For being such small words in the English language, the words what and if when put together can be full of promise and hope like “what if this is the best day ever?” or “what if this is the answer I have been waiting for?” They can also be full of uncertainty and dread like, “what if this is the worst day ever?” “What if this is all there is - what if this is the answer?”
Have you considered the powerful and profound nature of the question “what if” when it comes to your life and the living out your faith during this particular time in our country and in history.
For example: What if we lived our life out of our God given potential rather than human generated fear? After all, potential is God’s gift to us. Making the most of it is our gift back to God.
What if we measured spiritual growth and faith in someone not by keeping score of their sin, failures, and shortcomings or by tracking how well they follow the do’s and don’ts of religion and its institutions, but rather by being Jesus to each other?
What if we approached every day as if the victory has already been won at Calvary’s cross, (because it has) rather than fearing we just might lose?
What if we could reimagine what community, success, wisdom, love, and neighbor could look like or sound like? Too much to ask for? Too big? Too lofty? Too rainbowy, warm fuzzies, and pixie dust wishful thinking? Really? Cause have you ever wondered what if Moses’ mother hadn’t saved him by floating him down the river for Pharaoh's daughter to find? What if David’s sling slipped and he missed Goliath’s forehead? What if Esther refused, had not prayed and fasted, thereby finding favor, thus saving the Jewish people from genocide? What if Joseph and Mary had not heeded the angel’s warning to flee Bethlehem before Herod’s henchmen showed up? What if those first followers of Jesus gave up, quit, or walked away when things didn’t make sense, when they were afraid, or when everything around them was in turmoil, falling apart, or being undermined and destroyed?
When it comes to the eighth chapter of Romans, “even wordsmiths are at a loss for words. Not many adjectives can do justice to its mystery and majesty”. One theologian calls it the “Great Eight.” Martin Luther called it, “the clearest gospel of them all”. William Tyndale, who was martyred for translating the Bible into English, called it, “the most excellent part of the New Testament” (Mark Batterson, If page 15)
Why “The If Chapter?” Because in the midst of the action, adventure, story line, subplot, and even a few special effects, the hinge on which everything turns is the “if” statement in verse 31b or the second half of the verse.
All that stands between so much of our current political, economical, racial, environmental, and cultural situations and a unified, acceptable, doable, workable, and sustainable solution is one little if. What if we would truly listen to one another? What if we treated one another as people and not labels? What if we recognized and admitted when we were wrong and grew from it? All that stands between your current circumstances and your wildest possibility, dream, and God potential, is one little if. What if I took a chance? What if I could do it?
If you believe with every ounce of muscle, bone, and fiber of your being that God is for you, then you have nothing to fear; the sky's the limit for your God given potential and how you live out your faith in word and deed. AND you have much to offer the rest of us.
If however, hidden behind or just below the surface of that good job, nice house, big smile, perfect pet, and manicured lawn, you doubt God’s love and good intentions, such doubt will surface in a thousand forms of fear.
Those early followers knew fear. They carried the task of spreading the Jesus message to the known world at the time. They were confronted with uncertainty, disappointment, and failure. They knew hardship, struggle, and heartache. They faced cultural challenges, political assumptions, and government expectations. They questioned God’s purpose and Jesus’ call on their lives and how they were to live. Paul knew what they were facing and said: yep, it’s a long haul, a tough road, uncertain at times AND God is with you through it all. Period. God was, is, and will be with you. Jesus was, is, and will see you through. Period. That is Paul’s great reminder and truth of chapter 8.
If God is for us dear church (and God is), there is no room for fear, only faith, hope, and love. And our communities, our families, friends, colleagues, neighbors - our world could use a little faith, hope, and love right now.
Thanks be to God and may it be so, amen.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine