(Romans 8: 26-39)
A few of you may remember a family-oriented sitcom that aired on television back in the 50s and 60s called Father Knows Best. The program starred Robert Young as Jim Anderson and Jane Wyatt as his wife Margaret. They had three kids nicknamed Princess, Bud and Kitten who, each week, had some sort of a problem or crisis that needed to be resolved. The Andersons were portrayed as your average middleclass American family from the Midwest. Jim Anderson was cast as the thoughtful and loving father who could always be relied on to offer up sage and nonjudgmental advice. Margaret, as the mother, was the voice of reason who would often intercede on behalf of the children in resolving the weekly crisis as she put her spin on it for when Jim got home from work.
As I thought of this family in preparing my sermon for this week, I saw all kinds of symbolism, especially as it related to our scripture reading for this morning. Jim Anderson represents God in a fashion that reveals a deep love for his children and, in spite of the weekly incidents of his children falling short, he never loses his cool and is always there to support them no matter what. Margaret Anderson represents the Holy Spirit who intercedes on behalf of the children who may not know what to say or how to say it, but she has the words and the ability to petition the father on behalf of the children. The children, Bud, Princess and Kitten represent us who, in spite of our short-comings and failures, cannot be separated from the father’s love no matter what, under any circumstances.
And, I’ll bet when the Apostle Paul sat down to write his letter to the church in Rome that he wished he had a family like the Andersons to use as an example to help illustrate what he was trying to say regarding their relationship with God and the Holy Spirit. In this part of his letter he tells us that the Spirit helps us in our weakness to grow and get stronger. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express, like a mother who feels the pain of her children deep in her heart. Paul is telling us that, as a believer, a child of God, we are not left to our own resources to cope with our problems. We have a sympathetic ear ready and waiting. He tells us that even when we don’t know the right words to pray, the Holy Spirit prays with us and for us, and God answers. It’s like when you find yourself in such a jam that you can’t put it in words, words fail you and you feel inadequate. Paul says to go to the Spirit and merely ask the Spirit to pray with you, intercede on your behalf and present your petition to God in the best possible light. It reminds me of my days as a defense attorney representing clients who had really fallen short. They needed me to speak for them to the judge and to plead their case in hopes of receiving a just and fair outcome.
And, we do this with the understanding that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. This means that in our asking the Holy Spirit to intercede for us in “accordance with God’s will,” that we trust God will always do what is best. And, that raises an interesting question; best for who? Obviously, in our human frailty and vainness, we think that God will do what’s best for us. When we read verse 28 that says; And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. We think that the reference “of those who love him” means us, and it does. But what God is doing through us may, more often than not, be for the good of some other person who God also loves. For example, when I lost my last election it would have been easy for me to question God and think that maybe He didn’t love me as much as I thought. But I didn’t. Teresa and I figured God had something else in mind for us and, He loved us enough to send us to Community United Methodist Church where we could work with and for some of his other children who He truly loved, even if it was for over a hundred thousand dollars a year less! God’s job is not to make us happy, but to fulfill his promise, a promise that is not for everybody. This promise can be claimed only by those who love God and are called according to his purpose. And, we must be mindful of the reality of this promise that evil is prevalent in this world and that all that happens to us is not good, but God is able to turn every circumstance around for our long-range good in fulfilling the promise.
So, what does the Apostle mean when he says “called” according to his purpose? Called means summoned or invited. And, people have asked me when I got “the call,” the call to become a minister. I really don’t know. In my instance, God was kind of like a border collie. I’d try to go in one direction, and He’d head me off. I’d reverse course and go in another, and He’d be right there. I think I kind of had to be herded in this direction, and once I got it, I got it. So, being called according to His purpose can also mean that God is at work with those who love Him, strengthening their weaknesses, to accomplish the intended good. So, it’s not all about us, it’s not the prosperity gospel; love God and you will be prosperous. Those called have a new perspective, a new mind-set on life. They trust in God, not life’s treasures, and they look for their security in heaven, not on earth. They learn to accept and not resent the pain and persecution because God is with them, and it is not for naught.
To reinforce this point Paul says; If God is for us, who can be against us? Paul has a sense that things are going to get ugly for the early church and a persecution by the Roman authorities is all but given. He reminds the believers that God loved them so much he did not spare his own son who he gave up for us all. If God did that for us how will he not give us all things, Paul asks. And who can possibly bring any charge against those who God has chosen as his own? It’s God who justifies, so how or why does it matter who condemns us? They are of little consequence as it is Jesus who sits at the right hand of God interceding for us. At this point, Paul asks rather rhetorically; Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Without skipping a beat, Paul answers his own question by telling us he is convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Paul is saying that no matter what happens to us, no matter where we are, we can never be lost to his love. The suffering we experience should never drive us from God but help us to identify with Him further and allow His love to reach us and heal us. The Apostle is telling us how very great God’s love is for us so that we will feel totally secure in Him, and if we believe these overwhelming assurances, we will not be afraid.
So, the take-away from this scripture is that the Apostle Paul presents the Spirit as energetically and indispensably working to accomplish God’s purposes much like Margaret Anderson working tirelessly to make and mold her family into that all-American family of the 50s. The Spirit, Margaret Anderson, works to effectively strengthen people like Princess, Bud, Kitten and people like Scott, John, Diane, Debbie, Hank, Dale, Don, Janet and Kathy to overcome their earthly weaknesses in their service to the Father for the good of those who love Him. And like Margaret Anderson, the Spirit brings the needs and petitions of all God’s children to the Father who knows best.
Please pray with me.
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made, I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee; how great thou art, how great thou art! How humble we made ourselves when we realized your love for us was so deep that you would not even spare your own beloved son. We can scarcely take it in that on the cross he readily took upon himself our burdens to take away our sins. How we look forward to that day when Christ will return in victory to take us home and what a joy fills our hearts as we bow in humble adoration proclaiming how great thou art. Amen.