Now, I understand it’s entirely possible that you’ve never consciously worried about being separated from the love of God. And yet it could also be that when a certain loved one died or simply walked out of your life, you felt as if you had been separated from life itself.
I can imagine some folks never giving a single thought to losing God’s love—because they feel like they never had it to begin with, because their lives are so hard they feel that if such a love even exists, it must have passed them right by.
It makes sense to me that some people might take a good look around at the violence, injustice, and suffering of the world and come to the conclusion that surely the love of God has left the building.
I get all that; truly, I do.
But because you’re here this morning, because we’re all here—wherever here is for you, wherever here is for all of us in this strange new pandemic world—I’m going to assume that the love of God, however you think of it and whatever it means to you—is something you want to know, a pure gift that you want never to be separated from. Ever.
And yet even you, even we, who—at least on our better days—want to live and rest and trust in the wondrous love of God, can end up feeling like there’s so much that gets in the way. Even we can feel God’s absence, and wonder if that means God’s love and grace have left us. Even we can feel less than nothing when we come before God in worship or in prayer, and worry that despite all of our best efforts somehow we have been separated from the Holy.
Because life is hard. Because life is uncertain and sometimes downright scary. Because life, for all its awe-inspiring beauty, heart-opening love, and mind-changing connection, can wear us down and flatten us out.
Because injustice. Because evil. Because human sin and woundedness. Because fear. Because poverty. Because oppression. Because loss. Because death.
And sometimes because even the relatively little things. Because the relentlessness of it all. Because the road is long. Because sometimes our spirits get crushed. Because hope can be hard to come by. Because sometimes we just get tired.
Because we woke up this morning to news of still more states setting records for the number of single-day coronavirus cases, and still more deaths. And because we miss our loves and our lives and we’re really tired of keeping our distance and not being able to see who we want to see, go where we want to go, and do what we want to do.
Because we woke up this morning to news of more violence against protesters in more American cities and, as bad as that is, as much as we worry about fascism and a police state, we also worry that the original reason for the protests—the need to uphold black lives—will get lost in the controversy and the chaos. Because we worry that what had been a powerful nonviolent movement of amazing young people, fierce moms and dads with leaf blowers will be overtaken by anger and hatred, vandalism and destruction. Because we worry that cynical efforts to divide and conquer those who seek justice will succeed—again.
Because there is so much that threatens to come between us and all that is so very good and wonderful about this broken world that God so loves.
It is a reflection of our privileged and relatively easy lives that many of us associate this scripture passage with funerals and memorial services. When death has taken a loved one, we need to be reminded that the love we shared is not gone, that not even the grave can separate us. And that is well and good.
But the apostle Paul wrote these words to people who were very much alive—people whose lives were hard, baby Christians who were being thrown out of their families, attacked by zealots, and persecuted by the authorities for their faith. By then the apostle Paul, himself a former persecutor of Christians, had begun to suffer for his faith.
So what does Paul do? Before we talk about that, notice what he does not do:
He doesn’t pretend that everything is, or will be, just fine. He doesn’t say that there won’t be hardship or distress or suffering or injustice.
Instead, he acknowledges the reality of what is—he names all manner of hard and painful and scary things—and then testifies to the power of the one great Reality, capital R. Then he proclaims his faith: Not only that none of these things can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, but that in and through all these horrible things, we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us until and beyond a bitter end.
More than conquerors.
In other words, this journey we are on is not a matter of merely out-lasting our sufferings or surviving all that is hard and threatens to squelch our hope and destroy our faith. The journey of faith is not about gutting it out or simply enduring all life throws at us; it’s not even just about defeating death and triumphing over evil and injustice.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors, more than winners, more than victors because we have been transformed by the Love that never leaves us. Not only do the hard and bad things fail to separate us from the love of Christ, but also, if we persevere in the struggle, they will change us. In all these things we will become less fearful, more healed, more whole, more free, more alive.
Who, or what, will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will pandemic, or racism, or climate change, or a certain president? Will illness, or aging, or distance, or isolation, or financial hardship? Will family struggles, or relationship troubles, or loneliness? Will police, or unidentified federal agents, or immigration officers? Will discouragement, or depression, or loss of faith or hope or direction?
Unmute yourself and say it with me, wherever you are: No!
Unmute yourself and shout it with me: NO!
In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, not angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, nor anything else you can think of, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Not today, Satan! Not ever.
God is for us. God is with us. God is living and working in and through all things for Love’s sake. God’s Love will never leave us, and Love will have the last word.