Here are the audio and text versions of Sunday’s Sermon on Romans 8:26-39: Inseparable.
Jim Lewis and Jim Springer were both born in 1940 and grew up just 45 miles apart in Ohio. Jim and Jim had remarkably similar lives, though they had never met. Lewis and Springer were both married two times. If that wasn’t strange enough, their first wives were both named Linda. And… their second wives were both named Betty. Lewis and Springer both had sons named James Allen. Both owned dogs named Toy. As a matter of fact these two men had more in common than names, they shared the same habits. Both had a fondness for woodworking, preferred Chevy over Ford, and remarkably liked to vacation at the same beach in Florida. When Jim and Jim met in 1979, they were astounded by the similarities in their lives, and how they had lived so close to one another. Would you be surprised to know that Jim Lewis and Jim Springer also shared a birthday? The boys were identical twins, adopted shortly after birth and both named James by their adoptive parents.
There are many stories of this kind of similarity in identical twins. From twin sisters giving birth (naturally) on the same day. And the twin brothers in England who, hours apart broke their arms. The first, 2 year-old Mitchell, fell off his backyard slide and was taken to the hospital. After a check-up, he was sent home with a clean bill of health. Hours later, the boy’s identical twin, Elliott, tripped over the base of the same slide and was also taken to the hospital. Doctors found he had broken his left arm, and while he was being treated, Mitchell said his left arm was hurting too. Doctors x-rayed the limb in question and found it to be broken as well.
It is almost as though some mysterious force binds the lives of twins together. Even when they are separated at birth, they seem not to be all that separated at all. Which is all well and good, but not many of us are twins. Roughly 2 percent of the population in the US are twins, and only 2/3 of one percent are identical twins. So, what about the rest of us?
That’s where the apostle Paul comes in with his letter to the church at Rome. Just a few moments ago I read Paul’s words of comfort and assurance to people whom he had not met. Remember, by the time Romans is written, Paul has not visited the believers there. You may not have recognized this scripture in The Message, so let me repeat part of it in the New Revised version.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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.
Nothing can separate us from God’s love. We are more than conquerors. Powerful promises.
While these promises are not a blank check that allows us to do whatever we please, they are a profound statement about how we are loved by God. Paul doesn’t promise us that we won’t experience hardship in our lives. He doesn’t say that we won’t experience trouble or hardship. He doesn’t say that, for those who love God, there will be no persecution or famine. Even God’s faithful will have to contend with danger, may be so destitute as to be naked, and will experience the wounding of being cut by swords, both those made of metal and of words.
Paul doesn’t promise us that these painful experiences won’t touch our lives. However, we are promised that none of that can separate us from God’s love.
God loves us.
Not because of what we do.
Not because of what we have done.
Not because of what we will do.
Not even because of who we have been, who we are, or who we will become.
God loves us because of who God is.
God loves us because that is what God does.
God loves you.
But although the sentence stops there, the story does not. God loves you and me. AND God calls you, and me, into this messy community of faith we call the church. For better or worse, we are called to come together, to support one another, to learn with one another, and to sacrifice for one another. This may come as a surprise to some of you, but church can be a painful place. Some of that peril, sword and nakedness happens here. Because we are a group of sinners. Sinners seeking God, yes. But still sinners.
And we hurt one another. Sometimes, with the best of intentions, and through no fault of our own, our actions (or our inactions) hurt others. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us.
Rather, because we are loved children of God, we are called to be more. We are called to seek, and offer, forgiveness. We pray regularly for God’s guidance and wisdom so that we will not only receive forgiveness for our sins, but be able to forgive those who sin against us. That is not easy to do. It opens us up to that nakedness. It is perilous. And yet, it is part and parcel with being a follower of Christ.
I’m going to be honest with you this morning. I have some tough conversations that I need to have in the coming week. I need to seek forgiveness for some things I have done and said, and things that I have not done… And I am dreading those conversations. Because they are hard.
Is there backstabbing that you have done, or you have been a victim of? Is there some other kind of trouble in your life and relationships that is causing you hardship? Be honest with yourself.
As we turn to God in prayer this morning, I encourage you to make a plan to address those issues this week. How are you going to seek forgiveness from that person you’ve wounded? How are you going to offer forgiveness to the one who has wounded you? Choose one specific situation. There may be several, and we need to address them all, but let’s start with one. Will you see the person face-to-face, or give them a phone call? Where will you be at the time? What will you say? Be specific in your thoughts and plans.
And remember, we offer forgiveness because we have been forgiven. We are loving because we are loved.
In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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.