Sermon from Sunday, September 4, 2022
Speaker: Rev. Doug de Graffenried
Scripture Passage: Romans 8:31-39
Well, we’re wrapping up the eighth chapter of Romans today. And the lesson is from the 31st through the 39th verse of that chapter here, these words:
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own son but gave him up for all of us. Will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died? Yes. Who was raised. Who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress or persecution or famine or peril or nakedness or sword? as it is written for your sake, we are being killed all day long. We are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us, For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Friends, this is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
I was in New Orleans, serving at a Methodist church on the West Bank and going to seminary on the East Bank of New Orleans. So, I spent a lot of my time crossing the Mississippi River on the, it was the G&O Back then, it was just one bridge. And that one bridge was. You just knew there were times to stay away from the bridge. Do not try to cross the river. Just stay away. And I got to watch some interesting things go on. Driving back and forth between the seminary and my church. one of the things was the world’s fair being built and the gondola system going in. got to watch all that being built, and you got to watch a lot of things being built because you were going at a snail’s pace across the river. The other thing that was interesting to watch was the other bridge rise up. The second bridge was built while I was there and there was a caisson and support in the Mississippi. And then they built the other supports on the West Bank. And I just knew the way they built it. They started at the end, and they met in the middle. When they put that middle piece, that steel girder in some engineer was in his or her office saying, oh, thank God, I measured Right, and it all hooks up. It was just it was fun to watch all that go up and after the sermon, I and I’d forgotten about this because when you live in that part of New Orleans or that part of Louisiana, I mean, there’s the Pontchartrain, there’s the causeway, So that’s a 24-mile bridge. You don’t think anything getting on the causeway and driving across. There’s one place that the causeway where you can’t see their shoreline, you know, it’s there. It’s an act of faith. There are other bridges, the I-10 bridge in Lake Charles is just a horrendous up and down bridge. And I’ve forgotten how many people were actually afraid of bridges until people came out of the service saying, I’m just terrified. See, I’ve got a bridge terrified person. So, you know, bridges fascinate us. They terrify us. There are marble of engineering.
Wednesday, I was at the Kiwanis meeting here at the church and there was discussion in the room. Some political officials from back behind me said, well, DOTD is planning to, in the next year to resurface and repair the overpass, the Cooktown overpass. And you could hear there was great rejoicing in the room. There was the sound of disbelief, and I’m thinking, oh, thank God, because one day I’m going to fall through one of those holes just straight through.
Bridges are a metaphor for salvation. There is a Holy God. holy, holy, holy. Perfect, omniscient, omnipotent, holy God. And on the other side of the chasm, the Genesis three people. you remember Genesis three? God stuck Adam and Eve in the garden. He says, okay, gang, we’ve got two trees here. We have more now. We’ve got every fruit tree you can imagine. You eat of all the trees in the garden. You even eat the tree of the fruit of life if you want to. But there’s this middle tree. It’s the tree of knowledge, good and evil. Stay away from the tree. Don’t go near that. Don’t touch that tree. And just like little two-year-olds, Adam and Eve going straight to the tree took the fruit. Chomped down on it. We all know we all know the fruit was a peach. I’ll explain to you how it became an apple, but that’s a boring Latin lesson. And we’re told that in the cool of the evening, God is walking in the garden, and He can’t find Adam and Eve. Adam? Eve, where are you? And eventually they chirp up. We’re hiding over here because we’re naked and afraid. And God said, who told you were naked? Have you eaten of the fruit? I told you not to eat up. And they begin the great three screwed Stooges routine. You know that Moe would slap Larry. Larry, slap. Curly and Curly had nobody to hit. Well, Adam says the woman you gave me, she made me eat, Eve said. It’s not my fault. The snake that was roaming around, he beguiled me, and I eat, and God listens to their excuse and basically metes out their punishment. And then throws him out of the garden so they can’t get to the tree of life. Sinful Genesis three humanity and a Holy God. And there’s this big gulf in between, this chasm that has to be breached. How do you do it?
