More Than Conquerors!
Rev. Steven D. Spencer - Pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church, Salem, OR
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Grace, peace and mercy from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
Well, it’s been four weeks since I stood before you. Since that time I have driven over 10,000 miles. 1500 of it was on some of the worst roads I’ve ever seen. Rutted roads, saw-toothed roads that could chatter your teeth, chuckholes so deep they could pass for micro canyons. And let’s not forget the washouts and sinkholes. Those roads destroyed one tire and a windshield on a vehicle designed to navigate such roads.
While we weren’t driving we slept. We slept on rocks, on gravel, on pavement on about every uncomfortable surface you could imagine. When we slept we didn’t sleep much. You see, someone forgot to tell Alaska and the Canada about darkness. The sun set at 12:30am and sunrise was at 1:15am. It never stopped being light. Just leave your sunglasses on all the time. We slept about 5 hours a night when we could.
We also had to deal with rain. It rained almost every day. Sometimes it rained when we were setting up camp. You know it’s hard to start a fire when it’s raining. It’s hard to cook without fire too. We could always resort to using the Coleman stove but you’ll still need a dry place to use it. The fire was more important for keeping the mosquitoes away. And boy we had plenty of those. Add to the mosquitoes hoards of No-see-ums and other biting insects to say the least we went through plenty of Deet. Most of the times the rain came in the morning just a couple hours before we would got up to break camp, which meant we had to wet pack our tents. Do you know what happens when you wet pack something too often? You end up with mildew, which can play havoc with the sinuses.
Now add to all this be awakened by moose grazing just outside your tent, bears making noise rummaging though bear proof trash cans, wolves howling in the middle of the night, screech owls screeching overhead, shrews playing tag under your tent, nausea and digestive disorders from wearing Deet 100 all the time and the question you might want to ask is, “Pastor would you do it again?” - “In a heartbeat, when do you want to go?”
I want to take a moment to remind you that our Epistle reading for today starts with these words: All things work together for the good, for those called according to His purpose.
All those things I just told you about, the problems, the challenges, the obstacles the nuisances are just things. They’re not the purpose. Do you think that before this trip my friend and I sat down and said okay, I want to be bitten by no less than 500 mosquitoes, 100 no-see-ums and a couple odd dozen ticks? While we’re at it I would really like to destroy a tire and crack a window. Oh would it be possible to throw in a fit of nausea and couple days of digestive disorder in too? Those are just things - not the purpose. The drive was just the drive but not the purpose. It’s was just a thing.
Take a look at your own lives. What’s driving of your life? You probably have a lot of things in your own life. Maybe physical things like back pain, digestive disorders, bone disease, diabetes, or weight problems or even an addiction. Maybe your things are mental or emotional things. These are just things but they’re not the purpose. They’re true and real challenges for sure. But “All things work together for the good, for those called according to His purpose.” The focus is on the purpose. But what is the purpose?
When you plan a trip as big as what we did you always use Murphy’s Law. Do you remember what Murphy’s Law says? “Anything that can go wrong - will go wrong.” But after doing that we applied O’Toole’s Rule: O’Toole said: “Murphy was an optimist!” You’re going to have problems and you can’t plan for all of them. So often when something comes into our lives for which we have not planned it becomes an obsession. We focus on how to get rid of it? How could this happen we say. How do I make sure it doesn’t happen again? You need to instead be confident in what planning you’ve done and laugh when the unplanned comes your way. You need to keep your eyes on the purpose.
As part of our planning for this trip we read about others who had made the journey before us. One of the accounts talked about the North Slope as a great flat boring place of the several hundreds of miles of wasteland and horrible roads. When we got there I was surprised to see the lush green foliage covering the tundra, a beautiful azure blue river flowing from the Brooks Mountain Range, Caribou grazing and the slope surrounds by the most ancient and majestic mountains that I’ve ever seen. It had a primitive and uncorrupted beauty. But if you only looked just a few feet away it was flat and desolate place with only the hardship of the road. When your focus is on things you become short sighted and controlled by the things. St. Paul knew this when he went on to say in Romans 8 to say: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Don’t focus on things instead focus on God and His purpose. The funny thing about this focusing on God is that in the end He will give us all things, but not the things which cause us grief and despair.
St. Paul says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” Maybe in our day it should be read this way. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall back pain, digestive disorders, nerve disorder or bone disease, shall diabetes, weight problems or addiction? Shall mental or emotional illness or stress? “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
Notice that St. Paul is telling the Christian to go ahead, look at your own lives and the risk therein. We have real risk; real things that we could focus on and never look any farther than the road ahead of us. If we do so all we will see is the chuck holes and the ruts. But our fingers will grow ever tighter on the steering wheel of our lives with trying to control every little thing therein. Soon even our hands will grow wearing of clinching of the wheel and we will lose control.
On the other hand, a funny thing happens when you start looking up and out. You start to see things. No longer just a road but a mountain range. I told you a few minutes ago that I would go to Alaska again in a heart beat. Even though there were a lot of obstacles, things that got in the way, because up there I stood on glaciers big enough to fill valleys. I hiked to mountain passes and discovered abandoned gold mines on the way. I explored tunnels and mines that once employed thousand that have since left. I saw a grizzly mom playing with her cub and buffalo with their offspring. I saw Mt. McKinley and an active volcano. I’ve eaten fresh salmon just minutes out of the stream and grilled to perfection. And so much more! All of that makes everything else just part of a great adventure.
Paul wants us to look up. Look up to the cross. There is where our hope lies. That is where our victory lies, that is the purpose. Not here, in ourselves where our fallen nature wants us to look, but there T on the cross, in Him, in Jesus lies our victory. His purpose is your salvation. Everything else is just part of the adventure part of the things. St. Paul writes. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure 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.”
You are more than a conqueror though Him (T) who loved you so much that He gave His life for yours. You are victorious in Jesus. In Jesus name and for Jesus sake, amen and amen!
And now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen