All things work together (Year A, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 24 July 2011)

Readings|
Romans 8.26-39
Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52

 

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

What was the difference between Paul and Jesus? (Besides the obvious, that Jesus is the eternal Son of God…) It was this: Jesus told parables, Paul didn’t. But if we could apply just one of Jesus’ parables to Paul, I think the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price would be a good contender.

Surely Paul was like the merchant: when he found the secret of the kingdom, that Jesus crucified and risen is the longed-for Messiah, he turned his back on everything and followed him. Others may have said he was a fool, they might say he threw everything away for this Jesus of Nazareth. But once Paul found his Pearl of Great Price he could pen the great eighth chapter of Romans and proclaim this wonderful, liberating  truth:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

And,

When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…

And further,

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword…[nothing] in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is indeed a prize worth living for. This is a prize worth losing everything else for.

Paul’s confidence in the Lord Jesus is such that he has even become convinced that

all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Which things work together for good? All things. Not just some things, and not even most things. All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

This is an amazing thing for Paul to say. He didn’t have an easy time following Jesus. He knew hardship, distress, persecution… In another place he said he had endured ‘afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights and hunger’ for the sake of Jesus. (2 Corinthians 6.4b-5) Yet Paul has learned from his own difficult experience that

all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Even those things that he would not have welcomed. What can that possibly mean? Is Paul living in a ‘Once upon a time’ world, looking to live ‘Happily ever after’? Does he ‘Always look on the bright side of life’, is he ‘Singin’ in the rain’, ‘whistling in the dark’? Is Paul a ‘glass half full’ kind of bloke? Or will he end up ‘spitting into the wind’?

No, if we see it that way, we don’t understand Paul at all. Listen to his words again:

those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Paul says God has predestined us, called us, justified and glorified us, and it’s all about being ‘conformed to the image of his Son’.

There are some interesting words here. God ‘predestined’ all this—that does NOT mean that God has chosen some to be saved and many to go to hell, as people often think. It means God has a plan ahead of time. It means God knows what God is doing. God is calling us, God is putting us right with him through forgiving our sin and God will see it through to the end. And all so we’ll be like Jesus, ‘conformed to the image of God’s Son’. This is a pearl of great price indeed.

All things work together for our true good, our deep good: and that is so we’ll show the family likeness. All things do not work together so we’ll be happy in some superficial sense, or so that our wishes will come true in some Disneyland kind of way.

In my life, I’ve seen this working out through having depression. I can now say that I thank God for that diagnosis, because God has taught me so much through this illness.

God has taught me at times when I haven’t thought much of myself that I am his child, his adopted son, and I have a future. God has given me glimpses of where he is leading me. And I know that all things work together for good for me. I know that through what is often a painful journey that I am being conformed to the image of God’s Son. I’m not saying God ‘caused’ me to have depression; but God has caused it to work for my good.

I have been given a pearl of great price. So much so that I can say ‘Thank you’ to God for my depression, not ‘Thanks God’ despite it. I hope we can all thank God for things that we may not have wanted, things that have drawn us closer to Jesus, things in which God has worked for our deep good.

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?

Yes. He will. Amen!

 

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1 Comment

Filed under church year, Personal, RCL, sermon

One response to “All things work together (Year A, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 24 July 2011)

  1. Julie M

    Amen indeed, Paul, Amen!

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