When Faith Wins

1 John 5:1-6
May 5
David A. Davis
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Victory and conquering. “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! The Apostle Paul on victory. Paul on victory in I Corinthians 15. “Behold, I tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised…Thanks be to God who gives us the victory of our faith.” The Apostle Paul on the victory of our faith. Resurrection and eternal life.

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved 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, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Apostle Paul on not just conquering but more than conquering. The more than conquering of our faith. For Paul it is the promised steadfast, eternal, never-ending, love of God. Not just in Paul, but in the witness of scripture, victory and conquering belong to God and the righteousness of Jesus Christ. “All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God”, proclaims the psalmist. (Ps 98).

Victory and conquering.  So when someone gets up to read I John, when you come upon some victory language in I John, the muscle memory of our faith knows where this is going. “For whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world….. (wait for it)….this is the victory that conquers the world….our faith. Who is that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”  Victory and conquering here in I John. Not God. Not Jesus. But our faith? “For the love of God is this, that we obey God’s commandments. And God’s commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world.” Our faith? Our victory? Our conquering? You sort of want to tell the writer of I John to take some time to look around at the world. Hard not to think that more often than not, the world wins.

Let’s try this for a takeaway: The Spirit is at work in those claimed by the saving grace of Jesus Christ calling us to a life of faithfulness and commitment best defined by love. That love has been revealed to us first and foremost in the life, suffering, and death of Jesus. When the followers of Jesus live in obedience, ordained by the water of his baptism and forever drawn to the blood of his selfless love, God’s love works to overcome the world. How about this takeway? The victory of our obedience furthers the work of God’s love in the world. Not just a takeaway but a promise from God about how God’s love works.

In the Greek of the New Testament, victory and conquering share the same root word. The victory, victory of faith is our obedience. Our discipleship. Our living the gospel of Jesus Christ. What forever threatens the world’s power, what turns the world on end, is the foolishness of God that is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God that is stronger than human strength. What pushes back on the ways of the world, is the faithfulness of the followers of Jesus. Followers who yearn to have the same mind of Christ, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  (Phil 2)

Whenever we gather at this Table, we use the words from the Apostle Paul in First Corinthians. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Not you proclaim his rising from the dead until he comes again. Here at this Table we remember his obedience. The death and resurrection of Jesus. His obedience on the cross and God’s power in raising him from the dead. God’s love at work. Yes, conquering and victory come in obedience of faith and the promise of resurrection hope. God’s love at work in and through God’s people.

Years ago, I was with a group of pastors in the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta. It was a week day and we were outnumbered by kids of all ages and colors on school field trips. One of the museum displays was a surround sound film that showed clips and scenes from the March on Washington in 1963. You could tell the few pastors in that room because most everyone else came up to about our waist. At one point the film showed everyone in the crowd and those up on the stage locking arms and singing. The sound in the room became louder at that point. I looked around and saw all the pastors singing along, including me. Some of the kids looked up at us and giggled a bit. But us grownups couldn’t help it. We kept singing. You know what we were singing……We Shall Overcome.  “Whoever is born of God overcomes the world.” I John.

Many of the children were moving through the museum with clipboards and an assignment page. You know how it works. They were assigned particular people to find in the various exhibits. At one point as I stood before a wall of leaders, pictures, dates, and names, a little girl stood next to me looking way up at this mountain of people. “Can I help you find someone?” “Yes” she said. “I’m looking for Ruby Bridges.” I leaned over to give a hint, “let’s look for the picture of a girl who was even younger than you.” You will remember that Ruby Bridges was the first African American girl to integrate her school in 1960. She was in kindergarten and had to be escorted by her mother and law enforcement officers every day to school.

One of those days her teacher, Mrs. Henry, thought she saw Ruby talking to the crowds along the sidewalk who were shouting mean and horrible things to her. The teacher asked Ruby about it. “I wasn’t talking to them, Mrs. Henry. I was praying for them. Usually, I prayed in the car on the way to school, but that day I’d forgotten until I was in the crowd. Please be with me, I’d asked God, and be with those people too. Forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing.”  The school girl and I, we found Ruby Bridges on the wall in Atlanta that day. When she read about her, she was reading about one little girl’s faith overcoming the world.

Faith overcoming the world. It comes in all shapes and sizes. And it happens all the time.

Come to the Table that your faith might be fed, and nourished. For we shall then be sent into the world to live our faith. To live the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And one day, one day, one day!