Sermon on July 24, 2011

“If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Romans 8: 31-39

The Rev. Leonard Oakes

July 24, 2011

 

The book of Romans is called the greatest book or letter of the Apostle Paul. As the gospel of John is reputed to be the greatest of our four gospels, so the book of Romans is reputed to be the greatest of our fourteen epistles. John: the greatest of the gospels. Romans: the greatest of the epistles.

The book of Romans is the last letter that the Apostle Paul wrote. Paul was getting ready to travel as a missionary to Spain, and on the way to Spain, he was going to stop and visit the church in Rome which was the capitol of the Roman Empire. The book of Romans is an introduction of his theological ideas to the Christians living in Rome. You would have expected that Paul would have introduced himself to the Romans, but the focus of the book is not on Paul’s person but on Paul’s core theology.

When Paul writes this letter to the church in Rome, he was a mature, older and wise human being and Christian. Paul was about fifty-five to sixty years old. Paul was also a seasoned and veteran Christian. That is, this letter was not written immediately after his conversion on the road to Damascus where he sensed that he was struck by lightning. This letter was written almost thirty years after that conversion experience. Romans is his last letter and the summation of his theology.

The letter to the Romans is about ideas, not history. There is no history about Jesus in his letters. There are no parables of Jesus, narratives about Jesus, no passion stories about Good Friday, no resurrection stories about Easter Sunday. Similarly, there is no history about Paul’s own life in his letters. There are no stories about his beatings, his stoning, his conversion, his missionary trips, his time in prison. There is none of this. No history about Jesus. No history about himself. But just ideas. Ideas about Christ. Ideas about God. Ideas about Christ and ideas about God add up to the Gospel.

Having said that brief introduction of the letter, I now take you to the reading this morning.  Chapter 8 of the letter of Paul to the Romans is my favorite one. In it contains my favorite verse in the bible, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” I’ve used this verse several times during the year by trying to convey to you that God is on our side, his presence is always our strength in our walks together as a church in spreading God’s love and compassion toward each other and those whom we meet and serve.

Many Christians think that Romans 8 may be the finest chapter in the New Testament. It is thought as the floodgates below the highest dam in the world which have been opened, and the power of the water and the power of the Spirit of Christ come flowing through. Although each of the verse in today’s reading is of great significance, I would like to pass through some of the verses and reflect from them.

If you look at your bulletin and find the first reading in the letter to the Romans, I would like to draw your attention to verse 35. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

Paul lists seven types of trauma that we think would normally separate us from the love of God. Trouble. We all have troubles with our bodies, our minds, our families, our jobs, our marriages. If you don’t have any troubles today, wait until tomorrow and you will have them. Then hardships: life is hard, very hard for all people sometime during their earthly life. Some people’s lives are nothing but hardships. When troubles compound with more troubles, life becomes a hardship. Then persecutions. The earliest Christians were persecuted first by Jews and then by Romans; for two thousand years, Christians have been persecuted at various times for their beliefs, including today. Famine: half of the population of the earth does not have enough food. Famine has always been part of our human condition. Nakedness is associated with famine. Nakedness refers to lack of clothing. Lack of clothing is another sign of poverty and lack of resources. Danger. We know that there are all kinds of dangers in this world of ours. Dangers are increased when there is lack of food and clothing, and a person has few resources for protection. Sword. This refers to war. History has always been filled with wars; human beings are warring animals. Can these tragedies separate us from the love of God? It is a rhetorical question: of course not. But sometimes people say “NO” but think otherwise?

Sometimes contemporary human conditions lead us to question the seeming absence of God. The big “C” for cancer has become prevalent in the world today. People die of cancer.  Liver cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, bone cancer, lung cancer. But can these separate us from the love of God? It is a rhetorical question. We know the answer. Can the massacre in Norway separate us from God, Can the wrath of nature separate us from the love of God? The answer is obvious. No. NO. NO. Can leukemia? Heart attacks? Car accidents? Starvation? Wars? AIDS? Depression? Suicide? Can any of these evil things separate us from the love of God? Of course not, we all answer to ourselves.

Then the overpowering words in verse 37 on top of page five of you bulletin, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

“In all of these terrible situations, we are more than conquerors.” More than champions, more than victors, more than prizewinners. In this entire crisis in life, we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ who strengthens us.

 In Romans 8, when the power of the Spirit of Christ is unleashed like waters released through the floodgates of the highest dam in the world, there is power of our lives to be victorious, strong, successful, even in the face of starvation, hunger, poverty, hardship, dangers, and war.

 And so today, we say, “I am not allowing another problem, another circumstances, or another person to keep me from giving God praise. I’m going to bless the Lord at all times.” Recognize that our problems are real and at times life is extremely difficult. But after you get through this problem, after you overcome this challenge, there will always be another challenge to overcome.  There’ll be something else to deal with. If you are waiting for all of your problems to go away you will miss the joy of living. Move ahead and aim for the better.

Focus, is the reason why I play golf every Tuesday, direction is another. That is the same reason we come every Sunday, to have a sense of direction in life with God being with us.

The apostle Paul had all sorts of difficulties, all kinds of challenges. But he said, “In all these things we are more than conquerors.” Notice, he didn’t say, “When these difficulties are done, I’m going to be happy.” No, he said, “In the middle of this adversity, I’m going to enjoy my life anyway.”

Get in a habit of smiling on purpose. Check your posture. Make sure you stand up tall, put your shoulders back, and hold your head up high. You are a child of the Most High God. You are not supposed to go around slumped over, feeling sloppy, weak, inferior, and thinking that you’re unattractive and you are hopeless or useless. “We are ambassadors of Christ.” That means you represent Almighty God. Represent Him well. Even many good, godly people have gotten into a bad habit of slumping and looking down. When you do that, subconsciously you are communicating a lack of confidence, a lack of self-esteem. You need to put your shoulders back, hold your head up high, and communicate strength, determination, and confidence. Subconsciously, you’re saying, I’m proud of who I am. I know I’m made in the image of Almighty God. I know I am the apple of God’s eye.

At the end of the day, we say, “The Sunday service is done. It is time for me to go home, kick up my feet, relax, drink a glass of red wine, and let the gospel go to work on my soul and pray it does to the souls of those who heard the good news in Christ. Amen.

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