Worship with Duke University Chapel in Durham, North Carolina
This service takes place at Duke University Chapel in Durham, North Carolina. It is a service of the word based on Romans 8:31-38.
A worship service from the 2021 online Calvin Symposium on Worship.
Institution Name: Duke University Chapel
Participants: Luke Powery, preaching; Zebulon Highben, Bruce Puckett
Location: Durham, North Carolina, USA
Order of Worship and Copyrights:
Duke Chapel welcomes participants in the 2021 Calvin Symposium on Christian Worship to this service for All Saints, recorded on November 1, 2020. In this service, we lift up all those saints, known and unknown, who have gone before us and have faithfully walked the path of righteousness. The scripture lessons speak to the love of God that conquers all things, even death. This love has captured saints through the ages, binding them to Christ and his kingdom. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches his followers about who is blessed in the kingdom of heaven. Surprisingly, Jesus proclaims that those who seem cursed in this world are the very ones blessed in God’s kingdom. Revelation provides an image of the church robed in white, standing in glory, by the grace of the blood of the Lamb. In this glorious scene, hunger and thirst, grief and hardship, suffering and pain will be no more. Only the worship of God will remain. In Romans, Paul declares that in the end nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Prelude Music: "Pari intervallo"
Music: Arvo Pärt, b. 1935 © Universal Edition (Vienna)
Used by permission.
Prelude Music: "Langsamer Satz"
Music: Anton von Webern, 1885-1945
Greeting and Call to Worship
Choral Introit (Virtual): "At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners"
Text: John Donne, 1471-1631
Music: Williametta Spencer © 1968 Shawnee Press, Inc.
Used by permission.
*Opening Hymn: "For All the Saints"
Text: William W. How, 1864
Music: SINE NOMINE, Ralph Vaughn Williams, 1906 © Oxford University Press
All rights reserved. OneLicense.net A-703303.
*Prayer of Confession and Words of Assurance
Most merciful God, you did not withhold your own Son, yet we have withheld our love from you and our neighbors.
In hardship, we proudly refuse help. In distress, we envy others’ joy. In persecution, we return wrath rather than blessing. In our souls’ famine, we gluttonously distract our hearts and minds. In our naked vulnerability, we lust for greater security for ourselves.
In seeing the perils of racism, we greedily grasp for individual privileges. In witnessing the swords of our violent world, we respond with slothful indifference. We confess that we are often guilty and worthy of condemnation. Forgive us we pray and free us for joyful obedience through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The minister speaks words of assurance.
*Greeting of Peace
Minister: The Peace of Christ be with you.
People: And also with you.
Prayer for Illumination
God of holiness, your glory is proclaimed in every age. As we hear your word today and as we rejoice in the faith of your saints, inspire us to follow their example with boldness and joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
First Lesson: Revelation 7:9–17
Second Lesson: Romans 8:31–39
*Gospel Acclamation: "Halle, Hallelujah"
Text and Music: Syrian traditional © 2020 Augsburg Fortress
All rights reserved. OneLicense.net A-703303.
*Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5:1–12
Sermon: What Saint Paul Knew
Anthem: "Children of the Heavenly Father"
Text: Carolina Sandell Berg, 1832-1903; tr. E. W. Olson, 1870-1958
Music: arr. Paul J. Christiansen, 1914-1997 © 1925 Board of Publication of the Lutheran Church in America; arr. © 1969 Paul A. Schmitt Music, ren. 1997 Belwin-Mills Publishing, admin. Warner Bros. Publications
All rights reserved. OneLicense.net A-703303.
Used by permission. CCLI #400063
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried: he
descended into hell; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Call to Prayer
Minister: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Minister: Let us pray.
Prayers of the People
People: Hear our prayer.
Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756-1791
Text: Thomas Ken, 1709
Music: LASST UNS ERFREUEN, Auserlesen Catholische Geistliche Kirchengesänge, Cologne, 1623; adapt. and harm. Ralph Vaughn Williams, 1972-1958, 1906
*Prayer of Thanksgiving
*The Lord’s Prayer
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.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
*Closing Hymn: "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling"
Text: Charles Wesley, 1707-1788
Music: HYFRYDOL, Rowland H. Prichard, 1811-1887
Closing Voluntary: "Placare Christe Servulis, Op. 38, No. 16"
Music: Marcel Dupré, 1886-1971 © Éditions Musicales Alfonse Leduc
Used by permission.
