I. Establish the text
A. Select the Pericope: Romans 8:26-39
C. Other texts for Year A, Ordinary Time, July 24th, 2011
- First Reading Genesis 29:15-28
- Psalm Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
- Or alternate Psalm Psalm 128:1-6
- Gospel Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
26 The Spirit stuffs words in our mouths when God needs us to speak and cotton in our minds when we must be silent.
27 Paul is contemplating the relationship between the first and third persons of the Trinity.
28-30 Note this does not exclude those who God did not predestine. But only affirms God working in and through those whom God has called. (People are not predestined to not know God.)
34 Assurance of Pardon.
35-36 Believers are not shielded from hardship, but only guaranteed connection with God.
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- The closing paragraph celebrates the conclusion of three arguments beginning with Chapter 5.
III. Question the text.
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Center of Gravity: Assurance of being with God in eternity.
- Hymn: “All the Way My Savior Leads Me”
- Hymn: “It Is Well with My Soul”
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
- If God is really for us, then why is life so hard/painful?
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- In verses 31-34 Paul has primed the reader to answer in verse 35 that no-one can separate us from the love of God, for God is our defender, instead Paul jumps past defender surpassing even conqueror of those who might attempt to separate us from God’s love.
- Paul ties the weak fleshy nature with the spiritual nature that is linked to the Holy Spirit via the Cross of Christ.
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
Paul Achtemeier (Interpretation: Romans, JKP 1985) surmises that Paul reasoned that any present suffering far outweighs the glory we are to receive. “[W]e can have confidence in our future with God only because that future is in God’s hands, not ours.” He advises that a sermon on prayer teach a focus on fulfilling God’s purposes rather than our own. He proposes that verses 33 through 37 be read as three questions each answered by an absurdity. The first two answer are rhetorical questions and the third a statement. He concludes: “Perhaps the greatest comfort here lies in the fact that we too are creatures. If no creature can separate us from God’s love, then in the end even our own almost limitless ability to rebel against God is overcome; and we are saved from our last and greatest enemy, ourselves.”
N. Thomas Wright (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “Letter to Romans”, Abingdon, 2002) alludes that other authors interpret “sighs to deep for words” as inferring glossolalia. He reflects: “Being indebted to grace is like the permanent indebtedness that exists between those who have given themselves freely to one another in lifelong human love: a state of wonder and gratitude in which one’s own humanness is enhanced rather than diminished, ennobled rather than belittled.” He interprets the inclusion of Psalm 44:22 as drawing in the entire Psalm which flows from celebrating the love of God as seen in Israel’s victories, to complaint that enemies have prevailed, with Israel’s slaughter a direct result of its loyalty to God, and ending with a plea for God to wake up and help and redeem.
Frank Stagg (Knox Preaching Guides: Galatians | Romans, JKP, 1980) notes that verse 28, is cherished because it is misunderstood and abused into the “glib idea that everything is going to work out all right.” He cites Paul’s own life as providing examples counter to the idea that the good is to be understood as material, health, position, … since Paul suffered shipwreck, jail whippings, scourging, character assassination, stoning, … “We remain in the same old world, with the same old problems, but the outcome is assuredly different. The difference is that between “I myself” and “in Christ.”
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?
Christians suffer hardships like all other people, but Christ gives us a confidence that more than conquers whatever might separate us from God.