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Friday, July 13, 2012

Supplication and Deliverance

  Supplication and Deliverance

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Trinity IV, 2012
July 1, 2012

Our Epistle comes from one of the “core” sections of N.T. Scripture, St. Paul’s wonderful 8th chapter of Romans.  Some commentators have called this Epistle Paul’s tour de force, as he expounds on the doctrines of grace, hope, sin, justification, forgiveness and salvation.  It is certainly one of the key books in the N.T. and one of my personal favorites, because it was chiefly responsible for my adult “re-conversion” at the tender age of 22.  I can honestly say that Romans reawakened my own slumbering faith and made me see, starkly, my desperate need for Christ’s saving Grace. For a new Christian, after he or she has read the Gospels, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the next obvious choice, in my opinion.

Last week we spoke of God’s wonderful restoration, as He constantly calls us back into repentence, forgiveness, and restoration to our rightful places in His family. We saw that He does this first and foremost through our baptisms, as the taint of original sin is washed away by the glorious water of rebirth. We also spoke of our continual restoration through the Holy Ghost, as the Holy Paraclete pricks our consciences and guides us, if we will listen to Him. Christians need always to heed that small, still voice, or that “check” in our spirit that we all feel from time to time. As we know, and as this priest knows only too well, how easy it is to ride roughshod over the Spirit and go our own way, usually to our own detriment. Without a doubt, one of the most challenging aspects of our journey in sanctification is our willingness to be led by the Spirit and do the things that please Him.  Yet, being human and possessing free will, so often we flaunt our will in the presence of divine guidance and suffer the consequences.  Now, we don’t think this is done with malice necessarily, but it is just our failure to let God be the master of our lives when our raging human will, often led by the impulse of the flesh, wants to have its own way.

There is a better way. For example, St. Paul’s message today is one about our ultimate restoration, but it is also a message of hope. It is a message about the ultimate hope that all committed Christians possess and hopefully, all Christians will imbed in their souls in a real and meaningful way.

The first line of this wonderful selection from Romans begins, Romans 8:18-19  18 ¶ “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.”

In his epistles, St. Paul often draws our attention to the here and now versus the hereafter. He has a keen vision of the life to come, while fully appreciating both the joys and sorrows of our earthly life. An excellent example of this is Philippians 1:23-24, where he says:”For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” In this particular passage, Paul is awaiting his second appearance before the Emperor Nero, where he was expecting to be condemned and sentenced to death.  Based on these words, we can be assured that Paul met his fate with courage and even joy, as he looked forward to his reception in Heaven

In a similar vein, St. Paul draws the contrast to the sufferings of the present time with “the glory that shall be revealed in us..” He is speaking, of course, of our own glorious reception and restoration in Heaven with the Triune God. There, we shall experience a restoration of our rightful places as heirs of salvation and heirs of the Kingdom of God.  There should be “an earnest expectation of the creature”,that is, all of us. If we have exploited our Christian joy to the fullest, we should be in earnest expectation of the glory that awaits us.  We do not mean that we should totally disdain our current life on Earth, although there are many Christians such as isolated monks, hermits and aesthetics, who have. If one is called to such a state, one must simply admire their devotion. On the other hand, we feel that our current life is a gift from God, to be used to love and glorify Him. 
Yet, at the same time, our devotion to this life should not be complete, for fear of losing our real life, which awaits us in Heaven. Rather, as committed Christians, we need to view this life as merely Stage One of eternity. For those of us in Christ, we have effectively entered into our eternal life with him, just that we have not seen its glorious fulfillment yet. That will come when we pass from this realm into the next, and more permanent one. 

This is the glorious hope that awaits all of us.  Yet, the trick is how to live in this world and this life in such a way as to pass directly from this life to judgment, and then to life eternal.  For we know that there will be Judgment, as all of us will be judged on the deeds done in this flesh. As we contemplate the things we have done and left undone, this should be a terrifying thought.  Very, very few of us could be deemed to deserve the joys of Heaven, In fact, Christ Himself said to the rich young ruler in  Matthew 19:17, “ Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God…” Thus, none of us can get to Heaven on our own deserts. Yet, as awful as this sounds, there is mercy. This sinful priest knows that when he stands before the Judgment Seat, all he can do is hold up Christ. For just as all of our deeds are as dirty rags in the sight of the perfect and completely holy God, there is only one way He can see us in all of our wickedness.  That way we all know, and it is the most glorious hope and joyful thought we can possess. What is that way?  It is Christ, first, foremost, and always.

Through Christ, we, and the whole Creation will be delivered from our pains and travail into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, or into the “earnest expectation of the sons of God.” What is this “earnest expectation of the creature (that) waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God”, or as the NAS (New American Standard) puts it, “the anxious longing of the creation (that) waits for the revealing of the sons of God”?   We are given a hint of what he is saying when he says that the Creation was subjected to futility or vanity, by reason of him who subjected it in hope. This doesn’t make sense until we read the verse: (Romans 8:21) because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”  Thus, putting it all together, we get a sense of what he is saying.  It is this: all of Creation, consciously or subconsciously, waits for the consummation of history, when it and all things in it will change.  Things now are indeed vain or futile in this sense:  we humans expect all things to go on the way they are now, even ourselves.  While we know intellectually that all things change, decay, and eventually pass away, we really don’t want to believe it. Thus, love songs speak of “forever”; grants and trusts are constructed with the words “in perpetuity”; and the Psalmist says, “Men call the land after their own names.” In fact, one psalm says, “Their inner thought is, that their houses are forever, And their dwelling places to all generations; They have called their lands after their own names.”  Yet, as the Preacher reminded us in Ecclesastes, “Vainity, of vanities! All is vanity.”(Eccl. 1:2).   How true, how utterly true that statement is. We are all in a state of entropy, of drawing into ourselves.

Yet, why would the Apostle say that we  are “subjected in hope”? It is because, while all things have a passing, they also will have a resurrection. This, St. Paul confidently affirms (Romans 8:21) “Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God”.  We and all Creation will be set free from our “slavery to corruption” into the freedom of glorious perfection in Christ. The Book of Revelation speaks of Jesus presenting Creation as his spotless Bride to the Father.  We also know that we will change this corruptible body for an incorruptible one, and our mortality for immortality.  Thus, we will escape our bondage to finality and will assume our inherited places with the Church Triumphant in Heaven.

In the meantime, we have a job to do on Earth.  Our job is to love God with all whole heart, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are to show God’s love for us by loving others in the same way we want to be loved.   We Anglicans know the word that fits the bill: it is charity. We are to be charitable in our thoughts, in our words, and in our actions.  We are simply, to treat others the way we want to be treated.

Yet, while we struggle against sin and we strive to persevere in righteousness, let us also strive to do it with joy.  Ours is certainly not an easy journey, nor one without pitfalls and dangers.  We do have enemies and adversaries, both spiritual and temporal.  As we strive for holiness and godliness, we do not expect the world’s approval, but rather its reproof.  Expect its scorn as you seek after righteousness and even its ridicule as you hunger and thirst for the things of God.  Remember, if we were of the World, the World would love us.  We are not, ultimately, seeking the approval of men, but of God. We are seeking a different type and source of approval.

Again, let us seek to do this with joy. Difficult as it may be, yet it is one filled with hope and with help.  We are never far from our Helper, the Holy Paraclete, as He seeks to tabernacle with us.  We are never far from help that is always fresh, ever-present and abundant.  We are never far from Joy, if only we would seize it!

Let us then, take hold of this joy and cherish it.  Let us wrap our spiritual “arms” around it and hold it close to our soul.  This is our comfort, this is our aid, and this is our hope as we wait for “the redemption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”

This redemption and our ultimate restoration is our hope and our destiny.

Romans 8:22  “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”

 In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.


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