Here we are on All Saints Sunday, two days before a presidential election in the United States, pinning our ear to the scriptural wisdom post of a saint—Saint Paul, the apostle. And much of his wisdom speaks of groaning. Now isn’t that timely? Because we’ve been groaning through a global pandemic, racial injustice, and political divisions. This has been a tough season for many, hasn’t it? However, with a long historical view, none of this is really new. It might be new for us, but the saints of old, like Saint Paul, knew that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly.”
The saints endured pandemics and political upheavals and experienced poverty, pain, persecution, and suffering as human beings. They knew hardship, distress, famine, nakedness, peril, and endured the power of the mighty sword. So when the saints go marching in, if we have eyes to see, they are marching, but perhaps with a limp or a twisted hip, because of all the bruises from the many battles of life. They’re marching, but they have also been groaning.
Saint Paul knew that the gospel is in the groan, too. This won’t win him any seminary preaching contests in the age of the health and wealth, painless prosperity gospel that pimps people for financial profits. This won’t be popular in an era in which we sell worship under the umbrella of the commercialized Christian music industry in which some can’t wait to get their so-called praise on. But the saints know that sometimes we need to “get our groan on.” The whole creation groans.
Saint Paul knew that the gospel groans. The saints marched through many dangers, toils, and snares. Life was full of suffering, a difficult journey for many of our ancestors. They experienced, as we do, what James Dunn refers to as an “out-of-jointness” in which so much of life is out of joint—labor pains and agony and tragedy and struggle. The saints knew that this was a part of living the gospel. The groans of the created order express the presence of pain and tell the truth about human life. Saint Paul knew this truth even as he says that the sufferings are “not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed.” Yet the saints knew that to get to the glory one has to go through the groaning. Groaning is a precursor to glory. Good Friday crucifixion before Easter resurrection. A cross before a crown. Death before life. Saint Paul implicitly asks us on this day, “Does your gospel groan?”
He knew that reality can be messy when you follow Jesus. And remember, the groaning is not just out there somewhere, as if we can socially distance ourselves from it, but it is in here, too—in us! Aren’t you groaning? We groan inwardly and can’t escape this interconnected ecology of pain even if we tried. Suffering resides within us and around us. Suffering stalks us like the paparazzi! Even underneath our privileged pedigrees we are perpetually groaning because life is incomplete and unsatisfactory in the valley of heartache. We’re longing for more. Waiting for more. Groaning for more.
Saint Paul also knew that these groans are not only cosmological and anthropological. But they are also pneumatological. What do I mean? They have to do with the work of the Spirit, pneuma. Saint Paul says that the Spirit intercedes with “sighs too deep for words” which can be translated “inarticulate groanings.” That means God groans right alongside all of creation, right beside all of us, right along with the saints as they march and groan to glory. Saint Paul knew a groaning God. Do you?
This God doesn’t escape the groans and labor pains of pervasive suffering. God doesn’t leave us to our own resources. God doesn’t leave us to drown in tears of despair and carry our burdens alone. God enters into solidarity with us in the midst of our groan-filled agony. Our groans do not isolate us from God, even at a time of physical distancing, but allow us to be more deeply connected with God the Spirit, who groans. The Spirit doesn’t avoid suffering—in a wilderness or in a valley of dry bones or amid a global pandemic. The Spirit is not only on the mountaintops of spiritual ecstasy; the saints knew that the Spirit is also immersed in the existential agony and messiness of life. That means God gets down with us in the groan. When I ascend into heaven, God is there, the psalmist says. But even when I make my bed in hell, God is there. God groans for God’s own redemption.
Saint Paul knew that we needed to nurture this spirituality of groaning as a mark of what it means to be a Christian and a part of God’s creation. Yet these groans due to hardship, distress, famine, persecution, nakedness, peril, pandemics, guns, and swords don’t tell the whole gospel story. These groans are going somewhere; they’re marching somewhere—to a glory about to be revealed. They’re going to glory, going after glory. Longing, waiting, and hoping, even while groaning, knowing that hope doesn’t disappoint us (Rom. 5:5). And the same Spirit who helps us groan helps us hope, because the guts of the groanings is hope. Saint Paul knew this.
But what in the world is this glory for which we hope? What is creation groaning for? What is our deepest longing as human beings? Saint Paul builds his case on one firm foundation in the courtroom of life, and he answers: God’s love in Christ Jesus. When he expands his argument in Romans 8, he turns to love. “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” Saint Paul knew that God is “for us” and with us and that this extravagant love is not cheap but costly. It costs God a Son. This love “for us” hurts. This love “for us” groans. This love “for us” dies. A gory glory. Groanings give birth to love in Romans 8 and the same Spirit that groans within us is the same Spirit who sheds God’s love in our hearts. So we can experience love right now. We need love right now, don’t we, instead of all of the hate? The Spirit helps us know God’s love in Christ Jesus. And this love for us is more powerful than all of our groans about our current circumstances. Saint Paul shows us that groans give way to a glorious love that words cannot encapsulate.
