Who Can Separate Us

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 
July 26, 2020

I. Beginning

Who can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ – maybe the hardship of the struggles that life brings us, the difficulty with finances, the unfavorable diagnosis from the doctor – or maybe the distress of life – of the heartache of losing a loved one, the poverty existent that brings us to the place where we don’t know how to pay one bill without sacrificing our money for another bill, the weight of the world closing in on us from anxiety or depression.  Or maybe from the persecution of systems that seek to benefit off of our oppression through classism, sexism, or racism.  Or maybe from famine that leaves not even crumbs on our dinner table or barely any pennies in our pockets.  Can any of these separate us from the love of Christ? No – nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, nothing at all.  How do we know? Scripture tells us so. We turn to the scripture that has been brought together through the Holy Spirit as the primary source that helps to reveal who we know God to be.  But it cannot be denied, that sometimes as we live life, to hear that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ may feel like rhetoric rather than real life substance.


Over the past couple of weeks we have been exploring this 8th chapter of Romans.  If we remember, Romans was written to an already established church of Rome.  In this letter to the book of Romans we find our most detailed portrayal of the Christian doctrine – specifically written to this church in Rome because in writing this letter, Paul was seeking to establish Rome as the central point in his ministry, because if he established his ministry in Rome it had the ability to spread to the entire world.  So in a sense, this letter is as much of a letter of encouragement and point of teaching for the church of Rome as it is an appeal to practice ministry.  However, Paul never made it to the church of Rome, even though he was so hopeful to visit with them, not long after he wrote this letter he was arrested with a long process of trial before he was beheaded.

However, as we look at the church of Rome, we must remember that Roman Christians had made a decision of faith that made them contrary to society.  They had made a decision that created a movement of resistance against the Roman Empire.  This decision to be Christian rejected the notion that the emperor was the savior of the world and central ruler appointed by the gods – but wrote upon their hearts that Christ was the son of God and the savior of the world. So they rebelled against the regulations and core beliefs of the surrounding Empire of the time. This decision caused their ostracizing from society and families.  They suffered oppression and hardship – they were harshly subjugated by the government and the Emperor.  The Christians in the Church of Rome were rejected and stifled all because of what they had dedicated their lives and opened up their soul to Christ – the being that was rooted in their heart and had shaped and transformed their essence was now the reason for the governmental structure to stifle and choke the essential thriving of the Christian in Rome.  In the midst of all this, the Christian needed encouragement to stay on the journey of Christian faith and guidance to continue spreading the gospel.  This was the need for this epistle, this letter from Paul. Paul was writing out the this letter for just this purpose.

II. New Promise For Us

            And the reality is that Paul is writing this letter to us too, and we could easily replace a letter to the Church of Rome, to a letter to the church in Cheltenham, MD. And we may not be the church of Rome, but we as Cheltenham United Methodist Church have the same promise and the same trajectory possibilities of the church of Rome.  We have the ability to change the world around us with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We have the opportunity to make effective change that allows the love of Christ to be felt and spread beyond the walls of our church structure.  We have the promise of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ far beyond ourselves. And if we are honest, there are many things that make it tough to be a Christian in society.  As Christians we are called to love and serve the rejected and ostracized, we are called to take care of the sick, we are called to clothe the naked, we are called to be agitated by injustice, we are called to show mercy to the imprisoned, and we are called to do work that spreads the love of Christ in the world.  But it is no secret that these things are not the things that are always accepted within society, they are not things that will get us notoriety, and they may be things that get us ostracized.  But they are our call as the church, more specifically Cheltenham United Methodist Church. And let’s remember that the presence of COVID has made all of this more difficult, COVID has put limitations on the way we show love to one another, so we are looking for new inventive ways to share the love of Christ, outside of the traditional. We too need a letter of encouragement, a letter that directs us how to spread the gospel to the world.  So we look now to our scripture – this letter to the Romans to see what God is saying to us through the words of the apostle Paul.

            In the last couple of weeks we learned a few things.  The first week of July we proclaimed that even in the midst of the complexities of the pandemic, God has given us the promise of new beginning if we center ourselves on Christ – trying to live a life that is focused on Christ.  This means that we must Love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.  But as we try to center ourselves in Christ, we may ask, how do we know that God will work in us and through us? Because God has been there with us along the journey, through the good and the bad.  On the second week of July, we explored Paul’s story and saw that as we seek to do ministry that reaches the community, God is calling us to live in and be transformed by the Spirit through accepting God’s grace.  We meet God in God’s prevenient grace, as God reached out for us before we knew God or knew we needed God.  And yet we move to justifying grace, where we admit that we are in need of God and repent – we squarely acknowledge that through Jesus Christ we have been justified and made whole. And from there we travel on to sanctifying grace that allows us to grow in faith and make us holy – the Spirit fills us that we might be able to pattern our actions after Christ embodying love, peace, justice, and mercy.  And last week we learned because we have centered ourselves in Christ and embraced the grace of God that has allowed us to be transformed by the Spirit that no matter what the world says about us and those around us God has claimed us and named us as God’s children, offering up adoption to all who might seek God. So we live in the Spirit and consider ourselves heirs of God receiving redemption and resurrection and new life.

