Nothing Can Separate Us . . .

July 30, 2017

Nothing Can Separate Us…

Psalm 139:1-12

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

    you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down,

    and are acquainted with all my ways.

 

Even before a word is on my tongue,

    O Lord, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before,

    and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

    it is so high that I cannot attain it.

 

Where can I go from your spirit?

    Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning

    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

    and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

    and the light around me become night,”

even the darkness is not dark to you;

    the night is as bright as the day,

    for darkness is as light to you.

 

Romans 8:26-39

God’s Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groans too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We know that God makes all things work together for good with those who love him, with those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom God chose beforehand, God also preordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he preordained he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;

    we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than 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.

* * * * *

You may have heard this scripture before; in fact, you probably have. These readings from Romans and the Psalms are often read at funerals – and no wonder. They offer such comfort, such solace. Where can I go from your Spirit? Even if I go to Sheol, the place of death, you are there. In fact, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In life, and in death, and in life beyond death, we belong to God. And nothing can take that away from us. No wonder these words offer such comfort when we lose someone we love.

But I have found myself turning to these words for comfort in a whole myriad of situations; not just in times of grief. These promises of scripture offer strength and support in so many challenges of life. Over time, these they have become go-to texts for me. I have a handful of passages like that; if you’re familiar with scripture, you probably do, too – the Bible verses that have become like talismans in your hand, words that spring into your mind when you need them most, need their protection, their wisdom, their promise. These verses are like that for me.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus…

Nothing in all creation…

But what does that mean? What does it look like? What does that feel like, for you?

Sometimes, I think, it’s just knowing God is there for you when you’re scared…

When I was a little girl, I would sometimes get frightened at night. It was nightmares, I imagine, though I don’t remember any in particular – well, except for the one where my brother Dave was going to blow up the house with TNT. I remember that one... but that one came later.

All I know is that something would wake me up and I’d be scared. I’d imagine some monster in the closet, or some shadow in the corner would convince me that someone was lurking, or the sound of the wind in the trees would spook me. I’d lay there in bed for a while, wide-awake, shivering under the covers. And when I couldn’t bear it anymore, I would run into my parents’ bedroom and wake my dad. And he would carry me into the living room, to the old rocking chair, the one he loved so much, and he would hold me, and rock me, until I fell asleep in his strong, loving arms, sure as I could be that I would be all right. I was convinced of it. 

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers…nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

These words are like God’s arms around us, helping us feel safe. We are safe in the strong, loving arms of God.

I don’t mean to imply there’s nothing to be afraid of; there are scary things in this world. There are powers beyond our control. There is still death in this world, forces that threaten to undo us. God does not promise that bad things won’t happen, only that he will work with us through them. And God promises to always be with us, even in the scariest of times.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing.

Not even things we do to ourselves. Not even problems of our own making. Not even our own disobedience, our own distancing and running from God.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

Wherever I go, you are there…

Even the darkness can’t hide me…

Even running away won’t work. Even flat out disobedience won’t separate us from God’s great love. God just wants us back too much. Nothing we can do or say will take God’s love away from us.

When I was in grade school there was a pack of kids I used to play with. There were probably twenty kids who lived on our block – we’d play baseball in the empty lot at the end of the street – at least the older kids would; I don’t think I ever got to play - I just had to watch and fetch balls. Or we’d play Foursquare in our driveway, setting up the squares with chalk. Sometimes there were enough kids for three squares at once. Occasionally there’d be something a little more exciting, like when the new house was going up across the street. There was a big pile of dirt from where the basement was being dug out, and it was perfect for playing King of the Hill.

At least we thought it was perfect. It never dawned on us it might be dangerous, or even that we shouldn’t be on someone else’s property uninvited.

So I was mad when my dad saw us playing and yelled at me in no uncertain terms to get down from that dirt right now and come home – right in front of my friends and everything – and took me firmly by the arm and marched me across the street. I mean, if they could do it, why couldn’t I? He was so mad. I couldn’t believe how mad he was. He was so mad I was scared about what kind of punishment was coming.

But there wasn’t any. There wasn’t. He just sat me down and told me how dangerous it was, what we were doing, and that he didn’t want me to get hurt. He was worried. And he loved me.

God is like that. Even running off and doing something stupid won’t separate us from God’s love. Lord knows we can’t hide anything from him anyway…

O Lord, you search out my path and my lying down,

    and are acquainted with all my ways.

Where can I go from your spirit?

    Or where can I flee from your presence? 

Nowhere. There is nowhere we can go, nothing we can possibly do that will take us away from God’s love. Nothing.

When I was graduating from seminary and preparing for ordination, one of the steps we had to do was go before the Presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry to be interviewed. We had to write a brief statement of theology and defend our faith; they wanted to be sure we could actually articulate our faith, but also that we were within the norms of Presbyterian belief.

My paper started with the story of the Runaway Bunny[i] – probably not the most orthodox presentation they’d ever had of incarnational theology. But it seems just perfect to me. God searches for us wherever we are. There’s nowhere we can run that God can’t find us. God searches out our paths – we can’t run away.

But it seemed to me it was even more than that. God would become whatever God needed to in order to bring us home. In the story, the mother bunny becomes a gardener, a fisherman, a mountain climber, whatever she needs to be to bring her little one home. Isn’t that what the incarnation is? God becoming human, in order to bring us home?

We are God’s beloved children… and Christ is everywhere we go… and there’s nowhere we can run where God will not be with us. Even in the scariest of times…

Thank God for that. Thank God.

In a few moments we will be giving a farewell blessing to the Phlegars before they move to South Carolina where Greg will be working at Clemson. They’ve been an active part of our congregation for many years now. I still remember the first time they visited, and Mercer gave me a gigantic, big hug. Every time I see her, she still does.

I will miss those hugs. But it’s a little easier knowing that God’s love will be with them, and the same love binds us together as family. We will always be connected by that love that will not let us go.  

For nothing – neither life, nor death, nor things present, nor things to come, nor anything else in all creation will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thanks be to him.

Rev. Karen Chakoian

 

[i] You can watch a video of the book being read aloud here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wduVa6Is5fU