This is a transcript from the May 5, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
Last Sunday, when we were together, we asked for some questions from the congregation. One of the questions that came up was a lovely question. It was simply this,
when you struggle in life and your faith is tested,
what scripture do you cling to?
We answered all kinds of others. We didn't get to this one. This is a timely question. This is a timely question for a couple of reasons. One, is because this is going to be one of the series that throughout the year that we do. I wanted to share, amongst ourselves, what is the favorite verse? What's the verse that holds you together when you come against those things? What are the verses that you come to? We're going to have people share them. I hope that you will share what your favorite is and why, and be maybe even willing to tell the story, because that's part of who we are.
It was timely because of some of the sermon planning that was going to go on this past week. It is timely all the more because of the person who I was going to be working on it with, that was Rich Cantonbine. Every year, as you know, many of you know that I go off for a week and work with Rich to do sermon series. I counted it up best about 30 years now, we've done this. About 40 years we've known each other, and he passed away last Saturday.
This question becomes very timely. What do you go to when you get to this place when you got nothing? Because that's what it feels like, and you know what it feels like when you come up against this feeling when you have lost somebody. This is a person I've known for 40 years. This is a person who, when I came to my last church while I was in seminary to do an internship, I didn't come for Rich. I came for the senior pastor. Rich was the associate, he was my supervisor. He went from my supervisor to my friend, he ended up championing the church to open up another position that I got to fill. Now we were colleagues, as well as friends.
Then he had the nerve to go off and move up to Sonoma, California. We stayed friends and colleagues and brothers, and we would study together, we did life together, and so much so that just about every study I did, I did with rich. Not only the sermon planning, but also when our daughters got married, I officiated his daughter, Julie's wedding, he officiated my daughter, Laurel's wedding. This is a life that is woven together. This picture is taken from one of our last trips together when we were in Berlin, and then Romania where his church has been working like we have been in Zimbabwe.
I put this picture up there not because this is particularly unique. Sometimes we get into this thing about grief and we try to compare grief or mind, with this and that. Everybody hurts as much as they have. I put this up there not, because it's unique, because it's universal. Because my guess is, if you've lived at all any length of time, if you have loved and had the privilege of loving and having your soul intertwined with another person, you understand and you could put your picture up there of your person and it would feel the same. You understand what it's like to have that torn out of you.
Then when somebody asks you something, "What do you got?" There's that place in your life where you just go, "I got nothing. I got no words, I got no wisdom. I don't even know if I have any faith because I'm not even sure I have a God anymore." Those are the kinds of things that we whisper into our own soul. Sometimes we don't admit it in a church because you're not supposed to admit that kind of stuff. Anyone who's been affected in that kind of a way understands, there's times when the rug gets pulled out underneath from you, and you are left gasping, and what do you got? I got nothing.
Russ, what do you do when you come up to those places of nothing? What do you do when you're in people's lives? What do you do in your own life? Is there a verse? Is there a place that you go to? Yes, there is. I want to share it with you. It's printed in your bulletin. Anytime I do a service, a funeral memorial, I go to this, not because I'm just supposed to but because this is rock solid for me. This is the stuff I go to. This is where I draw strength.
"What are we to say about these things?" Paul says, "If God is for us, who's against us? He who didn't withhold his own son, but gave him up for all of us, will He not with Him also give us everything else?
Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It's God who justifies. Who is it to condemn? It's Christ Jesus who died. Yes, who was raised, who's at the right hand of God, and who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress, persecution or famine, nakedness or peril or sword? As it's written, for your sake, we're being killed all day long. We're accounted as sheep to be slaughtered. No, for in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." Which gets me to that verse that the question got to.
For I'm convinced that neither death nor life, angels nor rulers, nothing present, nothing to come, no power, no height,
no depth, nothing in all of creation will separate me,
separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.
This is that verse for me. This is that affirmation, and it is worth memorizing. We have printed some memory cards, if you've ever used something like this, they're on the table. I would invite you to memorize it. If it's too many things to memorize, there's nothing wrong with just memorizing the short version.
I'm convinced that nothing can separate us
from the love of God in Christ.
You don't have to go through all the litany of all the things when you got the jist. There's nothing that can separate me from the love of Christ, the love of God in Christ. That verse by itself is terribly powerful for me. It's even more stunning for me how Paul arrives at it. It's just not pulled out, because at this one, this is one of those times I'm willing to and I'm able to, and I'm tempted to just make this a very sentimental, emotional kind of a thing. It's at least that, but it's so much more. It is individual, but it is so much more.
