Sunday July 26th 2020
Pastor Galen Zook
1 Kings 3:5-12; Romans 8:31-39
In Romans chapter 8, the Apostle Paul says, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).
I don’t know about you, but just surviving in the year 2020 makes any of us feel like conquerors. 2020 has been quite a year, hasn’t it? It’s felt like our world has experienced one struggle after another just to survive.
The year started off with wildfires engulfing Australia filling our screens with apocalyptic scenes, followed by airplane and helicopter crashes, various international conflicts, earthquakes in Turkey and the Carribean, a locust swarm outbreak in East Africa, further political polarization and racial tensions here in the U.S. following killings by police officers, resulting in protests that spread across the globe, most of which have been peaceful but some which have involved violent clashes between police and protesters, and of course all of this under the cloud of the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed the lives of so many and radically transformed our way of living.
This year has been filled with one challenge after another. And rather than the challenges being resolved, they’ve just been sort of been overshadowed by the next crisis that comes along.
Truth in Memes
2020 has been extremely difficult to live through, but it has provided an abundance of material for people who make memes.
Memes, if you’re not familiar with the term, are usually humorous images overlayed with words that are copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users — with the intention of giving voice to a feeling or emotion that might be otherwise difficult to convey. The images are typically taken out of a particular context, such as a film still from a movie or a TV show, and then someone adds words over the top that provides a whole new meaning or interpretation.
Here we see the actor Will Smith, in a film still from the 2007 film “I Am Legend” about a vampire-spawning disease that ends civilization, but the original film title has been replaced with the words “I Am Going To Costco,” expressing how many of us feel when we head out the door to go grocery shopping in the midst of the pandemic that we’re living in!
Here’s a meme, in which we see 2 children sitting in a classroom in the year 2073. The children have looks of dismay and fear as the history teacher says “Kids open your textbooks to Chapter 5, we’re going to learn about the year 2020”!
And lastly, one of the most popular memes of the year, showing cartoon character Bart Simpson grimacing with the word “January” at the top. Bart Simpson says, “This is the worst month of 2020.” But in the next scene, we see his father, Homer Simspon, correcting him, saying “The worst month so far.” January has been crossed off, and February has been typed in, and then then February is crossed off and March is written in, since it seems that each month of 2020 has been worse than the one before.
More Than Conquerors
These and many more memes circulating around the internet capture the feeling that we are engaged in an epic struggle just to survive.
And so Paul’s words here in Romans chapter 8 feel that we are “more than conquerors” feels appropriate to our situation. The Apostle Paul says, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Rom. 8:35).
Now for Paul these were not just abstract, theoretical, hypothetical possibilities. Paul knew what it was like to endure intense challenges and struggles in his own life.
In 2 Cor. 11, Paul lists some of these challenges he faced over the years. He says,
“Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Cor. 11:24-29).”
Wow, that puts 2020 into perspective for many of us, doesn’t it!
So for Paul, the reality of struggle, or an epic battle for survival was real. The question that he poses to his readers and to us today is, will any of these things separate us from the love of God?
Paul’s response to his own question is, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).
Now that verse would make a wonderful meme, and in fact many people have made epic Christian posters out of this verse, the text juxtaposed with images of warriors, or athletes, or people standing with their fists raised high in victory.
But what was it that gave Paul such confidence that he and his audience would not just survive, but conquer? Was it Paul’s indelible optimism, or his incredible faith in humanity? Did Paul just believe so strongly in himself, or did he have an overwhelming sense of belief in the goodness of human beings?
I do not believe that Paul’s faith was placed in human beings. Paul had seen the worst of humanity. He himself had been a persecutor of the Church before Jesus appeared to him and transformed his life when he was on the road to Damascus.
No, Paul’s faith was not in himself, or in the power or goodness of human beings, but rather his faith and hope were placed firmly in the love of God, demonstrated to us mostly clearly through the sending of Jesus Christ to this earth. Paul says, “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” (Rom. 8:38-39).
A few verses earlier in Romans 8, Paul had said,
“What then are we to say about these things? 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? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us (Rom. 8:31-34).”
If God is with us, who can be against us? God, who did not withhold even his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not also give us everything else?
When we look at Jesus, hanging on the cross for us, dying in our place, we know that we do not have to be afraid. Because if God loves us that much, so much that God would give God’s own self for us, then, as Paul says, “will he not also give us everything else?”
This is why we do not have to be afraid. This is why we can have the confidence and boldness that we are not just conquerors, but more than conquerors. This is why Paul can say “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” (Rom. 8:38-39).
How about you? Are you convinced this morning? Have your placed your confidence in the love of God, poured out for all humanity through the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross? Or have you been putting your confidence in political leaders, church leaders, or even the scientists that are working on a vaccine?
Friends, this morning, the only reason we can have confidence and hope is because of the never-ending love of God, demonstrated for us in Christ’s death and resurrectoin. Yes, we do seem to be engaged in an epic struggle just to survive. And I don’t know what will come of all of this, nor do I know what else might come our way in 2020! But I do know that we can place and should our hope and our confidence in God.
“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? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:31-35a)
Will tornadoes, or earthquakes, locusts, plane crashes, international conflict, civic and social unrest or the coronavirus?
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us!” (Rom. 8:37)