"In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me."
10th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Romans 8:28-30 Sermon
July 24, 2005
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
434 "Beautiful Saviour, King Of Creation"
399 "Jesus Thy Boundless Love To Me"
252 "O Word Of God Incarnate"
576 "Abide With Me"
HOW CAN ANY GOOD BE FOUND?
TEXT (vs. 28): “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
The date is April 20, 1999. Two teen-age boys get ready for school on a day that will live on in the memories of many people for a long time. The two boys, 18 year old Eric Harris and 17 year old Dylan Klebold would, to the best of their ability, carry out something they had been plotting for months.
The city was Littleton, Colorado—a small city on the southern edge of Denver about the size of Kearney, Nebraska. The target was Columbine High School, including the students and faculty.
Prior to this date, these two boys had entered the school and had planted home-made propane bombs in the school’s cafeteria and library. They had spent time obtaining weapons and making pipe bombs. They even had names of people they were going to target. The time of the attack had been carefully calculated for the maximum number of casualties. This would be no “spur of the moment” ordeal; everything had been plotted to the nth degree.
And so on the morning of April 20, 1999, nobody had a clue as to what was going to happen. The two boys who would later be the mass executioners, went to a bowling class early that morning, just as normal. Nobody expected anything unusual to happen.
Then around 11.00 that morning, the two boys drove up South Pierce Street to Columbine High School, a rather moderate size, unpretentious high school in a white, middle-class neighborhood. They parked in the student parking lot. And then, they gathered their back packs loaded with pipe bombs. Eric Harris then armed himself with a Savage pump-action shotgun and a 9 mm carbine rifle; and Dylan Klebold armed himself with a Stevens double-barrel shotgun and a 9 mm Tec-9 pistol. Together they headed to the southwest entrance of Columbine High School by the cafeteria.
Shortly after 11.20 am, they began their rampage. The cafeteria and library were full of students. They exploded pipe bombs, and began shooting people. Cries and screams rang out as people ran for cover.
Scarcely 15 minutes later, everything came to an end. 12 students and 1 teacher had been killed, and another 23 had been injured. Sobbing and crying amid the constant noise of the school’s fire alarm were the only sounds heard, where seconds before there had been explosions and gunfire. And the two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold lay dead on the floor of the school library, after turning their guns on themselves and committing suicide.
It’s been over 6 years now since this event occurred. Even though the original shock and horror has worn off, and people have gotten on with their lives, yet there are a lot of feelings and emotions that remain.
As I think about this situation, of course my thoughts first turn to the families of the victims. There are 12 sets of parents, along with brothers and sisters and other family members who think about their loved one who never made it past adolescence. There’s the teacher who died, leaving behind a wife and children.
I also think about the people that others often overlook. What about the Harrises and the Klebolds? They not only have to go through the death of their children, but they have to go through life knowing what they did, and also the guilt about not having caught on to what was happening. And then you can add the condemnation of society, blaming them for not being better parents. Life must be particularly hard for them.
We can also consider those who were injured that survived, as well as the other students who were there, along with the rest of the faculty and staff at Columbine.
There are a lot of lives that have been permanently affected by the horrible events of April 20, 1999. And it makes a person wonder how they have been dealing with everything—both then and now.
Our text for today presents some words that appear difficult for us to comprehend, especially in the face of a major tragedy. Paul writes to the Christians at Rome: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
I can’t imagine having gone to the family of a Columbine victim right after the loss of a child and telling them, “Well you know what the Bible says, ‘All things work together for good.’” Somehow, I think they would be offended if I did that. Those wouldn’t be appropriate words to use to console a grieving family. Even though those words are very true, and the family of a victim might appreciate them later on, there are more appropriate passages of comfort that would be better spoken.
However if we examine what was happening at the time Paul recorded these words of God, we might appreciate how they apply in our own lives.
The Christians at Rome weren’t having an easy time of it. The Roman government was a very heathen government. Christians were being openly persecuted because of their faith. If you were a Christian living in Rome, and if you were caught, you stood a very good chance of being beaten, tortured, and killed. Or you might have to watch as this was being done to your family.
Paul was writing and giving encouragement to this group of Christians. How could their hardships serve God’s master plan and his purpose? How were these people going to be key figures in God’s kingdom?
As we look at the first few words in our text, Paul starts out with the words, “And we know.” Paul was stating something that he knew they already knew, but he needed to remind them yet again. He knew that they would probably lose sight of this very important fact, that they were they were indeed part of God’s divine plan, even though they might have to experience evil at the hands of others. He also knew they might be tempted to turn their backs on their Christian faith. And so he states the obvious, “You know that all things work together for good…”
We need only think back several thousand years before the time of the Romans, to the time of Joseph. Joseph’s brothers wanted to get rid of him, and so they sold him as a slave, telling his father that he had been killed.
Joseph, separated from his family and homeland at a very early age then becomes a key figure in the Egyptian government, and then is able to rescue his family from the famine in Israel by bringing them to Egypt.
Joseph’s brothers had intended to do him harm, but God was in control, and turned their bad into his good. Joseph was a prime example of how God is in control, and how he makes things turn to good for his children, even when others had intended him evil.
I’m sure that this example of Joseph was well in Paul’s mind when by God’s divine inspiration he wrote this epistle to the Romans. Just as Joseph fit into God’s plan of good, they too would fit into the same plan. If we look a couple verses following our text for today, in verse 32 we read: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all; how will he not also, along with him graciously give us all things?” Doesn’t that sound like a God who will make all things work together for good? Doesn’t it sound like we have a vital place in God’s divine plan?
Just as it was for Joseph, just as it was for the Romans, so it is for each of us too. God not only caused these words to be recorded to give the Romans hope and direction, but for all of us who are his children through faith, right down to the present day. This is where we have a real hope right now, because we know that we are part of God’s eternal plan.
As we look at the tragedies of this world—the hurts, the horrors, and the devastating effects, people make one huge and terrible mistake sometimes. They’ll look at things like Columbine, or the 9/11 attacks, and say, “Well, it was God’s will.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
We can’t take these tragedies and pin the blame on God. To do so would make God out to be some sadistic monster, who would send deranged teenagers into a school to commit a massacre, or who would send airplanes crashing into buildings. That’s not the type of God we have at all.
We have to remember one very important thing here: There are a lot of things which happen in this world that are NOT God’s will. Remember that! A lot of things will and do happen which are NOT God’s will. Murder is not God’s will. Adultery is not God’s will. Divorce is not God’s will. Child abuse is not God’s will. There is a long list of things which are not God’s will. Anything that can be classified as sin is NOT God’s will! The Bible clearly tells us that.
So if these things are not God’s will, why do they happen at all? To answer that question, we have to go all the way back to the beginning of time when sin entered into the world. One thing that God has given us is a free will. Man clearly chose to reject God’s way and follow the path of evil. And suddenly, God’s perfect creation became imperfect. Ever since that time, we have had to live lives which are tainted with the imperfection of sin, and we have had to deal with the consequences of it.
So when we think about all the instances of man’s inhumanity to man, and the effects of it, it is all because man has made a choice to follow a path that is not God’s will. The Islamic suicide bomber, who does what he does in the name of Allah, has made a choice to follow a false god. The mass murderer, who commits horrific acts of violence, has chosen to follow the path of his own device. People choose the path that is not God’s will all of the time, and innocent people will frequently suffer because of it. We can’t blame God and his will for what sinful man has done out of his own free will.
It’s at this point that we look to God, not to blame him for the world’s problems, but for a solution. That solution is found only in Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
Jesus came into an evil world. The very Son of God came to this earthly home of ours to give us redemption and hope. He came so that he might deliver his children out of the wickedness this world has produced, into his perfect kingdom.
If we look at ourselves, we can see how our own evil thoughts and actions have affected us. Most likely, it hasn’t been on the grand scale of some of the atrocities we see in the world, but we have to admit that we have been less than perfect in doing God’s will.
In verse 29 of our text for today, we read: “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.”
That verse speaks about us, God’s children, who have become his through faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour. God called us, not through any choice of our own, but through the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament. He brought us to faith in Jesus our Saviour so that we might be his own, and walk in the ways of his will. And we can be assured that he will bless and keep us in that faith, even when we are tempted to stray and wander from that path. Because God has brought us to the knowledge of truth, we will want to continue in his way, and not choose the path of sin and destruction.
Even when the evils and atrocities of this world seem to close in and try to get the better of us, God comes to us with the promise that things will indeed work for our good, because we love him and we have been called according to his purpose.
At the beginning, I talked about the horrible events which happened at Columbine High School back in 1999. How can any good be found in what happened there? Can the grieving people find any comfort in the words, “All things work together for good?”
Nothing can change what happened on that day. But I can tell you that the Columbine tragedy has had a drastic impact on various things. Police procedure has changed. School administrators and students are more keenly aware of weapons in schools, suspicious packages, and unauthorized people on school grounds. Metal detectors are being used, and searches are becoming more common. People are paying more attention to what students say and all threats are being taken much more seriously. Students with problems are being helped instead of ignored. Even bullying in schools has become more than the “rite of passage” it was some years ago, and legislation is even being introduced to try to curtail it.
So if any good can be found in the Columbine situation, it would be that future similar situations have been diffused before they came to the same tragic conclusion. Even though it cannot be 100% (as in the recent Minnesota high school shooting), yet people are keenly aware that it can happen, and steps can be taken to help prevent it. We can thank God that the recent school situation at Malcolm High School which could have happened, didn’t.
The Christian parents of the Columbine victims do have one thing, and that is hope. Even though their son’s or daughter’s life was brutally taken too soon, they have the assurance that God has taken their child, and given them their reward. Even though their earthly life was not taken according to His will, he has given them eternal life according to his will, in the eternal paradise of heaven.
For us to tritely say, “All things work together for good” in a lot of situations is difficult. It’s difficult telling the child lying in the hospital because of child abuse, or a rape victim, or someone who’s been mugged and robbed that “All things work together for good.” It’s difficult telling the Christian farmer who’s just lost all his crops, or the person who’s losing their eyesight that things are working out for their good. Sometimes when life seems so unfair, it’s hard to keep this purpose in mind.
But we can look at things differently. Perhaps a tragedy will move us into actions of Christian charity and love. Perhaps things happen to us so we may be effective witnesses. Perhaps things happen to others so we may give the comfort of the Gospel and show them their Saviour. Perhaps things happen to us to strengthen us in areas where we are weak. Perhaps God allows something to happen to us when he sees us slipping away from him, and he needs to draw us back. Perhaps he wants to see us lean totally and completely on him when we’re tempted to go it alone. Perhaps we need to learn a lesson. Perhaps someone needs to learn a lesson through us at our expense. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps….we could drive ourselves crazy trying to figure out God’s mind and what he hasn’t revealed to us in his Word.
What we do know however, is that we are indeed part of God’s divine plan. With that in mind then, we have several things we need to do. First, we need to keep strong in our faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour. Second, we need to live our Christian faith in all that we say and do. Third, we need to build up God’s kingdom by sharing the Gospel with others, and otherwise doing the work the Lord has set out for us. And finally, remember that we are alive here today because God wants us to be here. If our work on earth were finished, we’d be in heaven right now, and not sitting here.
We are part of God’s divine plan here and now. So whatever adversity or hardship might come our way, let us always remember the words of our text today: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”