Sunday, September 8, 2013

Inseperable - Romans 8:31-39 - September 8, 2013

Some of the numbers are staggering. Our family stories began places far from this place.  It is 8728 miles from OKC to Yangon, Myanmar. If you were visit the Chin Mountains you would still have two days to travel by train, by bus, and by truck. It is 7640 miles from here to the Sudan and it is 7129 miles from where we sit to Cameroon. Mexico City sits 1100 miles from here. Paxman’s home in Ghana is more than 6800 miles away.  Last summer my family had the opportunity to visit the villages in England where my family originates. They are idyllic villages with narrow roads and thatched roofs cottages.  They lie over 5000 miles from here.  Our language lab has a growing number of people from India. Their homeland is more than 8600 miles from here. The lands and cultures from which we emerge are all so distant, so far way, our languages so distinct, how can we begin to discover a sense of shared faith together?  For the past several years we have used this service, the Global Sundays, as a tool to try to bridge the gap.  Leaders have decided to set this service aside from the coming season to allow individual churches to spend some time working to find their own unique identities, ministries, and congregational expressions.  Hear my support for this decision and for the need for each congregation to take a season to focus on reaching those in their own cultural context, but it means that we will have to be more diligent not to become congregations that merely share a building.  I believe we are still called to be family for one another. I believe that we are still called to model a picture of a God that transcends miles, cultures, and languages as a witness to the world.  I believe we are still called to learn to love each other and to find ways to minister together.  As we move into this new season we will have to be intentional about crossing boundaries and claiming the love of Christ with and for one another in new and creative ways. 
But you need to know language and culture boundaries are not the only boundaries that can separate us as we walk the halls together.  This week Kim sent something to the choir this week that struck a chord deep within me. I have expanded it a bit so that it embraces a wider swath of our church family story.  Did you know that...
____________ is barely holding it together because of the stress of life and loneliness?
____________ is dealing with a horribly cruel person who invades their life at every turn?
____________ is broken-hearted and terrified about their adult child who is in crisis?
____________ is fighting depression because of a job they hates?
____________ is dealing with a complex issue with their parent and has no idea what to do next?
____________ is questioning their worth?
____________ is grieving a great loss?
____________ is fighting bitterness over a dream that will never come true?
____________ is worried about losing their job?
The difficult reality is that there is not just one name that fits in any of these blanks.  These stories ripple across the lives of those that you worship beside this morning.  We come bruised and broken, hoping and praying for more.  But in an effort to survive, we build silent walls of protection and hide behind them hoping that no one sees and no one knows.  As we continue to seek to be the redeemed people of God together, we will have to continue to be intentional about crossing boundaries and claiming the love of Christ with and for one another. 
I believe that there is a Scripture that speaks with power into this moment of our church’s story.  We heard our passage read earlier this morning read in Falam.  Hear it now in English. The passage begins;31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 

I love these words.  They are barrier breaking words! They begin by reminding us that if God with us than who can be against us. Let me rephrase, if God is with us that it really does not matter what is against us.  Because of the work of Jesus then we do not have to accept the condemnation of others.  Their judgment is immaterial.  We do not have to accept the accusations of others.  Their words are ultimately meaningless.  Listen to me – when it is all said and done no one else’s opinion matters.  The only words that matter are the ones Jesus offers us as his children that tell us that He has made the way for forgiveness. He stands at the right hand of God as the means of our salvation and the champion of our soul. We do not have to hide in shame or hold our secret fears. We do not have to feel that we have to carry around our guilt and our shame.  We do not have to live in quiet isolation from others in fear that if they really knew us they would reject us.  Jesus has done the work required to make hope and redemption possible.  Hang on. These are more than a litany of nice church words and preacher promises. They are the promise from God that we are to be inseparable from him and one another. 
Listen to the second half of our passage for this morning. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 
The bounds of Christ’s love transcend any wall or boundary we can imagine. The words God gives to Paul describes virtually everything that can happen to us. The list is pretty inclusive – trouble or hardship or persecution – famine or nakedness or the very threat of death.  What I want us to hear is that no matter what we are facing and how dark it might seem, it cannot separate us for God’s redemption and hope.  No matter what we face, we can overcome it through the power and strength of God.  Many of those that sit in this room have had to face many of these things to get to this place and this moment.  For them the story of trouble and hardship, persecution and famine, losing everything and having your life threatened is a part of their story of faith.  Their testimony can and should inspire us that God’s word is true.  God delivered them and will deliver you.
But the passage does not stop there.  It goes on to describe the bounds of God’s love for us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  The spiritual reality is that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.  I know that this sounds like a simple concept, but every day I deal with people that deal with issues, people and perspectives that cheat them from living in God’s love.  They hold God at a distance – or feel that God holds them at a distance.  I want you to come to understand that through the great grace act of Jesus that you are – we are -inseparable from God’s love. 
Through Christ we are able to experience the destruction of all the barriers and the conquest of all that we think separates us from God and one another. It is time for the walls to come down.  There are some concrete steps to I believe we take to make this passage live in our lives. 1. Choose to pray. There is a group of pastors that meet each month for the sole reason to pray for one another.  There is no business – no bravado – just one question – “how can we pray for you?” When they answer one at the table volunteers and prays specifically for that one’s need.  We need to invite others to pray for us and pray with directed purpose for one another. We need to pray for one another that we might know and experience God’s great love for us.  2. Choose to engage. This is more than a “how are you doing today? – fine” kind of exchange.  It means that we pour ourselves into each other so that God’s love and our love flow over the boundaries and barriers and we truly connect with each other. We need each other and we need to learn to become inseparable because we are people shaped by God’s boundless love. This calls us to engage each other across language and culture, bruises and brokenness.  Let’s be honest, the boundaries and barriers that divide us are comfortable because they let us stay safely in our own comfortable corners.  But we are not made for comfortable corners.  We are made to live out of God’s boundless love.  Reach out – even when it pushes you toward another language or compels you to walk with someone in their brokenness. 3. Choose to bless.  When you live behind a boundary or barrier it is so easy to let others pass by leaving us separated and segregated.  We need to choose to bless each other with words of hope and redemption, love and restoration.  Speak into one another’s lives with promises of an abounding grace and a limitless love that destroy walls and heal brokenness. Bless each other, because no one else is waiting in the wings with a word of hope and love. Your words may be the only words of blessing someone hears.
I bring you good news – God is with us, not judging and condemning us – but loving us with a matchless love. God is with us, ready to break down walls and step into our brokenness.  God is with us, and no one and nothing can separate us from his love – or from one another if we live in his love.   May we learn to be inseparable.!

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