1st Sunday in Lent
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Romans 8:31-39 Sermon
March 5, 2006
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
417 "Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!"
69 "Jesus Refuge Of The Weary"
537 "O Master Let Me Walk With Thee"
551 "Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus"
379 "Rock Of Ages, Cleft For Me"
GODíS CONTINUAL PRESENCE
TEXT (vs. 35, 38, 39): ďWho shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 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.Ē
When I lived in Mankato, Minnesota where I attended school, I was one of the organists at a rather large congregation of several thousand, St. Paulís Lutheran in North Mankato. There were three of us who played the organ in rotation.
One of the organists was a lady by the name of Jean Pedersen. She was an excellent organist, and she also worked as a secretary in the church office. Her husband Rollie worked for the Post Office. They had several children, but only one still at home; a daughter Becky who was in middle school at the time. They were (and still are) a real nice Christian family, and a definite asset to the congregation.
I had been out in the ministry for awhile when I returned to St. Paulís as a guest preacher. I was serving in Australia at the time, and the people were interested in hearing about the ministry there. So I had a good mission sermon all ready for them, and I also had a video presentation between the services.
When I arrived there, I had some time to visit with the former senior pastor, Reuben Reimers. Of course part of our conversation was about different people in the congregation. Naturally I asked about Rollie and Jean Pedersen.
Reuben told me that he doubted very much if I would be seeing them. He then told me that as soon as Becky had graduated high school and headed off to college, that Rollie retired early from the Post Office. They then proceeded to sell everythingótheir house, cars, and most of their possessions. Since they were both in excellent health, they purchased a motor home, and decided to spend as many years as they could traveling around the country. Jeanís comment to Pastor Reimers was, ďYouíll see us when you see us,Ē meaning they didnít know when they would be in Mankato again. They had family there, so they would return from time to time; but for the most part, they would be traveling and experiencing a more itinerant lifestyle. And to the best of my knowledge, thatís what they are still doing.
This story isnít remarkable or uncommon by any means. People are doing this very thing every day. As Iíve been in various campgrounds in my travels, Iíve visited with people who have done this. And as my own retirement approaches within the next 10-15 years, Iím hoping that I can do much the same thing, although I donít think I want to do it quite as permanently as Rollie and Jean Pedersen have done it.
One thing that did happen though, is that the Pedersens left behind their Christian family at St. Paulís, and I know that they are missed. Even though they still have their official membership there, they arenít an active part of the congregational life any longer. It would be impossible for them.
But they are still very dedicated Christians. When they sold their belongings and left Mankato, they didnít leave God behind. When Sunday morning rolls around, Iím sure they are sitting in a church pew someplace, worshipping with other brothers and sisters in Christ, most of whom theyíve probably never met before. Thatís got to be a neat experience for them.
Not everybody does this however. There are some who, upon retirement, have decided to retire from God and the church as well. Some have tried to leave God behind in their former home town, and have busied themselves otherwise. Some feel that since the kids are grown and gone, they have no real use for the church anymore. They just canít fit God in to their busy retirement schedules.
But God hasnít deserted them. Even when other things try to overshadow his presence and try to come between him and his people, yet God is still there, ever present with his abiding love and care. This is what our text assures us of today.
As we consider the Apostle Paul and his own journey of faith, we can see how meaningful these words are to him. They arenít just the result of some wishful thinking, or pious thoughts, or meaningless platitudes, but words that speak of the deep conviction of his own faith.
It was only a few days after his conversion when the Lord tells Ananias regarding Paul in Acts 9, 15-16: ďÖGo! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.Ē And in Acts 20, 23 Paul confirms this: ďI only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.Ē
And that is exactly what happened to Paul. He indeed experienced persecution, hardships, strong opposition, constant harassment, and even prison. Luke records in the book of Acts that there were at least eight murder attempts on Paulís life. He certainly didnít have an easy time of it.
Paul confirms this fact in I Corinthians 4, 9-14: ďFor it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children.Ē
When you are feeling alone, alienated, estranged, and separated; when you sense that everyone and everything is against you, itís so easy to forget Paulís most forceful declaration that God is ultimately on your side. Nothing in all of creation is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
In our text for today, I can count 16 different things that threaten our faith and our relationship with God. Paulís list includes: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, death, life, angels, principalities, things present, things to come, powers, height, and depth. We could add many other things to this list as well: parents, children, spouses, bosses, employees, public failure, personal disappointments, retirement, motor homesópersonalize it however you want. And if that wasnít enough, Paul caps it off with the all-inclusive phrase, ďnor anything else in all creation.Ē
Whatever happens, Paul remains adamant in his conviction that absolutely nothing can separate us from Godís love in Christ Jesus. That is absolute assurance.
There are a lot of things in our lives that would separate us from God, and there are a lot of things that have. Sin of course is the big one. The allure of sin and the calling of the world can drown out the voice of God. The despair of failure or the face of tragedy can make us doubt the presence or even the existence of God. Satan can convince us that being yoked with God is a sentence, not a blessing. Satan tries to make us see that being in fellowship with God and being in his service is something to be avoided, and not desired. This is the path of sin and separation which will eventually result in eternal separation.
But Godís love is always there. He demonstrated this love by sending his Son Jesus Christ into this world. All of the things that threaten our faith were things that Christ himself experienced. But even with all of these things, this didnít deter Christ in his mission of love to redeem the entire human race. The name of Christ we know as Emmanuel means ďGod with us.Ē Christ Jesus, true God in the flesh, came into our world to be with us, so we would not be separated from God, but reconciled unto him.
Christ is the object of our faith. We believe in Jesus our Saviour, and we know that through our faith in him, we have Godís absolute guarantee of eternal salvation. And along with this comes the assurance of his continual abiding presence and his perfect love for us.
When Paul wrote the words of our text for today to the Christians in Rome, life there was anything but easy and carefree, especially if you were a Christian. The emperor Nero routinely captured and tortured Christians. For example, he would dip live Christians in oil and suspend them on poles. Then he would light them on fire and use them as human torches for his garden parties. He did many other atrocities as well. Ultimately, Paul himself would die a martyrís death in Rome.
Through all of this and more, Paul remained insistent: Nothing would be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing on earth could equal the power of God or the love of God.
Thereís an old joke about three pastors who were chatting one day. All three of them had trouble with bats in the church. They had all tried different methods of getting rid of them, but nothing worked. The bats still lived up in the rafters and would swoop down over the heads of the worshippers.
About 6 months later, the three pastors were talking again, and once again the topic of discussion turned to the bats. The one pastor proudly announced that he had successfully gotten rid of them.
ďHow did you do it?Ē the others wanted to know.
ďIt was easy,Ē the one pastor replied. ďI just simply baptized them, confirmed them, and I havenít seen them since.Ē
Even though God promises not to leave or forsake us, yet people will choose to leave and forsake him. I know that amongst the people I was confirmed with, that there are a number of them who have chosen to separate themselves from God, and not darken the doorway of a church again. I also know how heartbreaking this is for many parents, relatives, and pastors.
It is impossible for us during this lifetime to be separate from God. God surrounds everybody and everything in this world. God is present here. We have no idea of what it would be like for God to not be present with us.
But if people keep rejecting him and separating themselves from him, then that separation will become a reality in the life to come. Hell is a place where God has removed his presence. The results of this separation will be unspeakable. It is something that nobody really wants.
As true believers in Christ, this separation will never happen. Through faith in him, our sins are forgiven, and we are in complete fellowship with God. He gives us every assurance that he loves us as his dear children, and that he has no desire to permit anything to compromise that.
As I think of my friends from Mankato, Rollie and Jean Pedersen, I know that God has not separated himself from them, even though they have an itinerant lifestyle. And I also know that they have not separated themselves from God either, even though they arenít worshipping at their home congregation very often. Iím sure that they are fully aware of Godís blessings in their lives, and Iím also sure that they in turn are a blessing to others as well.
As we consider Godís abiding presence and love in our lives, it will do us well to remember the words that God spoke to Joshua in chapter 1 verse 9: ďBe strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.Ē