During this annual summer series, we read a children’s story as an additional “scripture” lesson. This week’s story is Hugs from Pearl, by Paul Schmid.
Scripture Reading: Romans 8:35-39
In our scripture lesson today, Paul writes to the church at Rome, where it feels the world is spinning off its axis.
Tensions are mounting between Christians and Jews…
Christians are getting kicked out of the synagogues where they’ve had their faith home…
and the politics of their city and nation are absolutely out of control.
In all likelihood, Nero is emperor, and the burning of Rome and his casting blame on Christians is less than a decade away.
The Christians of Rome are in a toxic environment—one that is filled, quite literally, with “hardship… distress… persecution… famine… nakedness… peril… [and] sword.” This describes daily life for them.
Paul wants them to know with certainty that this reality does not indicate God’s displeasure with them—that they are not experiencing hardship because of a lack of faith. God’s love is indeed with them. And not only can these physical realities not separate them from God’s love, here (offers Paul) are a list of immaterial realities that also cannot divide them from God’s love:
not death, not life;
not angels, or rulers;
neither things present, nor things to come;
not powers, not height, not depth;
not anything else in all creation (Romans 8:38–39 NRSV)
Nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
But you know, I believe Paul is also speaking to Christians here who (like many of us today) struggle with whether we are very lovable to God.
From my experiencing listening over the years, I know there are many of us who just don’t feel like it is possible for even God to love us.
We know some of the struggles inside ourselves all too well.
We know our failure to reach perfectionistic heights.
And more often than not, we were taught explicitly or implicitly that perfection is precisely the God-ordained minimum.
So how then can God love us at all?
Now while I’m talking to Christians here, I have to point out that I’ve heard some of the same things from folks who haven’t yet decided to follow Jesus.
How can God love me given my past?
How can God love me given my struggles with addiction?
How can God live me given the things I’ve done?
How can God love me given the things I’ve let others do to me?
How can God love someone as messed up, broken down, and untrustworthy as me?
The truth is, I don’t always know how to respond.
I don’t know how, because I do not understand God’s love for me. These struggles are my struggles too. But life with God has taught me that whether I feel lovable or not, God has loved me—and does love me—and will love me with a deeper, more real love than any I have ever known.
Christ is the proof of this, at least in the eyes of the New Testament writers.
Just a few verses before where we started reading this morning, Paul defines God’s love for us: it is because God “did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us” (Romans 8:32 NRSV).
Or as Jesus put it in John 15:53, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NRSV).
Or as 1John 4:9 offers, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him” (1John 4:9 NRSV).
Wherever we pull from in the scriptures, we cannot get around the fact that Jesus demonstrates for us God’s radical love of us.
We do not deserve it…… That’s why it’s called grace.
We cannot earn it…… That’s why it’s called grace.
It does not rest on what we do…… That’s why it’s called grace.
God’s love is an unorthodox, unrestricted, and incomprehensible gift…… And nothing we can do can cause that love to be diminished, divided, or erased.
To be clear: our human embodiment of that love may be even more incomprehensible (if that’s even possible). But the nature of love remains the same.
“Love is patient; love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing,
but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never ends.” (1Corinthians 13:4–8 NRSV)
I know I’ve used this illustration before, but when we were expecting our second child, I was truly concerned: I loved our first child so much that I was genuinely worried that I wouldn’t have enough love for another one. My fears, however, were quickly put to rest; love, it seems, is a bottomless well, an endless stream, a cup that always flows over.
Maybe saying love is “indivisible” isn’t quite right.
Love is divisible, it just doesn’t diminish when divided. That’s what we get wrong about love, I think: It actually has infinite divisibility.
Infinite disibility is just one more bit of wonky church math to add to your repertoire:
There’s the Trinity, where 1 + 1 + 1 = 1
There’s the dual natures of Christ, where 1 + 1 = 1
And now we get the infinite divisibility of love, where [love ÷ n (where n = any number) = LOVE]
I was thinking about this already, and then I came across a pretty remarkabe poem by Anita Atina called “The Heart of Love is Indivisible.” A couple lines near the end nearly took my breath away. She says:
If the heart of love is indivisible,
set free those you love
From the chains of expectation
and labels of the world…
For the heart of love expands,
when more is asked of it
“The heart of love expands when more is asked of it.”
That certainly characterizes the heart of God that I have come to know through Jesus. And I believe that heart of love expands even larger than anything we might conceive.
It is God’s love that brought Jesus into this world.
It is God’s love that is demonstrated in the world through Jesus.
It is God’s love that we embody, when we allow our hearts to expand large enough to set free those we love from the chains of expectation and labels of the world.
May God’s desires be fulfilled through us, for the glory of God and the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.