Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Service Date: 
30 July, 2017


Worship was led by The Revd. Dr. David Stec who preached on Romans 8 verse 28;'We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called to his purpose.' This is illustrated in the story of Jacob who was tricked into marrying Leah and had to work for a futher seven years before marrying Rachel, her more beautiful younger sister. God's purpose was fulfilled in that the important tribes of Judah and Levi were descended from the sons of Leah. And parables in Matthew describe God's kingdom growing with the co-operation of those who love him. Finally, Paul speaks of God's purpose unfolding through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Hymns: 

 

Rejoice and Sing 71   O God of Bethel

Rejoice and Sing 278  I know that my Redeemer liveth

Rejoice and Sing 100 O love of God, how strong and true

Rejoice and Sing 573  God is working his purpose out

Sermon: 

 

Readings

Genesis chapter 29 verses 15 - 28

Psalm 105 verses 1 - 11 and 45b

Romans chapter 8 verses 26 - 39

Matthew chapter 13 verses 31 - 33 and 44 - 52

“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

Romans chapter 8 verses 28

These words are taken from the Revised Standard Version.

If you have been following the reading from Romans using a different version of the Bible, it is very possible that you have a rather different translation of this verse in front of you.

The Authorised Version translated it: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

And if you are using one of our new church Bibles, you will see that the New Revised Standard Version essentially follows the AV, as do several other versions of the Bible.

There is an ambiguity in the Greek in the first part of the verse, and it could be translated in either way.

Indeed the NRSV offers three possibilities:

Text: “We know that all things work together for good”.

Margin 1: “God makes all things work together for good”.

Margin 2: “In all things God works for good”

An added complication is that in many of the best Greek manuscripts the word “God” is not actually present in this part of the verse, though it is found in some manuscripts.

So as they say, “You pays your money and you takes your choice”.

My choice is to follow the RSV, for no other reason than that I like it best, and that I think it is saying something very profound, and has a tremendous message of reassurance to us.

So then, this verse reads: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

If I was asked to compile a list of great passages of the Bible, Romans 8:28-39 would certainly be among them.

What I take above all else from this passage is that God is working towards the fulfilment of a purpose, and that his purpose is one of good.

All work has a purpose.

For most people, the primary purpose of work is to put bread on the table and to provide a reasonable standard of living.

For those who are fortunate enough, as I am, to be doing work that they enjoy and find fulfilling, work can also bring many other less tangible rewards.

But in human affairs, the primary purpose of work is a material one.

Our OT lesson provides an interesting and at times almost comical example of work and its reward.

Jacob fled from the wrath of his brother Esau after he had used devious means to obtain the birthright and blessing of his father, which should have gone to Esau, and Esau threatened to kill him.

So Jacob went and stayed with his uncle Laban, and tended Laban’s sheep and goats.

Laban thought it not right that Jacob should do this work for nothing, so he asked him what his wages would be.

At this point we are told that Laban had two daughters. The elder, Leah, had weak eyes, whatever that means, and the younger, Rachel, was beautiful.

Rather than ask for payment of money or wealth in some other form, he asked for the hand in marriage of Rachel, with whom he was in love, and offered to work seven years in return for her.

Laban agreed to this, and Jacob worked the seven years, and then claimed his reward.

We then see that Laban could act deviously with Jacob, just as Jacob had with Esau.

Laban prepared a marriage feast, but in the evening he brought his daughter Leah instead of Rachel, and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob slept with her.

It was only the following morning that he discovered that he had the wrong wife.

One wonders how that could possibly have happened. Was he too drunk to notice? Did he not speak to her and hear a different voice?

When he protested to Laban, his uncle replied that it was not the done thing to give the younger daughter in marriage before the elder, but that he could work another seven years in return for the other daughter.

So Jacob worked another seven years, and in due course received his reward in the form of Rachel.

Jacob’s work had a very clear purpose.

We are told that the initial seven years which he served for Rachel “seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her”.

So much for the world of human affairs, where one’s work has a material purpose, whether that be financial reward or, as in the case of Jacob, an object of a different kind.

What of God’s work?

St Paul tells us that the purpose of Gods work is what he calls “good”; he says, “We know that in everything God works for good.”

Lets go back to Genesis 29 for just a moment.

On a purely human level this passage is about Jacob working for Laban, in order to obtain a wife, or as it turned out two wives.

But on the wider level of God working out his purpose, it is also part of a much bigger picture.

For it was from the sons of Jacob that the tribes of Israel were descended, and that the people of Israel came into being, through whom God revealed himself to mankind.

And in this respect, we can even see that God was overcoming human weakness in fulfilment of his purpose.

When Jacob wanted a wife from among the daughters of Laban, he naturally chose the beautiful one, and Rachel was always his favourite wife.

But actually Leah, the less good looking one, also served him very well.

She bore him his firstborn son, Reuben, as well as another five sons, whereas Rachel bore him only two.

A large part of the people of God, including the specially important tribes of Judah and Levi, had their origin in the sons of Leah.

Thus God took was what less valued on a human level, and used it in fulfilment of his purpose.

The OT is essentially an account of God working out his purpose in the history of Israel.

The NT begins a completely new era of the working out of God’s purpose, which Jesus speaks of in terms of the growth of God’s kingdom.

St Matthew in chapter 13 of his Gospel has collected more of Jesus’ parables than are to be found in anywhere else in a single chapter.

And all but one of them open with the words, “The kingdom of heaven (i.e. the kingdom of God) is like …”

… whether it be a grain of mustard seed growing into a great shrub,

… or the effect of leaven being added to flour,

… or the discovery of treasure, hidden in a field, bringing joy to the one who finds it,

… or a merchant finding a pearl of great price, and selling all that he has in order to obtain it,

… or a net being cast into the sea and gathering in fish of every kind.

In these parables of Jesus we see the kingdom of God growing and taking shape, we see some practical illustrations of the co-operation of God with those who love him, which St Paul spoke of in Rom 8:28:

“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

The Greek verb here is a single word, meaning literally to “work with”, “co-operate with”; God works with those who love him.

St Paul is not here describing a subjective process, in which by our love for God we can merit his help.

For to the words “those who love him,” he adds, “who are called according to his purpose”.

And he goes on to speak about what God had done for us, and puts it like this: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son … and those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

When the concept of predestination is developed to a rigid dogma, as it has been by some theologians over the centuries, this raises some difficult issues that I do not want to go into now.

But St Paul is not here presenting a developed doctrine of predestination, but rather speaking about the grace of God, and how those who are called according to his purpose, in other words those of us who are recipients of the Gospel, experience his grace.

Thus he goes on to speak about what God has achieved for us through the death and resurrection of his son, Jesus Christ, who now sits at the right hand of God and makes intercession for us.

This is all part of the process of the unfolding of God’s purpose of good.

And as far as St Paul is concerned, this provides a tremendous assurance to us in a world in which so much can seem to be against us and threaten our well-being.

Doubtless, in part, he had in mind the persecutions and hardships faced by the earliest Christians, but what he says about the victory over sin and death achieved through the cross and resurrection of Christ are applicable to the human condition which all of us share.

The words of St Paul in this passage have provided great comfort and hope to many a bereaved person grieving over the loss of a loved one.

He asks: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

And he continues: “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, 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.”