+ A sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on August 9, 2020 +
Text: Romans 9:1-5
I’ve heard this lament so many times.
Sometimes from parents whose children have grown and gone their own way.
Sometimes from those asking the familiar question of why Sunday morning attendance has declined.
Especially in this region of the country where religion doesn’t seem as important as it once was, I hear it all the more.
It’s a lament I hear from people who love the church, who have encountered the divine in our common worship and felt God in the sacraments.
And now they are asking why their children, their friends, their neighbors aren’t coming to church like they once did.
Because this is a place where we have experienced the love of God and we want to share it, we want everyone we know to experience it too.
It’s a lament I understand.
As someone who has been called and ordained as a pastor in Christ’s church, it is both my duty and my joy to proclaim the love of God in word and deed.
I want to share the life-giving, the life-transforming love that I have experienced, I want everyone to experience the same liberation and wholeness that I have found through Christ’s gospel and sometimes it can be hard for me to understand when others don’t experience the same thing.
And it’s a lament that the Apostle Paul seems to understand, too.
The Book of Acts tells us how Paul’s encounter with the Risen Christ transformed his life.
He went from a persecutor of the burgeoning Jesus movement to becoming an apostle to the nations, dedicating his life to spread the good news of God’s love that is for all people.
I mean, that’s the basis of this whole letter to the church in Rome telling them that the pains and fears, the isolation and anxieties, the brokenness in their individual and collective lives has a cure in the transformative and all-encompassing love of God.
And last week we heard the culmination of that extended argument when Paul assured us that nothing in all creation can ever separate us from the love of God that we have experienced in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Now after sharing that message of pure gospel, Paul spends the next three chapters of Romans exploring the ramifications of what this pervasive, all-inclusive, inseparable love means.
And a major question here is whether human action can impact God’s love for us.
For Paul, this is perhaps the most pressing question, especially in regards to his own community, his Jewish friends and family who have not accepted Jesus as the Messiah.
Now, it’s easy for us modern Christians to forget that Paul was a Jew his entire life.
And, as he reminds us, his people were the chosen people who throughout history have experienced and benefited from God’s blessings.
God adopted them as God’s own.
God made a covenant with them through their ancestors Sarah and Abraham, promising that they would be a blessing to all the nations, showing forth the glory of God.
God liberated them from slavery in Egypt and instructed them with torah so they could live in community as God intended.
God showed them how to worship.
God gave them rulers and leaders to guide them.
And, when they strayed and followed their own way, God sent prophets to remind them of whose they are and to renew and reiterate the covenants God had made with them.
And, Paul tells us, in the fullness of time, God Godself came among them, born into flesh, Jewish flesh, to proclaim in the most intimate way possible the amazing love of God, not just for the Jewish people, but for all people—for you and for me—so regardless of nationality or race, regardless of language or creed, regardless of gender or sexuality, all people can experience the fullness of God’s love.
And after Paul has experienced that love in Christ Jesus, after his life was utterly transformed by it, he is lamenting to the Roman community that his own people have not experienced what he did.
So, Paul poses this massive question—does God’s love encompass those who don’t follow Jesus?
Or has God given up on God’s chosen people?
And the stakes of this question could not be higher.
Because if the latter is true, if God has given up on the Jewish people to whom belong “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship…the promises,” the patriarchs and the matriarchs, if God has given up on the original chosen people, can’t God give up on us too?
I mean, Paul just got done assuring us that nothing in all creation could separate us from God’s love, but if God goes back on God’s covenantal promises, that would throw this word of assurance into serious doubt.
All the certainty, all the confidence, all the trust we hold so central, that we rely on, would suddenly be at risk.
But, as Paul reminds us in this passage, if there’s one thing we can be sure of about God, it’s God’s unwavering fidelity.
Ultimately, this text isn’t about the actions or inactions of a people, it’s about the character of God, it’s about what God has done and is doing.
It was God who adopted.
It was God who shared the glory.
It was God who established the covenant.
It was God who liberated and gave the law.
It is God whom we worship.
It is God who makes and who keeps the promises.
All throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, when the people stray it is God who renews the covenants, sends the prophets, restores the people to fullness of life.
And it was God who came among us, born as one of us, to proclaim the fullness of God’s love.
It is God who loves us and all people and who has decided that nothing in all creation will separate us from that love.
Ours is a God whose faithfulness has been seen throughout all generations.
Ours is a God who throughout all history has lavished love on God’s people.
Ours is a God who is now extending that same promise to us, who is lavishing that same love on us.
Ours is a God in whom we can trust.
In these three chapters, Paul is telling us far more about God’s character than he is telling us about our own human nature.
He’s not telling us about our own human failings and how we can walk away from what God has given us, he’s not warning us of our propensity to squander the abundant blessings God bestows upon us, Paul is telling us a story of God’s unending, all-encompassing, and unfailing grace—a free gift that God is giving to all people and something we could have never earned on our own.
And that’s the trap we so often fall into, isn’t it?
We put the focus on us and what we do and forget what God has done and is doing.
In many ways, that’s basically the essence of this whole letter—that we have tricked ourselves into thinking we could do it all on our own, that we are enough on our own, really that it’s up to us at all and we don’t need God.