Because this verse is couched in a whole argument for all of Romans 8 and really the whole book of Romans before that, if you will, that leads up to this amazing declaration that there's nothing that's going to separate me from the love of Christ. How do I know that? Well, because he steps back and he steps back and he talks about the entire whole of creation.
This is just bigger than just me,
that there is a whole creation that he is groaning.
When I am groaning, when I am wrestling, I am doing nothing more and nothing less than echoing the very groaning of the entire creation.
Because the word love, when it talks about love in the Bible, it is more than just the sentimental, it is more than just the emotional. It is talking about this is the essence, this is the persistence of God as God creates. It is the irrepressible intent that can't be stopped.
Last week in one of the questions, one of the services, I quoted Neruda, Pablo Neruda. I came back to it today because there is this irrepressible sense when Neruda says, "You can cut all the flowers but you can't keep spring from coming." You get a sense of the irrepressibleness of the seasons.
How much more so the irrepressibleness of God who will not be thwarted? Even when you got nothing, even when you're not able to put words to it, even when it feels like everything has been cut out, even when it feels like you are devoid of life. You can't stop it. It's there. It catches and it keeps carrying you. Let me give another experience of this one.
I got thinking about that, that one of the primary emotions of a week, like this last week of being stuck, I'm going nowhere, I'm spinning my wheels in the mud. You understand that. Anyone who's lost understands this, I just I got nothing. I'm not going anywhere. I got musing about that. I can remember thinking that each of us, when we sit on this globe, just today we are spinning at 1,000 miles an hour. Just going around once a day. A little bit less fast if you're towards the pole, it's a little bit more towards the equator, but 1,000 miles an hour. That's how fast you and I are going right now. Do you feel a little dizzy this morning? You got a good reason.
It's more than that. We're not just spinning, we are also rotating around the sun every year. That means that we're going beyond just spinning at 1,000 miles an hour, we're moving at 66,000 miles an hour.
It may feel like you're stuck, but you're not stuck. You are part of something that's moving. Then let's just step back one more, because if this were our galaxy, it could be, we would be somewhere towards the outer rim of that one of those little tiny specks. As we're going around that galaxy, I had to look this one up 438,000 miles an hour as we spin.
All I'm saying is this, it may feel like we're stuck, I can't go anywhere, I don't want to go anywhere, and I'm being caught up into something that is larger than myself, I'm being caught up in this journey, I'm being caught up in this creation that's continuing to create. Yes, in the midst of it all, there is groaning, there is agony, there was waiting for it, but this is bigger than me. No matter what it feels like, just in the midst of this love on this little speck in one galaxy that this ongoing creation where a portion of this incredible cosmos is becoming conscious of itself and of its creator. That we get to manifest that same love and creation in us and through us.
There are going to be times when you and I feel like we got nothing. It's in times like that, that we remember there is nothing that still separates us from the ongoing, nothing that can cut us off from the ongoing creative loving work of God. Not life, not death, angels, rulers, things present, things to come, no power, no heigth, no depth, nothing in all of creation can cut us off from that which is bigger than ourselves. That is the ongoing love of God.
There is this just sense in this passage before it gets to that passage, it's talking about, listen, you're part of something much bigger than yourself, but it also gets to something, it's not just the bigness, it's also the intimacy of God. It's not just that somehow we're part of this thing that God is apart from us, but God is intimately aware. If part of what I need to understand, God is a telescope that gets me to a big enough picture, there is something that's even more intimate, where I understand the presence of God too. That's just a couple of verses later, when He says
likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
We don't even know how to pray. Every felt like that? Ever felt like you just don't even know how to pray? Ever felt like I got nothing. I'm not even sure I wanted to pray? It doesn't matter. This God who is a part of this cosmos, this creation, who's so much bigger than we are, is also so much more intimate even than our own words. That very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
Now, think about that. That that's the connection point between you and me and our Creator. Words are good, expression is good, but when you've get nothing, when all you've got is that. Not only is that a prayer to God, that is a prayer from God. That is the spirit coming in and being a part of who we are. Think about the times, the deepest sighs in your own life. Can you imagine that that's what's really going on, is what Paul says, is this God who's bigger, is also more intimately ingrained in your life than you can ever believe.
