Sermon preached by
Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
11th November 2001
Romans 8: 31–39
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 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? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Flying back from New York yesterday afternoon, just after we took off I was able to look out of the right hand side window of the plane and see over to the Manhattan skyline and to Ground Zero, the space which used to be occupied by the World Trade Center buildings.
I even had to check that I could see the Statue of Liberty so I could be sure I had my bearings correctly.
As I looked over at the changed skyline it was impossible not to be reminded of the horrors of September 11, of the shocking images relayed around the world, of the destruction and the violence, of the needless and pointless loss of human life felt by peoples of multiple creeds, religions and races and to be reminded of the inhuman acts people are prepared to engage in against each other.
To be reminded of the fact that once again a war had been declared, this time against terrorism
And its salutary to be reminded that many of the driving forces which precipitated the conflicts we explicitly remember today, the Great War, the Second World War, and the Falklands conflict are still around even now.
Then, just as now, especially in the US, many, especially those who have lost loved ones feel more like survivors than the conquerors Paul refers to in Romans as they try to piece their lives back together. Indeed, even the word 'conqueror' that Paul uses in this passage has a hollow ring to it.
To the early Christians who would read and hear Paul’s words, the concept of being a conqueror would be a very alien one. They were much more used to being at the hands of a conquering power, a power who fed Christians to the lions as sport. Because Paul is writing primarily to a small group of Christians located in imperial Rome, where being the conqueror meant everything.
To the conqueror the triumphal arch was erected, and to keep his memory alive his statue was placed in the halls of fame. The military conqueror was considered to have reached the highest rung in the ladder of success. They were the greatest men that the world had ever known. They, and their power, were deified. And for those who lived in Roman territory, or under Roman occupation, they would never be allowed to forget the conquering might of imperial Rome and its military leaders.
As the Christians in Rome looked at the world in which they found themselves it's easy to understand that there must have been times when they wondered where God was in all of this? Who’s really in control here? Just as many did in the war and still do today, even more so after the acts of 11 September
Paul’s message in the letter to the Romans is quite clear.
God is in control, and because of the victory His son Jesus won against sin through His death and resurrection we and they become more than conquerors. More than the great Roman military rulers, more than those who were heralded by the statues and arches they saw whenever they went about their daily business. Because the victory and glory is in, and through, Christ who had overcome the world through His death and resurrection.
In overcoming sin through Christ, God demonstrated his love was, and is, all powerful, and that nothing could separate us from that love. And it is in the power of the Holy Spirit that we are called to live our victorious life with Him day by day.
But as we look around today its sometimes very difficult to feel victorious or that God really is in control. ‘Where is He in all this?’ and ‘What’s going on here?’ can be much more common thoughts and feelings
And if we continue to just ask the questions, to give up hope, it’s as if we’re just remembering Christ’s death and not his resurrection, living a life bereft of the power of the living Christ, a life of empty religious words and human rationality. To live the life of a survivor, not a conqueror. And it was partly to address these questions that Paul wrote to the church in Rome.
As Paul wrote to the Romans, he was writing to redress two imbalances which were prevalent in the society of the day.
Firstly, he wanted to redress the imbalance of the Greek outlook, which relied heavily on human reason alone
If the early believers followed too slavishly the Greek outlook based on reason and cold rational logic they would never be able comprehend what it meant to be more than conquerors, to understand the rationality of God and of sending His Son to die for us.
It's an irrational act of sacrificial love which can never be understood by cold reason and logic alone.
It's like us trying to work out through logic and reasoning why God allowed the wars we remember today to happen, or why the acts of terrorism so recent in our minds, occurred.
We can’t do it. Not only are we asking the wrong question, we're using the wrong frame of reference to come up with the answer.
Just as it’s impossible to use reason alone to understand an act which is in itself unreasonable: an act of war, and act of terrorism.
The second imbalance Paul wanted to redress was the imbalance of the Jewish outlook, which relied heavily on the torah, the law.
This slavish following f the law and precepts of the Jews, almost without questioning the logic or the reason, without understanding the reality or relevance or applicability to everyday life, was not helpful either.
It too could not give complete answers to the questions of the day, either then or now.
Its not that God wants us to be unreasonable or illogical. Nor does He want us to ignore the lessons which can be learnt from His people and the Old Testament. But He does want us to reinterpret our reason and our logic and the message of the Old Testament through the light and lens of a crucified and risen Christ.
Christ’s victory was not the victory of a great military ruler; it was the victory of a suffering servant and of obedient service.
And just as the early Christians would find it difficult to think of themselves as conquerors, to reinterpret their lives in the light and love of Christ, it would take time before they fully understood the life of service to which they had been called: a life of obedient service empowered by God’s Holy Spirit
Just as we continue to recall the dark shadow of war, we should constantly remember the reality of living in the bright shadow of the power of His Holy Spirit. We are more than conquerors.
We’re also His servants.
And part of that calling and life of service is to reflect the light and glory of Christ’s victory to the world around us however dark it feels. To those who are still asking the questions without the hope and surety of Christ. People who are looking for answers in cold logic and reason or empty philosophical beliefs. People who think this is God’s problem, His failing in allowing things to happen.
Because in reality we know the problem is not one of God but of people. People who have turned their backs on God. People who have an inaccurate or incomplete picture of God. People who choose to walk in darkness than the light of the risen Christ.
There are some who find it impossible to see God in the current situation; can’t make sense of things with Him.
Paul argues in Romans that we’ll never make sense of things without Him.
It's not that we know all the answers, but we know who the answer is.
We can never explain fully the suffering of wars, but it's right to remember those who suffered and died as a result of them. To hold fast to their memory and our beliefs, however dark the horror of war, for they did not die in vain.
To remember that Jesus Christ is the light of the world and no darkness can overcome that light.
The light of the risen Christ, through which we are more than conquerors, even though sometimes its difficult to believe it.
The light we’re called to shed in the world today.