And by buying into these lies we have only found brokenness in our individual and collective lives.
But the truth is that we can’t do it on our own.
The truth is that we are fully reliant on God for our life, for our hope, for our healing and wholeness.
And the good news this week is that our actions can never change what God is doing.
We humans fail. We stray. We wander. We disobey and fool ourselves. That’s what we do. That’s what we’ve done throughout history.
But God saves.
God brings new life.
God inspires hope.
God heals and unites.
God lavishes love.
That’s what God does.
That’s what God has done throughout history.
And nothing, nothing in all creation can ever separate us from that love.
Now, I admit, this unmerited and free gift of grace and love is so foreign to us that it may be impossible to fully grasp its implications.
I mean, it’s just so different than what we are used to, so different than the systems and institutions we humans have designed.
We are used to playing a zero-sum game that tells us that if I am right, you must be wrong.
That tells us that resources are scarce and must be hoarded.
We’ve somehow convinced ourselves that God’s love is like a pie—that if it’s given out too freely there won’t be enough to go around.
Perhaps that’s why the church has so long put restrictions on administering the sacraments, on who is worthy to be ordained, on who is truly welcomed into our pews.
Maybe that’s why we’ve designed our societal structures to say that you have to pay for the essentials needed for life—that if you don’t work hard enough you don’t deserve food and shelter and healthcare.
But God doesn’t play that game, my friends.
God isn’t bound by our reliance on scarcity or restrictions or worth.
God’s grace is far larger than our games.
God’s love is far wider than we can imagine.
Paul is showing us the inherent expansiveness of God’s love and grace that cannot be limited by the restrictions that we would seek to add, how it stretches farther than we could even hope and encompasses all people, all lands, all creation beyond our wildest dreams.
Paul has already told us that God’s Holy Spirit is within each and every one of us—the breath of life breathed into our first parents is still held within each and every human body.
And with every breath we take, we breathe her into our lungs, into our bodies, into our lives and fill ourselves with the very presence, the pure love of God.
What a word of hope for us.
What a message for our society where we so often see division and rivalry rather than wholeness and concord.
What an assurance in an increasingly interreligious age to hear that God’s love stretches farther than we could imagine and includes all people.
And what implications this message has for us to see every single person as a person whom God loves just as much as ourselves.
Every person we meet on the street, every person across the political spectrum, every person in every country even our so-called enemies is loved by God.
And while nearly 2000 years after Paul wrote this letter to the Romans, it may be easier for us now to understand how God loves both Jews and Christians, what does it mean for us to imagine God’s love stretching even farther than that?
To see the fullness of God’s love that is with our Muslim siblings and our Buddhist siblings and our Hindu siblings?
To understand that God’s love can never be separated from the multitudes around us that are spiritual but not religious or who experience the divine in the mountains and the forests rather than organized religion?
What if, instead of saying ‘We have it right and you must do it our way,’ we explored the wideness of God’s love?
What if we said, ‘This is how we experience God’ while we also foster curiosity within ourselves in how others experience the divine?
What if we learned from each other how to see a fuller picture of the unimaginable and all-inclusive love of God?
Or, to put this all another way, Paul’s message to us today is pretty simple: God loves you beyond your wildest dreams—and there’s nothing you can ever do to change that.
And what’s more, God loves your neighbors, all your neighbors, beyond your wildest dreams—and there’s nothing you, or they, can ever do to change that.
Frankly, our only choice in the matter is whether we will live into that love, see each other as beloved, and share the love that we have received from God with the same reckless abundance as God first shared it with us.
During the next three chapters of Romans, the Apostle Paul is assuring us that no matter what humanity does, no matter our failings, no matter our unfaithfulness, no matter our brokenness, God can and will do everything God has promised to us.
And for Paul, the clearest demonstration of this assurance is that God has shown the fullness of God’s love by sending Jesus into the world to proclaim that love for all people in word and deed.
And even when that ministry seemed to end on the cross, the same love of God defiantly overcame death to bring us all into the new life and hope of the resurrection.
And Paul insists that an encounter with this love, experiencing the Risen Christ, will transform us in our individual and collective lives, spurring us into our own mission to embody and to proclaim that love throughout the world just as Jesus did.
As Christians, this is our lens with which we perceive God.
This is the purest example of God’s abundant grace and all-inclusive love.
And it’s good and right that we want to share this good news of God’s love in hopes that our friends and family and neighbors experience the same transformative power that we have experienced.
But ultimately, Paul assures us that no matter what, we can trust that God will remain ever faithful to God’s promises—that God’s love is for all, that it is greater than we can ever imagine, that it is closer than we could even hope, and that nothing, nothing can separate us from that love.
This is the fourth part of a seven-part sermon series entitled “Broken: Good News for Tough Times.”
The other sermons in the series can be found here:
- “Broken Bodies, Healing Spirit” – July 12, 2020
- “Groaning in Labor Pains” – July 19, 2020
- “Nothing” – August 2, 2020
- “All-Inclusive Love” – August 9, 2020
- “Fulfilling the Law” – August 16, 2020
- “Ever Faithful, Ever Merciful” – August 23, 2020
- “Not Waiting on the World to Change” – August 30, 2020
6 thoughts on “All-Inclusive Love”
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