(Romans 8: 28-39)
Just during my lifetime, telephones have come an incredibly long way. My earliest memory was of the old rotary phones and exchanges. Who can remember their old telephone number? I remember the party lines and if you heard someone else’s ring you would carefully pick it up to see who was calling your neighbor and what they were talking about. Remember thinking when the phone would ring late in the evening and you would say: “I wonder who’s calling at this hour?” Then we got answering machines and, if we didn’t want to answer the phone, we’d let it go to message where we would then determine who was calling and what they wanted before deciding to return the call. I remember watching The Jetsons cartoon where their phones actually had screens where you could even see the person who was calling and they could see you if you answered. I think we call that Facetime. We now have Caller ID which lets us know in advance who is calling. How many times has the phone rung and you’ve looked at Caller ID and thought, “I wonder what they want? Or, “I really don’t have the time or energy to talk to this person.” Or, “I know what this is about and I really don’t need the drama right now.” I promise that when you call the church office none of those thoughts ever go through my mind. The solicitors have gotten pretty tricky as they now use local numbers hoping that you’ll pick up because the call is local and probably someone you wouldn’t mind taking a call from.
I’m one of those people, who if he misses a call or if I don’t recognize the number and they don’t leave a message, I won’t call back. If figure if it wasn’t important enough for you to leave a message then it’s not that important for me to call you to see what you wanted. Many times, if they’re persistent in calling and not leaving a message, I’ll wonder why they keep calling and what it is they want of me. I’m pretty sure it’s not God as his name doesn’t pop up on my Caller ID. At least, I hope it’s not God.
In our scripture reading for today the Apostle Paul says: We know that God works all things together for the good of the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. Well, maybe that was God calling and what he wanted to talk about was too important to leave a message. Maybe he wanted to have an actual conversation so there’d be no confusion or misunderstanding. You’ve heard people say they’ve been “called” or what they’re doing is their “calling”. It means something personal to them, indicating a special relationship. To be “called” means to be summoned or invited. Those who are “called” are those the Holy Spirit convinces and enables to receive Christ. Such people have a new perspective, a new mind-set on life. They trust in God, not life’s treasures, they look for their security in heaven, not on earth, they learn to accept, not resent, pain and persecution because God is with them.
Paul goes on to say that they know this because God knew them in advance, and he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son. In this way, as we become more and more like Christ, we discover our true selves, the persons we were created to be. Paul says, that way his Son would be the first of many brothers and sisters. Those who God decided in advance would be conformed to his Son, he also called. Those whom he called, he also made righteous. Those whom he made righteous, he also glorified. To be clear, we are not preaching predestination here. What is clear is that God’s purpose for people was not an afterthought; it was settled before the foundation of the world. God knows how he would prefer we act towards one another and how we lead our lives. He knows, because we have that free will to make our own decisions, we will often make bad decisions or act contrary to how he would have us act. People are to serve and honor God and if you’ve believed in Christ, you can rejoice in the fact that God has always known you. He knows what you are capable of doing in his name. God’s love is eternal and his wisdom and power are supreme. You can be secure in the knowledge that God will guide and protect you until you, one day, stand in his presence.
So, let’s go back for a minute to that part where Paul tells us that God works all things together for the good of the ones who love God. God is at work in “all things”, not just isolated incidents, for our good. This does not mean that all that happens to us is good. Evil is prevalent in our fallen world, but God is able to turn every circumstance around for our long-range good. We have to remember that God is not working to make us happy, but to fulfill his purpose. This promise is not for everybody, and it can be claimed only by those who love God and are called according to his purpose.
Paul then asks the question, So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? Paul explains that God didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, so won’t he also freely give us all things with him? Do you ever think that because you aren’t good enough for God, he will not save you? Do you ever feel that salvation is for everyone else but you? Well, if God gave his Son for you, he isn’t going to hold back the gift of salvation. And, if Christ gave his life for you, he isn’t going to turn around and condemn you. He will not withhold anything you need to live for him.
Paul asks who will bring a charge against God’s elect people? It is God who acquits them. Who, he asks, is going to convict them? It is Christ Jesus who died, even more, who was raised, and who also is at God’s right side. It is Christ Jesus who also pleads our case for us. Jesus is interceding for us in heaven. God has acquitted us and has removed our sin and guilt. So, when we stand accused by Satan, it is Jesus who advocates for our defense standing at God’s right hand presenting our case.
Paul’s letter was to a church that would soon experience terrible persecution so he wanted to give them words of assurance that would carry them through some very trying times. He asks them, Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? He answers his own question by testifying that he is convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created. This passage is a reaffirmation of God’s profound love for his people, for you and me when we face those times of trial and doubt.
No matter what happens to us, no matter where we are, we can never be lost to his love. Suffering should not drive us away from God, but help us identify with him further and allow his love to reach us and heal us. As Paul explains, it is impossible to be separated from Christ. Nothing can stop Christ’s constant presence with us.
God’s calling you, he’s calling us because he has a purpose, a design for the world, and he needs us to be his hands for the work that needs to be done. God is for us so it shouldn’t matter who is against us. The work might not be easy. It may be difficult and frustrating and we may be faced with failure and opposition but we will not be separated from the love of Jesus Christ no matter how difficult things may get. Because we are called according to God’s purpose, failure is not an option. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we will be equipped for the task. God is calling us and we must not be afraid of what lies ahead. We can go forward secure in the knowledge that God conformed us to the image of his own precious Son whom he loved so much that with God, all things are possible. God is calling. Are you ready to accept the call?
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, your compassion for your people is great and your mercy is boundless. Calm our fears and doubts when we think that we are not worthy to be your children. Forgive us when we fail you and keep us mindful of the fact that there is nothing that can separate us from your love, because you loved us so much, you sacrificed your beloved son so that we could live. We take comfort in the knowledge that you knew us before we existed and that you are calling us according to your purpose. Give us the courage to answer your call, your summons, your invitation to be your laborers here on earth doing your work and your will in every way we can. In the name of your most loving son, Jesus Christ, we pray, amen.