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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
July 30, 2017 at 10:15 AM
Central Passage
Romans 8:26-39

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Pentecost 8A, July 30, 2017

Romans 8:26-39


The Chosen


            It was a bright, sunny day on the South Side of Chicago when our congregation met with several other Lutheran congregations to work with Habitat for Humanity for a day. Habitat, being an ecumenical Christian organization, liked to start each work day with prayer. So picture the scene. Thirty Lutherans are in a room. It’s a group comprising both Missouri Synod and ELCA folks. One person there is the closest thing to clergy present, a seminarian in his vicarage year. What do you think will happen when the Habitat leader asks for someone to pray?


            Thirty sets of eyes, some of which did not even know me, found the so-called “professional” Christian in the room within a few seconds. It’s almost as if Lutherans have a special “pastor radar” when they’re asked to do something uncomfortable, like pray! (Of course, this isn’t just confined to Lutherans. I know of an Episcopal priest in Chicago whose lament about his congregation was their constant refrain, “Ask Father”!) In any case, I prayed for the group and opened our work day, realizing that public prayer would always be one of my jobs as a pastor.


            And that’s fine. Public prayer is part of the calling. But believe it or not, I’m like a lot of you. When someone asks, “Who should pray?”, I’m often one of those who are looking away, trying not to volunteer. Public prayer is anxiety-producing. There’s something deeply discomforting about it. But why? Why is prayer, even when we’re in private, so difficult? Prayer is supposed to be a good thing; a line of communication between the believer and God. So what makes prayer so difficult to do?


            After all, we’re supposed to be a community of saints, chosen by God, saved by God’s grace, called by God into the world. And in our reading from Romans today, it is clear that we are all those things. God has chosen us to be among his people. God knew us before we were born and called us to be his redeemed, adopted children, “co-heirs” with Christ, our brother. So knowing that we’ve been called and saved by God’s grace, why is it so hard to speak with God, especially in public?


            Perhaps we’re afraid of sounding stupid. We don’t want to sound shallow or halting in our speech. We definitely don’t want to sound incompetent. Or perhaps we have serious doubts and fears when it comes to prayer. We fear that maybe no one is on the other end of telephone line, so to speak. We might wonder if we’re just talking to ourselves to make ourselves feel better. It comes down to some of the most agonizing questions of our faith: Does God really care about us? Is God really listening to us? Does God really love us? Or are we on our own in this messed-up world? Given current events, it is more and more tempting to believe the latter.


            First of all, we should know that prayer has always been difficult, even for spiritual giants such as the Apostle Paul. He freely concedes at the beginning of our reading that “we do not know how to pray as we ought”. Contrary to the common advice, prayer to God is much more than just speaking with a friend. When we pray, we are addressing our Heavenly Parent, the creator of everything there is, the author of life. Being “in captivity to sin”, our prayers will naturally tend to be sinful, limited, and self-centered. We will be subject to doubts and fears; we will struggle with stammering words and incomplete thoughts. That is all part of what it means to learn to talk to God.


            But Paul assures us that we are never alone. Like a parent helping a child learn how to ride a bicycle, the Holy Spirit helps us in our prayer. God intercedes with God on our behalf. God is not only on the other end of the telephone line; God is on both ends of the line! God is moving in us and through us, and sometimes, despite us, to intercede for us. God the Holy Spirit is present with us in our halting, stammering attempts to pray. This is all part of the process of making us holy. God calls and justifies us without any corresponding work of our own, but there is more to the process of salvation. There is the process of making us into the people God promised to make us into at our baptism. It’s still God’s work, but our hands, lips, hearts, and minds are fully involved.


            And Paul assures us that because God is involved in our entire life and being, from his knowledge of us before we were born to our destiny of glorification in Christ, we are never apart from his love. Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Our sinful selves try to tell us that it isn’t true; that God’s love is conditional depending on what we do. But God’s love is unconditional. Nothing out there can possibly separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ.


            And as you ponder that point, remember who wrote these words, and who heard them. Paul had undergone more than his fair share of hardship. He had been beaten, imprisoned, gone hungry, was forced to have a separate vocation than preaching the gospel, and had received a stoning. He was writing a letter to a community of outsiders, who almost certainly were facing pressure, if not persecution, from Roman authorities. The fact that Paul wrote these words, and the fact that the Roman church preserved them, tells us something. They truly experienced God’s love as unconditional, no matter what circumstances they faced. They truly believed that God had made them right with him through the work of Jesus Christ, and that therefore God would make all things work for their good, even if those things were evil. God wasn’t some “invisible man up there who just didn’t care”, but was God-with-us in Jesus Christ, who shares all our joys and sufferings, all our laughter and sorrow. From the early church on, God has been experienced as a God enfleshed, sharing in everything that humanity has, and knowing us better than we know ourselves. And because of that sharing, nothing can separate us from him – not even the most powerful, dreaded enemy – death.


            There’s lots of good news today. It’s almost “good news overload”. Our sinful selves might think it is too good to be true. Nevertheless, God’s love is unconditional, and the Spirit prays on our behalf. God isn’t just “up there”; God is also “down here”. God is at work in your life, in yours and mine, and nothing can separate us, his chosen, from him. God help us all to believe that more and more each day.


© 2017, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.