Sermon Roman 8:22-27 “Nevertheless, God Is” May 27, 2012


          I squashed a bug last week. It wasn’t a big event as events go, but, sometimes, I think that I think too much. Once I tossed the remnants down the flush, I started wondering; “Why did God bother putting this little insignificant, too-small-to-be-food-for-another, insect on earth? What’s the point? What possible purpose could that bug, which was no bigger than the head of a pin have in the greater scheme of things?”

Then I read a story that gave me some hope that maybe even the smallest creatures on earth do have purpose. The story takes place in Germany during the horrific days of the Holocaust. It’s a story about Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsy, both of whom were imprisoned by the Nazis. Transferred to the worst prison camp, Ravensbruck they discover, upon entering the place where they will be forced to live that not only is the barracks overcrowded. It’s also infested with fleas. They had managed to smuggle a Bible into the prison. That morning, before they had arrived at the camp, they had read verses from I Thessalonians, a scripture that reminded them to rejoice always in all things and to pray without ceasing, to give thanks in all circumstances.

Hope was certainly in short supply in the dire days of the German onslaught and the circumstances under which the sisters would be forced to live were unbearable. The overcrowded barracks were bad enough, but the fleas just made the situation worse. So, understandably, Corrie resisted Betsy’s encouragement to thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters. Every detail, even the fleas! Corrie just couldn’t do it and at first, she refused to offer up words of gratitude if it meant including co-existing with fleas, but her sister Betsy persisted.

Finally, knowing that Betsy was right and that she had to trust the words of hope in the scriptures, Corrie did give thanks to God for all the circumstances under which they would be living, which included the fleas. Amazingly, while they lived in the camp over many months, they found they were not prevented from holding daily Bible study nor were they prohibited to openly hold prayer sessions with the other inmates. Rather puzzlingly, the guards didn’t come into the barracks. It was only after several months of holding these daily sessions of Bible Study and prayer that the two sisters discovered why their activities were not banned or prevented. Apparently, seeking to avoid the flea-infested area, the guards avoided coming into the barracks. Corrie and Betsy could pray and share the Word of God with their fellow prisoners because of fleas.[1]

Hope is an astonishing virtue. Paul wrote most of his letters with the shadow of prison haunting him. In and out of jail for his belief in Christ, Paul knew that his words could lead to a loss of freedom but he persisted because he put his hope in Christ. And he encouraged that same persistent hope in those to whom he wrote his letters. In the letter to the Romans, Paul acknowledges the pain of life as we know it – “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now”. He acknowledges the pain and grief of living under a restrictive and brutal government – “and not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait…in hope we are saved. “

On the day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate as the birth of the Church the Spirit of God, came to rest on the heads of those whom Christ had called as his disciples. Paul reminds them and of course, us, the “Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” helping us pray when we don’t know how to do so on our own.

When our abilities fail, when our plans don’t pan out, when the things we seek are not really what we need, God’s Spirit of hope can bring us back to a place in which life’s priorities are God’s rather than ours. Bishop Peter Storey coined a phrase that seems to best illustrate for us what we, as Christians, rely on. Yes, our lives may not be as we imagined they should be. Yes, the news around us seems, at times, to be grim and ugly. Yes, there are economic, social, and ecological problems that weigh us down. But there is something, something profound upon which we can rely; the “great nevertheless of God.”[2]

Peter Storey was serving as a bishop of the Methodist Church in South Africa at the height of the apartheid struggle. He knew Bishop Desmond Tutu and knew of the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. In those grim days when South Africa was a hotbed of persecution, racial bias and horrible suffering when white was pitted against black, Storey still believed that the Holy Spirit was present, active, alive. There was no obvious evidence of this; the government was clearly in control. It had all the power but Storey believed that God stood with the poor and disenfranchised of South Africa. He believed in hope and he knew and understood Paul’s words in the letter to the Romans: hope seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” The great nevertheless of God proved to be the strength upon which those with faith, with hope orchestrated a non-violent turnaround that ended Apartheid and restored basic human rights and common justice to the everyman and everywoman in this once troubled country.

One commentator put it this way:

“The odds were heavily against the peaceful revolution; nevertheless, with God on their side, they were victorious. In the end, there was a strong temptation to retaliate; nevertheless, God gave them a means of forgiving enemies and forming a reconciled nation. No matter what the odds, if God is in something, no obstacle can block the great nevertheless of God.”[3]

We live at a time when war seems to be the answer to every misunderstanding and every economic claim. We live in a time when we view others who may be different from us in some way with deep suspicion and may react in violent ways. We live in a time when taking the time to know and understand another, their way of life, their viewpoint, their concerns, fears and struggles just seems like too much work. We live in a time where hope in something better, more human, more just and peaceful seems illusive. Do we hope for a life of purpose and potential not just for us but for all of God’s children, no matter where they live, how they worship, no matter what color they are or what traditions they practice? Do we live in the hope of God’s great nevertheless when what appears to be so is not as certain as God’s power, grace and love?

What is hope? What can it do for us? Well, there’s a writer, John Maxwell, who put together a book of meditations for leaders and this is his understanding of what hope is and how it is God’s great nevertheless:

  • Hope shines brightest when the hour is darkest.


  • Hope motivates when discouragement comes.
  • Hope energizes when the body is tired.


  • Hope sweetens while bitterness bites.


  • Hope sings when all melodies are gone.


  • Hope believes when evidence is eliminated.


  • Hope listens for answers when no one is talking.


  • Hope climbs over obstacles when no one is helping.


  • Hope endures hardship when no one is caring.


  • Hope smiles confidently when no one is laughing.


  • Hope reaches for answers when no one is asking.


  • Hope presses toward victory when no one is encouraging.


  • Hope dares to give when no one is sharing.
  • Hope brings the victory when no one is winning[4]


We may not know the mind of God, but we know that God loves beyond our ability to love and gives beyond our ability to give. And I suspect, that while we struggle to hope for a better world than what we’ve made of this one, God hopes too…God puts God’s hope in us that someday we will know when our efforts are not enough, when our love is not sufficient to be all inclusive, and when are desires tend to consume our resources, then we will reach out in hope for God’s great nevertheless. Just as Paul put it; “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Let’s hope so. Amen.

[1] From an online resource

[2] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, Clayton J. Schmit, 17.

[3] Schmit, Ibid. 19.

[4]  John C. Maxwell from Think on These Things: Meditations for Leaders, 1979, 1999.

One Reply to “Sermon Roman 8:22-27 “Nevertheless, God Is” May 27, 2012”

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