More Than Conquerors (Matt 12:22-28: Rom 8:28-39)

Jesus healed a demon-possessed man and the people were astonished, so much so that they exclaimed,

‘Could this be the Son of David?’— is this the Messiah we have been waiting for for so long?

But the Pharisees, who were obviously trying to drum up a bad press, told them,

‘It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.’

Jesus answered their accusation by saying,

“If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?”

Now I don’t know whether it is because of the way my brain is wired but I when I read that, I immediately thought of Harold Shipman. You may well remember his story.

After a bit of a chequered history Dr Shipman managed to find a place to practice as a GP in the town of Hyde in Greater Manchester, where he eventually gained respectability and developed a thriving practice — that was back in 1977. The people came to love him. But in 1998 one of his patients, an 81-year-old woman, was discovered dead in her home just hours after Shipman had visited her.

The woman’s family were perplexed by the suddenness of her death because she had previously appeared to be in reasonable health. They were also puzzled by the fact that her will had been changed to benefit Shipman and he had also insisted that an autopsy was not necessary.

To cut a long story short, in the year 2000 Shipman was convicted of 15 counts of murder, although it is believed he may have murdered up to 250 of his patients, and he was sentenced to life in prison. Shortly after his committal he committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell.

Shipman was an evil man who tried to assume the persona of a generous god. He took others lives because it was expedient to do so, and the whole of his life came crashing down like a house of cards because the two halves of his life were incompatible.

Another verse from Matthew’s Gospel then came to mind — this time it’s Chapter 6, verse 24:

“No-one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

Shipman was just one example: but if we are not true to our individual calling, how can we exist or, as Jesus put it:

“If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?”

And so in our reading from Matthew’s Gospel, in Jesus, we not only meet up with a man who has awesome power but is also of great goodness: he is true and not divided against himself. He is definitely the one to choose to have standing by your side in times of trouble.

The passage we heard earlier from Paul’s letter to the Romans echos those sentiments and began,

“We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him.”

And then, a little later, that wonderful line,

“If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Who indeed can stand against us? How much better can it get, but notice there is no promise of an easy life and yet … when things get tough, as they do for all of us from time to time, do those words resound in your mind, or do they get lost among the general noise and the thoughts of personal trial and pain?

Is your relationship with God strong enough to maintain you in the bad times?

And what about those enemies — if God is the God of all, is he not on their side too?

We all belong to God through faith but we should not forget the significance of how justification works in practice.

In this letter to the Romans, Paul constantly keeps in his mind the past, the present and the future tenses of God’s work. He set out the ultimate future in chapter 2, when God will judge all human secrets, a judgment that will be entirely just, fair and impartial, and if that doesn’t send shivers down your spine — well, it should.

And then he argued in great detail, in chapters 3 and 4, that when people believe in God’s good news about Jesus, they are assured in the present that they already belong to the his family, their sins are forgiven and they have already received the verdict ‘in-the-right’ from God’s court.

Finally, in chapters 5 through to 8 Paul points out for us that the Christian hope, for the verdict issued in the present to be reaffirmed in the future, is based securely on what God has already done for us in the death of Jesus.
The death of the Messiah on our behalf, when we were weak, helpless sinners (verses 6 and 8), demonstrates how much God loves us; and if he loves us that much, he can be trusted to rescue us from the coming day of judgment.
This isn’t just a theoretical exercise: the words of today’s reading are being tested to their limit in some parts of the world and yesterday, they hit me like a sledge hammer.

I don’t know whether you would call it coincidence or whether you would call it the hand of God, but the reading we have heard from Paul’s letter this morning was the one set in the lectionary for Morning Prayer yesterday and it was read for us alongside a heart-rending letter from the Bishop of Boga, one of our link diocese in the Congo, during yesterday’s Diocesan Synod meeting.

That beautiful country is under attack from misinformed extremists and terrorists: there were details of atrocities in his letter which are too graphic to mention here, but men, women and children are being slaughtered and yet they still hold onto their faith.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Paul’s closing words are a further reminder that even in the midst of intense suffering and grief, God’s love remains constant.

“I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither 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.”

Those are words we would do well to remember and take them to heart but please, also pray for the people of Boga. So let us now pray,

“Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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.”

Loving God,
We raise before you the people of Boga.
Welcome into your arms the victims of violence and atrocity.
Comfort their families and all who grieve.
Help them in their fear and uncertainty.
Bless them with the knowledge that they are secure in your love.
Strengthen all those who work for peace,
And may your peace which the world cannot give
reign throughout the Diocese of Bogaand in our hearts.

Alan Dowen