+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation is from our Epistle lesson, Paul’s letter to the Romans, especially where he writes, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure 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. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…
So about a week and a half ago, the world of hard rock was substantially shaken, as news came of Chester Bennington’s unfortunate death by suicide. If you have no idea who he was, Chester was the lead singer of the alternative rock band, Linkin Park. He wrote most (if not all) of the songs the band sang. Their work has won numerous awards and accolades, heralded by many people as a voice for those struggling through difficult times. When all you wanted to do was scream, Chester did it for you, and as I said, pardon the pun, his loss has rocked the world of rock music.
I must confess, I was hit hard by his death, as well – growing up (especially in those awkward teenage, high school years), Linkin Park was one of my favorite bands, though I confess to being a fan of their earlier work, prior to their music becoming less tasteful. I hated the fact that he, and many others in recent years have been so overcome by sorrow, depression, despair, that they felt their only way to escape the pain was to end their own lives. I can’t speak intelligently about Chester’s faith life, where he was spiritually – though, of course, we pray that he had been given the gift of faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. If he did, if he was a child of the promises of God – or, for that matter, if any Christian becomes so overcome by pain and sorrow that they do as he did, would that separate them from the love of Christ?
Well, what about our brothers and sisters in Christ, the world over, who know intimately all too well the words of Jesus when He said, If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you ... If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you? These are folks who believe on Jesus Christ as the only Savior of the world, the only One who has delivered us from the just punishment for our sin, and for that, they are thrown in prison. Have their livelihoods destroyed, their children stripped from them. They are people who are beaten, cursed upon, spat upon, forced into “re-education,” tortured … killed. They are found under the most oppressive governments and brutal dictatorships … and they live in “free” societies. What of them? Will the persecution they endure separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus?
Remember back to when you were children, and I’m sure that we’ve all had a parent or some other authority figure chastise us for not finishing our food, reminding us “There are starving people in Africa” or “China” or “insert-impoverished-peoplegroup-here.” Unfortunately, they may not have known how correct they were. There truly are people starving in all corners of the world; not for lack of food – to be sure, there is plenty – but rather because they are too poor to receive it. In some of the most impoverished regions of the globe, where the bellies of children have become distended from malnutrition, miraculously, many hold on to faith in Christ Jesus, their Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil; indeed, it is in some of these areas that the Church is simply booming. So, what about famine? Will this nullify the Father’s declaration of our righteousness and innocence for Jesus’ sake?
How about war? Lord knows there’s enough violence throughout the world, even as we live in these current days of terrorism and renewed anxiety over prospective nuclear holocaust. The European Union is in disarray. Nations like Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran are becoming bolder, more bellicose in their sabre-rattling, daring our country to make the first move in a highly dangerous game of chicken. The United States herself has never been more divided, with speculations over when some states would possibly secede from the union. Domestic terror groups target the very people charged with our protection, and senseless acts of violence have become commonplace, to the point almost where we have become blasé. I just met a lady who had to flee from the south side of Chicago with her son because the neighborhood in which they lived was becoming too dangerous; when asked if she could help find a neighbor’s niece, she was shocked to find the girl’s body behind her garage, in the alley, shot to death. They left nearly everything they owned to escape the bloodshed and danger that is that urban jungle, more reminiscent of Sarajevo in the mid-90s than what one would expect of the American heartland. What of this? Can these days of wars and rumors of wars strip Christ’s love away from us?
There’s a theme that runs through all of our scripture readings for today. The love of God for His people is evident throughout all of His written Word, but it is really thematic in the words we’ve heard today. YHWH did not need to choose Abraham and his descendants to be the messianic people; out of His infinite wisdom, mercy, and love, He made them the chosen race from whom the Messiah would come. For that reason, and that reason only, they were as Moses puts it, a people holy to the Lord [their] God. YHWH had chosen them, and they became His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was His grace, His favorable disposition in spite of their works, that God kept them as His people. The Psalmist likewise reminds his readers that YHWH surrounds and protects His people with His grace and love, even as he implores the LORD to not allow his people to fall into sin. And of course, in His parables, Jesus reminds us that YHWH would spare no expense when it comes to acquiring us, His pearls of priceless worth, His treasures hidden in the fields. He spared nothing … not even the only-begotten Son … to acquire such highly-valued treasures.
Now, we should look at ourselves and think, “There’s nothing special about me; I’m a lousy, rotten, no-good, stinkin’ sinner.” And we’d be right to think so. If I can borrow from Bo Giertz, our hearts are rusty old tin cans sitting upon a trash heap – certainly nothing to write home about. However, “a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks his walking cane through it, and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with him.” That’s the love that God has for us in Christ Jesus.
So, rightly, Paul asks the Romans, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Who or what in all of God’s creation will cut us off from His amazing grace? What of any of our trials or tribulations? Getting laid off from work? Struggling to make ends meet, as the bills stack up? Family divides and impertinent, boorish children? Diseases like cancer and AIDS? Addictions? Government policies? Will any of this separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior? … NO. Paul makes it exceedingly clear that nothing from outside of ourselves will be able to wrench us from God’s holy kungfu grip. Nothing and no one will be able to snatch us from His hands.
This is not to say that we cannot leap from His hands, that we cannot walk away from His grace, mercy, and love. His love remains, and in His love, He gives people who want nothing to do with Him exactly what they want: His absence. But we who remain safely in His care pray that this day would never come, that the Holy Spirit would keep us steadfast in the faith to life everlasting, and we trust that God, who has begun this good work in us, will bring it to completion in the Day of our Lord, Jesus the Christ.
Thus really, to trust that the Holy Spirit will preserve us, to trust in God’s Word and His promises given to us in holy Baptism, the promises received in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, truly, even in our sin, we can say with St. Paul that we are 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. So, I ask you, dear Christian friends, what can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord? NOTHING.
+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.