July 27, 2014 Romans 8: 26-39
Rev. Catherine Purves
Things were a little hectic before I went off on vacation. The theory was that I would write this sermon before I left since we wouldn’t be leaving until the Friday after I last led our worship. That sounded like a good plan, but it didn’t work out. So I went away knowing that I’d have to write a sermon while I was on vacation. Still, I wasn’t too bothered, because the text I had decided to preach on is my absolute favorite passage of Scripture. I put together the bulletin and chose my hymns and sermon title that last week. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? That sounded like an engaging title. I should have lots to say about that. But on a gray and chilly day at the beach when I decided that I should probably begin to write my sermon, I asked myself the question: Who will separate us from the love of Christ? The answer, of course, was no one. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. I wondered if I could get away with a one-paragraph sermon on my first Sunday back. Probably not.
The answer to my sermon’s question is an easy one. It wouldn’t stump any panel of serious Christians. Perhaps my title wasn’t as intriguing as I thought, if the answer was so obvious. Still, I think that it’s one thing to pipe up with the right answer to that question. It is quite another thing to really believe that answer, to trust in it, and to live your life by it. In point of fact, I think that many of us live a good portion of our lives feeling separated from the love of Christ. A lot of us probably spend a fair amount of time feeling judged by Christ. I’m sure most of us believe that we are surrounded by the love of Christ when we are in worship or at prayer, but how many of us consider the fact that we are enveloped by the love of Christ when we are washing the car, or picking up groceries, or having our morning coffee? How many of us feel intimately connected to the love of Christ when we are in the midst of a heated argument, or succumbing to feelings of depression, or telling a lie?
Like my pre-vacation sermon-writing plan that abstract notion that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ sounds good in theory. It is when we actually have to get the sermon written or literally apply the promise that nothing in our lives will separate us from Christ, that’s when we run into problems. It’s all very well for Paul to talk about rulers and powers and heights and depths, our present circumstances and our unknown future, but in my life, in your life, do you really believe and feel in your heart of hearts that the answer to the question is nothing – nothing can separate you from the love of Christ?
Let me share with you one of the prayers that I pray almost every day in life. It’s a prayer I have memorized. That means that I have both internalized it in an important way and that I can run through it at speed without really thinking about what I’m saying. We can all recite the Lord’s Prayer in both these ways. Here is the prayer: “Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” I pray this prayer every day, because it is hard to remember that – to remember that, no matter what, we are ever walking in God’s sight and that in all circumstances we live and move and have our being in God. But that’s true because nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
It is actually something of a struggle for me to keep remembering that. That’s why I pray that prayer every day. It’s more comfortable and more convenient, in a way, to pick and choose when we are walking in God’s sight. There are times when being held tight in the love of Christ may cramp our style, because that love lifts us into the divine life of faithful relationship which means that we lose control over those times in our lives when we are not voluntarily in worship-mode or service-mode. But, you see, it’s not up to us to determine when we are walking in God’s sight, because nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. We live and move and have our being in Christ. Period.
Why should something in us rebel against that? Perhaps it’s because, like children, we don’t want our divine parent to see everything that we are doing. We don’t want to have to be on our best behavior all of the time. We also like the feeling of independence we have when we think that we’re in control of our own lives, deciding when and where and how we relate to God. Unfortunately, that attitude is about as far removed from a biblical attitude as it could be.
Our text from Romans confirms that. It begins by explaining to us that not even our prayers are our own. The Spirit has to help us to pray, interceding for us when we are too weak or too woeful even to know how to pray. Next, Paul assures Christians that God is at work in what my prayer calls “all the cares and occupations of our life.” The phrase in verse 28 may make you bristle a bit: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God.” Do we know that…really? Do we believe it? You may find the alternative translation that is footnoted in our Bibles a bit more palatable: “in all things God works for good.” Either way, the idea that Paul wanted to impress upon his readers was that nothing could separate them from the love of God and the will of God in Christ. Nothing. They belonged to God, lock, stock and barrel, past, present, and future.
For those of us rebellious children who feel relatively safe and in charge of our own lives that might sound like we are being forced to play in a small fenced-in yard. The word ‘predestined’ appears twice in our passage, and that might be something else that will make you bristle. But for those who were living under Roman persecution and who could resonate with that quote from Psalm 44 that Paul inserted in his text, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered,” for those folks, Paul’s words were like a golden promise. Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. No matter what happens to us and no matter what we do or fail to do, no matter what! Maybe if we didn’t feel quite so superficially secure we would be able to hear in Paul’s words God’s promise of grace and faithfulness. But are we as secure as we think?
I remember once attending a church service in Scotland when the minister prayed in a sonorous voice, “Lord, save us from war, pestilence, and famine.” What? That’s ridiculous, we thought – war, pestilence, and famine in Edinburgh? Surely, we don’t have to worry about those things separating us from the love of Christ. Okay, you fill in the blank. If you’re not afraid of war, pestilence, and famine, and if you don’t expect to experience persecution for your faith any time soon, then what? What might conceivably separate you from the love of Christ or make you feel separated from that love and its power to work for good in your life? I’m trying to help you to see that this isn’t just a good theory or a nice sentiment. This promise is as true for us as it was for the Christians in Rome, and we should rejoice in it as they did.
It doesn’t matter how you fill in the blank of possible things that could make you feel like you were separated from the love of Christ. Health problems, kid problems, financial problems, persistent sins, feeble faith, cataclysmic life-changing events, whatever! Nothing will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing means nothing. Never means never. A promise is a promise when the promise comes from God.
When my mother died a few years ago now, I knew I couldn’t ‘do’ her funeral, but I wanted to take part in the service. The minister suggested that I might read something. It didn’t take long for me to decide on the Scripture passage that I thought I wanted to read. Now it was time for the theory to be applied. This was the singular occasion when the promise of Romans 8 had to be affirmed and proclaimed. If I couldn’t read those words then with conviction and genuine hope, then I would have discovered something that could make me feel separated from the love of Christ. This was the passage that I read at my mother’s funeral.
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will suffering, or death, or loss, even the loss of a mother; will anything separate us from God’s love? Paul answers our question for us: “No, 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.” This is not just a theory. It’s the truth! Thanks be to God.