What seems to have the potential of separating us from the love of God? In the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul has a list: hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things to come, powers, height, and depth.
Paul is thinking of some the greatest dangers, difficulties, and challenges of his own day and in his own experience. I suppose you could sum it up with the first two he lists in verse 38 — death and life: “I am convinced that neither death nor life…can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Life cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ. This might seem like a strange thing to say until we begin to think about all that can happen in a life. Paul refers to “the sufferings of this present time.” The demands, challenges, difficulties, and tragedies of life can seem so threatening that it sometimes feels like they could separate us from the love of God.
The news gets even better: even death cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ. Of all creatures, we are the only ones — as far as we know — who are conscious of our own mortality. No other creature knows the ultimate statistic: one out of one dies. We know we are alive and we know we will die. We are the only creatures who number our days and years.
Eventually, we all must face the fact that we are mortal. I am mortal and you are mortal — and sometimes we can live in a state of perpetual anxiety about that.
Paul Tillich defined anxiety as “the state in which a being is aware of its possible non-being.” He went on to say that there are several questions which every human being must ask and answer in order to be truly human: “What is the meaning of life? Where do we come from, where do we go? What shall we become in the short space between birth and death?”
And the Gospel comes to us with the Good News that we come from God and we go to God; in between, we are to live in love — love with God and with one another.
Over against our fear of death and the death of those whom we love is a simple assertion: “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”
After listing so many of the difficulties, challenges, and sufferings we face, he asked the question we’ll think about on Sunday: What, then, are we to say about these things? Given all the suffering in our world and the grave difficulties we face, what are we to say?
That is our question for this Sunday in Sanctuary worship, live online at 11:00 am. I hope you will think about and pray about this question, along with Paul’s response — and join in worship this Sunday morning.
In closing, I also invite you to think about the words of the great mystic, Julian of Norwich (1343 – after 1416), as she looked out on a world of pain. She lived during a time when the people of Europe were full of anxiety due to the Black Plague and the Hundred Years’ War. Because of her deep faith, her message in her day was this:
“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Grace & Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
Romans 8, selected verses (NRSV)
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.
28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?
35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.