I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
The majestic 8th chapter of the letter of Paul to the Romans begins with the gospels' astonishing conclusion: "There is therefore now no condemnation." The death sentence hanging over all humanity has been removed for those who are in Jesus Christ. This is a sudden reversal of death's judgment, announce in open court for all to hear. The gavel has come down and found you guilty, thus giving God his due. There is no loophole, no higher court to which one might appeal; the verdict is final. The law is God's terrible and inescapable judgement of the death sentence. (Steven D. Paulson, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 3, p 230).
The death sentence. Perhaps you have felt the seriousness of that judgement in another setting. One young man, also named Paul, experienced what felt like the death sentence during the final exam of a college course. He was majoring in zoology at college. One semester this young contemporary Paul took a course in the study of birds – ornithology. For the final exam, Paul studied until he had the textbook nearly memorized. He knew his class notes backward and forward. He was eager to take the exam, certain of getting a good grade.
The morning of the exam, Paul took a seat in the front row of the big auditorium where the class was held. Over 100 students were in the class with him. On a table at the front was a row of 10 stuffed birds, each one with a sack covering its body so that only the legs were visible.
The professor announced, "For this test, which counts for 80% of your final grade, I want you to identify each bird up here by its legs, and then discuss its species, natural habitat, and mating patterns. You may begin."
Paul stared at the birds. All the legs looked the same to him. After spending half the exam period in growing frustration as he tried to determine which bird was which, he picked up his exam and threw it on the professor's desk.
"This is ridiculous!" he shouted. "I studied the textbook and my notes all night, and now you're asking me to name these birds by looking at their legs? Forget it!"
The professor picked up the exam booklet and saw that it was blank. "What's your name, young man?"
With that, Paul yanked one leg of his pants up. "Why don't you tell me?"
Paul's response probably didn't earn him a passing grade, although I must admit, I admire his creativity! (story via http://www.earlytorise.com/2011/06/30/cultivate-creativity-to-grow-success/)
I also admire the creativity of this other Paul, the one we know as the Apostle Paul, who writes in our text today: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (v. 1) Really, now?! No condemnation? I think I may safely say there is none among us who is sinless.
I was reminded this week of the story of a preacher was making his rounds on a bicycle, when he came upon a little boy trying to sell a lawn mower. "How much do you want for the mower?" asked the preacher.
"I just want enough money to go out and buy me a bicycle." said the little boy.
After a moment of consideration, the preacher asked, "Will you take my bike in trade for it?"
The little boy asked if he could try it out first. He told the preacher he hadn't ridden a bicycle in a long time and wasn't sure he could still ride one.
The preacher told him, "Just keep trying. It'll come back to you."
After riding the bike around a little while, the little boy said, "Mister, you've got yourself a deal."
The preacher took the mower and began to crank it. He pulled on the rope a few times with no response from the mower. The preacher called the little boy over and said, "I can't get this mower to start."
The little boy said, "That's because you have to cuss at it to get it started."
The preacher said, "I can't cuss. It's been so long since I became a Christian that I don't even remember how to cuss."
The little boy looked at him happily and said, "You just keep pulling on that rope. It'll come back to you."
I know I am not sinless. And neither are you. Yet when Paul speaks of sin he is not talking about our usual moral failures such as cussing or forgetting to pray for someone when we said we would do it. Paul speaks of sin as something larger and more pervasive than our individual moral failures. Paul considers sin to be power that resides in the world and in us. So to hear that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus is strangely good news.
Yes, this is very good news in a world that is full of the power of death. Just turn on the TV to the news channel and see the latest carnage in Libya. Or click on chron.com on the web and read about the latest gruesome death scene. Death's power lingers and nips at us all throughout our lives. Just ask any alcoholic about the power of death and if they are honest they will tell you about the living death they know. Ask any parent of a child who is dying from a devastating disease, and your will hear of the power of death to break a heart even before the child's body gives up. Yet, even the terrible power of death is not enough to stop "the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead" (v. 11).
For an alcoholic, there are two choices: the way of death and the way of life. The first step is to admit that we are powerless over alcohol and that our lives have become unmanageable. The second second is to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. The third is to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.
So it is for the Christian. Substitute the word "sin" for "alcohol," and you have the crux of this passage. We are powerless over sin, which will inevitably lead us to death; but in the Spirit we have the possibility of life. Sin is still a daily possibility; God has not eliminated it form this world once and foralall-not yet. However, a life of righteousness is also a possibility now, because of the Spirit's power.
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (v. 1). This freedom does not take us out of our bodies and fly us up into a netherworld beyond the pearly gates. Instead it frees us to live fully in this world, in this mortal body we have. This freedom is ours in Christ. It is the result of the power of God, a power greater than the sum of all the powers.
The Rev. Dr. Jonathan L. Burnham preached this sermon at St. John's Presbyterian Church on July 10. 2011