Romans 8 for Welcome to Sunday, Coventry Cathedral in Diaspora 26th July 2020
I’m not always the best of friends with St Paul.
This may not surprise you unduly: there’s plenty in his writings that will never make my heart sing as a woman believing herself called by God to serve as a priest in God’s Church, or as a passionate advocate for that Church to be fully inclusive, welcoming and affirming all who come through our doors.
I love the story of his conversion – that amazing U turn from persecutor to proponent of the Gospel – but I am never comfortable when some Christians suggest that without such a conversion experience, you are somehow a second-order believer, not quite the real deal…and I really struggle with his certainty that he has got things right for God, has fought the good fight and finished the race. I think on the whole I’m just uncomfortable with his sheer, unbridled certainty, as the longer I live the more wary I become of those who know they are right.
But there is always an exception to every rule – and for me and Paul the exception is those words from Romans 8 37 -39
Let me share them with you once again – for they are the words on which I stake my all, the words which enable me to have hope even in times of grief or anxieity…
I am confident that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rules, nor things present, not 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”.
Mindblowing, wonderful words.
Words that remind us that however weighed down we are by our own shortcomings and sin
However despairing we may be at the mess and brokenness of both Church and World
God’s love is an unstoppable force.
When you look at the evidence around you, it may not look much as if all things work for good for those who love God…We all have our own stories of people of deep, shining faith whose lives have been beset by struggle and tragedy – and I can think of nothing more calculated to drive people away from God’s open arms than an insistence that even as they weep over a dying child “all things work together for good”….
With our current perspective, bounded by time, there are many things that do not appear to work for good at all. This year of grace 2020 would be an excellent example…
But – Paul is inviting us to a different perspective as he suggests that we take the long view. Here and now, there’s likely to be suffering aplenty…for ourselves, for people whom we love, for our poor beleaguered, mistreated planet. Christians cannot expect to lead charmed lives: our faith is not a get out of gaol free card, nor does declaring our faith in Christ guarantee us immunity from any of the changes and chances of this fleeting world, but – and this is important - here and now is not the whole story.
Of course this doesn’t dull the pain of parting with a loved one or alleviate fears that we might not, after all, be able to pay the mortgage or feed the family as jobs disappear and last year’s certainties crumble…
These things DO matter – and God understands that…and grieves with us whenever our human love moves us to sadness for those things which are lost or broken in the world. I’m sure of that. Remember Jesus weeping at the grave of Lazarus..
But God stands outside time – and from there fresh patterns are visible.
God knows that there is all of eternity in which to restore what has been damaged, to dry every tear, to make all things new – to see God’s perfect will fulfilled for each and every creature there has ever been.
And what is God’s will?
That each and every creature there has ever been should know themselves beloved of God…should experience for themselves the wonder that they are fully known, with nothing hidden, and yet, amazingly, they are fully loved.
God’s love will, in the end, find each of us – I’m convinced of that.
Though for the moment we may find ourselves shivering in the darkness of our own doubts and fears, unable to believe that we will ever be reconciled to one another or to God, the love which impelled God, in Christ, to leave heaven for our sake , will ultimately ensure that we are gathered safely into those arms of love.
To glimpse the truth of this here and now is to save ourselves from all kinds of misery and terror along the way…but I do not worry about the eternal destiny of those who are driven away from God by the clumsiness of God’s Church or the complexities of their own life circumstances…because, like Paul I am convinced that ultimately nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Not all the strength of human powers, not our own failures and disasters, not the things of time nor those of eternity…
God will never force us – but waits courteously for the moment when we recognise all that we are being offered and open ourselves to receive that love which has held us from the moment of conception, that love which will never, ever let us go.