Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany - Rom 8:18-23

                                                                                                            Epiphany 4
                                                                                                            Rom 8:18-23

            In December 1944, the U.S. Navy Task Force 38 had been launching raids against Japanese airfields in the Philippine Islands.  It was a large force that included seven fleet aircraft carriers, six light carriers, eight battleships, fifteen cruisers and nearly fifty destroyers. 
            Although the weather was getting worse, the ships were ordered to stay on station, even when the task force had to stop at sea refueling of the destroyers that were low on fuel.  Finally, when it became clear that a major storm was approaching, Admiral Halsey ordered them to leave the area.
            However, the meteorological information that Halsey received was incorrect. As a result the admiral ordered the Task Force to sail directly into the heart of a typhoon.  There the ships encountered hundred mile an hour winds, torrential rains and extremely high seas.  Ships rolled more than seventy degrees in the huge waves.  Three destroyers were unable to recover, capsized and sunk.  As a result of storm, 790 Americans were killed.
            The damage to the Task Force was severe.  Nine ships suffered damage that forced them to leave the fleet and return to port for repairs.  Over one hundred aircraft were wrecked or washed overboard. By comparison the U.S. victory at the Battle of the Philippine Sea six months earlier – the largest naval battle in the history of the world – had only cost the U.S. 109 dead and about the same number of planes lost.  The violent storm had caused more loss of life than the Japanese could inflict.
            In our epistle lesson this morning the apostle Paul describes how creation groans to be freed from the slavery of corruption to which it has been subjected.  The typhoon that Task Force 38 encountered is an example of what Paul is talking about.  The violent disorder of the storming sea caused the death of sailors.  The storm on the Sea of Galilee in our Gospel lesson this morning is another example.  But Jesus’ action in the Gospel lesson helps us to understand why Paul in Romans can describe the present as the “now time” – the time of God’s saving action in Christ that has changed everything for us.
            Just before our text, Paul has been talking about how the Christian life is one in which the Spirit of God in the believer fights against the flesh – the fallen sinful nature that still remains in us.  Paul writes, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
            Paul tells us that while only the Spirit can make the struggle against sin possible, we have to be lead by the Spirit – we have to follow the Spirit’s leading in taking up that struggle. Or as our Lutheran Confessions say, we must “cooperate” with the Spirit in this struggle to put to death the sin in us.  He adds, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
            Now Paul wants us to know that as baptized Christians there is no doubt about which side we are on.  He says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”  The Spirit enables us as sons and daughters of God to call out to the Father in faith.  What’s more, Paul tells us, “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.”
            The good news is that we are now children of God and heirs with Christ.  Jesus’ death and resurrection has given us this status.  The Spirit of Christ has given us this new life now.  But the bad news is that this is not the whole story.  There is also a “not yet” that accompanies this “now.”  This is a time in which we suffer with Christ.
            In our text, Paul seeks to put those suffering into the right perspective.  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.”  Paul’s discussion up to this point leads us to understand that the sufferings the apostle refers to are not only those that occur because of the world’s opposition to the Christian faith. They include the suffering of the struggle against sin – the “putting to death the deeds of the body” that he has just mentioned.
            Now this is not really the way we want to think about things. We like it when we talk about forgiveness, peace with God and eternal life.  We like it when we hear that this is by God’s grace – that it is a gift we can’t earn.  That sounds easy. But struggling against sin; putting to death the deeds of the body; accepting suffering and hardship from the world because of faith in Christ – we are not so interested in that.  We want instead that easy version of Christianity that only comforts and doesn’t make any claims on how we now live because of Jesus.
            The apostle Paul doesn’t pull any punches.  He tells is like it is.  He says that to be Christian means to be led by the Spirit in putting to death the sin in us. It means suffering in this world because of Christ.  But he also wants us to know that the sufferings we experience now as those in Christ cannot begin to compare to the glory that will be revealed to us when Christ returns.
            To help us understand how big this final salvation will be – how glorious – the apostle goes on to say, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
            Paul says that creation itself has been subject to futility – to a slavery of corruption.  And we are the cause.  In the Fall, it is man who brought sin into the world.  That sin has warped and twisted creation itself.  In Genesis chapter one God speaks and makes the stuff of creation. But it is disordered – it is “without form and void” – the Hebrew even sounds like it, it is “tohu wubohu.” And then during six days God brings order to what he has he created. This is good, and when God has completely finished his work we are told that it was “very good.”
            Sin brought disorder to creation.  It brought disorder and death.  And so, like the typhoon that took the lives of 790 sailors during World War II, in the Gospel lesson we see that a storm on the Sea of Galilee threatens to take the lives of thirteen men. But in this case, it doesn’t.  It doesn’t because Jesus Christ is in the boat, and in him the kingdom of God – the reign of God - has entered into the world.
            The Son of God was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary in order to turn back the forces of Satan, sin and death.  He entered the world he had made in order to take it back.  He lived among the people he had made through his continuing act of creation in order to take them back – to redeem them from Satan’s power.
            And so in our Gospel lesson he rebukes the winds and the sea – the disorder that threatens death - and suddenly there is a great calm. Jesus’ mission of redemption led him to the cross where he defeated sin for us by receiving God’s judgment in our place. And then he defeated death as the Spirit raised him from the dead on the third day.
            Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of the resurrection that will take place on the Last Day.  In Jesus, the Last Day has already begun!  As Paul says earlier in this letter, Jesus is the second Adam who has fixed all that the first Adam messed up by his sin.
            Earlier in this chapter Paul tells us something very important about the Spirit – something that had been implicit and assumed all through the letter up until chapter eight.  He said, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” 
            It is the Holy Spirit sent forth at Pentecost by the risen and ascended Lord who has given you faith and new life in Christ.  That is why Paul says at the end of our text, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”  Because you have received the Spirit – because the Holy Spirit is at work in you – he will redeem your body on the Last Day in the resurrection.  He will transform your weak and mortal body to be like Jesus’ glorious and immortal body. The presence of the Spirit now is the guarantee that all the rest will follow.
            And this is Paul’s point. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the gift of the Spirit, all of the good things will happen.  We groan now in the “not yet” of a world still plagued by sin.  But with Paul we can know that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  Through the work of Christ and the Spirit we are already now sons and daughters of God.  We are already now children of God – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. We enjoy now the blessing of salvation and eternal life – something that not even death can take away from us. And because of Christ and the Spirit we can live in the confidence that the best is yet to come. 




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