Proper 12 – 7/26/2020 – St. Paul’s
In his role as one called by Christ to proclaim the gospel, Paul articulated that Good News with unique power and persuasiveness. His preaching ability stirred the hearts of the struggling new churches throughout the Roman
territories, just as his skill with the written word continues to inspire new generations of seekers across the globe. For all generations of the Christian church, Paul the apostle has stood out as the “Great Communicator.”
This week’s text reveals the source and strength of Paul’s communication skills and communicative powers even while his words aptly demonstrate that gift. In verse 26, Paul begins by confessing the congenital “weaknesses” of all humanity our inability to pray or to communicate
directly with God because of the gulf that has separated creation from the Creator since that first “fall” from grace. Now, through the gift of the Spirit, Paul shows how God has established a sort of long-distance, direct-access line to the Divine. Once again, humanity can be in intimate, immediate contact with God through the Spirit’s intercession.
It can sound really trite to say that love is bigger than all that life threatens to steal. But what if it were true? What if it were really true that the final word upon all of our stories, with all their separations, was the most powerful and determined love imaginable? What if it were true that nothing—nothing!—can separate us from the love of all loves, the light of all lights, the One who gave himself away, binding himself to us and us to him, and ensuring that the final word for those whose hope is in this One is not separation but unity and embrace?
If it were true—and if those of us who live with this conviction and hope internalized this into the very core of our beings—then we might just be “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37). Not because we are particularly strong or stoic, not because separations don’t hurt like hell, not because doubts don’t arise, and certainly not because our beliefs allow us to skate cheerily across the surface of pain, but because—and only because—the one who loved us has already conquered, and because he holds out his wounded hands to welcome us, to guide us, to prop us up when failing, and to carry us, if necessary, into the future he has prepared.
The scripture passage form Romans this morning is what I would call God’s Gotcha passage. Paul so beautifully and powerfully puts it this way……
35 Can anything separate us from the love Christ has for us? Can troubles or problems or sufferings or hunger or nakedness or danger or violent death? 36 As it is written in the Scriptures:
“For you we are in danger of death all the time.
People think we are worth no more than sheep to be killed.” Psalm 44:22
37 But in all these things we are completely victorious through God who showed his love for us. 38 Yes, I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor ruling spirits, nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, 39 nothing above us, nothing below us, nor anything else in the whole world will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This remarkable and uplifting passage describes the unshakable promise of God. The context of these verses is important. Paul assumes that weakness, conflict, and hardship are normal for the Christian life and, for that matter, human life. For those of us living in America, we have a hard time understanding that and assume that adversity is abnormal and must be avoided.
In fact, it seems that the goal of American Christianity is to get out of adversity and into security. We believe in the God of the quick fix who will make us happy, prosperous, and protected. We are forever wanting to get out of our bad feelings, insecurities, and weaknesses and move into strength, security, and control. And we ask God to help us, to take our problems away. We seek the book, speaker, counsel, experience, or prayer that will get us out of our difficult situation.
All of this is a false gospel.
For Paul adversity is part of life, and especially part of the Christian life lived in conflict with the world. Success, according to this passage, is not the avoidance of adversity but knowing the love of God in adversity. The promise made by the passage is not that God will remove the difficulties of life, but that God will continue to love us through them and show us how to live with them.
Those who accept the adversities of life and find God’s love in the midst of them are those who become the wise, healed, whole, and joyful people. John Lewis comes to mind. Often Christians whose faith has been purified through suffering are the most joyful of all. On the other hand, those who spend their lives in the desperate attempt to avoid hardship and pain often end up most miserable and filled with anxiety.
Our comfortable Christian lives in the United States, which are seldom in conflict with the world, make it difficult for us to understand this passage. But it is beginning to make sense to those Christians who are making their way into community, into relationships with the poor, into economic insecurity, into peacemaking. We have begun to experience some of what Paul is talking about; to know our own and others’ weakness, fear, pain, conflict, struggle, and persecution by the authorities. This is a passage for our future.
It speaks now to circumstances of the church in many places on the globe today, but it is for our future as we respond more faithfully to the gospel and join in active fellowship with the suffering church in other parts of the world. That is the key to our future.Suffering does not necessarily lead to spiritual maturity. It can lead to bitterness, frustration, anger, and violence. We all know people who have allowed their suffering to embitter them and destroy their lives. Even social movements, in response to injustice and suffering, can become violent forces of revenge and hatred.
But oppression and suffering can also lead to trust in the love of God. Suffering can help us let go of everything and realize that there is no alternative but to depend on God. Abandoning ourselves to the love of God leads to spiritual maturity and wisdom.
We see both responses in ourselves, others, and in places of great oppression that have become revolutionary situations. The first response will always destroy, the second will heal.The passage is simply the promise of God, whether we feel it or not, whether we accept it or not. It is our choice.
Who shall separate us from the love of God? Can trouble? No. Hardship? No. Persecution? No. Famine? No. Nakedness? No. Danger? No. Sword? No.
Paul meant the list to be suggestive, not exhaustive. We are invited to put in all that we fear could separate us from the love of God.
What are you afraid of?
Are you afraid that your weakness could separate you from the love of God? It can’t. Are you afraid that your inadequacies could separate you from the love of God? They can’t. Are you afraid that your inner poverty could separate you from the love of God? It can’t.
Difficult marriage, loneliness, anxiety over your children’s future? They can’t. Negative self-image? It can’t. Economic hardship, racial hatred, street crime? They can’t. Rejection by loved ones, the suffering of loved ones? They can’t. Persecution by the authorities, going to jail? They can’t. The President? He can’t. War? It can’t. Nuclear war? Even it can’t.
I am convinced, says Paul, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We, too, must become convinced of that. It is, in the end, the one thing we can hang on to. Let us not run from adversity, fear, and suffering. Rather, let us claim the promise of God.
One Easter, I baptized a little girl. After the water was put over her head, I made the sign of the cross on her forehead. While doing that I recited those beautiful and powerful words in our baptismal liturgy: Nellie, you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. In other words, You belong to God.
The next day, she told her mother, I can still feel the cross. I hope it never comes off. The oily cross wore off her forehead, but not God’s unconditional promise. Nellie belongs to God, forever, full stop. Nothing can ever change that.
For the Good News of God’s kingdom is that when we make Christ Lord of our lives, neither death nor life, neither earthly powers nor the powers of the spirit, neither COVID-19 nor a future climate catastrophe, neither systemic racism nor religious genocide, neither wildfire nor cancer — nay, nothing in the highest heights or the lowest depths of this cosmos, or elsewhere in the whole of creation, has the power to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
May we commit this day to be people who everywhere live and share the Good News of the love of God in Christ that can never, ever be taken away, and that will, in the end, redeem this fallen world into a Kingdom where the love of Christ is all, and in all, and all in all. Amen.
May you walk well your journey in peace and in justice.
May you be wrapped in the shawl of God’s loving.
May you be cherished.
May you be blessed by the ever present love & grace
of God Almighty…..
Invitation to the Offering
Our God calls us to seek and find the hints of the Kin-dom in our world,
and to nurture its growth among us.
We will use our gifts, tithes and offerings to rebuild the body of Christ.
Grow these gifts in your love,
Bless our offerings, our hearts and our hopes in your love
To make us worthy of your work for your Kin-dom in heaven,
And among us here, even now.
Fill these gifts and each of us with your goodness. Amen.