Our reading this morning begins with a question. “If God is for us, then who can be against us?” It’s a question that leads us to consider other questions - is God for me? Am I for God? If God is for me, then what does it mean for others to be against me?
Those of us brought up in Sunday School will, most likely, offer a somewhat knee-jerk answer to the question. No-one. Of course no-one can be against us if God is for us. He is all-powerful, all-seeing, all-loving. No-one can be against us.
But let’s consider the situation that this letter was originally written to - the early church in Rome. You would be forgiven, in that context, for thinking that the answer was actually “everyone”! Certainly the ruling powers - the Roman Empire - were against them, often seeking ways to hunt them down to persecute and kill them. They were a Jewish sect, but the Jewish religious authorities wanted nothing to do with them. Even the more philosophical Greeks looked down on them - sometimes referring to them as atheists because they only believed in one god!
A number of years ago I attended a conference where the speaker was talking about ungodly beliefs. The way he was defining an ungodly belief was a belief that is 100% true from our experience, but 100% false according to the Bible. This may sound somewhat contradictory, and yet so many of us go through life with these ungodly beliefs hanging round our necks, weighing us down.
For instance, many people look at their lives and think “there is no way that God loves me,” or they look at their own experiences and think, “God could never forgive me - I’ve done too many things wrong.” And yet these things are not true if we look at Scripture.
Earlier in the book of Romans, we are told that all have fallen short of God’s standards, but that even while we’re stuck in the deep mud of our sin, Jesus came and died for us. That he loves us before we love him, and that his sacrifice means we can be forgiven for any and all of our sins - even those sins that we have not yet committed, but undoubtedly will, in the future.
100% true from our experience. 100% false from the Bible.
The Roman church may have thought everything was against them, but they are reassured that God was still with them. Nothing can separate them from God’s love. Not trials, not times of distress, not being persecuted, not times of famine or being naked and without shelter, not danger or sword or war. None of those things.
And the list goes on. Not rulers - humans in control of the government; not supernatural beings like angels or demons; not going to any place in the world or space - no matter how high or deep we go; nothing that has happened and nothing that will happen; nothing in the universe whether created or man-made can separate us from God’s love. Nothing. Not even death.
God’s love doesn’t even depend on us. Not even we can break it.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not one thing.
As we gather together today to remember all those who perished in war, those who gave their lives and those who had their lives taken from them, even those who fought on the other sides of conflict, and especially as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, it is good to hear the surety and hope of these words.
The two great wars that ravaged our world at the beginning of the 20th century also served as a stark contrast to the historical period called the Enlightenment. The idea that mankind, through the advancement of knowledge, was becoming increasingly civilised - increasingly good - was cut down by the deaths of millions of men, women and children in the space of 25 years. The final acts of World War 2, and the subsequent years that included many conflicts including the Korean War, Vietnam War and even the Cold War, proved that science was not inherently good. For all the great advancements it had undoubtedly achieved, it could equally be used to threaten, maim, or kill people in numbers never before thought imaginable.
They highlighted, in horrific detail, the extent of man’s inhumanity to man.
Part of this day of remembering is so that we never, through forgetfulness, allow such atrocities to occur again. But let us never forget that those atrocities are forged in the fallen heart of men - they are an outpouring of the darkness that can dwell in the heart.
Whilst our experience often tells us, or at least we want to hear it tell us that man is inherently good, scripture tells us that our hearts are fundamentally broken. That the solution here is not a remembering - not a constant trying to do better, be better, try harder, do more good things. The solution is a new heart, only available through Christ Jesus.
And so we return to our original question: “If God is for us, who can be against us.” If God is for us, then nothing can separate us from his love - not even the atrocities of war.
If God is for us. Are we for God?
For those of us who have accepted the love of Jesus, today’s important remembering of those who gave their lives in war for King and Country, sacrificing themselves for those they loved and for our way of life, will always be overshadowed by the remembering we do more frequently around this table, remembering him who gave his life on a cross, one sacrifice for all people, for all time, to make a brand new way of life possible for us.
Our challenge is to live lives today that show the truth of the new heart we have been given.
For those of you who haven’t received God’s love yet, the offer is always open. As you gathered here today to remember those who died so that you could live, perhaps now is also the time to remember Jesus, whose suffering was far greater, but who offers you a life unsurpassed. A life that cannot be separated from the wonderful, never stopping, never giving up, unbreakable, always and forever love.
God is for you. Are you for God?
As part of my training as a Church of Scotland minister I had to attend a preaching workshop. For this workshop each candidate was tasked with writing a 10-minute sermon for a Remembrance Day service, choosing from one of three passages. Here are some of my thoughts on my particular choice: