Sermon: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost 2014

“More Than Conquerors”

Text: Romans 8: 26-39

If God is for us, who is against us? The short answer to this question is: everyone. If God is for us, everyone is against us. God was “for” Jesus. We all know how that went.

Here is a longer answer. If God is for us, we have already made the choice to endure hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword. If we are not willing and prepared for these things, if we are not willing to bear these burdens wherever they appear—alongside whoever else faces them—then God is not for us.

Paul’s assembly at Rome met in the slums. They were a house church of the poor, by the poor, for the poor. Paul scholars today, drawing heavily from Roman imperial history and economy, are increasingly of the opinion that Paul himself—a Roman citizen—was poor. Justin Meggitt, Senior Lecturer of religion at Cambridge and author of Paul, Poverty and Survival, writes:

The small number of Roman citizens that lived outside the capital were not aristocrats. The overwhelming majority of them acquired their citizenship by being either manumitted [freed from slavery] by a Roman citizen or by being a descendant of a person who had been so manumitted. It is probable that Paul’s predecessors obtained it in just such a way.[1]

So Paul was, quite likely, the child of former slaves. Or the child of prisoners of war, captured and enslaved during Rome’s invasion of ancient Palestine.

Why exactly did the son of former slaves, struggling under the thumb of the second-most brutal empire the world has ever seen, claim to be favored by God? Paul himself lived a life of backbreaking labor, brutality, a slew of incarcerations, and religious persecution. What was the evidence for his conviction that no one—“not angels, not rulers”—could separate him from God’s love?

Whatever evidence he had, we do not seem to share it. We are inclined to claim that God’s blessing is upon us when things are going well. When we are healthy. When we are happy. When we are financially stable. When we fear no genocide against our own people, no occupation of our land. We say that our good fortune comes from God.

We are liars.

God does not fix things for us. We fixed this system ourselves. Christ, as St. Teresa of Avila tells us, “has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours.” We can say the same thing about Satan. When we say that our successful evasion of poverty, sickness, or violence is a blessing we commit blasphemy. God does not play games of reward and punishment with our lives. God’s love for us is not measured by our luck in this world. If you have been measuring it this way, stop.

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?

God handed us the dead body of God’s own child, murdered by the state. God gave us God’s own broken heart.  Nothing more. Nothing less. This is our inheritance. This is our treasure. This alone is God’s promise to us: that every life thrown away by imperial violence—in Gaza, in Detroit, on the I-5 overpass by the VA hospital, crossing the border without papers or parents—belongs to our communion of saints and deserves better. We are not permitted to worship angels. We are not permitted to worship rulers. We are called to worship the corpse of someone who loved truth and justice more than he feared death.

And:

We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

We are not only called to face down empires that may rob us of our lives. We are called to bring down the sin of empire altogether.

We are more than conquerors.

We are more than emperors.

We are more than senators.

We are more than jailers.

We are more than border patrol.

We are more than “just following orders.”

We are more than “just doing my job.”

When we are faithful, we refuse to let these forces separate us from one another and turn on one another. If Paul earned any evidence of God’s love, this would have been it. That no matter the threat, he held fast to treating all God’s children with respect and dignity. Like Jesus, he was ultimately killed for it. But:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted 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, 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.

Amen.

[1] Meggitt, Justin J. Paul, Poverty and Survival. Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1998. 81-82.

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About aaron

Catechist at Chaplains on the Harbor.
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