MESSAGE – LETTING THE MYSTERY BE A MYSTERY July 26, 2020
The reading we have just heard may be one of the most familiar passages of scripture, or at least parts of it. I suspect those parts about,
If it is God who justifies, Who is to condemn?
and that conviction that
…neither death, not 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…
have been read at many funerals you have attended.
And if you take away nothing else today, please hang on to that part of it.
When I brought this reading home to Sue, she said, “How on earth am I going to read this?”
And she wasn’t speaking just about the convoluted syntax for which Paul is famous.
It is convoluted. In essence this entire section is one long run-on sentence, sort of like the essays one of my daughters used to write in her middle school years. Great thoughts, amazing content, but you’d be scratching you head trying to figure out where one thought began and another ended. Punctuation was not her thing.
Well, it wasn’t in Paul’s writing either. In fact the earliest manuscripts contain none. No verse and chapter divisions, either. And all capital letters, sometimes without any spaces between the words.
All of those aids to understanding were the product of later minds wrestling with, “Just exactly what was this guy saying?” Many of those conclusion are good and helpful, some of them are controversial, and some in their interpretation are the foundation of entire schools of theology which have pitted one brand of Christian against another for as long as there have been Christians.
One of the things I have always treasured about my Reformed heritage (and that is not just my RCA pedigree speaking, the Congregational Church and the UCC share a lot of Reformed history in their theology, just not the Presbyterian governance!) is the careful analysis and logical precision in the interpretation of Scripture.
I have mentioned before one of my favorite (perhaps in the sense of things I love to hate) textbooks in seminary, Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhoff.
It really is a masterpiece. (The $51 price tag for a used copy on Amazon gives you a hint at the heft of it.)
It systematically covers all the heads of doctrine: Theology, anthropology, soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology and so on and so forth. It sets out in a painstaking (and admirably accurate) way what just about every cult, sect, denomination and so on believes about each of them, and then proceeds to lay out in detail why “they” are wrong and “we” are right.
And, I suspect, this is what got Sue all jumpy. What is this about those who foreknew and predestinated and such?
Because in her experience she remembers being taught that predestination meant only some were elect for God’s grace and salvation, and that everybody else is elect, that is to say, chosen, by God from the beginning of time, or maybe before the beginning of time, for damnation. (well there is another thing we could, and Christians do, argue about – just when did that choosing take place, before we were created, after the fall? Somewhere else along the line? And so on and on and on). When did God do this choosing of the handful that were elect for salvation and the multitude who were elect for damnation?
And in all that arguing, I think we miss the point. It seems to me that what Paul is really trying to say here, setting all that aside, is that our hope is in the fact that God chooses to love us. We don’t earn that love. We don’t “deserve” that love. We don’t, a few of us, jump through the right kind of hoops to qualify. God chooses to love!
In John 3:16, that familiar voice says it this way, “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son.” Our hope lies in God choosing to love us!
And the thing that we need to get over is something that I think has often has roots in our childhood as we compete for the love of our parents. If God chooses to love me, it does not mean that God doesn’t love you. If God chooses to love you, it doesn’t mean that God does not love me! There is enough of God’s love to go around for everybody.
Well, we could spend some time thinking about how do we make the kind of choices that allow that love of God to be something that we experience? I think it begins with believing the impossible, imponderable, unlikely claim that God love me, God loves you, God loves all of us because God chooses to do so. And if God chooses to love us, then what on earth can stand in the way of that?
What is bigger than God, what is more powerful, what is stronger than God? Hmmm…
I remember reading an interesting point of view that said, “You know, that if all of that is true, if our salvation depends upon God choosing to love us, and God does choose to love us, then for any of us to be condemned to hell is defeat for God!”
Will God be defeated? Will God give up? Will God, who as Paul says in this passage, gave God’s own son for us, will that kind of God whose love is that extreme and that extensive and that deep and that powerful, will God ever give up on us?
I honestly don’t know the answer to that, because as I have often said about such ponderings, “That’s way above my pay grade!” But I know that God is love, and therefore I choose to believe that God’s love is available and accessible to all because God chooses to love. Let us choose to, on the one hand, bask in the warmth of that love, that acceptance, and on the other hand find in that love motivation to live as children of God.
In the name of God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.