“Nothing Can Separate Us from the Love of Christ”
Year A, Romans 8: 26-39 and Matthew 13:1-33, 44-52
Sermon in Pohick Church Courtyard, Second in Series 7-26-20
The Rev. Dr. Lynn Ronaldi
In Romans, St. Paul personifies God’s hidden action during times of transition as a woman in labor.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait.”
Reflecting on the birth image, last Sunday we pondered what God might be laboring to birth in the midst of this worldwide pandemic and civil and political unrest.
We considered how the Church might be changing during this interim time, when we’re between the way it used to be, and the way it will be.
We also asked the question, meanwhile, where should we place our hope?
Ultimately, hope resides in what is not seen. God is not limited to a physical place. He is not constrained by four walls, nor to what used to be. Church does not just exist physically; Church also resides in and among us spiritually.
As Fr. Ron Rolheiser says, “God has given us two Churches: one is found everywhere, and one is found at select places. Some of us prefer one and struggle with the other. But both are sacred places where God can be found and worshiped.” God is laboring, whether we see him or not.
Today Paul continues the theme of divine labor. He narrows the focus from Creation groaning, to the Spirit groaning within us. The Spirit of Christ prays in and for us, straining toward fulfillment of God’s Kingdom. This happens especially when we feel small, insignificant, and inarticulate.
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit…”
Feeling separated from what was, many of us also feel separated from God and others. Polarization, dividedness, and sin abound. We grieve what’s lost, and wehaven’t yet experienced what will be.
Paul assures us, in times of transition, when we can’t see what God is doing, we need not fear. Remember the dark, hidden tomb-time between the cross and resurrection, when God labored to achieve the final victory? God continues to work out the victory Christ has already won, and he works it out through you and me.
“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.”
Paul insists the Spirit shares our burden in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, when we don’t know how to pray. The Holy Spirit groans with us in our weakness, restlessness, and suffering. And it’s precisely at our lowest point that God’s word can take root.
Once, a man I met in my early days of hospital chaplaincy found the courage to confess a sin for which he felt condemned. Church had taught him God would never forgive this mortal sin. I was new at praying aloud. I didn’t have the confidence to “pray as I ought,” but decided to give it a shot and lean on the Spirit. My Spirit was moved by Christ’s Spirit, with sighs deeper than words. I prayed reassuring him of Christ’s mercy, forgiveness, and delight in him, and he was moved to tears. I too was transformed.
Through that experience I realized some churches tend to place spiritual burdens on people: demanding certain moral behaviors, “right” beliefs, pious prayers. Building walls that separate people from God.
Today many feel frustrated, afraid, inadequate to express our deepest fears and longings. We don’t know how to “pray as we ought.” Feeling separated from our beloved historic church and from the physical fellowship of our brothers and sisters, it seems harder to sustain hope.
In one of the most reassuring passages ever, Paul insists no matter how hopeless life seems, there is not one person, place, rubric, or circumstance that can separate us from God’s Love. For Christ has already defeated the powers that condemn and destroy.
“No, in all these things we are 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.”
Jesus insists it’s not about grand gestures, impressive projects, or the place we worship; it’s about what the Holy Spirit is doing in and through us. When we find ourselves leaning on eloquent prayers, heroic actions, or moral superiority, we’ve lost our sense of dependence – the “smallness” to which Jesus repeatedly points us. According to Jesus, saving belief takes root and grows from the very smallest of seeds.
Look at the entirety of Scripture. Images of faith abound in what starts out small: the tiniest mustard seed, the single pearl, in the sea, the pinch of yeast in bread, the hidden treasure – and a vulnerable baby in a manger.
Icons of our faith are found in story after story of human imperfection and weakness meeting divine compassion and mercy:
- The woman at the well wondering where to worship, then realizing Christ is beside her and that she is the place where the Spirit of God dwells.
- Jacob wrestling with an angel, then recognizing God was with him all along;
- Peter denying Jesus three times, then experiencing the crucified and resurrected Jesus meets Peter where he is, forgiving and restoring him three times.
Maybe in the midst of our struggles — when things aren’t what they were and not yet what they will be — the Lord simply longs to meet us right where we are. Jesus is gently pointing us back to our essential smallness and need, toward:
- Realizing our dependence on Christ, and our desperate need for His grace.
- Seeking a Savior who knows our stories – doubts, weaknesses, and struggles – and whose Spirit groans within us and shares our burdens.
- Praying honestly to a God who meets us wherever we are.
- And worshiping a God who meets us outside our church walls as easily as He meets us within them.
This Fall, to help protect the vulnerable and slow the spread of COVID-19, Pohick Church is canceling traditional events near and dear to our hearts: Apple Butter Weekend and Country Fair, among others. The ways we experience Christian Education, Pastoral Care, Outreach, Fellowship, and Evangelism are changing. We’re experiencing labor pains, and we feel like groaning. So we do!
But we also rejoice that something new and life-giving is being born!
Soon Pohick will introduce a Virtual Calendar of Events on our new, interactive Web Page, www.pohick.org. We will provide links to virtual offerings on various social media, including Facebook Live, Zoom and other platforms. We will provide links to Children’s, Youth, and Adult Christian Education classes and Bible Studies, socially distanced Outreach, and Prayer Groups. We even plan to roll out a virtual Docent’s Tour!
Of course, there are the ever-evolving places and formats for worship – both inside and outside the walls of our beloved Historic Church.
Our live-streaming worship has led to unexpected evangelism, life, and growth!! Thousands of seekers view our services. We are reconnecting with former Pohickians, and connecting with newcomers who encounter our hope, love and joy. We offer one another hope and Christ’s presence. We are living into Jesus’ Great Commission in ways we’d never dreamed!
I wonder what Pohick’s colonial forbears, like George Washington, Mason and Fairfax, would say about these changes. Cameras in our Historic Church?! Zooming Compline, for heaven’s sake?!
We know of their heartfelt prayers; honest struggles, burdens and fears; care for the vulnerable; creativity and willingness to change; and their trust in God’s Providence. I suspect they’d be pleased!
As Church continues to change, and as we hope for what’s unseen… we are surely witnessing glimpses of God. We’re learning to trust Creation is indeed laboring toward redemption. We’re experiencing the Spirit of Christ interceding with sighs too deep for words.
Remember, God searches the heart and knows the mind of the Spirit. Jesus is as close as our next breath. Nothing can separate us from Christ, who shares our burdens. The resurrected Christ has already won the victory, and now we share in it! Even in our weakness, we are more than conquerors!
We can be confident that no virus, no polarization, no injustice, no civil unrest, no condemnation, no outrageous faith demands– and neither the presence nor absence of Church walls – can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. L Ronaldi July 2020