What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him for us all, how will He not also with him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is he who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or sword? Just as it is written, “For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer though him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of god, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Life seemed to change so suddenly for us those seven years ago today. The darker lessons of our reading from Psalm 90—the fragility and transience of life and the shortness of our years—those lessons were pressed home in a way totally new to us Americans, insulated as we have been from such attacks. We mourned the loss of some three thousand lives—victims, rescuers, heroes—and we became conscious of a level of hatred against our country which we found hard to fathom. We learned how vulnerable we can be and how we needed to rethink our security measures. A new vocabulary became routine for us—religious extremism, Al Qaida, terrorism, suicide bombings. A different course was set for our nation—of retaliation and eventually of war that has not come to an end.
For at least a brief time, it seemed, people were moved to lay aside their special-interest partisanship and get beyond the trivialities of race and gender, and there was a conscious effort to assert and practice the values of equality in diversity imbedded in our nation’s founding principles. But if that effort was unfortunately short-lived, other changes were woven into the fabric of our everyday life. How different things suddenly were!
But the Church has also another word for her people—a word to reassure us, a word for us to proclaim to a dying world. As we remember that day and its effects in the context of Evensong, St. Paul reminds us that there is one thing that does not change. Nothing—not death nor life, not demonic powers of any kind, nothing now or in the future—can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When St. Paul quotes Psalm 44 and says of himself and his fellow Christians, “We are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered,” it might sound like a bit of picturesque exaggeration, some creative “writer’s license” to dramatize his point. But in fact, Paul was not exaggerating at all. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” he asks, and then he lists possibilities—tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword—all of which he had known first-hand in his apostolic-mission life.
The chosen preacher to the gentiles could tick off an impressive list of things he had endured for the sake of his Master—beatings, whippings, prison, shipwreck, hunger and cold. A sheep to be slaughtered indeed! And yet, through all of that hardship and suffering, Paul says of himself—and of all Christians—we are winners!—overwhelming conquerors. Nothing, Paul knew with the certainty of faith, could separate him from the love of God. And his words call us to join him in his Spirit-given confidence.
What a strange contradiction it seems to be! If God loves me, we want to say, things should really go well for me, shouldn’t they? Surely someone loved by God won’t become sick with a cruel and wasting disease, or lie in a hospital bed in a coma as his parents weep and pray, or endure the wrenching agony of hearing the doctor say that there is nothing more to be done for her spouse. And yet these things happen to Christians every day.
But surely, we want to say, the apple of God’s eye will not be the victim of a fanatic’s suicide bombing. Surely God’s child won’t answer the phone and learn that her son was caught in a tall building when it was struck by a hijacked jetliner. But we know better. His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts, we were reminded on that day seven years ago, and Paul’s language hits home now as all too real. 9/11 reminded us how much we need Paul’s encouragement, to speak these words to each other and to hear these words from each other; no matter what the evidence may seem to say, Nothing can take the love of Christ from us.
Our text is really a continuation of Paul’s commentary on baptism—that sacramental bath in which, the apostle tells us, our sins were left in His tomb and His Easter-morning victory was poured out upon us. To the water of baptism He has attached His solemn oath, “You are My beloved child, I will never turn away from you.” And that forgiving love, Paul says, cannot be taken from us.
And there is more. Paul reminds us that Calvary’s cross gives us irrefutable proof of the Father’s infinite mercy and loving will for us—so great that He would not spare His own Son. And the blood that flowed from Jesus’ wounds now fills the communion chalice to unite us ever more closely to that same forgiving, life-creating love first poured out upon us in baptism. And so Paul calls us to pray this evening for our nation and for our people—to pray in earnest confidence that the Father will hear and give what is best.
And there is yet more. We are baptized into the name of the Trinity, into that divine life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and Paul spells out for us what that means. The Son lives in us and also stands at the right hand of God’s power and pleads for us at the Father’s judgment throne. The Holy Spirit lives in us and— with “groaning too deep for words,” as Paul says—translates our own, inadequate stammering into the God-pleasing melody of prayer. By faith we have entered into—and our prayers are part of—that triune conversation of perfect communion and shared love. This evening, our petitions and prayers for our country and our people—they, too, are voiced by the Spirit and advocated by the Son in the Father’s hearing.
And today, we remember also the daily prayer appointed to us, the daily task given to us. Others need to hear what Paul has to say. So many live in pain, in want, in emptiness, and without hope. So many live in fear and are filled with hate because of that fear. There has never been a greater need for His Church—for you and me—to be and to live and to act as His body—to be His hands and His feet and His voice that serve and speak His love to them—His love which alone can make the change that really matters.
We pray this evening for our country and for our people, for peace for all nations, for divine protection and care, for wisdom, for changed hearts. And, for a world lost in its own darkness, we pray also for the spreading light of Christ’s saving love. May the Holy Spirit fill us with faith and zeal daily to offer such prayer and daily to share that light! Amen.