Nothing can Seperate us from the Love of God
Preacher: The Revd Rob Ryan, Cathedral Curate (2010-2012)
24 July 2011 (Trinity 5)
Romans 8: 26 - 39
We could pull a lot out of all of our readings today. I love our gospel reading today that talks of the kingdom of God, permeating the whole of creation like yeast permeates the whole of the dough. Secretly working away, unseen, surprising us with dramatic results.
But today, as we say goodbye to Eleanor, Miranda and Molly I wish us to think a little about the love that God has for us. These 3 wonderful individuals have served this cathedral incredibly well; through their singing they have blessed us and as we say goodbye later we will pray for God’s continued blessing upon them. As I prepared for today I prayed about the message should be given today. What message would God have these 3 young people take away from this service as they move into a new phase of their lives. I don’t know if I heard right … but I simply offer these thoughts not just for Eleanor, Miranda and Molly as they move on from the choir…. but for all of us.
The message that really hit me this week is this amazing reminder from Paul that no matter where we are, what we do, whether we are in this cathedral or elsewhere, whether we forget God or talk with God daily, whether we even believe God exists or not …. that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us, deprive us, or pull us away from the love of God.
As Christians, as people, that is good news worth shouting about. No matter what we do, where we are, how we are …. I won’t repeat myself … but it is exciting …. God never leaves us and God loves us. Unconditionally.
But - many of us, and I include myself here, do not seem to live in the reality of this message. We think other things about ourselves and act differently!
My role sees me out of the cathedral and in the local community quite a lot. You will have heard jokes about me in the pubs and coffee shops of the town. In fact some of you have voiced concern over whether there is any room for blood in my veins with all the caffeine I drink! But I am there for a purpose, a purpose that excites me and really drives me as a person.
I am there to create church with people that have no interest in church. I am there to create a new way of being church.
The way I have attempted to do this is find people who want to discover God but are not sure the church is the best place to help them. So, I hang out in places where people are and look for those who are asking questions and seeking God. To cut a long story short we now have a small community of around 15 people who meet throughout the month to be church in a way that we can relate to.
That’s all pretty much an aside … but while out ‘there’ I have encountered one particular issue in the perception others have of our faith. I meet one person on my travels fairly regularly. This person is a Christian. This person loves to quote scripture at me, particularly out of context scripture that talks of hell and damnation. Only last week this person said to me that the church needs to get back to preaching about hell and damnation!
His one passion, and I am serious here, is to tell people that they are wrong and that are going to hell. He believes the fear of hell is an excellent motivation for a faith in God. He wants to scare people into heaven.
We should be preaching more of a God of destruction and fear?
We should be preaching more about the risk of hell?
Scare people into the kingdom?
That’s not the gospel I read?
Is that even good news?
I think not, but it is the gospel I hear a lot when ‘out there’. It is amazing how many conversations I have with people who have this warped view of Christianity that it all legalistic and judgemental and demanding. You can’t enjoy life and be a Christian people cry …. and yet Jesus in John 10:10 says that he came so that we could have life in all its fullness!
How has such amazing news of an unbelievable love have become so warped and twisted? Partly I think this is because we have difficulty in accepting such a love and we always look for the ‘catch’.
But of more importance is, I believe, the fact that we live in a society that demands we prove ourselves. We are under pressure to wear the correct clothes, to be the correct size, to be happy, to like this music, to buy that brand.
We are told to be individual in our conformity if that even makes sense! I think it means you have the right to express your individuality … but only as long as you are like the rest of us! I use the gym. Hard to imagine, and the results are minimal … but I do! I hear some very interesting conversations and this one was in the changing room between two blokes.
Picture the scene … actually don’t! But these two guys were talking in the changing room about their tattoos. Showing off each one - I didn’t look you understand, I just listened! This is Gillingham … you don’t look or ask too many questions in the changing room! The conversation was talking about how they wanted to be individual and express themselves through their tattoos. I started to think, wow - there is something deep about these guys until I looked up. I could not help but notice both tattoos were identical. They were those tribal things …. they were individually identical … even the girls name in the middle of the tattoo was the same! As I said it is Gillingham, I’ve lived there for 20 years and learned that you do not ask too many questions!
All of us, and I think this is possibly strongest amongst our young people today in the UK, are under an intense pressure to fit in, to look the part and say the right things. The alternative is rejection from school friends, work colleagues, and maybe sometimes even families.
This power of society, which I will label consumerism, that keeps telling us that we just need to buy this product or that thing to be ‘complete’ has infiltrated our Christian faith.
And so we have developed a consumerism view of our faith. If I just buy and read this book, if I just wear this WWJD bracelet, if I just attend this conference, if I just take communion once more this week … then God will love me more.
This then develops into how we view ourselves: ‘If I just change this bit of my character, then God will love me … If I’m a little more patient then God will love me ….If I can just be nice to that person then God will love me …. if I can just stop doing that thing that I do then God will love me …. if I can squeeze out that last bit of lust then God will love me
But I believe God says you do not have to change so that I will love you. I love you so you will change.
I’ve been married 22 years. On an early anniversary Sarah told be about some of the stuff I did that annoyed her. I was quite pleased because it showed me that Sarah loved me as I was, and not as I should be. But you know what … I was motivated to change. Because of her love for me and my love for her I did not say I have to change or I should or I must … but I wanted to!
As Paul says: God does loves you.
And Paul lays it out pretty convincingly and clearly in the closing verses of this chapter:
neither death nor life - the two things that humanity arguable fears most cannot separate us from the love of God
nor things present or things to come - nothing that has happened and nothing that is yet to happen can ever separate us from the love of God
nor height nor depth - no matter how high we climb or how deep we travel in this universe we will never be separated from the love of God.
God already loves you totally.
Nothing, no one, no situation past or present or future can ever change that.
We … you … are loved by God!
You see the message is clear …. God accepts us as we are and will never desert us. He loves us and will never stop loving us! God loves you as you - just as you are and not as you think you should be.
And I believe this is the message that God wants us to hear and take away today.
The message that God loves you. Not the person next to you, not chapter, not the speaker, not Billy Graham, not in some vague way the whole human race - but that God loves you, in such a passionate, fervent, intense way that God would rather die than be without you.
And you know what - too often we have ignored these words from God. We have listened to the lies of others. Lies that tell us we are no good, that we are not worthy, that we are lazy, that we are useless, that we are not valued. I wonder whether we then project our own poor thoughts on to God and start to really believe that God feels the same way about us as we do about ourselves. Blaise Pascal wrote: ‘God made us in his image - and we returned the compliment.’
I’d like us to take some time now to consider how God views us. To remind ourselves that nothing can separate us from the love of God. I’m going to be quiet for just 60 seconds as we try to let that realisation filter from our heads to our hearts.
Jesus says ‘you don’t have to change so I will love you. I love you so you will change’.
So as we leave the cathedral today, and as we wake up tomorrow let us carry within us the good news. The good news that we are loved by God, and that nothing can separate us from that ….. ever!