Separation and Security
Topic: Biblical Verse: Romans 8:28–8:39
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 26-27, 2014
“Christians in the Capital: Separation and Security”
In the midst of our summer travels and vacations, our world seems to be coming apart at the seams. Wherever we look, there is unrest, strife and trouble. It may well be that the world has always been this way, and it’s just that we are now immediately and acutely aware of these things through electronic communications. A few recent examples here: the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 by pro-Russian separatists over the Ukraine, killing everyone on board. The bloody conflict between Israel and Gaza with missile and ground attacks, with a very fragile humanitarian and temporary cease fire in place. The influx of unaccompanied children from Central America crossing the border into this nation. All of these things are before us; that is until they are replaced by the next “big thing” in the news. What of those kidnapped school girls in Nigeria by the terrorist group, Boko Haram? What of the civil war in Syria? What of the situation in Egypt? You may have heard of what is happening to fellow Christians in Iraq, especially those living in the city of Mosul. With the rise of the militant group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), now in control of Mosul, hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled the area, many going to Kurdistan, an autonomous region in northern Iraq. Under Sharia Law, ISIS demanded that Christians either convert to Islam, pay a tax, or leave the area. Failure to comply would result in execution. Homes of minority communities were marked with “Property of the Islamic State,” and houses of Christians were marked with the letter “N” for Nazarite. Now, after more than 2,000 years, there are no Christians in this capital of the Iraqi province of Nineveh. (Source: http://www.christiantoday.com/article/christian.flees.mosul.isis.continues.reign.terror.iraq/39000.htm).
These fellow believers must be thinking deeply about all of this in light of today’s Epistle lesson: “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” (Romans 8:35-36). Cast out and separated from all that is familiar, where are they to find any sort of security? That same Word of God reminds them and us: “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” (Romans 8:37-39). Our summer preaching series, “Christians in the Capital,” continues today under the theme, “Separation and Security.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
We don’t live in the ancient capital of Rome, nor do we live in that Iraqi capital of the province of Ninevah. We do live near another capital city, though, and it comes with another set of challenges. We may not face the threat of persecution for our faith as our brothers and sisters did in ancient Rome and as they do in modern-day Iraq as well as other parts of the world. But there are other challenges we do face; other “tribulations or distresses” which seek to put a strangle-hold on faith and choke the life out of it. In the culture of abundance that we live in, maybe it’s the lure of materialism; acquiring more and more but all the while never being satisfied because it’s never enough. Maybe it’s fear that holds us captive – fear of failure, fear of change, fear of the future, fear of dying. Maybe it’s complacency that plagues us – being so smugly self-satisfied with the way things are that we become stuck and immovable, stubborn and stiff-necked. Maybe it’s political correctness that is our unique tribulation and distress here in this time and place, that standing for everything because we are afraid to offend we then stand for nothing. Maybe it’s the hectic and distracted pace of life which we lead that leaves little, if any, room or time for God. Paul’s list here of “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” connects with the perils and hardships of his own life as an apostle (see 1 Corinthians 4:10-13; 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 6:4-10, 11:23-27, 12:10). Left to our own, we can easily come to the conclusion that all of these things separate us not only from God but from others as well. So, where is our security?
Today’s Epistle lesson begins with that beautiful verse of promise and hope: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). All of those things which we often view with frustration, discouragement and anger are actually vehicles for blessing from the hand of the Lord. We may not see how all of this works out this side of heaven, but the promise of the Lord is sure and certain. That promise is ratified in Jesus, as we are told: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). In other words, if God’s great love would not withhold even the life of his only Son, but freely gave him as the atoning sacrifice for our sins upon the cross, won’t God also take care of all these other things for the sake of his elect, his beloved sons and daughters? And the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Who or what would dare to bring any charge or accusation against God’s chosen ones when the presiding Judge himself has already acquitted them, declaring them not guilty for Jesus’ sake? My friends, this is the confidence we have in Christ, who laid down his life for us. Far from being our prosecutor, Christ Jesus is our defender and even now intercedes for us! Through faith in the Gospel, the good news of Jesus’ life and ministry, his death and resurrection, we have already been declared not guilty and set free. That final day of Judgment will simply be the public announcement of this divine verdict. And this is something no power on earth or in heaven can possibly challenge. This, my friends, is our security – now and for all time!
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:35). We could add many other things to that list: chronic pain and illness, cancer, natural or manmade disaster, unemployment and under-employment, financial loss, and many others. In Christ Jesus, we confidently affirm that “… in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Actually, the original word here is better translated as “super conquerors” (Ïπερνικϖµεν): Ïπερ, where we get our word “hyper,” and νικÎ®, where we get our word “Nike,” like the shoes. In Jesus, we are super conquerors! Through the One who conquered sin, death and hell itself, we are super conquerors! In him who loved and who loves us, no matter what the world throws at us – “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” (Romans 38-39). Thanks be to God! Amen.