To Be Loved…

Romans 8:31-39 New International Version (NIV)

More Than Conquerors

 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 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? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. 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. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

   “For your sake we face death all day long;

   we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 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.

            Man, it was hot this week!  I heard it was so hot this week that local poultry farmers were feeding their chickens ice cubes to keep them from laying hard-boiled eggs.  It was so hot that the cows were giving evaporated milk.  It was so hot this week that the birds had to use hot pads to pull the worms out of the ground.  It was so hot this week that the potatoes were cooking by themselves underground; all you have to do is pull them up and add the butter.

            The heat has absolutely nothing to do with our message today, but I am thankful that we do have air-conditioning here at Staunton Mennonite Church and even if you are only here as an opportunity to get out of the heat, I am glad you are here.  I am glad that you are here today because every now and then we need to be reminded that we are loved; you are loved.  You are loved by God, you are loved by me, and you are loved by the Church.

            One of the biggest problems that I find with trying to understand the love of God is that the word “love” is so general and perhaps overused.  When we use a word too much, it kind of loses some of its meaning.  We say that we love ice cream on a hot summer night; we love a certain song or a certain singer; we love our new computers, shoes, or handbag.  If God loves us the same way that someone loves a pair of shoes, then that doesn’t get me too excited.  How do we show our love of a good pair of shoes?  We walk all over themJ!

            I think that part of the problem that I run into is that I often see a word that I know and use frequently in the Bible and I assume that I am using that word the same way as the author of that particular book of the Bible is intending it to be used.  So the problem arises when I read passages like today’s and project my understanding of love upon God.  When our text says that nothing can separate us from the love of God, I shouldn’t project the way that I feel about ice cream into our scripture, assuming that God’s love for us is like the love I have for the cold stuff.  No, what God feels for us is much more than the brief pleasure that one can get from eating frozen milk.  So what I want to do today is to look at God’s love from a biblical perspective to see just what God’s love is and what God’s love isn’t.

            Verses 31-32 say this, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? 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?”  Our text seems to be concluding a larger section of thought.  Up to this point Paul has been discussing a number of conflicts that likely affect all of us in one way or another.  We struggle to do the things that we know that we should do and instead we do the very things that we know that we shouldn’t do.  We are pulled, we struggle, and we often fail.  Paul sets up this dichotomy of flesh and spirit.  My spirit wants to do what is right, but my flesh fails me time and time again.  This is his way of saying that inside he knows what he should be doing, but what he is actually doing with his body sometimes looks a lot different than what he knows he should be doing.

            So when Paul says, “What then shall we say about these things?” I believe that the “these things” that he is referring to is our weakness, our falleness, our screwed-upness.  Paul is saying that in spite of our fallen nature, God is for us, God is cheering us on, God is on our side.  And if God is on our side, then who can be against us?

            My answer for that is, The rest of the world.  There are times when it feels like everyone is against me.  It can feel like the rest of the world wants me to fail.  I don’t know why, but our society seems to want to see people fail, especially people that aren’t used to failing.  We love to see sports bloopers where professional athletes miss routine fly balls, grounders go through their legs, or hit the golf ball into the woods.  We buy tabloid magazines at the grocery store to see what celebrity couple is splitting up.  The world sits and watches the trials of Casey Anthony and Rupert Murdoch for reasons that I can only guess.  But I guess that it has something to do with her being young and beautiful and him being rich and powerful.  A part of our fallen nature is that we like to see people fall; we like to see people fail.

            Paul isn’t saying that because God loves us there will never be anyone who opposes us.  Paul clearly had people that were against him.  He was arrested, tortured, and eventually killed.  If that ain’t being against someone, I don’t know what is!  And I am sure that we can all share stories of people being against us as we seek to follow Jesus.  The point that Paul is trying to make isn’t that people won’t be against us.  The point that Paul is trying to make is that it…shouldn’t…matter.  If God is for us, and I believe that he is, then what does it matter if everyone else is against us?  I would rather have God on my side than anyone else.

            Paul goes on to say that God, who gave us his own son, will graciously give us all things.  I can see where some of the Prosperity Gospel thinking begins to come from.  God will give us all things?  Really?  So I should pray for that new car, bigger house, and flat screen tv?  Ask and it shall be given to you, right?  No, this is a case of us projecting our own ideas into the scriptures and this is why it is so important to read scripture in context.  When Paul says that God will give us all things, or some versions say “everything else” he isn’t saying that God is our genie in a bottle, waiting to grant our three wishes. 

Let’s look at verses 35-36, “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.’”

            If God was giving us “all things” as some people define them, wouldn’t we want God to include protection form trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword?  Obviously when Paul talks about God giving us “all things” he isn’t talking about freedom from these problems.  He isn’t even talking about food and clothing and safety.  We need to define “all things” according to the text.  We need to define the love of Christ according to the scriptures.

I have a friend from Seminary who is going through some difficult times right now.  Let’s call him Richard.  Some people here know Richard as he grew up in this area and went to high school with some of your children.  About a month ago Richard announced that he and his wife (let’s call her Sally) are expecting their first child around January 1st.  Then came the first ultrasound and they announced that they will be having a baby girl.  Later they announced that they would be naming her Hannah.

            Last Sunday I began to notice posts on Facebook from Richard as he was asking for prayers for himself, for Sally and their unborn daughter Hannah.  He didn’t say much, but that they would appreciate prayer.  It was soon clear that Sally was in the hospital with some complications from her pregnancy.  I emailed a mutual friend to see if he knew any more details and he was able to clue me in a bit.

            Richard has been posting updates daily as he spends a lot of time at the hospital.  Tuesday he posted this:

I wanted to write a note for those who don’t specifically know what is going on with our family.  Sally is 18 weeks pregnant.  On Saturday evening, her water broke.  This spun us into a deep crisis, as we were delivered the news that it was nearly inevitable that labor would start.  They made Sally comfortable and we spent the night anticipating at any moment that labor would start, even as we wept and pleaded for Hannah’s life.

Sally, however, passed the first big milestone as most women go into labor in the first 24 hours.  The next big milestone is one week, as most women who have not gone into labor in 24 hours do within a week.  And after that, we need a bare minimum of 24 weeks for Hannah to be able to survive outside the womb.

For those who pray, we’re asking that you pray for the tear in the amniotic sac to heal (this is possible in what are considered “miraculous” cases, which is why we’re praying for it), that what little amniotic fluid remains would gather around Hannah so she can continue to develop, and that Sally’s body would not go into labor. The complexities surrounding life are extremely hard: struggle, loss, joy, and healing.  But we choose to use the complexities as a call to courage and to humble prayer; refusing to shrink back and simply accept what seems to be inevitable.  Please seek to be mindful of Sally and Hannah and listen to the way in which God would call you to “pray without ceasing.”

In all things, we are grateful to God for life.  We will fight for Hannah with all the weapons we have, not shrinking in fear.  If we lose her, we will have gained entrance into a different community of those who have experienced the crushing loss of children.  Either way, we are not alone.  But for now, we fight.

            In the deepest moment of fear and sorrow, Richard is asking for prayer.  And in the deepest moment of fear and sorrow, Richard is saying that they are thankful for life.  In the deepest moment of fear and sorrow, Richard recognizes that they are not alone.  That is the love of God.  That is the love of Christ; knowing that you do not have to go through the hard times alone is a sign of the love of Christ.

            I know that Richard and Sally have felt the love of Christ and the way we feel that love today is through the body of Christ, which we call “the Church”.  We as the church are to be the hands and feet of Jesus, living out the ministry of love and reconciliation that he began almost 2,000 years ago.  Many, many people have posted on Richard and Sally’s Facebook pages telling them how they are praying for them, offering to help out with meals, household chores, and money.  When Paul tells us in Romans 8 that nothing, not life or death, angels or demons, height nor depth, present or future, that nothing at all can separate us from the love of Christ, he obviously wasn’t saying that bad things wouldn’t happen to us.  What he was saying is that we do not have to go through these things alone.  We will have Christ with us and we will have the body of Christ with us.

