Sermon from 26 June 2022

But How can we Know?

Praise: CH4.120: CH4.96: CH4.599: CH4.251: CH4.609:

Lessons: Psalm 139:  Romans 8: 18-39

Text: 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.  Romans 8:28

 

I think we can all agree that the past two years have not been easy years for the world – we have lived through Covid – we have seen continued war in Syria – Afghanistan – and now in Ukraine.

Because of Covid many people were isolated – many could not be with their loved ones when they were in hospital – many could not be with their loves ones when they died.  Because of those wars young men and women have lost their lives …… thousands of people have lost their home and become refugees …… young children and babies have been abused …… people are starving and looking to other countries …… to us – and to God for help.

And I think to some degree we have all known the pain of suffering in some way or another during our lifetime …… and some more than others.  Even here, closer to home, we have our own pain and distress.  It may be different from those of those we have just mentioned –  but it is pain none the less.  And this suffering – it may have been caused by a variety of things.  It may be due to a personal illness ……Things like losing someone we love when they have died……Maybe even losing someone we love through an illness such as  dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.   They are still with us – but they are not with us.

It may have been due to a rift in a relationship, when a member of our family no longer keeps in contact with us.  It may be due to a breakdown in a marriage …… and despite what we may all think, marriages break down in even the best of families.

There are many things in life which can cause suffering – and pain.    And although we may feel so totally alone when something happens in our lives – and feel as though no one else could know such pain, we need to try and realise that we are never alone  – and hard as it may seem,  try to understand that at some time, in some place, someone has felt a similar pain.

The Book of Psalms in the Old Testament has many writings which refer to suffering.

Jeremiah in his Lamentations asks;  is any suffering like my suffering?`

And in the Book of Jeremiah itself at C15:18 he asks;  `why is my pain unending?`

In Paul’s Letter to the Philippians at C1:29 we are told:  `it is given to you not only to believe on Christ, but also to suffer for him.`

In all of Paul`s Letters we can read of his suffering, and how he had to bear a `thorn in his flesh` for Christ’s sake.

So – despite what we may think …… or do …… suffering of every kind remains a part of life – even in the life of believers.

In his Letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells of some of the things he came up against on his journeys.  He mentions hunger – nakedness – persecution – the sword – imprisonment.

He speaks also of things unseen – spiritual forces – suffering associated with the death throes of the present age.     Things such as the sufferings associated with the uncertainties of human existence – of life and death – of things present  – and things yet to come.  And just in case he left anything out – he added;  `and anything else in all creation.`

Now – there is no doubt that Paul was no stranger to suffering – but then again – neither are we!  And there is also no doubt, that in the midst of suffering, the Christian has a harder time than those who do not believe, because those who do not believe can say that suffering is indiscriminate …… that it is senseless.   And the best they say we can do – is simply to make the best of it.

But its not as easy as that – is it?    Not to those of us who are Christians anyway!    Because an answer such as that makes it all too uncomplicated.

We know we need to ask ourselves the question;  `where  is  God in  all  of  this.   Where is God in my suffering?`  And then we ask ourselves; `what, if anything, does my suffering mean theologically?`

Now – all of this might just seem to be a bit on the heavy side.  The God question however, is necessary – but the answer often so difficult to find …… or to understand.  But as Christians, it is something we need to do.

And some who ask the question – may end up disbelieving.  Most however, are left, simply wondering what to believe.

`How can I,` we ask ourselves;  `know that God is working all things together for the good of the world …… and for me?`  `How can I know that my suffering won’t get the better of me.`  `How can I know that it won’t take over my life?`  `How can I know that everything is going to be all right again?`

Our lesson from Paul’s Letter to the Roman’s this morning, especially at verse 28 suggests to us, several bases for confidence.

First of all, we can be confident in the knowing that God has already been working on our behalf.  All we need to do is look at what he has already done for us.

He knew us even before we were born ……

We were predestined …..

Called …..

Justified …..

And glorified …..

From verses 28 to 39, we see God planning for our future.  And let us not forget what it cost him.  He even gave up his one and only Son.   He did not spare him – but gave him up for our sake!  And to me – a God who is prepared to go to such a length to reconcile us to him, could never turn against us  – or leave us to face our pain alone.

Secondly  – We can take comfort from knowing that our suffering identifies us with Christ.  In verse 36, Paul quotes from Psalm 44 at verse 22, which in turn reminds us of the Abraham and Isaac scenario from Genesis 22:16, when Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son to God.

And these two passages have been used by theologians down through the years to remind us of those who were prepared to suffer rather than give up their faith in God.

And by reminding us of this, Paul is assuring us that misfortune and worry is part of what it means to live out our commitment to Christ in a hostile environment.  And rather than being signs of God’s anger – this kind of suffering is in fact a sign of the close relationship we have with him, and with Christ, our crucified Lord.

Thirdly – We know that God is always with us because of his surpassing love in Jesus Christ the Son.  It was God’s love for us that sent him to the Cross.   And it is his love that will bring us to him in glory.  His love is greater than any pain or suffering we will ever need to bear.

So – in the midst of all these things – through Christ – we will triumph, because we know that through faith we will never be left alone to face any problem which may come our way.

Just think of all the people you know who have suffered – but who have managed to come through whatever it was – still smiling…… still believing!!  And think also of those who do not believe in Christ.   They suffer alone, because they have no one to lean on.

And – despite what anyone might say  – or think – this passage from Paul`s Letter to the Roman’s really does speak to us of Christ’s victory through suffering.  And it doesn’t reject a triumphal interpretation of the Christian life – but it certainly does contextualise it!  We may not triumph over our sufferings – but we triumph in the midst of them – of that there is no doubt!

Now – there is no way we can know the outcome of any suffering or pain we might have to face.    But we can take courage from the knowing that God is at work finding the good, (and sometimes there isn’t much) and bringing it out.

Let me conclude by reading verses 38-39 of our NT Lesson, and let us also be convinced of God’s loving purposes for each of us, because when we are convinced – we will have our answer.

Read verses 38-39 …….

 

For I am 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.

 

`So – how can I know that everything is going to be all right?

I know …… because I know God …… and God knows me.

 

26 June 2022