I guess most of you know how the Common Worship lectionary works. It takes us through most of the bible in a three-year cycle. That means that in July 2017 we were working through Romans 8 as we are in 2020.
The bible teaches us that all scripture is God breathed. For a preacher like me, coming for the 12th time to the same passage, that means I have dwelt for many hours in Romans 8 14-25. Yet the deep miracle of scripture is that it lives.
The bible says of itself that it is alive and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. It cut straight into the life of the reader. The second miracle is that God breathes more than once.
More than 12 times, in fact he breathes again every we time we come to a passage. Even a familiar one. Some things in the world stay much the same. When I looked at my 2017 sermon, I was celebrating the imminent arrival of our fourth grandchild Sophia. Three years later we are awaiting the arrival of our fifth grandchild, a grandson Peter, that’s next month, and our sixth, probably a granddaughter, in November.
However so much else has changed about the way the world is working and will work that we need the breath of God once again for the new reality. We do know there will be new life. It is just the form of the new things we need to discover. So, to the passage. As I often do, I use The Message for another angle.
(Rom 8:14) God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!
(Rom 8:15) This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Father?”
(Rom 8:16) God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.
(Rom 8:17) And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!
(Rom 8:18) That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times.
(Rom 8:19) The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next.
(Rom 8:20) Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in
(Rom 8:21) until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.
(Rom 8:22) All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs.
(Rom 8:23) These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance.
(Rom 8:24) That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us.
(Rom 8:25) But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.
Again, in the sermon three years ago I was lamenting the struggle placed on the church by decades of decline. As I wrote then it was hard to see how and what might bring about change. It needed something big that challenged the church and the world and the whole way that we think.
Little did I know!
Yet we still know and see only a tiny part of the picture. My one and only published work from 15 years ago has the inspiring title Leading Ordinary Churches into Growth.
As it happens, I have a copy with me!
It opens with a quote from G.K.Chesterton from a book called the Everlasting man. He says this ‘On Five occasions in history the church has gone to the dogs but on each occasion, it has been the dogs that have died. He cites the examples from the church nearly being wiped out by barbarians in the 4th Century then by a surge of militant Islam in the 10th Century (there is nothing new under the Sun) through the Reformation in the 15th century to the evangelical revival and missionary revival of the 17th and 19th centuries. Each time when the future looked bleak there was a fresh move of God through his people. The same will happen. How can I be sure?
- Because history repeats itself (the adage goes, it has to because no one listens the first five times)
- Because of that biblical truth of the final victory of God when the Earth will be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.
In nature one of the surest signs that a Tsunami is coming is when the tide goes out further than it has ever gone before. Romans is a book written on a huge theological canvas. In Romans, Paul addresses the biggest truths in the biggest way. God gave him a brilliant mind and made him a brilliant scholar. One that astounded his teachers. Good Christian Jews like Gamaliel. Romans so often is mind blowing and Romans 8 contains some of the very biggest truths on a the very biggest canvas.
I just love that biblical picture that accords with the human pictures Carol and I have been seeing about our two new grandchildren in the womb. And indeed the way in which Jenny and Hannah are visably expanding with the new life within them.
‘We are enlarged in the waiting.’ The Message is expanding on the way that verses 24 and 25 use hope. The root word appears 6 times in the two verses and the change of tense from the first four to the final two is important. Let me attempt the Alan Howe translation
We hope for salvation
We hope to see it
The hope is not based on what we currently see
The hope is based on what we expect to see
Because when we truly expect it with all our heart mind and strength
When we expect it and we patiently for it
Then we wait in full assurance that it is on its way, that is because the hope grows in the waiting.
That hope, that positive hope, changes everything. What it does in effect is to take the pain out of waiting.
Since the picture three years ago of our Granddaughter Sophia in the womb, Jonty has posted hundreds of her as she has grown
As every parent, and particularly every mother, knows between that picture and those pictures there was some difficult stuff. The pains of childbirth itself.
In the case of Sophia, the hours in special care as they tackled the very common problem of Jaundice. Then all the challenges of preparing an adult friendly bungalow to become a child equipped house. They are now working on making space for number 2
But the challenges were also the joys.
So, today, this is a very simple sermon based on a very profound passage.
The lesson is this.
God’s will, will be done, in God’s time and in God’s way.
Our job is to trust him and to wait faithfully and joyfully.
Three years ago, I did not see many shoots of growth around the Christian world. Three years later, I am hearing a different story as adversity makes people take stock and reassess
I sometimes get stressed and frustrated.
Sorry Lord. I should know better.
As the hymn says
I cannot tell how He will win the nations,
How He will claim His earthly heritage,
How satisfy the needs and aspirations
Of East and West, of sinner and of sage.
But this I know, all flesh shall see His glory,
And He shall reap the harvest He has sown,
And some glad day His sun shall shine in splendour
When He the Saviour, Saviour of the world is known.
I think God’s message to me as we draw breath and emerge from lockdown is to allow it to be a time when I let Him enlarge my faith in the waiting. A time when I allow him to remind me that He is in charge that He has a plan and it is a plan for good and for the growth of His Kingdom.
My job, our job, is to be faithful and to trust Him. Knowing that in His time what I, what we, hope for and dream of, will happen in His way.
May God bless us and keep us.