Rev. Frank Logue
Nothing Can Separate You from
Paul had some awesome words of encouragement for the Christians in Rome in this mornings reading from Romans.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
Then Paul answers his own question with resounding words of encouragement:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For 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.
These words must have been very encouraging to their first audience, the Christians of the city of Rome. Paul wrote this letter in the year 58 to the church in Rome, a church he had not yet visited. Paul wrote the Letter to the Romans to help settle some disputes related to a problem in the early church, which took up a significant amount of Pauls time. The questions revolved around whether gentile converts to Christianity had to take on all the requirements of Jewish law.
Paul was about to go to Jerusalem with an offering from outlying churches to help the Christians through the famine in that town. He knew that when he got there, he would have to defend his missionary actions to the leaders of the Christian church. There in Jerusalem, most Christians were Jews who accepted Jesus as a Messiah. They saw Christianity as a movement within Judaism and expected converts to take on the requirements of the Jewish law, including circumcision and food restrictions. Paul defended his not requiring gentile converts to take on the law saying that Jesus had fulfilled the law.
In writing to Rome, Paul faces the other side of the problem. In Rome, many Christians were gentile converts who wondered why the Jewish Christians still observed Jewish laws. Paul defended those Jews who still observed the law saying that Israel was still important to Gods plan for the world. It was OK for those who wanted to continue in Jewish traditions to do so.
Paul knew that the Roman Christians had faced hardships and that more were on the way. He wanted to help settle internal conflicts and prepare the Roman Church for persecution. Just nine years earlier, all Jews had been expelled from Rome. The Roman historian Suetonius said the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews because of a dispute over Chrestus. Roman historians see this as a mistaken reference to Christ. The Jews were expelled from Rome for arguments about whether Jesus was the Messiah.
A few years passed and Claudius died. Jews began returning to Rome. They included Aquilla and Prisca, with whom Paul had worked in Corinth. The Jews moving to Rome after Claudius death may also have included some of Pauls own family (Romans 16:7). Paul wrote to this group of returned Jews to bring unity and encouragement with his masterful treatise on the Christian faith.
It would not take a prophet to know the church in Rome faced persecution in the near future. Hardship was inevitable at this point. In fact, Paul himself went to Rome two years later as a prisoner, stood trial and was beheaded for his Christian faith around the year 63. He knew that hardship, distress, persecution, peril, and the sword were on the horizon and he wrote to strengthen the church as it prepared for problems.
Paul said in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. The Greek here is kind of fun to our modern ears. To be victorious or conquer in ancient Greek was nike, like the modern sports shoe company. However, Paul did not just say that the Christians were nike, he wrote they would be hyper nike, more than conquerors. It would make a great Christian clothing company wouldnt it, hyper nike, more than nike. Christians would not simply conquer or be victorious, they would more than conquer.
Paul went on to write, For I am convinced that neither death, nor lifeIf we die, we are with God, if we live, God is with us in our hearts, in this life too.
Nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to comeNothing you face now, nor anything you will ever face in the future will be able to separate you from Gods love. There is nothing to fear in all your tomorrows because it cant separate you from God.
Nor powers, nor height, nor depthPaul isnt being literal here referring to the top of Everest and the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Rather, no matter how joyous things are, God is still there. After all, it is when everything is going well that we are most tempted to turn away from God, as we feel we no longer need God. But when things are going good God is there. Also, no matter how low you get, no matter how depressing life is, God is there. None of that can separate you from Gods love. In fact, Paul goes on to say that there is nothing in all creation that will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Pauls amazing words of encouragement reminded me of an interview I read with Corrie Ten Boom. Some of you may know that Corrie became an internationally renowned author through her autobiography of her life during Nazi occupation. Corrie was raised in a Christian home in Holland. When the Nazis came in and began to persecute the Jews, her family built a hiding place into their house, to hide a Jewish family. In time, Corries family was found out and sent off to die with the family they had protected. Corrie was the sole survivor out of the two families.
The interviewer asked Corrie something like, What was the greatest miracle you experienced in the extermination camps?
She responded, The presence of Jesus Christ.
The interviewer was a little taken aback and sought to clarify, But didnt you write about miracles and deliverances in the camps?
Yes, Corrie replied, But the greatest miracle was Christs presence.
Corrie Ten Boom experienced what Paul promised to the Christians in Romeno matter how she was persecuted, none of it could separate her from Gods love in Christ Jesus. There was no greater miracle possible and nothing else needed.
So, if nothing can separate us from Gods love, then why do we experience ourselves as separated from God? Why doesnt everyone always feel Gods love all around them? Paul wrote elsewhere about what can separate us from God. He called it sin. Paul used 24 words to describe sin in different ways. However, the word Paul liked most, was the one he used 44 times in Romans, hamartia.
Hamartia is a term from target practice, an archery term meaning, to miss the mark. God shows us how we are to act in the person of Jesus and through the laws, such as the Ten Commandments. That is the target we have to aim for. But missing the mark alone does not separate us from Gods love. What happens is that we can get so accustomed to missing the mark, that we stop trying to aim. We can come not to care about how God is calling us to live. In doing so we turn ourselves away from God.
While nothing can separate us from Gods love, we can do it ourselves. We just turn our backs on God [turn around and face away from the congregation]. Gods love is still there, but we reject it. We do what nothing else in all creation could do [turn back around and face the congregation]. We separate ourselves from Gods love.
The good news is that as we have separated ourselves from God, we can turn back. It is not that we work our way back to God, earning Gods love. Instead, we simply acknowledge that Gods love was there for us all along. We might not feel it all the time, after all Gods love is more dependable than how we feel at a given moment. Yet, Gods love is ever present, especially in hardship, peril, and persecution. Because in all these things we are more than conquerors.
There is nothing in all creation that can separate you from Gods love, but you. If you find yourself separated from God, just acknowledge who did the separating and ask God to flood you once more with his love.
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526