Gospel: Matthew 31-33, 44-52
1st Reading: 1 Kings 3:5-12
2nd Reading: Romans 8:26-39
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 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.” Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing. End of story. I could just end my sermon there.
But don’t our minds attach conditions to that? Don’t we start making exceptions? Don’t we start drawing lines?
We sometimes draw lines at religion. This week there was a headline from a conservative Christian pastor who stated definitively that aliens from outer space would go to hell because they never heard of Jesus and therefore hadn’t been saved. I guess he hadn’t read this scripture. The Bible says God is love. If God is love, we can know God through a number of religions and possibly all religions. We are all made by God. We all belong to God. When we are loving, we are participating in God’s presence. Who cares what you call God in our limited human language? What can separate us from the love of God? Nothing! Therefore, our religion, our language, our nationality, our location in the universe can’t separate us from the love of God.
Some have said that suicide can separate us from the love of God.
Traditionally, a person who takes their own life cannot be buried in some cemeteries. Some have said that a person who takes their own life must have given up on God, must have lost their faith, must have lost their way. For that reason, they cannot be buried in holy ground and can expect to go to hell. Yet all the people I know who have taken their own life, were tormented by mental illness, depression so heavy they could barely function, in fact could not bear to go on another day. Would Jesus abandon the sick and despairing in their time of need? Jesus is a great healer. He came especially for those suffering and abandoned. What can separate us from the love of God? Nothing! Therefore depression and suicide can’t separate us from the love of God.
Some have said that being gay can separate us from the love of God. They have said that being gay or lesbian is a life choice, that it is lustful and selfish and against God’s laws. Yet, how many gay or lesbian people do you know that have struggled to change their orientation and would gladly be straight if they could, yet to no avail? What is the most loving thing to do, pretend to be something we’re not? Does God want us to lie to ourselves and our friends and family? Does God want us to be in pain every day, hiding who we are? God has come to free us to be who we truly are. Gay or straight, God doesn’t want us acting in ways that hurt ourselves or others. God wants us to express our sexuality in healthy ways for our own good and for the good of this world. Finally, who of us hasn’t ever been lustful or selfish, broken God’s laws, or made poor choices. We all have. Jesus gave his life for all of us sinners. What can separate us from the love of God? Nothing! Therefore our sexuality cannot separate us from the love of God.
Some have said that being small can separate us from the love of God. We have wondered if God could use someone as inept, as plain, as bumbling, as insignificant as we are. The Bible is full of stories to show us that yes, God can use those who are poor, small, or unusual. King Solomon was just a little boy when he came to power. He recognized that he knew nothing and was powerless. So he was humble, and he asked God for help. He looked beyond himself for the wisdom to rule. And God helped him. The mustard seed is a parable about the smallest little seed. Drop it in a field and in a few years you have a whole field full of these mustard shrubs. Take the example of the yeast. I have been using a recipe called no-work bread. It is for lazy people, or maybe just busy people who don’t have time to knead the bread. It takes a half a teaspoon of yeast with about 4 cups of flour. You mix four ingredients, flour, water, yeast, and salt, let it sit in a bowl for about 18 hours. When you come back, the transformation is amazing. It has risen to the top of the bowl with just a little yeast. What was small has transformed everything, made all the difference. The same is true for us. We may be small. We may have very little power. We may be completely ordinary and uninteresting. What can separate us from the love of God? Nothing. Not even being small and helpless and insignificant can separate us from the love of God.
But what about the parable of the fish net? When the net is drawn in, the good is put into the baskets and the bad is thrown out? Doesn’t that indicate that some will be drawn to God in the Kingdom of Heaven and some will be separated from the love of God and thrown into the furnace of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth? There is evil in this world and someday it will be destroyed. People are good at their core, made in the image of God. God sees the value in us, the pearl, the treasure hidden in the field. Yet we hurt each other sometimes, we get greedy, we get selfish. That all gets thrown out and destroyed, while allowing us our proper place with God. What can separate us from the love of God? Nothing! Not even our sins can separate us from the love of God.
If we could do it on our own, be good enough, we wouldn’t have needed Jesus to come show us how it is done. All fall short of the glory of God. Yet he loves us, claims us, and adopts us. When the parable tells of weeping and gnashing of teeth, some have said that’s what Jesus did for us. We may deserve to be tossed into the fire, but Jesus came and took our sins upon himself and died on the cross for our sake. It was Jesus who experienced the furnace of fire for our sake. Yet, the love he had to share and to teach us could not be destroyed by crucifixion or fire or anything else. What could separate us from the love of God? Nothing! Not even death could separate us. So Jesus rose again to new life and invited us to die to all the ways we draw lines and try to separate ourselves from one another, try to make ourselves look better than others, try to earn more money or get more recognition than others. Instead we are called to take down all the separations, quit judging, embrace one another, and allow ourselves to be embraced by God, into the kingdom that God is trying to show us each day.
At communion, the children are given a blessing. “Jesus loves you and will always be your friend.” Maybe we should start giving it to adults, too. Children hear, “I love you” all the time. As adults we can think of all the reasons we aren’t loveable, but God is our Father, and will always see what is loveable about us. So today I invite you to turn to someone near you and say these or similar words , “Jesus loves you and will always be your friend.” This is a true statement, a positive way of saying that nothing will separate us from the love of God. Try it during your week. Say it to yourself. Say it to your enemy. Say it to random people, out loud or in your mind and see what a difference it makes.