Saturday, December 30, 2006

Rocky Balboa

After the fullness of the “Christmas weekend”, after the feasting in the three divine services and then Christmas dinner, things became very slow and we decided that we would go see a movie. We don’t do this very often, mostly because there are very few movies that we count as having any value. But “Rocky Balboa” sounded promising. So we went.

The Rocky movies have been very popular with people. Part way through the movie I leaned over to Stephanie and said, “You know that I hate boxing, but I love these movies.” She chuckled.

It’s true, boxing is a terrible thing, but Rocky represents what everyone desires deep down. Everyone wants to imagine that if he digs deeply enough into his internal reservoirs of strength that he can prevail against all that the world throws against him. We all want to believe that winning is about being willing to take the beatings and being willing to get up again after being knocked down hard.

In a certain sense, this is true. Yet not really. After all, in the end, we all will lose. Death gets us all in the end. No one can dig deeply enough to find the strength to beat death.

Rocky found this out when his beloved Adrian died. She was the one who stood by him through everything. She was the one who bolstered him when he gave up on himself. She was the one who stood up to him and confronted him when he was wrong. She was the one he could always count on.

That is, of course, until death stole her away. Now he had nothing left but memories. He became like an empty shell. His body still breathed, but his spirit had no power of life left.

I have often wondered what my reaction would be if my beloved wife should die. As we were driving home from the movie I told Stephanie that this movie made me realize that if she should precede me in death that I would experience the loss even more strongly than I ever even imagined. She is very much like my Adrian except for one thing: she does not direct me to pull myself up by my bootstraps when I am down. She directs me to the one true hero who never fails, the one true hero who actually defeated death. She often reminds me how important that I am to her because I am her pastor and her husband. But she is as St. Paul teaches husbands in Ephesians 5: my very own body, my flesh. This is an even more powerful thing for those who are truly equally yoked in the Lord.

Whenever Rocky kneels and makes the sign of the cross before a big fight, it tends to make me glad. For as a Christian it is good to see someone acknowledging the true source of victory. Yet, I always come away very sad, too, because I quickly remember that for Rocky and for most people who count themselves as Christians, the sign of the cross is more of a ritual than the source of victory. For most Christians the real battle is one that must be won by standing in whatever strength a person can muster on his own. The cross is more like a good luck charm to be used to help one get his focus back on winning.

The preaching of the cross is much, much more! The preaching of the cross is the means to victory itself. The preaching of the cross is God’s means of connecting us to the victory that He has already won for us. We don’t have to be strong. He is strong for us. In Him we have the strength that we need. In him we are MORE than conquerors as St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:37.
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

“We are more than conquerors.” This verb literally says “we are above or beyond the victory.”

In order for Rocky to regain his identity, to regain his sense of being OK, he had to go out and fight. He had to prove that he was still a fighter. When facing the trials of life, he had to get up and punch back. Then, when he could see himself in this way, then he felt strong and alive.

But St. Paul directs us to a strength that is beyond such views of ourselves. He says in Romans 8:36-37:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

The love of Christ gives us MORE than what winning can ever give. Winning merely sets us up to have to stand up and fight again until our strength finally fails us and we lose. Then what? No, the love of Christ gives us more than being victorious in our efforts. Through the victory that Christ won for us on account of His love for us, through Him the things against which we think that we must fight have no power over us. St. Paul declares to us that neither tribulation, nor distress, nor persecution, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor peril, nor sword can separate us from the love of Christ, the love that brought Him from heaven to save us, to defeat all the powers that beat us down. The love of Christ gives us more than the power to be victorious over the trials of life. The love of Christ gives us the power to see that we don’t need to be victorious in order to be safe and alive. Our view of ourselves through our baptismal connection to Christ gives us the power to see goodness and hope even in what appears to be defeat. For after all, our greatest and final enemy, DEATH, was defeated by Christ giving up His spirit on the cross.

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

I enjoyed “Rocky Balboa” because it did show that we should never give up but should always see the victory. I enjoyed it because it demonstrated how wonderful the gift of marriage is and reminded me how richly God has blessed me through my beloved Stephanie. I enjoyed it because it reminded me that in Christ I have much more than a victory, because in my Baptism I have been made to be more than a conqueror, for I have been given the power to know that I can face my own weaknesses without fear. In Christ my weaknesses have no power over me. In Christ I do not need to win. My victory has already been won for me. I am beyond being victorious. I can allow others to abuse me, to reject me, to do whatever to me, for nothing in this life can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Truly for us as Christians we can hear the Lord Jesus say, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Of course the world cannot understand this or embrace this. The world will mock us as even our own sinful nature mocks us for believing this. Yet the Truth will not fail us. We are "more than conquerors through the one loving us.”

The "Rocky" graphics for this post are from Rocky Balboa (2006)

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