I’ve got an idea. Let’s be good. Let’s just be good. We got the Holy God over here. He’s a good God. He’s a holy God. If we’ll just be good, that that chasm will be breached. Right. Okay. What’s your definition of good? Who has defined good for you? How do you measure good? And is it good for just 15 minutes or is it good a whole lifetime? Believe it or not, I buried a few Methodists in my life. I’m circling up on about 800 funerals. And there’s this group of Methodists that I’ve buried that the family will come in my office, and they’ll sit down and, you know, they’re dry their tears and and they’ll talk about poor old Uncle Frank. Uncle Frank was such a good Methodist. And I can’t resist because I’m doing the attendance chart and I can’t picture Uncle Frank in my head. And I’ll say, well, tell me about Uncle Frank’s faith journey, because I already know that Uncle Frank was baptized and confirmed, but after that he didn’t go to church except on Christmas and Easter. and they get this sheepish look on their face, and they say he was a good Methodist. A good Methodist. Well, tell me about his faith. He was a good Methodist. What does that mean? He was a good Methodist. who defined good for Uncle Frank. It wasn’t God’s word, because he probably hadn’t been exposed to a lot of it in his life who define good for Uncle Frank.
Humanity tried that. We will impress God with our goodness. didn’t work. God gave the Hebrews the Ten Commandments. They went in the Promised Land and immediately forgot all of them. Because we’re told that it’s second, they got in the Promised Land, they pretty much did what they did. Each one decided they wanted to do. Okay, so. So being good dad work. Let’s do religious things. Surely God will be impressed with religious things. Which ones? Which religious things are you going to do to bridge that chasm? I’m going to go to church. I’m going to go to Sunday School. Those are two not necessarily religious things. They’re good things. I’m going to have a Bible study and a prayer group. Two more. Pretty good things. They’re not necessarily just things. I’m going to go to church every time the doors are open, I’m always going to be there. I grew up in a church like that and look how I turned out. It’s not necessarily a good thing.
The Hebrews ask, what will you be pleased with God? Will you be pleased with the sacrifice of 10,000 Rams? Will that make you happy? And God is said, He’s shown you old man, what is good and what does the Lord require but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God. God, would you please specify? I need some specificity because I’m trying to bridge this chasm between Genesis three, as Paul will say, for all its sin, and come short of the glory of God; and this Holy God, and we can’t do it.
We can’t fix the breech. We can’t plug the gap. We cannot span the gap; Paul says There’s only one mediator and it’s Christ Jesus. Our only hope is the way, the truth in the life Jesus Christ, Jesus has bridged that gap. Jesus has made a way for you and me as Genesis three people, to return to our status as children of God. His work on the cross span the breech. There are two responses the church needs to have that this. The first is we need to tell the world our good news that bridge that gap has been closed. It’s been closed by the person of Jesus Christ. You don’t necessarily have to do good things, religious things go to church, things you don’t have to do. List of all this other stuff because Jesus is done at all. All that you need for salvation has been done in the sacrifice, the death, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s no secret. There are no secret rituals You have to do. Paul says Those who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. There’s no fine print. There are no codicils in that. It’s pretty simple. It’s just Jesus. Just Jesus. Is that Methodist Jesus, Presbyterian Jesus or Episcopal Jesus? It’s just Jesus. The gap has been spanned.
And so, what we need to do as the church and what we’ve got to start doing again is telling our story about how we relate to Jesus, you and me. That’s called evangelism. It’s telling your story. It’s not giving them a pamphlet. It’s not the four spiritual laws. It’s not Campus Crusade for Christ. It’s not evangelism explosion. It’s not all the nonsense that people do. It’s saying, I was a Genesis three person till I met Jesus and I found out His love and grace was enough for me. And here is how Christ has transformed and changed my life. for you Philosophical apologists in the room, nobody can argue with that. That’s called subjective knowledge. You can’t argue with what Jesus has done in your heart. You can’t argue with what Jesus has done in my heart because I’m just telling you, my story. So, we need to be about telling our stories to our friends and neighbors. Don’t hand them a pamphlet. Don’t hand them a sturdy Bible. Don’t, don’t, don’t. Just sit down with a cup of coffee and say, hey, how’s it going in your life? Have a conversation. How hard is that to have a conversation? We need to tell our story, the story of God’s bridging the gap in our life of spanning that gap.