            One of the other things that I believe scripture teaches us about the love of God is that the love of God does not discriminate; perfect love does not discriminate.  We are very discriminating people.  And discrimination isn’t always a bad thing.  I prefer chocolate ice cream over vanilla.  That is me choosing one over the other, noting that I like chocolate more than vanilla.  I think that my favorite football team is better than yours, I think that my opinion is better than yours, I think that my sense of style is…well, not existent, and I think my kid is better than yours.  Growing up I would have said that my dad was tougher than your dad, that Ford trucks were better than Chevy, and that Applebee’s is the best restaurant in the world.  We like things, even love things differently.  We prefer one over the other and there is nothing wrong with that.  But when it comes to the love of God, God does not discriminate.

We would like to think that those of us who identify ourselves as Christians receive more of God’s love, but that just isn’t a scriptural approach to the love of God.  Just a few chapters before our text for this morning Paul writes, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  You want the clearest demonstration of God’s love for everyone?  Look at the cross.  God sent his son to die for everyone because he loves everyone.  He loves us just the way we are.

            One of my favorite movies of all times is a goofy comedy called Dodgeball.  Dodgeball is a movie about this loveable, yet under-achieving guy named Peter LeFleur who owns an old gym that is struggling to make ends meet.  One of the problems is that the few members that this gym does have often aren’t able to pay their monthly fees.  There are guys like Steve, who thinks he is a pirate, and dresses/talks the part; Justin, who thinks that by making the cheerleading squad at his high school, he will make a girl like him; and Gordon, whose mail-order bride could care less about him, though he is constantly trying to win her love through obscure sports trivia and other interesting subjects.

            One day a lawyer comes knocking on Peter’s door to inform him that if he isn’t able to come up with the $50,000 that he owes the bank on his gym, that his gym will be taken away from him.  And not only will it be taken away from him, it will be purchased by White Goodman, the owner of Globo Gym, the big, fancy, pumped up gym across the street.

            Peter had given up hope of saving his gym until one day Gordon comes across an advertisement in Obscure Sports Quarterly for a dodgeball tournament that will be held in just a few weeks.  The top prize: $50,000.  So Peter and the crew from Average Joes Gym form a dodgeball team to compete for the prize.  And after the disqualification of a Girl Scout troop (on account of one of the girls testing positive for performance enhancing drugs) the team from Average Joes is off to the tournament.  But there is one problem.  Globo Gym enters the tournament as well and it is dubbed a modern-day David and Goliath confrontation.

            I don’t want to ruin the movie for any of you that want to see it now, but it ends with the Average Joes defeating the team from Globo Gym.  But not only that, because of some wise business deals made by Peter LeFleur, he became the CEO of Globo Gym as well as saving Average Joes.  He then made Globo Gym into an Average Joes gym.  And as the movie comes to a close, Peter LeFleur is making a commercial for the new Average Joes Gym and he says, “Hi. I’m Peter La Fleur, Owner and Operator of Average Joe’s Gym. And I’m here to tell you, you’re perfect just the way you are. But if you feel like losing a few pounds, gettin’ healthier, and making some good friends in the process, then Joe’s is the place for you.”

            I don’t know that I would go so far as to say that we are all “perfect just the way [we] are,” but I would say that we are loved just the way that we are.  And just like at Average Joes, if you want to make yourself into a better version of yourself, that is one of the reasons why we as the church exist.  I am here today because I want to be a better version of who I am; I want to be more like Jesus, but not because it will make God love me more.  But the Bible is clear: God loves the misfits, the rejects, the nerds, the mentally ill and challenged.  God’s love does not discriminate.

            I wish more people could understand how much God loves us.  If you pay attention to the news you will hear all sorts of stories of people that need to know that they are loved.  They need to know that they are loved by God and they need to know that they are loved by us, the Church, the Body of Christ.  I hear about teenage girls who get depressed and down on themselves and they don’t know how to release the pain, so they go through a process of self-mutilation called cutting where they slice into their own skin with a sharp object.  To the cutters out there, I want to say “You are loved.”  There are millions of different programs out there available on the internet for anyone that wants to improve their bodies, either because they are too fat, too thin, even too short.  To the fat, thin, and short, I want to say “You are loved.”  To the gays and lesbians who have been rejected by friends and family, you are loved.  God loves you just the way you are even when the world around us says otherwise.  Who then can separate us from the love of Christ?  Nobody.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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