Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | September 18, 2011

Sermon on Romans 11:33-36

Let God be God

  • Order of Service: Common Service (CW, p15)
  • Lessons: Exodus 6:2-8, Romans 11:33-36, Matthew 16:13-20
  • Hymns: 382, 537, 529, 538

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Hurricane Irene battered her way up the Eastern seaboard last weekend.  And even though this first big hurricane of the year didn’t reach the predicted apocalyptic proportions, it did enough.  Irene caused almost 50 deaths.  Flooding isolated towns in New England.  The storm left millions without power.  Plus a storm like this always devastates local economies because of flights canceled, stores closed, sales unmade.  And we ask, “Why?”

Since 2008 the economy of our country has been, well, Irene-d.  Billions of dollars in retirement funds have disappeared along with millions of jobs.  The national debt reached epic proportions, lowering our national credit rating.  Despite attempted solutions, unemployment hovers in the 8-10% range throughout most of the country.  Some of you, or your close family members, include yourselves as victims of this economy.  And we ask, “Why?”

Since 2001 our nation has fought two wars in the Near and Far East.  5,000 of our young men and women have died along with countless Afghans and Iraqis.  In the last couple of years, success has floated just at the tips of our fingers, and, in fact, some measure of it gained, as troops come home and those countries take back responsibility.  And yet August ended as one of the bloodiest months for our troops in the last ten years.  And along the way the Arab Spring found us supporting rebels in Libya.  And we ask, “Why?”

Early this year we discovered a gas leak here at St. Mark, and over the course of the work found almost a dozen more.  The work used up much of our congregation’s bank account and put us in a tight spot.  And we ask, “Why?”

Over the past couple of months we’ve prayed for a family who suddenly and unexpectedly lost a mother.  We’ve prayed for fathers and brothers and parents and friends suffering from cancer, heart issues, pneumonia, broken hips, and a myriad of other things.  Some have recovered, some have not.  And we ask, “Why?”

The cliché goes, “There are no easy answers.”  But what about when there are no answers?  Neither I, nor the best meteorologists, with all their training and expertise, can tell you why Irene did what she did.  Meteorologists can’t give you perfect scientific explanations, and I can’t give you perfect spiritual explanations.  Ditto about the economy, wars, gas leaks, and death.

That doesn’t mean that no reasons exist, just that those reasons remain outside of our grasp.  They remain hidden in God.  At the end of arguably the hardest portion of Paul’s letter to the Romans, perhaps of all Paul’s writings, when Paul deals with why God has mercy on some and hardens others, Paul finally can only sing out:  Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:33-36).

But notice, Paul did not rage.  He did not question.  He did not mock.  He praised.  “You’re God, and I’m not!”  He worshiped.  “I can’t do what you do!  I wouldn’t do what you do!  I’m glad you’re God and I’m not!”  He let God be God.  “You’re wise.  You’re smart.  You’ve got control.  So, glory be to you, O Lord!”

As hard as it must have been for Paul – and remember, Paul’s pretty smart himself – He let it go and let God be God.  He laid the groundwork for what our Lutheran fathers wrote 1,500 years later:  We cannot know about matters outside of and beyond what God has revealed to us in His Word (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, 11:64).

That’s hard, isn’t it?  Because we want to know.  We need to know.  Or else things don’t make sense, do they?  If someone can give us a reason for why this happened or that didn’t, it may not make us like it, but at least we can understand.  But when there’s no reason, well, that just puts salt into the wound, doesn’t it?

We want to know.  We need to know.  We demand to know.  And when we don’t, God gets the blame. Because we, as Christians, at least, allow God to exist.  We know the Maker and Creator.  We confess Him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   The universe, we know, is not random.  Things don’t just happen.  So, we lift up our eyes to heaven and say, “How could you do this?”  “Why did you do this?”  “Why didn’t you consult me first?”  Because we wouldn’t behave this way.  We wouldn’t do this.  This goes against our best advice.

But, as Luther said, if that’s the case, then why do we need God?  If we explain everything, if we give all the reasons why this or that should or shouldn’t happen, we don’t need God.  We’re God.  That’s the oldest sin, isn’t it?  You will be like God (Genesis 3:5).  When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it (Genesis 3:6).  Against God’s express wish.  Because she didn’t let God be God.  She made herself God.  Worse than any sin against commandments 4-10 stands this:  “I am God.”

Because she dwelled on the bad.  “God hates you, how else can you explain withholding this from you?  God hates you, how else can you explain Him not letting you understand good and evil?  God hates you, how else can you explain losing your retirement, your job, your mom, your friend?  Really?  That’s God?  If you were God, wouldn’t things go so much differently and better?”

When the devil speaks, when the world leads with what bleeds, when your flesh joins in, you pry into God.  But to know God is to be God.  And you’re not God.  Or else you’d it.  You’d understand the whys and the hows and the whats and the whens.  You’d be at peace.  But you’re not.  Stop getting into God’s stuff.

And along the way don’t forget the unexplainable good.  Things like Creation.  God made the heavens and the earth.  God made you.  God made the heavens and the earth for you.  Things like salvation.  God so loved the world that made itself God that He sent His Son to die for it, to save it.  In Christ, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace (Ephesians 1:7).  Things like election.  God, from all eternity, adopted believers, chose believers, made believers, predestined believers, in accordance with His pleasure and will (Ephesians 1:4-5).   Things like the Holy Ministry.  We would never know this, except God tells us.  He told Moses, I am the LORD.  I have remembered my covenant.  I will free you.  I will redeem you.  I will be your God (Exodus 6:2, 5-6).  Jesus said to Peter, Blessed are you…for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven (Matthew 16:17).  That direct revelation He gave into the hands of His Church and appoints pastors and teachers to repeat it over and over and over again.  He gives this Church a Word to speak, a water to pour, and a meal to distribute that says, “You’re free.  Christ redeemed you!  Here is your God!”

Why?  Because He’s rich.  Because it pleases Him.  Would you be that God?  Thank God He was, and thank God He is.  You gave nothing to God but trouble, and He repays you with His Son, who builds His Church on the confession that He is the Christ who opens heaven with His blood.

What an unsearchable judgment!  God in eternity saw you sin, yet in eternity planned your rescue.  Don’t doubt that that same God sits in judgment over weather and war and economies and surgeries and death.  And from eternity knew the who, the what, the when, the how, and the why.  Let God be God.  But don’t forget that God is our Lord Jesus Christ.  Everything came through Him.  And by faith we live through Him.  In good and bad.  Still, to Him be the glory, because in Him is glory, the glory of sins forgiven, of a Church planted firmly, of Hell’s gates smashed, and heaven opened.  Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 11:33).  As He shows us Christ, He shows us just how wide and long and high and deep His love is (Ephesians 3:18).  Let God be God.  Let God be Christ.  Amen!

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