And then as the church, we need to keep moving. If you use if you’ll let me to continue my analogy of a bridge and salvation is the bridge and the way, we Methodists talk about it continuing on the bridge. Driving on the bridge is what we call saying to vacation. It’s growing in grace. It’s allowing God to make us holy every day. It’s spending time in the presence of God to transform us. So, seminaries on the East Bank of New Orleans do not do the compass. When you talk about the East Bank in the West Bank of New Orleans, you’ll be confused forever because one’s not East and one’s not west. And the churches I was serving, we’re both on the West Bank. And when there was just one bridge across the Mississippi River downtown, four lanes of traffic, I was coming back one night, going back to the seminary from the West Bank, and I got up the bridge. I was almost to the steel superstructure I was ascending. In my 1971, Volkswagen Beetle. had no air conditioning. You should try having a Volkswagen Beetle in New Orleans in the summertime. You got it. Moving fast. You got air conditioning, get up nearly to the superstructure and the traffic: dead stop. We’re just sitting there and I weirdly, the other lane of traffic going, the other two lanes going, the other way toward the West Bank; they’re stopped too. So, you’ve got all this traffic suddenly stopped at the West Bank side of the Greater New Orleans Bridge.
I’m thinking it’s 8:00 at night. there is something going on, so I turn to my news source WWL radio I’m listening turns out on the West Bank of New Orleans there was a housing project. It’s been torn down now. It was the Fisher Housing Project and part of the Fisher Housing Project; they had a ten-story tower in the middle of the housing project. I’m sitting there in my Volkswagen dead stop listening to WWL radio. Tell me that there was a sniper in the Fisher Housing Project Tower shooting at cars on the Mississippi River Bridge. And what had the police done? They’ve stopped us to make it easier to hit us. All kinds of things went through my mind, but all I wanted was to start moving again. I was going to Serpentine. I had it figured out. I think he got me, and something leaked out. And that’s what happened to my brain. Keep moving on the journey of faith. Keep moving, don’t stop. Keep developing the relationship you have with God. Keep trusting. realize you are a child of God, that you’re walking around in God’s shoes. You realize that God is working. God is working the whole of your life toward good. And Paul explains this. In the last part of that eighth chapter.
You know, Mother Teresa had a business card. And on the business card, it had these words:
The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. And the fruit of service is peace.
Silence leads to prayer, which leads to faith, which leads to love, which leads to service, which leads to peace. Keep traveling and keep journeying the journey of salvation. And Paul says it to the church at Rome. He says, what’s going to separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? And he says no. But the inference of that verse is the church at Rome is suffering these things; that the Roman army has turned on the Christians by this time, and they’re experiencing hardship and distress and persecution. They’re experiencing an empire, withholding food. They’re experiencing peril and sword. Bad things are happening to them. And Paul said, in all these things, we’re more than conquerors. The Greek word is hypernikaō. Thank you very much. the middle of the word Is the word Nike? In Nike, yes. It’s the tennis shoe brand. It’s also the Greek word for victory. Paul said the phrase that’s translated the one word that is translated more than conquerors. You can just say it like this is hyper Nike. Hyper Nike. I would look good in some hyper Nike’s. your God shoes or hyper Nike’s. that no matter what you’re facing as you’re journeying through life, as you are walking across that bridge that has been put there by Jesus Christ, that bridge that brings you back to God that you’re a more than a conqueror, but nothing, not death, not life, not angels, not rulers, not things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ, Jesus, our Lord. That’s how strong that bridge has been built.
That’s why we come to the communion table to be reminded of one simple, deep truth. God built a bridge out of two boards and three nails.