Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Any of you listened to any news lately? Sadly, I have. What a mess! I mean, I know that things are never ideal in this world. Maybe that’s why we have such vivid imaginations about the next world, about heaven at least as we want it to be—and maybe how it is. I have told both my primary care doctor and my Jungian analyst that I’ve been feeling depressed because I see my country going fascist. The hateful specter of racism has been emboldened to rear its ugly head in ways it hasn’t at least since the 1960s. We’re destroying our environment at an ever increasing pace while we do next to nothing to counteract global warming. I dare say Meighan has talked to you about that one. The top 1% of our people are getting wealthier and wealthier, far wealthier than any human being needs to be, while wages for working people have been stagnant for decades and millions of people around the globe live at a subsistence level at best. We keep fighting foreign wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, wars that have killed and continue to kill countless numbers of God’s beloved people. The cost of housing in Seattle and elsewhere has gotten so high that I don’t understand how much of anyone can afford to live here anymore. The number of homeless people among us keeps escalating, and we seem to lack the political will to do anything much about it. The leading voices of our federal government disparage and seek to curtail the rights of LGBT Americans. People closely associated with our President get convicted of or plead guilty to numerous felonies involving tax fraud, bank fraud, campaign financing violations, and lying to federal authorities. The Mueller investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to influence and undermine our electoral system continues apace with no end in sight. Our government forcibly separates immigrant children from their parents, then violates court orders to reunite them. The list of contemporary horribles just goes on and on.
And I had an experience last Sunday during worship at First Congregational UCC of Bellevue. Their lead pastor Lisa didn’t write a sermon for that Sunday. Instead she took questions from the congregation and gave an ad lib answer to them as best she could. Brave woman that. One question that she got was something like: What Bible passage do we need most today in the face of all the terrible news? It’s a great question. Lisa’s answer was the Beatitudes. You know, from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. And a few others. It’s not a bad answer to the question Lisa got. Certainly Jesus’ words here give us hope that despite all the evil and wickedness in the world in the end better wisdom will prevail. I certainly hope that’s true. I pray that it’s true. Good Lord, it had better be true!
I liked Lisa’s answer to the question, but as soon as I heard the question I had a different answer. I immediately turned to my daughter with whom I was worshiping and said: “Romans 8:38-39.” She said “Huh?” and later I showed her that text. We just heard it as part of the scripture reading this morning. Verses 38 and 39 of that text read: “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.” Folks, these are the two verses I would keep if I could keep only one passage from the Bible. To me they are the Gospel in a nutshell. Everything else is commentary. Everything else about the Christian faith flows from the conviction that St. Paul expresses here. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. These are the words I need to hear these days more than I need to hear any others. Actually, these are the words I always need to hear more than any others. They are the most comforting, most reassuring words of our faith. Nothing, absolutely nothing can, ever has, or ever will separate us from the love of God. We Christians know that love in Christ Jesus. Faithful people of other traditions know it in other ways, but they know it too—or can. The gospel in a nutshell. Nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God.
And I can hear some of you saying—probably because I’ve been saying to myself all week: OK, but how do those words help us deal with all the really bad news we get bombarded with these days? I mean, they don’t call for acts of justice, do they? They won’t make wars stop, will they? They won’t reverse global warming, will they? They won’t provide homes for the homeless, will they? They won’t turn this country—and others—away from the resurgent fascism that so seems to be infecting us, will they? They don’t call us to political action, do they? They aren’t going to make the news any better, are they? Aren’t those the kinds of things the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to do? Or at least to work on? Well, no, they don’t do any of those things; and yes, those are the kinds of things the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to work on. So why do I say they are the words I need to hear most of all today? Let me explain.
It can seem that God and Jesus Christ make impossible demands on us. It can seem like they are leaving it all up to us to save the world. We liberal progressive Christians so often feel called to action. To march in the streets. To register voters. To write our Congressional representatives. We see the mess that the world is in, and we need to act. We feel that God calls us to act. We hear: Turn off your computers. It’s not time for words, it’s time for action. Go feed people. Go house people. Figure out how to use less carbon. Get out in the streets. Protest. Protest a lot. Protest war. Protest persistent poverty. Protest homelessness. Protest environmental degradation. Get off your rear ends and go make those in power do the right thing for a change. We hear the old quote banging around in our heads: All that it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing. We hear silence is complicity. We get emails from all the progressive websites we’ve subscribed to demanding action and more than that demanding money from us. At least, I know that I get dozens of those kinds of emails every day, especially in a hot political season like the one we’re in now. Don’t just sit there! Go out and change the world!
