by Elaine Maust
July 13, 2008
Ever ordered the seafood sampler at a restaurant? Maybe you don’t want all you can eat of all they can serve, but you want to try all of it. So you just order the “sampler” and get one piece of catfish, and a few oysters, a scallop or two… you get the idea.
Romans 8 is a pretty rich chapter of the Bible. Maybe more than we want to try to digest in one sitting. So this morning we are going to only have a sampling.
Well, today, I’m serving up a Romans 8 sampler. A taste of the rich feast of this well loved text. I believe you will discover in it an old favorite or two and maybe even try a taste of something new.
So here you have it. Spirit Powered. The Romans 8 sampler.
We’ve had a series of sermons recently from the book of Romans. I began in the first half of Romans 6. Turn with me to Romans 6 again. Verse 2 asks, “How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” Just like a chick leaves its shell, we leave our old sin lives behind. And we live new lives grafted into Jesus. Absolutely united, grown together with Jesus. (v5)
The next week Mike preached on the last part of Romans 6. Verse 23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Mike said that eternal life is more about a quality of life than about how long it lasts. And he shared what he learned about eternal life from his African father, Babe.
Last Sunday Bob preached from the next chapter, Romans 7 about the struggle we all face with sin. Romans 7:15 says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Bob said the only way out of this repetitive and frustrating pattern is through dependence on God and interdependence on others.
Romans 7:24 ends the chapter on a pretty desperate note. “Wretched man that I am!” Paul writes, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?
That brings us to Romans 8 for the Good News for today. (Romans 8:1). No condemnation. The death sentence has been lifted. No more endlessly pushing the boulder of sin up the mountain of hopelessness like Sisyphus that Bob told us about last Sunday. No more dragging around a useless shell. Thanks to God’s rescue operation, we are set free.
Romans 8:1-2 – Set Free by the Spirit
The word Spirit is found 21 times in Romans 8. And the word used here is the same word for wind. “pneuma” – God’s gulf stream.
(The Message) “The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air.”
Remember Pentecost when the Spirit came? (Acts 2) What sound did the disciples hear? The wind. Well this Spirit that God gives us is powerful. As powerful and steady as the wind.
A few weeks ago, we visited Michigan where Duane grew up. We saw the usual agricultural country side. Beautiful fields of corn and sugar beets. The same big red barns and big white houses. But there was a new feature on the landscape. A farm of wind mills so large that one fin of the windmill is longer than two train cars! Huron county residents are attempting to make use of the wind that constantly blows in that part of MI by converting it into electrical power.
The Spirit power God gives us is power for life. It is powerful enough to set us free. (2) I imagine it blowing up that giant boulder of sin and hopelessness that Sisyphus is pushing. Blowing it up like a stick of dynamite.
There is no condemnation. We are set free. Dallas Willard writes, “When we enter the life of friendship with the Jesus who is now at work in our universe, we stand in a new reality where condemnation is simply irrelevant.” (1)
Romans 8:5-6 – In Step with the Spirit
This Spirit power God give us helps us think new thoughts and live in new ways. Our minds are like muscles, in some ways. We can train our thinking. We can “set our minds” on what the Spirit wants. Other words used to explain this “keeping in step” include or “controlled,” “living according to the spirit.” (5) We can choose to leave the old behaviors and thought patterns behind and keep step, as if dancing, with the Spirit.
Can you picture yourself living life as a dance with the Spirit? Anticipating the steps. Living to the rhythm of the music of the Spirit in your heart? Letting the Spirit power sweep you through your days?
Romans 8:9-11 – Spirit Powered
The old way of living, the old habits, the addictions, the destructive imaginations, those are as good as dead to those of us who are Spirit Powered. (9) We live in a new reality of the Spirit. (10)
The power that raised Jesus from the dead, that caused that earthquake and shook loose the rock that sealed Jesus’ body in the tomb. That power is now beating in our hearts. (11)
Again quoting Willard, “It is God’s intent that in his kingdom we should have as much power as we can bear for good. Indeed his ultimate objective is the development of human character is to empower us to do what we want. And when we are fully developed in the likeness of Jesus, fully have “the mind of Christ,” that is what will happen – to his great joy and relief, no doubt.”
Romans 8:15-17 – Adopted by the Spirit
This Spirit power can be a little frightening. Strong as the wind. Powerful as an earthquake?
But wait, it isn’t fear that we have received, (15) but adoption. We can call God, “Abba” or papa. We are his precious children thanks to the adoption proceedings witnessed by the Spirit. And now we can call Jesus our brother (17).
Here are the pictures I carry with me everywhere. This is Vahid and this is Yusef. They are my two little nephews who are part of my brother’s family, but for now they are still living in Azerbyjan. These little fellows (please pray for them if you think of them) they have no idea what adoption is going to mean for them. If some worker in the orphanage tells them in Azjery, “You have been adopted,” What does that mean to them?
But you can just imagine what they are in for! A new life with two parents who love them and will care for them no matter what happens. They will have three bit sisters and me, their Tia, to dote on them. Their last name will be Miller and they’ll be part of an extended Miller family. They will learn to call Craig and Shirley, Daddy and Mama. And some day, they will inherit their share of all that belongs to my brother, Craig, and his wife, Shirley. They will be sons. When they cry in the night, my brother will go to them and pick them up and say, “It’s okay. Daddy is here.”
Brothers and sisters, we have been adopted by God. The Spirit is the witness of the adoption proceedings. (16) Now we carry God’s name and share the inheritance of Jesus. (17) We can cry out to God, our father, with the confidence that we will be heard and cared for.
Rowan Williams writes, “The Cry to God as ‘Father’ in the New Testament is not a calm acknowledgement of a universal truth about God’s abstract fatherhood. It is the Child’s cry out of a nightmare.” This is not a sign of weakness but that we know who our Father is.
Romans 8:24-28 – The Spirit prays for us
Though adopted by God and empowered by the Spirit, like Yusef and Vahid, who are still in Azerbyjan, we are still in this world. We are still hoping, waiting and struggling through the realities of this life. Verses 18-27 describe some of these struggles. Yet we live in hope (24-25) of the day when we are completely with God.
In the mean time, we have the Spirit to help us and to pray for us. (26) Sometimes we have no idea how to pray. We don’t know the future and we have a pretty lousy track record of knowing precisely what is best for us and for other people. Sometimes there are no words20for our prayers. In fact, sometimes our prayers are groans or “sighs too deep for words” as one translation expresses verse 26.
In these times the Spirit who knows us completely prays for us. The Spirit knows our hearts (27) and forms words to God that we don’t know how to express.
(Story of the man who said the alphabet and let God make up the words – Ronald Rolheiser, Celtic Daily prayer) “…recited the alphabet all day and let God form the words for himself…”
When we don’t know how to pray, we simply say, as Jesus prayed in the garden, “thy will be done,” and let God take it from there.
We can pray like this because we trust the God. We have seen God bring good out of our mistakes and out of the calamities that have come upon us uninvited. (28) And so we trust God to know and do the best.
Romans 8:35-39 – More than Conquerors
God loves us. Jesus died for us. The Spirit empowers us. What else can we possibly need or want? That’s the question of verse 31. If God offered Jesus for us, we can trust that we will receive everything we else we may need from God as well. (32)
And we can trust that nothing will be able to separate us from God. Not doubt. Not some dreadful diagnosis. Not trouble or danger or financial desperation. We’ve got God’s word on it. We are the beloved sons and daughters of God. And as a mother bear will do anything to make sure nothing comes between her and her cubs, God will make sure, that nothing will separate us from him.
Paul wrote these words to Christians in Rome. The Christians who were part of 1st Church of Rome were living on the eve of terrible and desperate times, the persecution of Christians by Nero. They were being rounded up and killed. Soon they would be taken to jail and their property was confiscated. They would wake up every morning knowing that today they might hear the demand, “Give up Jesus or you will never see your family again.”
These beautiful words of assurance, Romans 8:35-39, were first written to these our long ago brothers and sisters. As I read this lovely song, listen to it with the ears of these Christians who heard them first in Rome.
But also listen to these words as Jubilee. For always we need to hear that we are the beloved adopted children of God, more than conquerors by Spirit Power.
Conclusion: Romans 8:35-39