Back when I was a Houston Police officer my favorite time of the day was nighttime. When the sun went down and darkness covered the city the action began to pick up. Darkness wasn’t merely the lack of sunlight. Darkness was also the evil that lurked in the shadows waiting for the most opportune time to strike. We would glide silently through the darkness waiting and watching. We had spotlights on our cars to light up our traffic stops and to illuminate dark buildings from the outside. We carried high-powered flashlights that we could shine into those areas where danger might be lurking. Some of us even carried smaller flashlights on our gun belts for those times when a powerful flashlight wasn’t required but we still needed to shed light on the problem. Most of the time, after lighting up the situation, we would discover innocent behavior that was covered by darkness and wasn’t as menacing as it seemed and we would all breathe easier. In the police academy they trained us, upon entering a dark building, to reach around door, locate the light switch and turn on the lights before entering. Your illuminated flashlight made a convenient target for anybody hiding in the shadows. I remember one time when I was a rookie we were called to a silent alarm on an old department store warehouse. The alarms were usually the result of some wino trying to find a dry place to sleep for the night. When we arrived, we did find an open door so the floor by floor search began. Upon reaching the third floor we saw a long and narrow stairway going up to what was probably an attic. Jim, one of the senior officers, said to me, “Rookie, go on up there and see if the door is locked.” I went up and found that the door was unlocked. Jim said, “Stand aside rookie and I’ll show you how to search a room.” At that point, he reached around the door, turned the light on and stepped inside emitting a blood-curdling shriek. We raced in to discover that Jim had walked into a room of naked mannequins in some very menacing poses. I said, “Wow, they didn’t teach us that scream in the academy.” Sadly, several years later the darkness would take Jim from us on a late-night traffic stop of a wanted parole violator determined not to return to prison.
I think that’s what the Apostle Paul was trying to tell his readers in his letter to the church at Rome. There is darkness and evil in the world but we can take comfort in knowing that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. To be called means to be summoned or invited. We are called, summoned or invited by God to do certain things according to his purpose. According to what he wants accomplished. We are the ones he has chosen to do his work here on earth. It is important to understand that God does not work make us happy. He works to use us to fulfill his purpose. God’s primary way of working in our world is often more indirect, using influence rather than force. God is constantly working in our lives for the benefit of others, and in other’s lives to care for us. Paul says that we know this because God knew in advance who would answer his call and he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son and that way the Son would be the first of many brothers and sisters. God knew that not everybody would answer the call or accept the invitation. The promise of eternal life and salvation is not for everybody. It can only be claimed by those who love God and are called according to his purpose.
So, Paul asks, what are we to make of all this, “If God is for us, who is against us?” God didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him, Paul asks? Knowing God is with us gives us peace in the midst of the storms. Paul may be thinking of what God said to Joshua just before he led the children of Israel into the land of Canaan against a formidable foe. God said, “I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” God walks with us, works through us, takes the evil and suffering that occurs in life and forces them to serve us, and that God will ultimately deliver us.
Because we are brothers and sisters with Christ, he is right there pleading our case before God. Interceding for us in our times of woe and weakness. He is our big brother who is right there for us, taking up for us, arguing our case. Understanding this, Paul asks, “Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Paul answers his question by stating because of the one who loved us we win a sweeping victory in all these things. We cannot and will not be defeated. Paul is talking about the hope we have in Jesus Christ. This hope gives us the courage to confront our circumstances and the capacity to surmount them. It is the hope that God is with us, working through us and through others. It is the hope that God redeems suffering and forces evil to accomplish good. It is the hope of God’s ultimate victory. Paul concludes by saying that he is “convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord; not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.” Paul is expressing a strength of faith that leads believers to live boldly and without fear. This faith in God is the Christian response to the problem of fear. We know that God is with us and will never leave us or forsake us in our times of trial and need. This knowledge gives us the peace of mind that Paul is describing in his letter to the church in Philippi where he says in Philippians 4: 6,7, “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.” That peace replaces the angst of our human experience, that fear of the unknown, the fear of the darkness.
In a world beset by evil on all sides how does God’s love prevail? In order for God’s love to prevail we have to make ourselves available to God each day and pay attention. We need to become the hands and voice of God for other people in the world. God uses us to care for one another in the midst of suffering and in the wake of evil. God brings good from evil. He takes our sorrow, suffering, and sin and bends it, redeems it, and sanctifies us through it. There is a rhythm in which new life and beauty are born out of destruction and pain. God takes the pain and grief and the wounds of our past, and transforms them into objects of beauty. Through suffering, God changes hearts, which leads to changed lives and to good triumphing over evil. Hardship and suffering, evil and sin, will not have the final word. That’s the message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of our Savior and Lord means the worst thing is never the last thing.
Because we are called we have a new perspective, a new mindset on life. We trust in God, not in life’s treasures. We look for security in heaven and not here on earth. We learn to accept and not resent pain and persecution because God is with us. We are not afraid of the dark because we know Jesus is the light of the world.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, how grateful we are that you sent us your Son to shine before us as the bright light in the darkness. Because of his supreme sacrifice we know that nothing can separate us from your love. In spite of all the evil and turmoil in the world we know that you are in control and that your love prevails and, in you, we will join in the final victory. We accept your invitation to join the other brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus in doing your work here on earth. Through the Holy Spirit, develop our new perspective on our life in you and move us out into the world as beacons of light to those who are lost and searching for a life full of purpose, meaning and love for you God, for self and for neighbor. In the name of your most precious son, Jesus Christ, we pray, amen.