 III. We Are Heirs – Nothing Can Separate Us From the Love of Christ

            And today we are affirmed in that because we are children of God, heirs, adopted by God and claimed as God’s own, who can separate us from the love of Christ, who can separate us from the love of Jesus? Who can separate us, we are intertwined and deeply linked, Christ has made us whole. Who can separate us from the love of God? Well the scripture tells us nothing – nothing can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus.  But what does it mean when the world is caving in on us, when it feels like life is suffocating us, what does it mean when at every turn there is bad news, what does it mean when we feel so lonely, what does it mean when our heart is broken – what does it mean when it seems like all things, including God are far from us?  How do we reconcile when our heart is broken and our soul is pouring out? It is one thing to say and read that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, but what does it mean when we are in the thick of things and deep down feel like the love of Christ may be miles away from us?

            Our scripture this morning contains a scripture that is often quoted as a well known and often favorite scripture.  Romans 8:28 – We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Words of encouragement, words that are meant to keep us afloat.  And while this is an amazing verse, I would argue that some people have vastly misunderstood and misinterpreted this verse.   As we read this verse,  many interpret it to say that things always work out well for those who have dedicated their lives to God, the ones who have centered their lives on Christ, those who live in the spirit and are moving from justification to sanctification.  It doesn’t mean that everything will turn out just right or the way we want it. Life is not that easy. Think about it, what does this mean for the one that who has dedicated their lives to the gospel of Jesus Christ, who loves God and loves their neighbor as themselves, but seems to get bad news at every corner: coming up short on the bills, a bad prognosis from the doctor, family too far away, arguments among friends, depression creeping in – what happens to for this person who seems to endure so much and at the end of the day can only groan from the weight that the world has placed upon them, that sorrow that cannot be expressed, they heaviness that they can only bring to God.  What does it mean for them? They have done everything right and yet everything does not seem to be working together for their good.  The danger in this thought is that to this person, it is easy for some Christians to respond with, “Maybe you haven’t prayed hard enough, maybe you do not have enough faith, maybe God is just not happy with you, or maybe you have not fully connected to God.”  But this scripture is not saying that bad things will never happen because we are Christian and walk in the Spirit – it doesn’t mean that all.  But what it does mean is that God is sovereign – God is ruler and in control of all things – And while things may not go the way we plan, God is right there with us along the journey.  And God has a larger understanding of the full picture. When we live in the spirit and we fall short of where we want to be or would like to be or could be– our scripture says, the spirit helps us in our weakness – we  are so connected to the Spirit that God makes up for our shortcomings, intertwining and making us whole.  God is in control and has a larger plan for what is store, when things seem to go wrong, God is right there waiting for us to give of ourselves in vulnerability.

IV. God is With US

            So while things may not always happen the way we want or expect, God is with us – God’s promise is that God is there and that God sees all and has a larger plan beyond our comprehension.  When we fall short, God’s spirit intertwines with ours to make us whole – tending to our wounds, loving on our shortcomings, healing our pains, providing solace for our groans.  For in God, we have been given all that we need, not necessarily what we want or desire, but what we need.  When the world caves in around us.  God is still there on the journey meeting our every need.

            Our scripture this morning says that God has not withheld anything from us – why would that begin now?  God loved us so much that God sent Jesus Christ, to teach us how to live, how to pray, and how to love one another, and how to center ourselves in the spirit. And when Christ had completed his ministry, he offered himself up as a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter, for our salvation and our redemption.  Jesus suffered being accused of a crime he did not commit, he endured being spat on, he took on the welts and the bruises of a beating, he endured the lashes of the whip, he was stretched out and nailed to a cross gasping for air to fill his lungs, he cried out in agony from the pain he endured, and then he hung his head and died – but that was not the end of his story – he laid in the tomb for three days and on the third day, rose from the dead bringing new life and resurrection.   Christ endured all this, carried the pain of all this, cried the guttural moan that bellowed from the pit of his stomach in the shaking of the soul all for the salvation, all for the redemption, all for our justification, all because he loved us, all so that we might be made whole. This was not just any ordinary love, but what the Greeks call agape love, this love that transcends all, this love that is unconditional, this love that is only found in God.  This love was not given with hesitation and it surely was not given lightly.  All because Christ loved us so much, you would think we did something to deserve it – it is a love that sacrifices so much, and is yet impenetrable by any force. If Christ can offer himself up in this drastic way what makes us think that can be taken away so easily. So as we the church who have been called to do the ministry of Christ within the world during this difficult time and these difficult circumstances – we are encouraged this morning because the love of Christ has anchored us in our relationship with God – we have been encouraged by Paul to continue the work of Christ, continue to push on the journey of life – because no matter what life brings us to thwart us, God’s love is right there and it will not fade or disappear, it will not falter or lessen.

            In seeing all that Christ has done, do you think there is anything that Christ won’t do, do you think there is anything that will keep God’s love from being felt, do you think that there is anything that can cut off the love of God that flows to us? In the depths of the pain of life, in the denial of happiness, in the struggle of real life hitting us, Christ is right there loving on us.  Christ feels our deepest pains, Christ brings a sense of peace and joy even in the midst of chaos, Christ becomes a shield to carry the burden of the struggle. In the midst of the pain, Christ’s love still endures, it still bears witness to us, it still gives us strength, it still works for our good – even if it is not our deepest desires. Through pain, tribulation, through oppressive rulers, through peril, through death, through life, through COVID, through personal struggle, through grief, through it all there is absolutely nothing that can separate us from God’s love.  The world may try – but thank God the world fails in comparison to our God because in all, we can expect to find Christ’s love for us.  Who can separate us from the love of Christ? No one – Absolutely Nothing and No one!