Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. When I was in my later teen-age years, I was introduced to the AMC series, The Walking Dead. Maybe you’ve seen it. In case you’re not familiar with it, the premise of the show is that there’s a world-wide zombie apocalypse where a “zombie virus” (for lack of a better way to put it) has infected most of the world’s population, turning them into “walking dead” zombies.
They roam around attacking anyone they come across, turning them into zombies. And the series centers around a group of survivors, led by the main character, Rick Grimes. Well, at one point in the series, the group makes their way to the CDC headquarters in Atlanta. They expect to find hope and help (and maybe a cure to the virus) inside, but instead they find a lone, fearful employee. He doesn’t really know what he’s doing, and he is just about to give up searching for a cure. As if that wasn’t bad enough, while they’re inside the headquarters, this employee tells Rick a horrible secret—a secret the viewers don’t even find out until later. That secret is—Spoiler alert! (Sorry, the series is in its 20th season—if you were going to watch it, you would have already)—the secret is that everyone is infected with the “zombie virus” and that even when they die, they’ll turn into a zombie. This is crushing news. Rick sees how this knowledge has filled this employee with fear and driven him to the point where he is willing to take his own life. Rick is crushed, hopeless, and afraid—it’s as if he has become a slave to this fear. It’s so bad that he even refuses to tell anyone else in the group this news as they leave and continue on their way paranoid and afraid.
2. I’m sure many of you might have noticed some uncanny parallels between the story I just told and our current situation. We’re surrounded by a global pandemic—a virus. People everywhere are afraid. And sometimes we may wonder too if the CDC headquarters is manned by a single, fearful, hopeless employee who doesn’t really know what he’s doing. (I trust that’s not the case in reality.) But what differs in our situation and what’s obvious to those of us who would call ourselves followers of Jesus is that this virus—the coronavirus—isn’t the real enemy. In fact, physical death itself isn’t the real enemy. It’s the virus of sin and eternal death in hell that are the real enemies. But we’re Christians, right? We’ve been saved from this, haven’t we? Yet if we’re being honest with ourselves, we still find ourselves surrounded by evil which tries to draw us back into slavery and fear. We know that Covid-19 can only hurt us physically—nothing more, but it still reminds us of the true enemy who is lurking around, seeking to draw us back into slavery and fear. Or maybe your situation is different. Maybe the death of a loved one is near. You know that when your loved one dies, they’ll be with Jesus, but their impending death reminds you of the true enemy lurking around, seeking to draw you back into slavery and fear. Or maybe it’s something you’ve done—someone you’ve hurt. You know that it was an accident and that the person has forgiven you. But you still can’t get that sin out of your memory—it reminds you of your sinful nature and the real enemy lurking around, seeking to draw you back into slavery and fear.
3. My friends, this is the reality of the world around us. We’re broken sinners. We’re surrounded by evil. We are tempted to fall into slavery and fear because of the hopelessness that surrounds us. This is reality. But it’s a reality that you and I have been rescued from. Paul reminds us of this in our Epistle reading this morning. Let me read it one more time for our consideration:
12So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
There are two things that are particularly noteworthy from this text. The first is that you and I have not received the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. You have received The Spirit (capital “S”)—the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of adoption as sons, as Paul puts it. Christ has defeated the evil of this world and because he has done so, he has given you his Spirit to rescue you from slavery and fear. Or, to put it differently, as we’ll hear in a couple of weeks from the end of Romans 8, there is nothing in all of creation that can separate you from the love of Christ—not death nor life, not angels nor rulers, not a coronavirus nor any sin you may commit—there is nothing that can separate you from the love of Christ. Paul also says in the verse immediately preceding our reading, If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Rom. 8:11). That’s our hope, my friends. We are children of God. Jesus Christ has overcome the evil of this world so that we might share in his glory. He has given us his Spirit guaranteeing this. But that doesn’t mean our lives are always going to be easy. I’m sure you know that all too well. But that’s the other thing I find noteworthy about this text. Paul says that all of this is true—we are children of God, fellow heirs with Christ—all of this is true, provided we suffer with [Christ] in order that we may also be glorified with him. That begs the questions, how do I suffer well in Christ so that I might one day be glorified with him?
4. As I’ve thought about that question, I’ve been reminded of the last part of the prayer our Lord taught us…You know how it goes: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Maybe Jesus was on to something when he gave this prayer to his disciples. Maybe Jesus gave us this prayer so that we would stop worrying so much and falling back into slavery and fear. Maybe Jesus gave us this prayer so that we would trying to fix everything on our own. Maybe Jesus gave us this prayer so that we would call on God’s name to deliver us from all evil—because he is the one who can and will do that. In his Small Catechism, Luther writes, We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.
5. As you and I seek to be the kind of Christians who turn to our Father in prayer during all kinds of hardships and evil, asking that he would rescue us from them, as we do that individually, I pray that we would also be the kind of church who models for our community and those around us how to suffer well. Suffering and evil are all around us. As much as we would like to avoid them, we can’t. In some ways, sin and evil are like that “zombie virus” on the lose all around us. But you and I have been rescued from that reality. We have been rescued from the reality where we have to worry about trying to fix the evil and hardships around us. We have been taught by our Lord how to pray to the one who can and will rescue us from this evil. And now we are being sent out by our Lord to be the church—that is, to be the kind of people who model for the world around us by our actions and words how to suffer well and how to find hope in the midst of suffering. We do that by turning in prayer to our Father who has promised that he will one day take us from this valley of sorrow to be with himself in heaven. Thanks be to God that this great promise is ours in Christ.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.