Sermon preached at Trinity, Newport RI; Sunday July 30 2017
The Reverend Alan Neale; “The Indissolubility of God’s Love”
The great Baptist preacher of the 19th century (Charles Haddon Spurgeon) wrote these words: “A Christian brother was asked, one day, “To what persuasion do you belong?” He parried the question at first, for he did not think that it was very important for him to answer it. So the enquirer asked him again, “But what is your persuasion?” “Well,” said he, “if you must know my persuasion, this is it, ‘I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’” Spurgeon concludes, “And so am I.”
And this preacher, 21st century agrees, “And so am I.” The very first sermon I preached, in an Anglican church in London, at the age of 15 (50 years ago!) was based on the text from today’s passage in Romans. I think somewhere I have the text of that sermon; fortunately I was not able to find it yesterday… doubtless, I would be embarrassed by its awkwardness of phrase, aridity of passion but embarrassed by a commitment to the text… NEVER.
Spurgeon continues, “Now, dear brethren, if I could extend the time for this service to four-and-twenty hours, I might give you all the arguments, or most of the arguments, which support the blessed truth of the nonseparation of believers from the love of Christ. As for my own convictions, I never can doubt it; I am fully persuaded concerning it. This truth seems to me to have struck its roots into all the other truths of Scripture and to have twisted itself among the granite rocks which are the very foundation of our hope. I, too, am persuaded by a thousand arguments, and persuaded beyond all question, that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”… AMEN.
The English word separate comes from the Koine Greek word “choridzo” – in ancient papyri it refers to divorcing a marriage partner, vacating the relationship in body and soul; something the beleaguered White House Communication Director is, apparently, about to experience. The word speaks of separation and division; it suggests that a space is being created.
I am persuaded that nothing (natural or supernatural, temporal or eternal, distance or proximity) can create “a space” between me and the love of God contained/expressed in Christ Jesus.
“I am persuaded” – this is the conviction that finds voice because of divine revelation.
“I am persuaded” – this is the conviction that finds voice because of attention and reflection.
“I am persuaded” – this is the conviction that finds voice because of experience of others and myself.
Long ago a spiritual director was told with grief and a little anger that God seemed so very distant; his simple response, “Well, guess who moved?”
Friends, it is integral to the very being of God that from Him we cannot be separated; anything else is a devilish lie, a paralyzing falsehood. Anything else is truly “fake news.”
Over the past weeks we have labored with readers as they have tried to read with understanding the often convoluted words of St. Paul… but from Romans 1:17 to this point, Paul has slowly been building an edifice that is crowned with this glorious statement… “I am persuaded that nothing… can separate us from the love of God.” One commentator writes, “We have here not a jumble of obiter dicta (“incidental remarks”) but a coordinated presentation of Christianity in a rich variety of aspects. The chain of argument is continuous even though it may drag at times and have a weak link or two.”
And from this pinnacle of glorious belief Paul delves into the mystery of the survival of the Jewish people (Romans 9-11) and then illustrates how this stunning belief must affect the way we live… “Be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds “(Romans 12:1 and onwards). To quote my South Dakotan friends, “You betcha!”. A mind, a heart, a life, a soul grasped (influenced) by this belief in impossible separation lives a daily life transformed as it engages with itself and with others.
These two young ones to be baptized today… they cannot, can never be separated from the love of God.
Those whom we love but see no longer… they cannot, can never be separated from the love of God.
Family and friends that seem so distant now… they cannot, can never be separated from the love of God.
Professor Dodd (Oxford and Manchester don) affirms “This assurance is not automatic; it has to fight is way through against powerful opposing forces. Natural and supernatural powers threaten it. Demonic powers continually try to take us out of God’s love; to ridicule it, cast doubts on it as an untenable superstition… What Paul has taught us in these eight chapters of Romans is not a beautiful theory but an experience tried in the fiery trial of suffering and struggle.”
Fellow pilgrim, dear friend, surrender afresh, anew, again to this magnificent truth… “For I am persuaded… that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”