July 24, 2005

10th Sunday after Pentecost

"We Are Weak, But He Is Strong . . ."

(Romans 8:26-39)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


INTRODUCTION:

Join with me if you would like:


Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to Him belong, They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.


Jesus loves me still today, walking with me on my way,

Wanting as a friend to give light and love to all who live.

Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.


Jesus loves us this we say, caring for us every day.

Troubles all to him belong, We are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.


I can't help but feel that little song sums up everything you're about to hear as we look at the passage for the message this morning. "We Are Weak, But Jesus IS Strong . . ." And He loves us.

Romans 8:26-39

[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.

[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.

[28] We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

[29] 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.

[30] And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

[31] What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

[32] 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?

[33] Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.

[34] Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for 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?

[36] As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered."

[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.

"We Are Weak, But Jesus IS Strong . . ." And He loves us. Another way you could sum up this passage is just as simple: "Life is tough but God is good and God is faithful." Let's look at the passage a little more in depth.


I. KNOWN AND PLANNED:

The first thing this passage tells us is that we are KNOWN and our future has been PLANNED. Unfortunately, Paul uses a word here that I think confuses us more by the baggage it carries with it than by it's real meaning. And the word of course is Predestined. It's not a word you hear much in Methodist circles. And to be honest with you, it doesn't even feel right being read in a passage of Scripture. But there it is and we have to deal with it.

In doing a word study, and prep for the sermon, I found it interesting that the use of the word is more in keeping with Wesley's idea of Prevenient Grace than with the idea we associate with Predestination.

Wesley's idea and the idea Paul is trying to convey, is that the Christian life, the Grace of God and our salvation through faith in Christ is gift. A gift chosen by God for us. Which means that God knew what we were going to need before we were ever born. And God started making plans for our arrival.

It's like a couple who plan to have children. There's various stages they go through. First there is the planning. And the preparation. Then the creation. And as the baby begins to grow, the parents begin the process of choosing a name. Long before the baby is born he or she is already named.

The house is prepared. Clothes and furniture and all the things tiny babies need are purchased. And everything is made ready for the birth.

Then the birth comes, the pain and rejoicing all meld into one. Months of anticipation and then you get to hold that precious, God given bundle. And life will never be the same.

But the process isn't finished. You don't just bring a baby home a place it on a shelf like some knack or prize piece of fine art. No, parents begin thinking about the future. What should they eat? When should you potty train? When will they sleep through the night? What day care, school and pediatrician should you use?

Then later in life it's other things like, will they have friends? What do I do if I don't like their friends? Or what's an appropriate age for them to begin dating? When do I get them a cell phone? When should they get their own car? What college will they go to?

As parents, we have our ideas. We might even have things mapped out and planned. Maybe we're fiercely loyal to our college and we've said: "My kids are all going to A&M or UT or SMU."

That's the way it is with God. God has created us. God foreknew us, just as we foreknow the babies before they are born. And God has our lives planned for us. God, in God's great wisdom and grace has gone before us and prepared our path. It's not always the easy way nor is it always clear. But the Good News is that God has already been there before us. God knows the consequences of our every decision. That's why God is God.

But God has given us the Free Will to make the choices for ourselves. God's heart might break over our decisions just like a died in the wool Aggie parent's heart might break if their son or daughter chose to go to UT or vice versa. But, because we love them, we let them make the choice. Because God loves us, God let's us make the choices in our lives.

That's what I think Paul means by this idea of being foreknown and predestined. God is our heavenly parent who has made every provision for our well being. But we choose whether or not to accept the gift of that grace and the gift of that relationship. We are KNOWN and our future has been PLANNED. God chooses us but we are given the opportunity to choose God or not choose God.


II. CALLED AND CLAIMED:

A. And that's where the idea of being CALLED AND CLAIMED comes in. Paul tells us the we have been Called and Claimed by God through Christ. We are Called and Claimed but the only way to get from one to the other is through Christ.

It's like two people standing on opposite sides of a river. One is sick and the other has the cure. The cure can't be given or received until some way is found to cross that gap. The two people might be close enough to converse but still not be able to make the exchange. They need a bridge. Something to bring them together.

That's the way it was for us. Whether you think the story of Adam and Eve is a true story or an allegory doesn't really matter. But it tell us we are separated from God by sin; by our choice of saying "No" to God. And the more we've tried to fix the problem the worse it gotten. All the boats and rafts we built wouldn't float.

The river or the gorge is that gulf between us and God. Sin is the terminal illness that infects our soul. There was only one solution. A bridge. One built by God's own hand.

God sent Jesus to be our bridge. And Jesus built us a bridge with 2 boards and 3 nails. Through His death on the cross and His Resurrection we move from simply being Called to being both Called and Claimed. And we are Claimed because we have been Cured by the Love of Christ.

B. Years ago a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore assigned his class to a city slum to interview 200 boys. "On the basis of your findings, predict their future."

Shocked at what they saw in the slums, the students estimated that 90 percent of the boys interviewed would someday serve time in prison.

Twenty years later the same professor asked another class to locate the survivors of the 200 boys and compare what happened. Of the 180 boys they could find, only four had ever been to jail.

Why had the predictions by the earlier class proven false? They found a common denominator; over 100 of these men remembered having the same high-school teacher, Miss O'Rourke, who had been a tremendous influence on them at the time.