There's God sighing with you, for you. There's God praying with you, for you. There's God's grieving with you, for you. God is right there in the sighs. Think of all the sighs that you give throughout the day, sighs of joy, sighs of contentment, sighs of resignation, sighs of resentment, sighs of surrender. To think of that, that may be the best touchstone you and I have sometimes of who God is and what God's doing. Pay attention to your sighs this week. Begin to understand or imagine perhaps, that that might even be where we experience God most intimately. This is where God is caring for me, even when I can't, or even believe it myself.
Having said that, and having gone back to that, how do we live that? How do we get into that? I would just say there's two takeaways from me. That sometimes it is when I can't believe it, when sometimes when I'm just walking, putting one foot in front of the other. There were some times this week. I was just putting one foot in front of the other. I got a feeling I'm going to be doing more of that. That's just what grief does, right? Yet this message doesn't come out of the conviction of my heart sometimes, but it does come out and it's reflected by the care and the giving of others.
There was a picture that I got that almost has nothing to do with anything other than this is sometimes how it feels to care for someone who grieves. I ran across that and I said exactly, how do I know I am loved? I know I am loved because there are people who just come alongside and care. They don't have to say anything, they don't have to do anything. Sometimes the more profound they try to be, the worse it gets. It is just coming alongside where you are.
One of the takeaways of this week is, you have the privilege of embodying the presence of this God, that you could come along and pray with.
You can come along and side with. You can come along and grieve and groan with. He will make all the difference. Not only there, but what it will testify to is that you are manifesting this creative, irrepressible God that you can't get away with, can't get away from. This is what awakens us.
The second, is what you're doing this morning. It is the practices. It is the practice of coming to worship. It is the rituals that we go through. This is what grounds us. It is the ritual of a living faith that we're participating as people all around the globe, participate to come to bring their lives on a regular basis. This is really the power of worship. It is the power when we go to memorial services, and funeral services. In a couple of weeks, I'm going to go to Rich's memorial, and then I'm going to preach to his congregation.
Next week (May 12), I'm going to take our picture over two services. I'm going to invite everybody here to take a picture. I'm just embodying that song, where I will hold your people in my heart. We're going to stand and we're just going to have our hands over our hearts. We'll take a picture, and I'm going to send that up to them and bring that with me. Let them know that there are people in Castle Rock, Colorado who are holding them in their hearts. I think that will be powerful. That's part of the ritual of what we do when we come to a memorial and a funeral service to remember what we know, even if we can't feel it at the time. It has also come to this table, because here's a tangible thing, even when you can't believe, even when you're not sure what you know, even when you're not sure that you want to, it is an open invitation. It is an open invitation not to come because you've got it together, not because your faith is all perfect, not because you have perfect faith and strength in the midst of doubt, but because you don't.
This last week, we, yesterday, Christendom lost a woman named Rachel Held Evans who was this wonderful author, 37 years old. This freak thing that caught her and she died in the hospital. If you've read any of her work, you just know how powerful she is. I was reminded of one of my favorite sayings of her that gathers me around this table. When she says, "This is what God's kingdom is like. We're a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table not because they're rich or worthy or good, but simply because they're hungry because they said, Yes." There's always room for more.
When we come to the table today, this is what works for me. Even if we can't put words to it, even if our faith feels like a jumble, even if we're not sure what we believe or how we believe, we come because this is the invitation that we recognize from the God from whom nothing, nothing, nothing can separate us from that God and God's love. That irrepressible will that captures us, that holds us, that carries us, that ministers to us, that calls us out, that summons us to deeper and greater life. That's the invitation this morning. No matter who you are, no matter where you are in your own life this day, no matter what you can put together or can't, no matter what you believe, or what you can't today, just come and just say yes to what God is trying to do in our midst.
Let's pray. We're so grateful, God, that your presence and your love is bigger than our ability to comprehend, and it's not conditioned upon our ability to reflect back. It's not conditioned on our strength, our certainty, but it comes particularly in our weakness when we've got nothing. Because it is when we come with our nothing, that we realize, by your grace, that we are part of something, something that's bigger, something that carries, something that's more intimate, and something that is greater. We say yes today. We entrust ourselves to you, to your care as we come to your table through Christ and whose name we pray, Amen.