9th Sunday after Pentecost “God, in Love, Ruling over Ruins”
July 30, 2023 Romans 8:28-39
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
If you go to Coventry Cathedral – in central England, and stand before the altar, you will be dwarfed by the rich green tapestry that rises above you. It shows a risen & wounded Christ seated on a throne in honor & glory. Around Him are 4 frames of gold, each with a symbol for the 4 evangelists = Matthew, Mark, Luke & John. By those 4 Gospels, God gives us a vision of the once wounded Savior who is now reigning over creation, calling souls out of the fallen world.
The sheer size of the tapestry makes it overwhelming. At 75 ft high & 38 ft wide = that’s the size of a tennis court; & it weighs about 2,000 lbs. The lead-artist was Graham Sutherland; & it took 12 weavers – 3 years to complete. This huge woven picture of the world’s Savior & Lord is meant to capture the attention of worshipers under God’s love in Christ.
What Graham Sutherland did with thread in this tapestry is what the Holy Spirit does with words thru the Apostle Paul in Romans chpt. 8; one of the more widely used & hopeful parts of Scripture. Those words are woven together to join all of God with all of creation = death & life, angels & demons, present & future, things seen & unseen. All of God rules over all of creation in that undeserved care we call ‘love.’
That’s what Paul wants US to take to heart, & to actually use as our foundation for our life now, & our perspective of hope-to-come. With words like this, instead of seeing ‘Judgment Day’ as the scary ‘end’, God’s people view it as the new beginning. It’s the glorious fulfillment & re-creation of all the broken things we experience now. By God’s love in Christ, we are more than conquerors.
For those that have stood before this huge & imposing cloth picture of Jesus, there is a common feeling they experience: a change of perspective. It’s not just another small picture that you look down at, & hold in your hand, & then put in your pocket or purse & think: ‘I’m going to carry little Jesus with me.’ Instead, that tapestry feeling is that ‘little you’ have come into the presence of the big strong Jesus, who is Lord over all creation.
This is also part of Romans 8. Paul has invited us into the presence of the Christ, the ruling Son of God. He then invites us to see the world’s things from Jesus’ view.
This is the view of Biblical faith. Paul knows that if we were to see the world thru the eyes of Christ that that vision will affect the way we think & live, the way we prioritize life’s things, the way we talk, & the way treat others.
It’s very natural for us to have a very limited vision of our life with God; it’s our perspective. We make our plans of work & play, & it appears as if we’re in control of our life. We also decide when we want to pray, & if we want to come to worship or not, & how much of our money we will give as an offering to Him. We evaluate God on whether or not He answered our prayers, or fixed our troubles. From our view, at times, we may think: maybe God wasn’t as helpful this week with my life, or job or family. Yes, Jesus did come to serve us with His life; but that doesn’t mean He is only our servant, & we get to tell Him what we want in our life, & criticize Him when things don’t go our way, like we are the ‘master’. This is our ‘old’ nature expecting to fit The Almighty into our pocket as our personal God.
But thru the Prophets & Apostles, the HSP wants to correct our perspective. WE don’t fit God into our lives. No; God brings us into His eternal existence; under His undeserved love, and under His almighty rule of the world. So, we are not the focus of Rom.8, & we are not the cause of the conquering spoken there. From God’s view, HE is the almighty; He calls & justifies & conforms us thru Christ; He loves us & He intercedes for us, & He holds us so that nothing can separate us from Him. It’s all because of Christ = who is big enough to redeem all of us. Jesus is God-the-Son, who died & was raised, & now rules with all authority. One day, every knee in all creation will bow before Him. His eternal honor & glory & greatness must be part of our perspective.
In Rom.8, Paul reminds us of the ruins of this world & life, & we need this big Lord to rule over our ruins. There are ruins outside the Christian, & the ruins within us. Paul names those things people fear would separate them from God. Tribulation, distress, & persecution; famine & nakedness; danger & sword. Paul is pointing out things he’s seen in his life & ministry.
At this time, Paul is journeying to Jerusalem, carrying a gift for the poor who are suffering under famine. Paul has been in prison because of faith in Christ. He has suffered the tribulation of rejection by family & friends; and suffered dangerous opposition from religious & political rulers. He knows how the evil world fights against God’s people on the outside.
Paul also knows there is evil that flows from within. He himself once persecuted those following Jesus, and gave his approval as Stephen was stoned to death for faith in Christ. So Paul knows this hatred & resistance from his own insides. He has stood guilty before God;
a sinner without excuse. In this section of his letter, Paul invites US to bring all sources of ruin before God. Such as: the ridicule for trying to be godly, & the peer-pressure of immoralities; the burden of financial hardship; the poor health that weakens us or our loved ones; the terrible way someone treated us = things that others have forgotten, but we still remember & feel. This world resists God & God’s people; it makes life unfair. So bring it to the big God.
Paul also expects us to be honest about the ruins of sin within us. We are quick to say that the world causes us trouble; but slower to admit what our own sin causes. It may be the grudge you’re holding against a family member or friend and it makes your life more difficult. Maybe it’s the anger that stews between you & a co-worker or neighbor; or the selfishness that causes us to ignore a person in need, or ignore the needs of God’s Church.
Paul asks us to bring it all before God’s large throne = the evil outside & inside. Why? Because a good perspective informs us that we don’t have enough time, or capacity,
or strength to handle it all. We bring it because of what God-in-Christ is bringing to us:
the largest relief possible, and the most merciful Love imaginable. The Almighty is ruling over the ruins of this world by His love in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Besides the size of that woven picture, here is another amazing thing about going to Coventry Cathedral & standing there below that tapestry. People report being amazed when they turn around & look away from it. As Jesus looks out from the tapestry, He literally sees a church in ruins. Coventry Cathedral is a church built upon rubble.
The city of Coventry was bombed in WWII, on Nov.14, 1940. It experienced the ‘blitzkrieg’ (lightning war) = the nighttime horror of Hitler’s Air Force (Luftwaffe; air-arm/weapon). People had worshipped in this cathedral for almost 900 years; & in one night, it was reduced to charred wood & broken stones. Jock Forbes, a stonemason at the time, looked over the ruins, and saw two of those 900 year old charred timbers fallen to the ground in the shape of a cross. He took these timbers & placed them, as a cross, on top of a pile of rubble, making an altar. Behind them, on a broken wall, he placed the words, “Father, forgive.”
Then, a new cathedral was built extending off of the old ruins. This tapestry hangs at the altar of that new cathedral. So, Jesus sits enthroned, & there in front of him are the seats where people gather for worship. But behind the people are the ruins of the old cathedral. Jesus looks out over a people burdened by sin & a world destroyed by sin; but His message is of peace with God. Even in a place of ruin, believers gather to this big Lord-over-all to hear His Word of forgiveness, life & hope; and behind them are the charred remains of a cross = the symbol of that event where He gave everything in love to win back all nations to Himself.
This is what Paul has included in Romans 8. Christ sees you & me living in a world ruined by the fall. We live with war, or the threat of war, or with the little battles with our spouse or relatives or neighbors. At times, we suffer the abuse of sin; at other times, we make others suffer by our sin. This ruined world tells us to give up on God; if He was powerful there wouldn’t be suffering. He must not care much about you. Many people are tempted & swayed by that message.
Paul writes the Spirit’s invitation to come & to stand before our big God, and hear again the message of God’s Son. At the heart of it all is the cross that addressed the ruined world; He died once, & for all. It’s that one Roman cross, on that one Good Friday 2,000 years ago. That was the one promised event of our redemption, when Jesus Christ offered up His sinless life for our sinful flesh. Thru His death & resurrection, Jesus defeated all the powers of sin & hell & death itself, so that you & I would be claimed us as His own.
That is the proof that God IS for you; not ‘might be’, but IS. So now, ‘Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?’ Earlier in the letter he said, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” This is how Paul brings that large & overwhelming Gospel message of Christ to tower over all our ruins, and to give us hope when this world & our own life seems against us.
Paul began by saying, “all things work together for good for those who love God, and are called according to his purpose.” He has called you again to His purpose. Then Paul closes by saying, “I am sure 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 creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
After the Coventry Cathedral had been bombed, it would have been easy for the people to do one of two things. They could have looked at the ruins in despair; given up & walked away, thinking God had let them down. In that case, evil would’ve won. Or they could have cleaned up the ruins and built a new church so that everyone would’ve forgotten what happened. In that case, people might forget that God’s people will always have to deal with suffering & sin.
What they did, tho, was to hold the suffering & the glory together under the watchful eye of Christ, and under His promise of hope. The old ruins and the new church stand together as a visible reminder that our big God suffers with us in the middle of the fallen creation;
His larger perspective is eternal, and our hope is in the risen, reigning Christ.
Every day we are confronted by this paradox = it’s a strange combination of glory and suffering. In faith, we are certain of the glorious future that God has in store for us, we know & trust that all things work together for good; but we also see the reality of suffering in this world; it causes us personal sorrow, or we weep for others. Even tho we see & feel the ruins, we do not give up hope. By Christ we hold on to both things: reality and hope.
Here at Immanuel, we don’t have a huge & majestic tapestry to gather under & be reminded that Christ Jesus rules over our ruins. But what we do have to gather together under is the historic liturgy, which God’s Church has used thru many generations. It is certain parts of the Scripture that magnifies Christ Jesus & His merciful rule over all things.
For example, the ‘hymn of praise’ in our hymnal on p.155 which we use during the Easter season is called: ‘This is the Feast.’ In it, we sing the words of the angels in heaven from Rev. chapts 5 & 19: “This is the feast of victory for our God; alleluia! Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God.”
Imagine what this sounds like to the unbeliever. If those outside the church looked in, they would not see a ‘feast’. All they see is a small amount of wine & thin wafers of bread; but we know that feast as the very Body & Blood of our Savior for the forgiveness of sin. There is no other feast like that!
If unbelievers looked in, they would not see ‘victory.’ They would see poor, humble sinners, and suffering people, just like everyone else in the world. We are not immune to cancer,
or injuries, or depression, or death. And yet, we sing, “This is the feast of victory.”
We sing this because we have heard & believe the work of Christ Jesus which shows us the love of God & future hope. We sing because Jesus is still present with us in this ruined world by His holy Word & Sacraments. In Him our sins are covered, our death opens the door to a new life with Him. He ascended to rule over all things; His name is above all other names, and we have been baptized into His name.
As you & I look out over this coming week, we can view it from big Jesus’ perspective. Our Savior is the Lord who rules over His people and also over a world in ruins. And because He does, nothing you encounter = outside or inside = is able to take from you His promise.
Not the threat of death or terrorist attack; nor corrupt gov’t rulers or a lying media;
not a war, or a crash of the markets, & not a natural disaster; nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.