“I am convinced,” says St. Paul in the epistle to the Romans, “that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Not the coronavirus, that’s for sure! We know that St. Paul had troubles and difficulties. He enumerates some of them in his second epistle to the Corinthians: five times he received 39 lashes, three times beaten with rods, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, endangered by robbers, imperiled in the desert, enduring sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold, nakedness. The list goes on: anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, the sword. Through it all, the apostle is convinced that nothing can separate him from the love of God. . The illusion we have to overcome is that when God loves us we win the lottery. If we think that way we can wonder about God’s love when you get a flat, the air conditioner breaks and your dog has fleas. There is a famous story about St. Teresa that after her carriage was thrown into a ditch she stood up in the muddy water and said, “No wonder, God, you have so few friends. You treat the ones you have so poorly.” St. Paul teaches us whether things are coming up roses or if we’re pushing up daisies God is loving us. God’s love is a constant – like the air we breathe. Not only would the apostle say don’t leave home without it, he would say we can’t leave home without it. God’s love clings to us like white on rice. Let’s see if we are as convinced as the Apostle was that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Can anything we have done separate us from the love of God? Will guilt keep us from the love of God? We might suppose so. How can God love the likes of me after all the ways I’ve messed up? However, as Sister Helen Prejean found out working with inmates on death row, the dead men walking, even the worst thing we have ever done doesn’t define us. We are always children of God no matter what we have done. And like a mother, God continues to love even the wayward child. When God pronounces the judgment, “guilty” he adds “and for your sentence you shall possess the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord for all eternity.”
Can anything done to us separate us from the love of God? Will shame keep us from the love of God? When we are ashamed we can feel separated from God. We can (and should be!) ashamed at some of the things that we have done. But mostly we are ashamed about the wrong things: family background, lack of education, societal status, bodily appearance. No matter what the source, a sense of shame has in common a feeling of worthlessness, of self-doubt, of insignificance. “Because of THIS I’m not worth much.” But the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament lesson reminds us that our worthiness, our value, our goodness is not something we achieve but comes as a free gift from God. “Come to me without paying and without cost. All you who are thirsty, come. You who have no money, come that you may have life.” Our self-worth is not the product of our achievements or our successes. It comes as a free gift of God. We are worthy no matter what has happened in our life because God has made us worthy. How can we be ashamed when we are being blessed beyond belief by God! I am convinced that no feeling of shame can separate us from the love of God.
Can the loss of a loved one separate us from the love of God? Grief can make one feel so alone, so abandoned that you can wonder if God is there. Jesus experienced grief. We know that he wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. In today’s gospel from Matthew 14 we find Jesus withdrawing from everyone to a deserted place by himself in order to grieve the death of his cousin, his mentor, his friend John the Baptist. Instead of grief separating him from God, the gospels relate that grief taught Jesus to rely even more upon God. Death is not an end but a new beginning. At his own death Jesus grieved enough to say “My God, why have you abandoned me.” But he had faith to add, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Grief teaches us the passing nature of all things in this life so that we can keep our focus on the deeper and fuller life in the world to come. I am convinced that grief cannot separate us from the love of God.
St. Paul says neither life nor death, no angel or demon, no present things nor any future things will separate us from the love of God. The future is in God’s hand. There is nothing we need fear. God will always be there loving us. Pandemic can’t keep us from the love of God. A new wave of 9/11 terrorists won’t keep us from God’s love. The doctor saying, “you’ve got cancer,” won’t keep us from God’s love. The politicians acting crazy won’t keep us from God’s love. The racist or the rapist, the addict or the fanatic, the use or the abuser – I am convinced that no way, no thing, no how, no one will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.