Ughh! I can’t believe I have to write a devotional on Romans 5. Actually, that should be: “Sweet! I get to write a devotional on Romans 5!” except for one eensy-weensy problem, and that it that there is just too much fruit to pick. Shall I stuff myself on the citrus variety, the lemons, limes, orange, and – or should I go exotic and delight in papayas, mangoes, and star fruit (or “carambola”)?
Maybe later, I’ll digest Romans 5 into more bite-sized pieces, but for today I know what I desire to eat.
What looks good to my eyes and sounds sweet to my ears is verse 2, that through Jesus Christ we have access by faith into the grace of God. Suppose someone gave you Warren Buffett’s (sorry Bill Gates, you’re no longer the fairest in the land, and Carlos Slim is also above you) social security number, bank account and pin numbers, etc. You would have access to his $62 billion. Imagine what you could do with that!
But through faith you have access to something far more valuable and enjoyable: the grace of God, whose value does not go down when there are shortages or wars or panic. Paul’s focus for most of Romans is on faith, so that men do not mistakenly believe they are saved by their works. But behind this faith is something even more powerful: the grace of God, which I take to be the love of God in action.
Did you know that the love of God has been poured out in your hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to you (by grace)? God is love. We’ve heard this and believe this. But if this is true, knowing the dynamo that is God and His centrifugal love, this love will always flow out of Himself. And so by love the world was created, and by love we were created, and by love we are re-created. The love of God, the most powerful, sweetest elixir known has been poured by the Father into your love through the Son and by the Spirit.
This love is incredible, but a faith that has become used to being bathed in the love of God can become like a human who is born to breathe air. Knowing in our heads that we must have air to breathe, and pausing every decade to give a few seconds of thanks for air, we continue to breathe it as if it were nothing at all but completely invisible and non-existent. We often experience the love of God in a similar way, gladly taking it into ourselves but also taking it for granted and without thanks.
What is this love like, to those of us who need to be reminded? Imagine the most vile, evil, disgusting person you’ve ever known or could even imagine. I’ve led a beatified life and don’t have a lot of creeps in my life who come to mind. John Soper from Peter J. Brennan Junior High School in North Babylon, New York comes to mind (many of you may also have junior high or middle school acquaintances come to mind). Here was a guy who called our Home Ec teacher a “whore,” which he pronounced in his native Long Islandese as “hoo-er.” He went out of his way to do disgusting and obnoxious things to my brother and me, I suppose because we were as low on the social totem pole as he was but were less willing to fight back. I remember him drooling saliva on his middle finger and flicking it on me on many occasions. And although I can’t prove it, I’m pretty sure he’s the one who stole my windbreaker one day.But there are many worse people out there: you may have met some of them.
The truth is that through God’s eyes we were all John Sopers, only much, much worse. God had every right to be disgusted with us and to want to put several universes between us. How must it feel to be a perfect and holy God who has chosen to make one creature in His image, and we’re what He gets for this act of love?
Occasionally, someone will die for a Mother Teresa. But who among us would die for a John Soper or worse? Yet God loved us when we were unlovable and unloving. God loved us and sent His Son to die for us, the righteous for the unrighteous. This is how we know the love of God. It’s a very humbling thing, and yet a gentle thing that doesn’t crush us but gives us life.
Remember: this is the kind of love that God showed for us when we were still sinners and unreconciled to Him. What kind of love must He even now be pouring out on us through His Spirit, now that He has bought us for Himself and united us to Himself by His Son?! For those whom God has saved by His love (tangibly, overwhelmingly, shown through the Son), the love of God is the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, and the bread that we eat. It is the blue of the sky and the green of the grass, and all of the 64 Crayola colors in the box. It’s the cool dream you wished you could recapture except that it’s already and always here, and it’s the last day of school and the first day of summer vacation. It’s the change of the seasons and your favorite season. The love of God is the time of your life and the members of your family and all the good things the earth has to offer that we take for granted.
How can such death-defying, life-giving, grace-laden love come in such invisible and humble ways? Isn’t it just like God that His love is everywhere in our lives and yet seems nowhere?
But I urge you today to not take this love for granted. Let’s spend a day together, vowing not to take it for granted but to celebrate it. Because we have access by faith into this grace and love of God, let’s rejoice in the hope of glory (verse 2), and when we have tribulations, let’s glory in them because we know that by them the one who loves us is producing perseverance and character and hope. Let’s rejoice in God and His love, having been reconciled, because by this love we shall be saved by His life (verse 11).
Joy is a commandment from God, and it is a grace of the Spirit. It’s also a choice. Living in, basking in, bathing in, and breathing the love of God, let’s choose today to rejoice in the God who is love and has poured in into our hearts and every cell of our lives!
Prayer: Ah Lord God, Thou holy lover of my Soul, when Thou comest into my Soul, all that is within me shall rejoice. Thou art my Glory and the exultation of my heart. Thou art my Hope and Refuge in the day of my trouble.
Set me free from all evil passions, and heal my heart of all inordinate affections, that being cured and thoroughly cleansed, I may be made fit to love, courageous to suffer, steady to persevere. Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing more courageous, nothing fuller or better in heaven and earth; because Love is born of God, and cannot rest but in God, above all created things.
Let me love Thee more than myself, let me love others as Thou wouldst have me do, let all I do show that I truly love Thee, as the law of Love commandeth. Amen. (Thomas a Kempis)
Point for Meditation:
1. How has God shown you His love? How can you more faithfully accept it and celebrate it?
2. In what ways is God asking you to share His love with others?
Resolution: I resolve to reflect on and accept the love of God today so that I might seek and find joy.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson