Sunday, July 8, 2018

God for Us: Sermon on Romans 8:31-34

As the Congressman stepped out of his vacation home and into his fishing boat Adam's Fancy, he had to admit – the last twenty-four hours had been good ones. As he zipped across the narrow gap between South and North Bimini, journalists gathered on the docks near Brown's Hotel and Marina beneath the sweltering June sun to await him. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., tall and suave and self-assured, disembarked beneath the blue Bahama sky, joined his attorneys, and held a news conference extolling the court's decision.

A Congressman from Harlem, Powell was proud of the news report that once called him “arrogant, but with style.” A preacher and politician devoted to fast living and beauty queens, he'd been dogged by assorted scandals – contempt of court charges in his home state of New York, accusations of misuse of congressional funds, the usual. Though duly elected again and again, the Ninetieth Congress had been fed up – they'd refused to even seat him, excluded him from taking the oath of office. But Powell fought back. The US Constitution, Article 1, Section 2, was clear on the qualifications for Congressmen – age, citizenship, residency – and, Powell reasoned, he met them all.

It had been a long fight, for most of which Adam Clayton Powell had stayed holed up in his property in South Bimini, “Adam's Eden,” and the local bars. But now he was vindicated. Just over two weeks since Powell attended his son's wedding in Washington DC, and a mere day before Powell's sunny press conference, June 16, 1969, Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, in his last act before retirement, had handed down an overwhelming majority opinion on Powell v. McCormack. Congress couldn't make up their own qualification requirements for seating duly elected representatives.

A lot could seemingly be said about Powell's fitness for office, though his friend Martin Luther King considered his exclusion a “terrible injustice” on racial grounds. But as far as the Supreme Court was concerned, the qualifications were cut and dry. And in spite of Congressional protest, it ultimately didn't matter what they said or did; the Constitution was clear. Adam Clayton Powell was, in this, at least, justified. And once the highest court in the land weighed in, it didn't matter how much his enemies in the House fussed and moaned about all the things they thought made him unqualified to even take the oath of office. If the Supreme Court was for him, who could be against him?

Powell's office in the United States House of Representatives is one thing. But Paul is of the view that there's an office for you, too. He says that “those who receive the abundance of grace” will “reign in life” (Romans 5:17). He mentions that enduring believers will “reign with” Jesus (2 Timothy 2:12; cf. Revelation 5:10). We are “predestined to be conformed to the image of [God's] Son” (Romans 8:29), called to a “glorious liberty” as God's children (Romans 8:21), given “the first-fruits of the Spirit” so that we can “groan” a priestly groan on behalf of creation (Romans 8:23), appointed as “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Paul even says that God is determined to “grace us with all things” alongside Jesus (Romans 8:32). Co-ownership of the universe – that's what Paul is talking about, and he has you in mind, us in mind. We are each appointed to the office of a royal priest over creation. In this empire of grace, you fill a post in King Jesus' administration.

And that is so much more than we're used to seeing ourselves. That is so much more than a seat in the United States House of Representatives. Can you really believe that God means for you – yes, you, you individually – to be an official in his administration? Can you really believe that God intends to give you a role in running the entire universe? Can you really believe that you, and the person sitting next to you in your pew this morning, are priest-kings or priest-queens to the entire created order – given a solemn priestly calling on behalf of every murky deep and every fruited plain and every far-flung galaxy? It's a stretch of the imagination! And with an office that weighty, that magnificent, that cosmic, it is so hard to see ourselves – or our neighbors – as qualified.

There are countless objections I'm sure you could bring up why you – or your neighbor – couldn't possibly exercise that office; why you or they aren't the man or woman for the job. And whenever believers withhold fellowship from each other, whenever we separate, whenever we feud, whenever we complain and criticize, we're at heart impeaching one another's qualifications for office – filing an affidavit for the devil's collection, giving testimony against each other. And gleefully, gleefully does the devil dance at the thought of using our own testimony against us as he files suit to block us from taking office in the universe-wide empire of grace.  And how often we willingly collaborate with the devil's project, filing affidavits against one another and against ourselves!

But here's Paul's great message for you today. Sure, accusations can be brought, charges can be filed to block you from taking this high office – but for it to even be considered in court, the petitioner has to have standing. And who has standing any longer? The Trinity, seated on the bench, have already issued a unanimous ruling in your favor! The complaints against you, those accusations, those charges, have all been dismissed for a lack of standing! Or as Paul says it, “Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33). You are God's elect – God's choice for a post in the administration of the whole universe – and God is the Judge who has already ruled in your favor.

What's more, who's going to argue the case against you? Satan isn't admitted to the bar in this court. The only eligible prosecutor in the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of God is the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ. But Jesus, in his ascension, approached the bench and informed the Judge that he was taking on your case, not as a prosecutor, but as your defense attorney – and if the only prosecutor eligible in court is already occupied as your defense counsel, what can stand in your way? Or as Paul says it, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ has approached the bench, indeed gone into the Judge's chambers. And there, with a “great cloud of witnesses” thronging the courtroom gallery to cheer their support for your cause, Christ is not there to litigate against you; he's there to argue your case. And “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). There can be no exclusion from the office to which his Father has elected you – not when you're in him.

See, with a set-up like that, it's irrelevant who tries to stand in your way, isn't it? It doesn't matter who tries to bog you down in red tape! Satan can file motion after motion, all your critics can file motion after motion, you yourself can file motion after motion against yourself – but they sit in a heap, unnoted and unread, so far as the court of God is concerned. When it comes to your qualifications for office, those motions just don't matter. The case is a sure thing. The only eligible prosecutor is your defender. The complaints are dismissed for lack of standing. The judge has ruled in your favor. And “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

It's such a mind-blowing thought – that things could really be that sure, things could really be that certain. And with so much at stake! Can you really believe it, once you get your head around it? Can you really see yourself and your neighbor in the pew serving in the administration of the universe, seated in the government of Jesus' kingdom? Can you really accept that none of the motions filed against you have any weight? How can we be so sure? How can we really be certain that “God is for us” (Romans 8:31)?

Just this: that God is clearly for us in Christ – for God “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). God's Son is the “one who died” for you, the one “who was raised” for you (Romans 8:34). Jesus was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). “Christ died for our sins” and “was raised” to life again (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4).

For you, God handed him over. For you, God surrendered him to the cross. For you, God watched as his Son hung there, stripped bare and bloody, with the weight of all the accusations and charges against you on his shoulders. And if God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him grace us with all things?” (Romans 8:32). That is the guarantee, the ultimate assurance. The constitutional qualifications for office in God's kingdom are clear. And the blood of Jesus and the breath of his Spirit fulfill every last one in you. No motion filed against you can deny it, so all motions against you are beside the point. All the affidavits the devil's been collecting to use against you? I say this quite literally – to hell with them!

But words are sometimes weak to convince us. So God has given us more than words. He offers us physical proof. He offers us physical proof that he gave his Son up for you, delivered him up for your trespasses. He offers us physical proof that his ruling is in your favor. He offers us physical proof that the prosecution table in the Supreme Court of the Kingdom is empty – because another table is all too full. Today, in just a few minutes, you will hold the physical proof of these things in your hands. You will touch the physical proof to your lips. You – yes, you – will clench the physical proof between your tongue and your palate. Proof that God's Son died and was raised for you. Physical proof of the Jesus who said, “This is my body, which is given for you (Luke 22:19). Physical proof of the Jesus who identified “the new covenant in my blood” with “this cup that is poured out for you (Luke 22:20). Physical proof that God is for you – for all of us.

And “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). God is so for us, he insists on being in us. Mind no red tape; pay heed to no procedural quibbles. God has elected you to office; you took your oath of office at baptism; and while your open reign has not yet begun, your invite to the state dinner affords you physical proof that no accusation, no charge, no motion, no complaint, no red tape, no self-doubt can stand in your – in our – way! Not when God is for us. And here, with our own eyes and our own hands and our own mouths, we can tangibly experience that he is. God is for you. He aims to grace you with all things. God is for you. God is for you. Come and see. Come and touch. Come and taste. Amen.

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