Musings on Scripture

– and what isn’t always said

30th July 2017 (Trinity 8)

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

When we say “nothing can separate us from the love of God” are we prepared for the implications?

Romans 8:26‑39

26The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not even know how we ought to pray, but through our inarticulate groans that very Spirit is pleading for us; 27and God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people according to His will.

28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, 29for those whom God knew before ever they were He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn within a large family; 30and those whom He predestined He also called; and those whom He called He also justified; and those whom He justified He also glorified.

31With all this in mind what are we to say? If God is on our side, who is against us? 32He did not withhold His own Son, but gave him up for all of us. How then can He fail to lavish every other gift on us? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? Not God, who acquits! 34Who is to condemn? Not Christ, who died and rose again; not Christ who is at God’s right hand and pleads our cause! 35Then what can separate us from the love of Christ? Can hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written,
     ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
     we have been treated like sheep to be slaughtered.’
37Yet, through it all, overwhelming victory is ours through him who loved us. 38I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor 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.

Text © Steven Secker.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus answers a question I think we’ve all asked at some time: how do I pray? Hence we have The Lord’s Prayer [Matt 6:9-13]. I’ve been asked several times what prayer really is. To me, the answer is a conversation with God. If we’re having a conversation of any value, rather than a monologue, then it must be a two-way street: we need to ‘speak’ and we need to ‘listen.’ In this encouraging passage from Paul, writing to the Christian community in Rome, we are reminded that, when we are lost for words in our efforts to pray the Holy Spirit will do the praying for us. Our inarticulate groans are, in fact, the Spirit talking to God on our behalf. One pitfall which Jesus highlighted in the Sermon on the Mount was that we shouldn’t think the more we say in prayer the better. Indeed, when we talk we don’t listen anywhere near as effectively as when we are quiet. There is a saying that we were given one tongue and two ears in order that we might speak less and listen more. It is better to let the inarticulate groans of the Spirit speak on our behalf than for us to babble on meaninglessly, or with a focus anywhere other than on God’s work. What’s more, we might think we know what we want but we often do not know what we need. However, the Spirit, working in us, does know what we need and is prepared to ask on our behalf if we are willing to let it do so.

When we truly love someone we will do something for that person without being phased by any potential negative consequences for ourselves. If the object of our true and unconditional love is God then the good of all comes before our own benefit, but God does not leave us out of those benefits. Sometimes what is good for us in the long term is something we desire to avoid because we don’t see the good that might come. Being diagnosed as diabetic, and having to make lifestyle and food changes might be undesirable, but the benefit of being healthier, which comes later, can be very rewarding. In my social justice rôle there can be hours of hard slog trying to defend one person and no sign of progress, then a breakthrough which helps everyone.

Are those of us who constantly ask what Jesus would have done in the same situation as we find ourselves in showing signs of being “conformed to the image of His Son”? There are many who are called by God to be conformed in that way, and they are all “justified” – let’s say “brought closer to being at one with Christ” and will, in time, according to Paul, be glorified by God.

The saying “if you are not for me then you are against me” has often been used to rail against those who have a different opinion on how to tackle an issue and bully them into agreement. That isn’t what Paul is thinking here. When God is on our side He doesn’t dictate to us that we must like silverbeet or mushrooms, or peanuts; He doesn’t dictate that we should like a particular political party. No, when God is on our side we have encouragement, loving guidance – even if we don’t want to listen to it – and help to overcome our weaknesses and our mistakes. Anyone who is against us is trying to separate us from God. When our focus is on doing the work which God has set for us then anyone trying to undermine that effort will find an immoveable opposition there to acquit us of things we have been accused of doing wrongly. Christ also pleads for us in the heavenly court so that we might be free to continue our work. The love of God, as shown to us in the love of Christ, is totally unconditional – and a challenge for us to emulate, but that love will be there through thick and thin. Our problem is that we focus so much on the hardship, the distress, the persecution, the famine, the nakedness, the peril, and anything else that’s negative and comes our way, that we don’t see the love of Christ which is there and surrounding us. For our sake, the prophets of yesteryear and the prophets of this year are treated like lambs to be taken for slaughter because, as a community, we don’t stand up for the Christian faith. When we realise that we have let political correctness stop us from giving Christmas cards, or teaching non-Christian children the reasons for our religious holidays then we might need to call on the greatest legal mind available to us, God, to acquit us when we ignore the instruction to stop.

There is more to Paul’s summary statement than many people find comfortable. To Paul’s list of things which he doesn’t see as separating us from the love of Christ, we might specifically add colour, race, sexual orientation, choice of clothing, language, education, homelessness, criminal activity and drugs, to name a few. Nothing, not even those issues which might send shivers down our spines, can separate us from the love of Christ. Do we respond to that love in a positive or a negative way, or do we just ignore it and hope that it will go away because it calls on us to change our thinking or our actions.

For those who have a Facebook account, you may care to look at this presentation by Paul Murray

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