Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sermon -- 14th Sunday after Pentecost (September 10, 2017)

From the pulpit of Trinity Evangelical
Lutheran Church in Saline, Michigan
ROMANS 11:33-36

GOD GRACIOUSLY GIVES YOU ALL YOU NEED
AND ALL THAT IS GOOD FOR YOU.

In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul spent the first eleven chapters of Romans writing about God's grace and our salvation.  He noted that all people are the same.  All are sinners.  There is no difference.  He also noted that all are saved the same—through the innocent sufferings and death of Jesus.  There is no other Savior, and there is no other source of forgiveness and eternal life.  And though Jesus suffered and died for all mankind, there are many who do not believe in Jesus.  In their unbelief, they do not benefit from Jesus' redeeming work.  They perish in their sins.  Rather than trying to probe into the mind of God as to why some perish and some are saved, St. Paul breaks off his instruction with this doxology: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”  “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”  For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever.  Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)
     In his doxology, St. Paul asks a rhetorical question: “Who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” (Romans 11:35)  The answer, of course, is: No one.  To put it another way: God owes you nothing.  God did not owe you your birthday.  God does not owe you a specific amount of time in this world.  He does not owe you a spouse or children, eyesight or unblemished skin, food or housing, or world without terrorism or hurricanes or mosquitoes.
     This is a hard truth for Americans to hear.  Probably no one in the history of the world has been better at demanding their rights than Americans.  We know our Constitutional rights, and we insist upon them.  We tell others how they are supposed to respect us.  We even tell God how he is supposed to treat us and serve us.  But here is the hard truth: God owes you nothing.  God does not have to respect your rights.  Before God, you have no rights.  God owes you nothing.  And yet, God graciously gives you all that you need and all that is good for you.
     St. Paul asks, “Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:34)  The answer, of course, is, “No one.”  No one knows God's mind.  No one advises him; though we all want to.  We want to challenge or correct what God does when we don't get it or we don't like it.  We believe we would be better at running the world if we had the power and authority, that we would be better at being God than God.  This is arrogance and blasphemy.  If you do not know why God does what he does, how can you possibly know that it is not what you need or what is good for you?  The wisdom and knowledge of God are deep.  We will never reach the bottom.  As St. Paul writes, “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)  
     Still, we want to know why God does what he does.  Consider the current headlines.  Houston is still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Harvey.  The flooding is disastrous.  Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma has struck the Carribean and is closing in on south Florida.  Hurricane Jose is right on its tail.  Mexico was hit with its strongest earthquake in a long time.  People on the Gulf Coast might ask, “Why is this happening?  What did we ever do to God?”  Or your “Why?” might be a more personal question.  “Why am I suffering like this?  Why does my loved have to go through this?  Why is life so hard?”
     God's Word has revealed some answers to these questions.  The world has been effected by sin.  It is corrupt and dying.  Bad things happen in it, and we suffer from those bad things.  That much we know.  But why specific things happen to us at specific times, that God has chosen not to reveal to us.  You can take a guess why God is putting you through suffering, hardship, or loss, but your best guesses are just that—guesses.  Many times, we don't know why.  We can only remember St. Paul's words: “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)  We cannot reach the depths of God's wisdom and knowledge.  God does not owe you answers for why you must endure what God has you endure.  God owes you nothing.  And yet, God graciously gives you all that you need and all that is good for you.
     Although God does not answer all your “whys,” God does reveal what we need to know.  Life will always be filled with uncertainties, hardship, and loss.  What God reveals is certain and it cannot be taken away from you.  He promises: For those who love God all things work together for good. (Romans 8:28)  The Lord is your good and merciful Father in heaven, even when it does not look like it.  The love of God remains certain, even in the midst of all the “whys” and uncertainties of life.  God does not owe you that, but he graciously gives you all that you need and all that is good for you.
     Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! (Romans 11:33)  God has revealed the depth of his love and compassion in a man named Jesus.  Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God—God in the flesh who came to dwell among us and to have mercy upon us.  He graciously gives us all that we need.  Jesus' perfect life supplies the holy obedience we did not give.  He gave us credit for his holiness, and then took credit for our sin.  Jesus did not resist going to the cross and the sufferings that came with it.  He did not demand his rights.  Instead, he went under God's curse and took the punishment we were owed.  Jesus stood as a sinner on behalf of all sinners.  He was convicted and condemned.  You have been pardoned and are free.  Jesus did not owe you this.  Instead, Jesus received what you were owed.  He, in turn, graciously gives you the righteousness you need and the forgiveness of your sins for your good.
     Life will have its uncertainties.  You do not know the future.  God, in his wisdom, has hidden most of the future from you.  You will continue to have your “whys”.  The pain, the loss, and the heartache in this world will keep you asking why.  But the Lord Jesus makes a guarantee to sustain you through every uncertainty and pain.  He promises you the resurrection from the dead and life everlasting.  He rescues you from hardship and loss.  He will deliver you to the perfect glory of heaven.  If you long to be free from all of this world's problems, then cling to the Savior God has sent for you.  And even when God has you endure problems in this world, he is still your good and merciful Father who is doing all things for your good.  “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)  Although his judgments are unsearchable and his ways inscrutable, they are the Lord's judgments and the Lord's ways.  By these, he graciously gives you all that you need and all that is good for your eternal welfare.  That is God's chief goal for you, that you have everlasting life with him.  And he works all things toward that goal.
     God has given you his word so that you will have something certain to encourage you, console you, and sustain you at all times.  There is nothing in this world that negates Jesus' life, death, and resurrection for you.  Therefore, nothing can negate God's love for you.  Your forgiveness is certain.  Your resurrection to eternal life is certain.  Your glory in the mansions of heaven are certain.  God does not owe these things to you, but he delights in giving them to you.  God graciously gives you all you need and all that is good for you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.