Sermon – 26th July

Growing up as a working-class lad in the 50’s and 60’s, I was like my peers in soaking up all the pop music of the era. The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, I listening to them all. As I began to build my record collection, I felt I needed a bit of culture.

This was the time when complications of popular classics became available and I bought myself Classics 100 which brought together the ‘best bits’ in inverted commas of 100 classical music pieces.

I lapped it up. And, of course, nothing stirred my heart more than the 1812 overture. I thought it was brilliant. I would crank up the volume of my Dansette record player until my bedroom shook with the explosive power. There were two things though that I had failed to understand.

  1. Was how the narrative of classical music works
  2. Anything about the historical context of 1812.

My clip of the 1812 overture was a little under four minutes. The full overture is over 15 minutes. It was written in 1880 to tell the story of events 68 years earlier. The self-proclaimed Emperor, Napoleon, was gobbling up Europe and had set his eyes on Russia. He set off with an army of 400,000 French soldiers, accompanied by 1000 heavy artillery canons, and marched on Moscow.

Russia was not on a war footing and her army was less than a quarter the size of the French army. Two things happened

  1. The Russian Orthodox church called for a period of prayer
  2. The Tzar called on all good-hearted Russian civilians to set up barricades and defend them with their lives. The resilience of the people and the harsh Russian winter held Napoleon back until he was forced to retreat.

The overture tells this whole story. Tchaikovsky built into the middle of the overture lilting refrains of Russian patriotic folk melodies to represent calling the people to arms. The music of several stirring hymns is also mirrored in the build up to the crescendo. In the crescendo, bells tolled out the victory and a volley of 11 Howitzer field cannons were used to show the euphoria of a great and unexpected victory.

My Classics 100 did away with all the build up and went straight for the big finish.

Why do I tell this extended historical and musical story? It is because we can often take the same approach to scripture. Don’t get me wrong, it is far better to have favourite verses than no verses.

When Donald Trump, who relies heavily on the support of the Christian right in America, was put on the spot by a journalist and asked what are your favourite bible passages, he looked acutely embarrassed and thinking quickly he said ‘It’s all helpful I wouldn’t want to single out and particular verses’. I may be uncharitable, but I think what he meant is ‘I don’t know any’.

I think I have told you before that as young Christian in the charismatic renewal era, I was given a slim booklet with the catchy title ‘The Jesus Person Pocket Promise Book’. It contained 1000 promises from the word of God. It declared them to be there to be named and claimed. When the heat of renewal faded the little the booklet was rebranded ‘Promises to live By’. A much thicker book would have the less catchy title ‘Biblical promises to understand in context.’

Finally, to the point I am stressing this morning. Promises however wonderful need a context to have and real meaning.’

In the days I have just described many of us had Romans 8 as a poster on our walls. Usually with the last three verses.

(Rom 8:37)  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

(Rom 8:38)  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,

(Rom 8:39)  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.

These verses are the crescendo. They are the 11 Howitzers and the peel of victory bells. Paul lights up with the wonder of them. The canvas is huge and the victory complete.

They are preceded by 8 chapters of context. The 3 verses are the climax of a 220 verse stiry describing our struggle with sin, suffering and persecution. These are chapters that describe Paul’s personal struggle with his own past. They are chapters that highlight the human condition under the burdens of original sin and how that has marred and spoiled the whole created order.

These are Chapters in which Paul still struggles to find what is core truth and what is prejudice. Chapters in which the new life of the Spirit within him is still at war with his old Pharisaic legalism and pomposity. He knows that the work of Christ in him is both complete and yet still an ongoing project.

More than any other biblical writer he struggles with the now and not yet tension of the Christian life. These verses ring with those tensions. Yet they also look past them to the final outcome.

The Christians in the Roman church faced horrible persecution under the most tyrannical regime. They really needed this message. They would go on needing it for generations. Every generation faces it own overwhelming problems. Every generation needs to work out faith in its own context.

We have the Pandemic problems that the world is seeking to address in 2020 and beyond.

That is just one of the latest problems a fallen world is facing.

In his crescendo passage, Paul searched for a crescendo word that was his equivalent of the 11 canons and the city wide bells. He choses a word in verse 27 that is only used once in scripture. It is a word borrowed from the Roman military historians and narrators.

The word is hupernikaow and the Romans used it of their greatest victories. Victories in which the enemy had been totally overwhelmed by the mightiest of armies.

English needs three words to convey it.

More than Conquerors

Paul understands the victory because he understands how hard the battle is being. It is almost certain that he gave his life to it and for it.

Christians down the ages have had our part to play in this cosmic victory. It is a battle that love wins. It is a battle, elements of which, we still fight.

It is a marathon not a sprint and it will go on for each of us until we join the victory feast.

But we shall overcome because Jesus overcame.

And in all these things

(Rom 8:37)  we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Let’s Pray

A Litany for Healing

Together we lift our prayers to you, O God of love and healing.

God the Father, you breathe life into your whole Creation.
Help us breathe deeply of your peace and presence.

God the Son, you give us yourself to make our joy complete.
Help us give our fear, pain, and grief to you.

God the Holy Spirit, you move through our lives in unexpected ways.
Help us move in step with your life-giving power and love.

Holy Trinity, One God, accept our thanks and praise for all the blessings of this life, especially for those blessings that our present circumstances make difficult to see.

O Lord, hear our prayer.

Shed the light of your healing love on all who are sick in body, mind, or spirit, that they may find new wholeness illumined by your grace. Knit together in your love all whose relationships have frayed, that they may find reconciliation and new beginnings.

O Lord, hear our prayer.

Bless all who work to improve the health of others, that they may bring hope, care, wisdom, and skill to all they serve.
Hold in the palm of your hand all who are near death and all who care for them, that they may know the peace that passes all understanding.
O Lord, hear our prayer.

Grant all who turn to you the courage to participate with you in restoring this broken world to wholeness, that everyone and everything may share in the hope of your kingdom.
O Lord, hear our prayer.

At this time, I invite your prayers of thanksgiving or intercession in the quiet of your hearts. (Silence is kept.)

For these and for all other petitions that are too deep for words, we pray to you:
O Lord, hear our prayer.

You are the Lord whose promises never cease.
You are the Lord whose presence never fails.

Gracious God, you are close to us no matter how far we feel from you: draw us into the very heart of your grace and help us to live into the truth that nothing in all creation can separate us from your love in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.