Saint Paul is a sophisticated preacher, so he moves from groaning lament to glorious celebration. He begins his crescendo at the particular moment when he says, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword” or an election? He declares a confident “No” because suffering and sorrow and heartache will not have the final word in the gospel story, but love will—the love of God, the incomprehensible, incredible, immutable, unconditional, inexhaustible, undefeatable, unstoppable love of God in Christ Jesus. The end of Romans 8, the end of this passage, signifies the end of time, when all will be love. Because in the end is love, because God is love. And the saints are marching to God’s love because love wins.
In March 2000, horrendous floods hit the country of Mozambique, leaving many homes and lives threatened and lost. It was a sea of death—literally. One pregnant woman, Ms. Pedro, climbed into a tree for safety and shelter once the floods overwhelmed her home. By that time some of her relatives, including her grandmother, were already killed in the floods. Ms. Pedro was in that tree for three days. Near the end of her time in the tree, on the third day, she gave birth to a daughter. An African tree became a contemporary tree of life. In the midst of the groaning of all creation, in the midst of a sea of death, groaning labor pains gave birth to life and love in the form of a newborn baby. Love wins. As Frederick Buechner writes, “Resurrection means the worst thing will not be the last thing” because love is the last thing and God will have the last word.
And God’s love is strong, even stronger than all the death we’ve been going through in the world. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, 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.” God’s love can’t be stopped. God’s love won’t be stopped. It keeps going and going and going. God’s love in Christ breaks through the barriers and silos of suffering. We groan now, but in the end we will praise just like Saint Paul because of love. Saint Paul knew God’s love.
God’s love will lift us to heights we’d never imagine. In the midst of your groaning valley of despair, God’s love will meet you; God’s love will lift you; God’s love will redeem you. Saint Paul experiences God’s redeeming love, so he praises at the end of Romans 8 with a rhetoric of excess, a rhetorical flourish. Unashamed, unrestricted, unmitigated, uncompromising, and I might even add unseminary-like praise. God’s love will make you praise in excess with a surplus of meaning. That’s why he writes and says neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation. Saint Paul climaxes at this point. Rhetoricians would call this amplification. Homileticians would call this celebration. With my sanctified imagination, I hear music in the subtext of the Pauline text. Saint Paul reaches this height of doxology and celebration because he first engages the depths of human pain and lament. Saint Paul reaches glory because he’s already groaned. He acknowledges “nobody knows the trouble I see,” like the spiritual says, but the love of God makes Saint Paul sing, “Glory, hallelujah!” So this is so much more than a letter of love. It’s more like a German lieder of love, a symphony of love, an ode to love. Do you hear the music that you can’t hear with your ears? Maybe it’s Bach. Maybe it’s Beyoncé. Maybe it’s the Beatles. Maybe it’s Beethoven. Maybe it’s Bob Marley.
No matter the genre, Saint Paul is basically raising the roof as he pumps up the volume of doxology. All because of God’s love. This is a Pentecostal moment for Paul, a Spirit-filled moment for Paul, a doxology grounded in the Spirit with a horizon of hope for the future as he expresses his love for God because he’s loved by God. And we are all loved by God! Saint Paul’s received something in this moment he’s been yearning for his entire life, longing for late in the midnight hour, groaning for during his entire ministry: love. Saint Paul’s been groaning for love. And we’ve been groaning for love, the love of God that will never let us go.
And nothing can separate us, nothing can separate you, from God’s love. No matter how deep and wide, wide and deep is the groaning fountain of fear in the world, in this nation, or our lives. Nothing can separate us. No thing. Pick your language—nada, rien, nichts, kitu. It still means the same thing. Nothing. And nothing means nothing. Nothing can stop God from loving you.
Saint Paul knew that in the end it will not be the triumph of the groan, but it will be “the triumph of God” (Christiaan Becker). Because love wins. What the world needs now is love. What the United States needs now is love. What Republicans and Democrats and Independents need now is love. What Christians need now is love because “the greatest of these” is love. Love is the power we need in the days ahead.
I’m casting my vote this morning. Are you ready for it? I vote for God’s love. Is anybody with me?
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