I have to admit that I have always loved these words from Paul and Romans 8. They have comforted me in times of trial, and encouraged me to keep the faith when things seem difficult in both life and in the ministry. They are a “go to” when I need to be reminded of God’s love.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Those words comfort and provide hope immediately once we read them and reflect upon their meaning. They are, perhaps, words we need to hear this morning.
Perhaps, too, words I need to hear as we gather for worship in our parking lot and online. You see, there are moments when I wonder how could God love someone like me. I look at myself and wonder what is there to really love. I am the product of childhood trauma from, at best, a neglectful step-father. My first marriage ended in divorce, which led to a period of deep despair and financial struggles. I have long believed that people expect perfection from me, and so it is easy for me to find my faults and criticize who I am and what I do. I have often asked how could God love someone like me?
I wonder if you have ever asked that question about yourself. I wonder if you have ever stopped to really consider how God could love someone like you, and begin to think that it would be impossible to do so. If we were honest with ourselves, I think we have all wrestled with that question at one point or another in our lives. Perhaps it is why we need to hear and reflect upon these words from Paul.
Romans is a powerful letter aimed at expressing Paul’s theology to a group of people he had yet to meet. He is longing to meet and share life with the budding church in Rome. Most of his mission for God, though, was in Asia Minor and the upper Galilean region of what we know today as Israel. He would make it to Rome as a prisoner and would spend time there, but this letter was a way to introduce him to them.
What ends up happening is that in Romans Paul gives his deepest reflection upon his faith and understanding of who God is. It is his most theological work, whereas many of his other known letters were written in response to issues at the specific churches. Prior to these words, Paul has reflected upon his own sinfulness and how all of creation is longing for God. He is building to this narration on the power of God’s presence and eternal and unconditional love for all of us.
Paul’s reflection is guided upon the very notion that even though we may not how to pray or, even, how to respond to God’s love in our lives that God is there. The Holy Spirit is present in our lives and intercedes on our behalf to seek God’s guidance, grace, and care. This is especially the case in our weaknesses. In those moments when we feel absent and longing for the presence of God, it is in those moments, even when we may not know it, that God’s presence is the strongest and guides us to the will of God.
Why is this the case? Why is God ever present in our prayers and weaknesses? It is because God’s love is there for us all.
God continually works towards the good of those who love the Lord. This good is the salvation of hope and the continual sanctification of our lives through our partnership in God’s grace. This is where Paul’s words reflect upon, as he is guided to think about the amazing nature of God’s act of sending his Son, Jesus, to earth for us.
It is easy, I believe, to give that realization lip service and not fully reflect upon its meaning and implications. We come to church. We pray. We recognize that God sent Jesus to earth. Have we ever imagined or thought about how amazing of a love that is? That God would send Jesus for you and for me and for all people. Not just to save us from our sin through the cross and resurrection, but to point us to the way of the Father’s unconditional love. Jesus guides and teaches us what it means to know the Father’s love and how to remain in that love, through faith and the guidance of the Spirit. God sent Jesus, his Son, to do this freely, so that we could experience grace and hope through the redeeming love of God.
This is not a love that is shared for the few. It is not a love that is shared with those who simply put in enough work, pay the right amount of the offering, or volunteer at every drop of the hat. It is a love that is shared with every person unconditionally. God sent his Son for us all, even though he knew that salvation could only be accomplished through his death and resurrection.
God did it, because of his great love for us all simply for the fact we are his children. We cry out to God, and God hears our cries and, like a Father, desires to show us unconditional love. God the Father was willing to share his Son, so that we could experience his love and grace. That is power and hope.
God the Father desires to show us love and nothing can separate us from that love. Nothing can prevent God from loving us. Nothing can keep God from offering hope and grace to us in such a way that it points us to God’s desires for us. Even when we may believe that there is no way that God could ever love someone like me, God comes in and says I love you no matter what. Nothing can keep God from sharing love with you, or me, or anyone. That is how much God loves us all.
I don’t think I fully realized the meaning of that theological reality until February 13, 2013. That was the day Noah was born. It was Ash Wednesday, and on a day that we reflect upon our need of God, here comes Noah and the new responsibilities of caring for him. The moment I looked into his eyes, and those of Thaddeus’ this April, I realized how much you could love someone and how there is nothing that could make you stop loving them. I’m not saying there are not days when they try my patience or make me wonder if I am a good father, but when it is all said and done there is nothing Noah or Thaddeus could do that would make me stop loving them. My love for them will always be there.
My love for them is a witness of the Father’s love for each of us. We have all experienced that. There is nothing we could do that would ever make God say, “I made a mistake with this one.” There is no hardship that we could ever experience that has the power to separate us from God. There is no pain that we could ever endure that could ever keep God from loving us. There is no act that we commit that could ever make God think that breathing life into us was the wrong choice. God’s love is always there for us.
Why is that? Why is it that nothing can separate us from God? Because all of these things seek to have dominion over us, yet it is God who is Lord and reigns over all creation. If God is the creator who loves us unconditionally and does not condemn us, then how can anything keep us from experiencing that love? It cannot. God is the only one who could ever stop loving us, and God continually chooses to look beyond our sin and the harm we cause one another and show grace and love instead. That is, truly, how great our God is and how great the Lord’s love is for all people.
It is a love that we do not just experience for ourselves. We have to be willing to share it with others. We do not just experience it, but we must desire for every person to know that God loves them freely and unconditionally no matter what.
I am here, today, as your pastor not because I am the model of, perhaps, what we desire of a pastor as a perfect Christian who has had an easy life and never made a mistake. That is not me. It never has been me, and will never be. I am here because I have experience God’s love and desire for others who have witnessed brokenness and pain in their lives to know it for themselves. Because there is no deeper witness of love than to be able to help others to see that nothing in their lives has ever prevented God from loving them. My desire, as a pastor and follower of Christ, to remind people that they are loved by God and to live this love out.
So, I want you to hear me say this – there is nothing in your life that can separate you from God. God loves you no matter what. That doesn’t give you a free pass to do as you please. It should call us to live for God in a deeply powerful way.
It should, as well, lead us from this place to be a witness of God’s grace and love, to pass on to others that unconditional grace, so that they may know God loves them and so do we.
There is no better word of hope that we can experience than to know that God loves us no matter what.