And many of us have tried to do that. The people of my generation, when we were young back in the 1960s, tried to change the world. We sang “You’d better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are achangin’.” And “We shall overcome,” and we really thought we would or maybe even that we already had. But we find out, all of us, when we get out there and try to do it, that saving the world is a whole lot harder than just knowing and speaking the truth. I’m sure all of you know that burn-out is a tremendous danger for those of us who try to bring about constructive change, who try to build the Realm of God on earth. We all have or will come to realization that we aren’t going to make the earth the realm of peace and justice that God dreams of it being. That we dream of it being. It’s so easy to feel like a failure. We work on homelessness, and there are still countless homeless people among us. We do what we can to reduce our impact on the environment, then our government pulls us out of the Paris Accords and the globe keeps getting hotter and hotter. Every time a new war starts we protest, and the wars just keep on keepin’ on.
Oh sure. We see some successes sometimes. Homeless people do find homes sometimes. Food banks to feed people who don’t have enough food. Laws get passed against many kinds of discrimination, not that laws necessarily change that much in real life, but still. Having anti-discrimination laws is better than not having them. If you live in Seattle you probably have more or less progressive Congressional representatives—although out where I live in Sultan I don’t. Yes, sometimes we have successes, but the problems don’t go away. We can feel like we’re banging our heads against a brick wall the problems seem so intractable.
That’s why Paul’s words from Romans are so important. In any work we do, be it in business, in the home, as a profession of some kind, there are times when we need to be recharged. Perhaps especially in the work of the gospel it is so easy to burn out. It is so easy to feel like a failure. It is so easy to convince ourselves that we haven’t done enough, that we haven’t succeeded the way God calls us to succeed. It is so easy to get so tired that we don’t think we can go on. We get hung up on mistakes we’ve made. We beat ourselves up for not having done more and for not having done what we did better. Those are the times when we need recharging. We need renewal. We need to know that God hasn’t given up on us.
That’s where Paul’s great words come in. Paul tells us, and I believe in the marrow of my bones, that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God. Paul lists some things that we might think can separate us from the love of God starting with life and death. Then he lists a few more things that people might think can separate them from God’s love—angels, rulers, things present, things to come, and some others. His list seems pretty all-inclusive. I mean, he’s got life and death on the list. What could be more comprehensive than that? But he apparently wanted to make absolutely sure that his audience in Rome didn’t mistake his meaning. So he ended his list of things that can’t separate us from the love of God with “nor anything else in all creation.” Anything else in all creation!
He could have said “Nothing in all creation!” Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Not our successes. Not our failures. Not our virtue. Not our sin. Not our bravado. Not our fear. Paul is saying to us: Do you think God doesn’t love you? If so, you’re wrong. Do you think God condemns you? If so, you’re wrong. Nothing, absolutely nothing separates anyone from God’s love as far as God is concerned. Sure. We can shut ourselves off from God’s love, but God never shuts us off from God’s love. Nothing, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
These words are so important in these days when the world seems so disordered and we sometimes feel so powerless to fix it. That God lovs us no matter what will get us through even times like these. It will get us through because when we know we stand in that love we can have the strength to carry on. We can have the strength to take time off when we need to. We can have the strength to keep working because we know that no matter what God stands with us holding us in the unfailing arms of grace.
Is life overwhelming you? Do you live with fears like maybe a fear of death? Do you feel unworthy? I think we all do at times. Do you feel burned out? I think we all do at times. If so, go read Romans 8:38-39 again. Know that even when you can’t love yourself God loves you absolutely and unconditionally. Folks, that is the greatest good news there ever was or ever could be. Nothing. Absolutely nothing in all creation will ever separate us from God’s love. That’s how we can keep going. Know it. Feel it. Live into it. It will change your life. It changed mine. Thanks be to God. Amen.