I’ve heard that a lot of Pastors, when they go on sabbatical, do something really spiritual. They take a religious pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago or they spend time in the Taize community in France or they go and study the medieval mystics. And for them it’s a time of real spiritual renewal, which sounds amazing. And totally not what I did. I basically traveled around several countries doing Crossfit, eating with my friends and hanging out with my family. I only went to church a couple times in 3 months. I wasn’t writing sermons or reading scripture or doing pastoral care.
For some reason, I still assumed I would have amazing insights about God and Christianity and whatnot while I was away, but honestly… I didn’t reflect theologically on jack, or even think deeply about my life while I was gone. I wasn’t particularly aware of God’s love or God’s absence. And when I realized this, I felt kind of bad because, well, as you know, I’m a pastor so I’m supposed to be like, really tuned into that stuff all the time. Eventually this week it all started to make sense, why it was I didn’t think much about God – but stay with me, it’s gonna take a minute to get there.
In that awesome reading we just heard from the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul is in top form. It’s like, his greatest hits album with such fan favorites as: All things work together for the good of those who love God. The Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. If God is for us who can be against us.
But the final verse is breathtaking, when he says For I 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.
Well, that’s just one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. When I hear that text something happens like, in my heart and it’s like I know it to be true and doubt it to be true and hope it to be true all in the same moment.
But even so, there was a point this week when I started thinking “but wait. What does it even mean?” I get the nothing can separate us part, but can we define what we mean by “the love of God in Christ”? It’s like I’ve heard it so much that I don’t pay attention anymore to what it might actually mean. And I know I get frustrated when I feel things are said that seem more like jargon than a description of something in actual reality. So, not wanting to be lazy about defining terms, I spent quite a few keystrokes attempting to explain in a systematic, logical way, what the love of God in Christ even means. And I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say none of it made any real sense. I can logically explain what the love of God in Christ means about as well as I can smell the color blue.
So to get some help, or in an attempt to just change gears entirely, I popped over to the Gospel reading from Matthew about how the kingdom of God is like a bunch of weird random things, stuff that Jesus must have just had in his field of vision when he was talking… like nets and seeds and branches and that’s when I realized… I was trying to do something even Jesus never tried to pull off…in other words, of course I can’t explain what the term, the love of God means. That’s why we have parables. When we can’t say what it means, then all we can do is say what it is like…
When Jesus wanted to speak of the Kingdom of God, Parenthetically, I propose that the Kingdom of God is when our very topic, the love of God in Christ, overtakes competing forces and transforms people and events and institutions) but when Jesus spoke of this it was never in the form of a logical argument, it was in the form of similie, metaphor, and imagery. It was more poetry than prose. He used common things around him, like seeds and fields and yeast to image the truth of something that was unexplainable were he to approach it straight on.
The love of God in Christ is like a rental truck your friend insists on paying for so that your I’m-divorced-now-and-moving-into-another-house move is less difficult for you.
The love of God in Christ is like the acceptance and celebration you freely receive here from people your mom and dad’s age.
The love of God in Christ is like the acceptance and celebration you freely receive here from people your daughter’s and son’s age.
The love of God in Christ is like a table where all are fed and non are worthy.
The love of God in Christ is like BOLD women who take care of their friend and her husband when she is ill and he needs full-time care.
The love of God in Christ is like when a large trans-gender woman visits a church for the first time and is asked if she wants to read the Gospel and it’s during lent and so that Gospel is really, really long and she reads it so gorgeously that everyone actually hears it like it’s brand new. Which it is.
All of that is to say, you cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ because it is in you. It cannot be taken out. You are a walking love of God in Christ for one another . Because, the writer of 1st John 4 nails it when they say, 1Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
Of course I wasn’t thinking about God’s love much when I was away from you guys. Because as inconvenient and at times, unreliable as it might be – other people are the most common way of knowing and experiencing the love of God in Christ. And you guys are my other people.
As much as experiencing the love of God in Christ though meditating alone on a mountain might sound awesome, that’s not what Jesus sent his disciples to do after he left. He told them to love each other as he loved them.
That doesn’t mean we can love perfectly or that we can love every time we need to. It doesn’t mean we are always loved well. It doesn’t mean that everyone is easy to love or that we ourselves are easy to love. It just means that the source of the love among us is God. And ultimately, that is what allows us to love at all. Therefore, the most reliable way to live in the love of God, a love so freely and completely given to us, is to love one of God’s other children and allow yourself to be loved in return.
My friend Cheryl spent a couple weeks with you guys while I was away. She posted something on Facebook that I thought was pretty spot-on. Now, for better or worse, this congregation is kind of high profile. But Cheryl soon realized that having a tattooed pastor or doing whacky things like a blessing of the bicycles is not what holds this community of Christ together. She posted a picture from office hours and said. “I’ve worked out the House for All Sinners and Saints secret. Pastor Brian and Pastor Nadia love them all, and they love each other, and Brian and Nadia back. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.”
So, the best I can do to explain what the Love of God in Christ means is to say that I know what’s it is like because I see it among you. You make me believe in it. Or more accurately, the way in which God’s love has allowed you to love me and to love one another has made me believe that this thing is real and I invite you to dare to believe in it too.
And yes, I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor sabbaticals, nor mothers who are unable to love us well, nor having 2 liturgies on Sundays, nor waiting for a scary medical diagnosis, nor divorce, nor spouses in drug rehab, nor things present, nor things to come, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.