“Conquer the World”

What images flood into your head when you hear the word “conquer”?

(Take a moment to consider.)

Maybe Alexander the Great, who conquered the known world,

from Greece, south to Egypt, across Persia, and east to India, over 300 years before Jesus?

Or the US Women’s National Team, that won the 2019 World Cup in dominating fashion,

led by Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan?

The disciples examine the fresh wounds on Jesus's body after the resurrection

​1 John 5:1-6

May 9, 2021

Dr. Todd R. Wright


What images flood into your head when you hear the word “conquer”?


(Take a moment to consider.)


Maybe Alexander the Great, who conquered the known world,


from Greece, south to Egypt, across Persia, and east to India, over 300 years before Jesus?


Or the US Women’s National Team, that won the 2019 World Cup in dominating fashion,


led by Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan?


Or maybe you flash back to playing the board game Risk on rainy summer afternoons?


All three imply that “to conquer” involves overpowering your opponents in battle.

 

But for John’s community, the word “conquer” must have evoked a measure of shame as they dealt daily with Roman soldiers inserting the Empire’s power into their known world.


So when John gushes, “Whatever is born of God conquers the world!” they can hardly believe their ears. What foolishness is this? They are a conquered people, not conquerors.


They might as well be …


Don Quixote jousting at windmills in armor that is old and eaten with rust;


or children chasing the cat around the backyard with tinfoil swords.


Who can conquer anything with faith and love? It’s crazy!

 

But what if it’s not?


What if John is reminding his community of what Jesus said on the night of his arrest?


“I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”[1]


At the time it did not look like Jesus was a conqueror. He was soon overpowered by religious authorities and puppet kings and simple soldiers. Within hours he would be arrested and beaten and sent to a shameful death on a cross.


All his followers ran away or were powerless to do anything but watch.


All his deeds of power were consigned to nostalgic narratives.


All his bold words were reconsidered as nothing more than lovely metaphor.


But then Easter happened! And suddenly conquering the unconquerable seemed possible. If he can overcome death, his followers dared dream, what can we overcome?


As Duke University professor Willie James Jennings puts it, “This Christ pattern marks us. We too overcome. Our overcoming is not a detour around opposition, controversy, violence, and even death. It is a faithful character formed through careful listening to the Spirit while we are in the crucible of trouble.”[2]

 

So how is your faith bringing the world to its knees?[3] How is your love breeching walls? How is your marching with Christ expanding the kingdom of God?


It will not be as flashy as Alexander the Great. Often it will feel more like Don Quixote.


But with every box of TP and pasta and canned tuna given out at Common Grounds, we are conquering hunger for one family for a few days.


And with every concrete act of justice, we are claiming our Lord’s loving fingerprints on every child of God and overcoming all those demons that have been loose in our world for too long.


And with every word of gospel blessing shared with a neighbor, we are overpowering the isolation and fear that have flexed their muscles during a year of COVID quarantining.


I could go on, but you get the point: by God’s power we are conquering every day!


Paul, who wrote to another group of believers living in the shadow of Empire, put it like this:


“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through him who loved us.”[4]


So believe in the one who overcame the world … with love!


He makes us conquerors too! Amen

[1] See John 16:33
[2] from Feasting on the Word , Year B, Volume 2, page 494
[3] I’m stealing this wonderful phrasing from Eugene Patterson’s translation of the passage in The Message
[4] see Romans 8:35 and 37
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