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Oct 16, 2016

“God’s Vision, My Hope” 10-16-16

Romans 8:18-31
October 16, 2016

Visionaries are people who can see beyond present circumstances to what is possible. Visionaries seek to explore uncharted territory and bring out undeveloped potential. Marino Auriti was a visionary. Born in Italy in 1891, Marino was from childhood interested in art and architecture. In the 1930s he and his family found their way to Kennett Square, PA, having fled the rise of the Fascist Party in their own country. Marino worked as a car mechanic and established his own garage, but he never forgot his passion. In the 1950s, Marino built what would be his masterpiece – an architectural model he dubbed The Encyclopedic Palace. The eleven foot tall model was built at a scale of one to two-hundred. Had the building ever been realized, it would have stood at 136 stories and covered 16 city blocks. Marino dreamed of seeing the building built in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the building was even grander than its design; Marino intended it to be a repository of all of the accumulated knowledge of the ages.
Marino was a visionary. Yet we are often reminded that visionaries do not always have the resources or the power to bring about their vision. Though the model is incredible to observe, no financial or political backer ever shared Marino’s vision. The model was displayed twice during his lifetime, and then spent twenty-two years in storage disassembled. Eventually, Marino’s granddaughter succeeded in having the model placed in the American Folk Art Museum. Happily, the model has received much attention of late, traveling a few years ago to anchor a show in Venice and, most recently, traveling around the US – which is how my family and I encountered it recently in St. Louis. The viewer is immediately struck by the craftsmanship and Marino’s vision yet also reminded that the vision has yet to come to reality. 1
I do not think that it is improper to describe the apostle Paul as a visionary. And the Epistle to the Romans, from which this morning’s text comes, is an example of his theological and missional vision. The very purpose of Paul’s writing to the Romans was an extension of his restlessness to continue to spread the gospel of Jesus to new territories. Paul hoped to build a relationship with the Church of Rome, so that the capital of the empire might become a base of operations for a missionary journey to the edge of the Mediterranean world in Spain (Rom. 15:24). In the immediate context of our text, we get an awe-inspiring glance at Paul’s theological vision. In Romans 8, Paul sees beyond our present sufferings to what will be true upon the return of Christ to judge and save. In that time, Paul writes, the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and the children of God will be revealed in glory. The sufferings of the present cannot compare to the glory to come, when creation is restored to “its original beauty and wholeness” (note from ESV Global Study Bible) and we experience resurrection into immortal, glorified bodies. Paul means to comfort Christians with this vision. As it says in v. 28 of this text – God works all things for good for those who love him or all things work together for good for those who love him. This is an incredible vision.
But there is a simple phrase which gives me pause. I am reminded that vision requires resources and capability if it is to become reality. My hesitation is not with Paul. For the vision Paul articulates has come from God and God will accomplish his purposes. My hesitation is for myself – that I may take comfort from the promise, that I might live into the reality of the vision. The phrase that gives me pause is “for those who love God.” Scripture teaches us that love for God is both our duty and that for which we were designed. Yet when I look at my life, considering only my own resources and capabilities, I am frequently reminded of my disobediences and persistent struggles. I am reminded of the way that my love for God is often weak and cold. Maybe you feel this hesitation too. Can we who – looking to our own resources and acknowledging our deficiencies – find comfort in this vision?
I thank God that Paul does not stop writing in the first half of v. 28. He continues on to make three statements that address us directly in reference to this need. In the next few moments, follow me through v. 31 and note the three ways in which Paul speaks to us weak and fearful saints.
First, in the second half of v. 28, Paul renames the group. Now he does not call them “the ones who love God” but “those who have been called.” Notice how the weight of responsibility shifts. If someone is called, then there is a caller who has initiated the action. The focus is no longer upon the subjective activity (following John Murray) of the Christian but upon the action of the Caller. Moreover, Paul says that the call has come for God’s purposes.
Second, let us look at what Paul says in v. 29. He begins stringing together active voice verbs in which God is the actor and his people are the objects of God’s work. Paul declares that those who are called by God have been foreknown by him. God intimately knows his people from before the foundation of the world. Moreover, he has predestined them to be part of his people, to find life and salvation through Jesus. He does not only know them but he also exercises his will for their sake from the depths of eternity. These actions of God have a sure purpose – that God’s people will have conformity to Christ in his glorified, resurrected existence. They will not fail in God’s purpose that they experience the reality of the vision.
Third, Paul continues the string of active-voice, God-centered verbs in v. 30. Those who are predestined before creation are called in the course of history. God reaches into their hearts and – in the words of Ezekiel – removes the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. Those who are called are also justified. God declares them to be in right relation with himself through the shed blood of Jesus. He deals with them not according to their works but according to his mercy displayed in Jesus’ saving work. The justified ones are also the glorified ones – the ones that will know healing, restoration, and freedom in the resurrection. From our perspective, this has yet to occur. But from the perspective of the vision God has given to Paul, the glorification of the Christian has already been accomplished.
We can continue on into v. 31 to double-check our reading of these verses. After this string of verbs emphasizing God’s action on behalf of his people, Paul exclaims, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” God is the one who has acted to save us and God’s purposes do not fail.
And so my hesitation is addressed. If I view the matter from only what is in me, I am right to fear that I will fall short of the vision. But if I take a different perspective, if I with Paul see the matter from the perspective of God’s action, then I find that my hope is not tenuous or fragile. My hope is secure for it rests in the vision and the resources and capability of a righteous, sovereign, and loving God. And the good news is that looking at and thinking about these saving actions of God have the power to kindle my love – to reignite my passion and commitment.
Here we find a vision far grander than Marino Auriti’s Encyclopedic Palace. It is the vision of a God who made all things and who refused to allow his creation to fall into the chaos brought about through human sinfulness. God sent forth his Son to be savior and Lord. Jesus lived a righteous, obedient life, ministered to the weak and poor, died the death that we deserved, and then rose again in the power of the Spirit. He ascended to the right hand of the Father and rules and reigns from the place of authority. He will come again to judge and to save. Creation will be set free from its bondage to corruption and God’s children will be raised in glory. And we who love God – who have been called according to his purpose – have a firm and secure hope. Would you pray with me, please?

 


1 Katherine Jentleson and Valérie Rousseau, "From Auto Mechanic to Biennale Star: Who Was Marino Auriti?" American Folk Art Museum, June 2013, http://www.folkartmuseum.org/?t=images&id=10725.

 


Pastor Scott Cress
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906