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If God Is For Us
Mat. 13:31-33, 44-52

There are Sundays when a preacher finds inspiration in the lectionary scripture scarce. There are Sundays when a preacher wonders what word there is from the Lord for this time and this people, when the wells of inspiration run dry, and when the Quaker practice of worship in silent meditation seems quite attractive, and then we can all leave and go about our business for the day. It is good to know that today is not such a Sunday. If anything, the lectionary Holy Scriptures offer so much that a preacher should wonder if one sermon is enough for all that is offered to us. It is also true that most people consider one sermon quite adequate for a Sunday, and seldom is a complaint made that a sermon is too short.

Let me begin with a story. About a century ago, a minister's son was born in Germany. His name was Paul Tillich. He became a minister. During World War 1, he served as a chaplain in the German army. He was sent to Verdun and ministered in that horror of death and anguish. He was transferred to other duties, and then, sent back to Verdun. Returning to the trenches, graves, and carnage of Verdun was too much. His mind and soul collapsed. He had a mental breakdown. After the war, he studied advanced theology and philosophy, later teaching these subjects. When Hitler rose to power, the voice of Paul Tillich was one of the few that dared to declare that the grandiose patriotism of the Nazi ideology was evil. Tillich escaped from Germany and fled to America as a refugee, a middle-aged professor unknown to most American churches. Henry Luce, the founder of Time magazine later said that the thought and writing of Paul Tillich would challenge the world for centuries to come. His mind, which seemed so frail at Verdun, became one of the greatest of our century. His theology was both cosmic and sensitive to the vulnerability of human emotional and spiritual needs.

Paul Tillich was an individual who knew from personal experience not just the depth and darkness of evil, but also its beauty and allure. Tillich knew what earthly power is like, and he also knew what heavenly power is like. In a sermon, Paul Tillich, minister, theologian, professor, exile and refugee, former mental patient, referred to words of the Apostle Paul, refugee, former persecutor of Christians turned Christian missionary, that could be the creed of Paul Tillich and all who dare to face the immensity, power, and glory of evil in the name of the God who sent the only Son, Jesus Christ, to save the world and the universe.

If God is for us, who is against us?...Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who love 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, or depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul Tillich said what these words of the Apostle Paul meant to him: These words are among the most powerful ever written. Their sound is able to grasp human souls in desperate situations. In my own experience, they have proved to be stronger than the sound of exploding shells, of weeping at open graves, of the sighs of the sick, of the moaning of the dying. They are stronger than the self-accusation of those who are in despair about themselves and they prevail over the permanent whisper of anxiety in the depth of our being.

And then Paul Tillich asked, "What is it that makes these words so powerful?" It is a fair question and perceptive. The apostle Paul describes, in the language of his time, the elemental forces that oppose and shake all human beings. Some of these forces are ugly and brutish: hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword. Some of these forces are beautiful and glorious, even if the language is strange to our ears: death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things to come, powers, height, depth. Even if the language is strange, the truth is familiar. We may not believe we believe in the elemental powers and cosmic angels as the people did in the time of the Apostle Paul, but more people today are turning to the mythology of astrology, channeling spirits of the past, UFOs, and cults of many kinds in their search for some base of power and truth that will give them some solid place to stand in a madly spinning and churning universe. Yes, some evil is beautiful and glorious; it must be to have allure, yet although nothing is created to be evil, even the most glorious and beautiful becomes evil if it is set as ultimate in place of God who alone is ultimate.

Patriotism can be a terrible and devouring demon. Beauty can consume. Even love, separate from God, twists and destroys. The past can chain us. Things present worry us. Things to come stalk us. With all this power rushing against us, how can we dare to state that we are more than conquerors?

If I understand this clearly, part of our problem is that we do not understand what power is. We confuse power with force, violence, appeal, persuasion, passion unbridled, or destruction. We do not understand what the Apostle Paul knew when he said that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Who loves us? The answer is God. The answer is Christ Jesus. The answer is the Holy Spirit who intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

We tend to think of evil as strong because it is focused negativity. Evil knows what it wants, but it is limited to destruction without creation. We tend to think of good as unfocused well-wishing without definite aims or goals. If we think of Jesus Christ in this way, then we are in for a shock. I think that Jesus was and is unusual because He confronts us with a clear and definite challenge of the power of God's love as the basic element and goal of the universe, as strangely as it sounds to our muddled and twisted notions of power and good. Hear what our Lord and Savior said.

Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that grows into a shrub, then a tree, so that the birds come and nest in it. This is offensive. Nations were compared to trees, just as we compare nations to animals. Who wants to be a shrub? How can a shrub become a tree? As for the birds nesting, that is a sign of pollution. So the kingdom of heaven is not like earthly notion of power, but what is small and despised becomes greater than what reality predicts, and those polluted come to make there home there. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman puts in three measures of flour until it was all leavened. Jesus compared God to a woman! That is still considered offensive by many people today. The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast? Yeast is considered unclean on holy days and must be thrown out to maintain high holy day kosher purity. The kingdom of heaven is like impurity that permeates the flour and changes it. One last point is to be noted. Three measures of flour makes about one hundred pounds of bread. Why would a woman make one hundred pounds of bread? Isn't that more than we would expect in any rational sense, or is that point about God?

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure someone finds in a field, then sells all he has so he can buy the field. Does this sound right? Aren't we supposed to work for what we get? Is it right for someone to trespass on another's land, find a treasure, and then buy the land for the treasure? Perhaps the point is that Jesus is leading us into places we have no right to be, showing us the treasure of heaven which is greater than anything we could have on our own. If we want it enough, we'll give everything for the treasure.

The kingdom of heaven is like the pearl of great price. If we truly see the value of God's kingdom, then we'll sell everything to possess what is so rare and precious.

Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a net that catches good and trash fish. At a time to come, the good will be save and the worthless discarded. The net of God is thrown wide to catch everything, but God will sort out all when it is time. Jesus asked His disciples, "Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes." Jesus asks us, "Have you understood all this?" What do we answer? Do not worry. I do not believe the disciples understood any more than we do, because what Jesus taught turns ours ideas of power and reality upside-down inside out. It will take us a lifetime to understand what Jesus is saying. Meanwhile, to us and to all who seek some firm footing in a churning and twisting universe that threaten us with the darkest shadows and fears. There is such firm footing, and it is Jesus Christ rose from the tomb that we might know that light is greater than darkness, that love is greater than hate, and that life is greater than death. We are more than conquerors. We have power unimaginable. We have love infinite. We have life eternal. We are connected to the love of God from whom came the universe. All that opposes God , be it powerful or lovely, will not stand. If God is with us, who is against us?

At this time, I invite you to turn in the United Methodist Hymnal to page 887. Please stand and repeat this creed of faith for Christians in all ages:

Leader: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness or peril or sword?

People: No! In all things we are more than conquerors through the one who loved us. We are sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, 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. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Be not afraid. Be assured. God knows what God wants, even if we do not. If God is with us, who is against us. If God is with us..., and God is forever. Amen and Amen.