them in visits when I have read this passage to people.  And these words are those on predestination.  The words where Paul says, “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 among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

But why do we avoid that?  Why don’t we revel in hearing that blessing?  After all, what’s the implication that Paul’s making?  What’s he saying here?  He’s telling them that God has chosen them, isn’t he?  He’s saying to them that before the creation of the world, God looked at all that would go on and He decided in His grace that He would chose those Romans that Paul was writing to, and He would make them His people.  Think about how comforting that is for those Romans.  The God who created the whole world out of nothing, thought of them before even creating that world, knowing that He would choose them to be redeemed, to be conformed to that perfect righteousness and goodness in Jesus.  It can’t be much more comforting than that, can it?  And yet we don’t talk about that.  Again, why?

Well for many, I think it’s because this is confusing.  You know if you’ve read those words, and haven’t wanted to delve further into this question, that’s understandable.  There is something confusing about it, not because the words aren’t clear, in fact all of Scripture is clear, but because in our sin we don’t grasp it aright.  So, what is it about this topic that is so confusing?  After all, I am guessing that when I said that about the Romans, you probably understood that.  God picked them to be His people, and Paul is comforting them in that, what we call, election.  That’s not hard to get right?  So why don’t we get it?  Or think about the Old Testament lesson.  The Lord said to the Israelites, “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”  God chose those people to be His people.  It’s clear.  So, what’s hard about it?

I think for most people what is hard about it are the conclusions we feel like we have to draw from that.  We think that if we say, “God chose these people before time to be saved.”  That means that we also have to say, “Therefore, He chose the rest to be damned.”  Don’t we feel like that?  Isn’t that the problem in many ways?  Logically speaking we think that to say that God looked at these people, looked at these individuals, and said “I am picking you for salvation,” then that means He looked at the rest and said, “and now I am picking you all to go to hell?”  That’s what we think, isn’t it?  And so we get confused when we hear passages about God saying that He loves the whole world, because how could He if He only chooses some to be saved?  And we hear other passages that tell us that He wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, and we don’t understand how this is logical.  Well, the first thing we have to realize is that when we’re confused by this, that’s OK.  It’s OK for there to be a bit of apparent logical inconsistency when it comes to God.  It’s OK for God to confuse us.  In fact in particular here, we have to understand that we don’t have to say that God chooses this one for salvation before time and that one for condemnation before time.  Yes that’s logical, but we don’t have to say it.  Scripture doesn’t say it.  In fact, the way that we as Lutherans sort of explain this is to say, God chooses those who are saved.  Whoever goes to heaven goes because God chose them, and He didn’t see anything in them that would cause that, it was His own grace and love and mercy alone.  But on the flip side, if someone doesn’t go to heaven that’s their own fault.  It is not because God didn’t choose them.  It’s not because they were so grossly sinful that God hated them more than the Christians.  It’s something in their own sinfulness that caused them to reject to God.  In other words salvation is 100% God’s doing, condemnation is 100% man’s doing.  Now I know that’s still confusing and I don’t want to keep going with it.  So, if you’re still confused it’s OK, don’t worry about.  Just let it rest in that.

But even as I say that, I think what else is so hard about this teaching is that we don’t like it because it seems arbitrary.  I mean to say that God picking people before time to be His just because seems unfair, doesn’t it?  Or to put it back to thinking about how I as a pastor don’t mention this much to people in visits – which perhaps I should more – why not say something about it?  Why not dwell on this predestination?  Why not make the point more that God has chosen you all?  Well, I should.  But that being said, what we sometimes do that makes us avoid this is think about how scary that seeming arbitrariness is.

By that I mean, think about trials.  After all, this is what Paul is talking about here.  He’s talking about how creation groans under sin.  He’s talking about how there are all these problems that we have to endure in this sin fallen world.  He’s talking specifically, it seems, about persecution of the church, but it goes for other things too.  It goes to the deaths that we don’t understand.  It applies to those times when we fear that we might not have enough to eat or have a home for the rest of our days.  It applies to the diagnoses of cancer and to the heart attacks and strokes.  All of these ways where this whole creation groans like an iron beam bending under this weight that is sin and death.  He’s talking about all of this, and as we experience it, as we endure it and we look around at those who seem not to be as affected by it – which is a lie because we all are utterly affected by it – but as we look at others, we start to think that maybe God didn’t choose us, don’t we?  All the more when we think about the sins that we have committed, that we still commit, those pet things that we cling to – our greed, our anxiety, our covetousness, and lust.  We think about how Jesus called that rich man to perfection and we see just how imperfect we are, and we start to worry that this arbitrary God didn’t choose us.

And sometimes even that blessed doctrine of the Scriptures – that blessed promise that we are saved by grace through faith without any merit or worthiness in ourselves, sometimes even that can bring stress.  We look at those whom we perceive to be much holier than ourselves, much more devoted and faithful.  Those who look like maybe they don’t even sin – I mean in our brains we know better, but there are those people aren’t there?  And we look at them and we say they must be of the elect because they are so good, because they have so much faith, but what if God didn’t choose me?  Or maybe we worry about our kids, or our neighbors, or the poor people in third world countries, whom we see as deserving heaven far more than we do!  But you see there is an inherent problem with looking at this issue of election like this.  What is it?

It’s that we’re trying to delve into the mysteries of the mind of God.  We’re trying to interpret the “signs” around us in the world and we’re trying to look to them and say, “Well, this must be what God means and what God is doing!”  But this is God!  Even worse, here we dealing with God as He has not revealed Himself!  What do I mean by that?  I mean that God knows a lot that He hasn’t revealed.  As the song says, “God only knows, God makes His plan, The information’s unavailable to the mortal man.”  But what information is available to us?  What has God revealed?

He’s revealed Jesus.  That’s what Paul is really saying to those Romans.  He’s saying, “Church in Rome, you’re being crushed under this weight of sin with the whole of creation, but God has revealed Jesus to you.”  He’s saying, “You’re worried about what people will do to you, and what will happen to you, but God didn’t even spare His own Son that you would be taken care of!”  Hear those words again, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”  In other words, if God has sent His Son for you – which He has – and that Son graciously won for you the most important thing in time and eternity – the forgiveness of your sins – if God has done all of this, why are you worried that God didn’t predestine you?  Why are you worried that God is arbitrary, or worse unfair?  If God loves the world so much, if God loves you so much that He sent Jesus for you, and if Jesus loves you so much that He found you to be His pearl of great value and His treasure worth buying the field for, don’t you see that God is Perfect Good and Perfect Love?  If this is true, don’t you see the comfort that comes to you in these trials and in the experiences under sin?  Won’t He give you all things in Jesus, won’t He work all things to your good?

Even more, look what He has done for you, what He has revealed to you.  He has baptized you into Jesus’ death and resurrection.  You don’t have to worry that this election isn’t for you, God has revealed it.  And even more, He has spoken His promises to you, that this Jesus died for you, for your sins, for your transgressions!  And as if that wasn’t enough God in His superabundant generosity gives you Jesus’ body and blood!  What does all of this say?  This is for you!

Now how comforting is that?  God works all things together for good, for those called according to His purpose.  He has called you by His gospel.  He has predestined you, called you, justified you – forgiven your sins – and He promises that He will glorify you.  In the midst of any trial or tribulation, that word is given to you to hear, to trust in and believe.  Spoken to you by the God who doesn’t lie.  Hopefully that makes this whole passage that much more comforting.  God’s election coming to you.  If God has decided it for you, that’s a wonderful thing, because you can’t mess it up.  And then you can see everything around you in light of that love that He has for you.  Yes it’s confusing, but don’t worry about that.  Worry only about the certainty and the comfort God wants to give you through it.  Because that’s the real goal He has in mind in telling you this.  The comfort that you would look to what He has shown you and know that this good is for you.  Now and for eternity.  Amen.