After a long search, Sheila O'Rourke was found in a nursing home in Memphis. When asked for her explanation she was puzzled and replied, "All I did was love every one of them." (1)

And that's all Jesus did for us. He loved us. And He loves us with an unconditional love that spans the gap between us and God caused by our sin. There is nothing we can do to get across that gap. But there is plenty that has been done for us. "Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that proves God's love for us." Christ himself became the bridge so that we can make that trek across the gap and receive the cure. All we have to do is accept the love offered by Christ. We're Called and we're Claimed.


III. HELD AND STRENGTHENED:

A. Once we've accepted God's Call and are living as the Claimed, we are Held and Strengthened

Elisa Morgan in Christian Parenting Today tells how one night her 11-year-old daughter Eva noticed she was distracted as she tucked her into bed. Mom told her about a friend's teenage daughter whose hair was mysteriously falling out. Mom encouraged her daughter, Eva to pray for Amy. Which she did with these simple words which touched Mom deeply, "Jesus, please hold Amy's hair on her head."

As the doctors experimented with different treatments, Amy continued to lose her hair. Eva continued to pray the same prayer, "Jesus, please hold Amy's hair on her head."

After six weeks the doctors determined Amy had alopecia, an extremely rare disorder where hair loss is unpredictable but can be complete and permanent. When Mom told her daughter Eva about the diagnosis, Eva took Mom's hand and closed her eyes. This time her prayer was different. "Dear Jesus, if you won't hold Amy's hair on her head, would you please hold Amy?" (2)

And that's exactly what God does. Paul says: "We are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us. . . . Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

The Good News is that once we Called and Claimed we are Held no matter what the situation.

B. And we are Strengthend to face any situation.

At the funeral service in the hit movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral," the W. H. Auden poem "Funeral Blues" is read, some of whose lines include:

He was my north, my south,

my east, my west,

My working week and my

Sunday rest,

My noon, my midnight, my talk,

my song;

I thought love would last forever;

I was wrong. (3)

The poem is wrong. Love does last forever. That's the meaning of resurrection. That's the meaning behind this passage. Love binds us to Christ our bridge to the cure for sin and death. And through Christ love we are strengthened by His love so that nothing in life will overcome us or separate us from Him.

In the face of death ... there is the Resurrection.

In the face of illness ... there is eternal healing.

In the face of danger ... there is the right arm of God.

In the face of adversity ... there is "blessed assurance."

In the face of confrontation ... there is confidence.

In the face of sin ... there is the gift of the Cross.

In the face of temptation ... there is the gift of Christ's faithfulness.

In the face of greed ... there is the abundant life.

In the face of pollution ... there is God's redemption of all creation.

In the face of hunger ... there is a legacy of the loaves and fishes.

In the face of homelessness ... there is compassion.

In the face of hardship ... there is the promise of goodness.

In the face of whatever comes our way, God Holds us and provides the Strength we need to be faithful as Christ is faithful. We are Held and Strengthened.


CONCLUSION:

"We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." And we are called "to be conformed to the image of his Son."

Lyle Arakaki in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching writes how in Hawaii, because of the time difference with the continental U.S., the NFL Monday Night Football game is played in mid-afternoon, so the local TV station delays its telecast until 6:30 in the evening. When his favorite team plays, he's too excited to wait for television, so he'll listen to the game live on the radio Then, because it's his favorite team, he'll watch the game on television, too.

If he knows his team has won the game, it influences how he watch it on TV. If his team fumbles the ball or throws an interception, it's not a problem. He thinks, 'That's bad, but it's okay. In the end, we'll win!' (4)

You see, we know how it ends. We've already read the last chapter of the book. We know the outcome. Jesus is going to win. That's the plan. He even told us in John 16:33, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world"

When going through trouble, knowing the final outcome makes all the difference. That's why Paul wrote: "in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. I am convinced that [nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Jesus loves us this we say, caring for us every day.

Troubles all to him belong, We are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.

Remember, in whatever situation you find yourself, or whatever troubles come your way, "We Are Weak, But He Is Strong . . ."

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.

______________________________

Bibliography

1. Alan C. Cole, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" 26th Street Church of Christ Homepage, mupfc.marshall.edu. Retrieved February 25, 2004.

2. Elisa Morgan in Christian Parenting Today. Christian Reader, Vol. 34.

3. W. H. Auden, The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden (New York: Random House, 1995).

4. Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.

Other References Consulted

www.SermonWriter.com (Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 2000)

www.SermonMall.com

www.deaconsil.com

www.rockies.net/~spirit/sermon.html (Richard Fairchild Lectionary Resources)

Homiletics, (Communications Resources, Inc., Canton, OH)

Lectionary Homiletics, (Lectionary Homiletics, Inc. Midlothian, VA)

Dynamic Preaching, (Seven Worlds Publishing, Knoxville, TN)

The Clergy Journal, (Logos Productions, Inc., Inver Grove Heights, MN)

Preaching Magazine (Preaching Resources, Jackson, TN)

Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)

The Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1953)

The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)

Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 2002) SermonPrep Version.

Preaching the Miracles, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1998) SermonPrep Version.

Preaching the Parables, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1997) SermonPrep Version.