Saturday, 20 February 2021

God’s love, in Christ Jesus

A Sermon for the Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Bill Somerville.

Romans 8.31-39

Occasions such as this, when we gather in the face of human mortality,

            are often occasions for asking profound and troubling questions.


Death, for all its brute reality, remains a mystery,

            and quite rightly we find ourselves asking the great existential questions of,

            Why? and What now? and How has this happened?


The reading we had just now, read by Bill himself on an earlier occasion,

            is a text packed full of just such questions.


But, and I don’t know if you noticed,

            Bill added short introduction to the reading,

            a brief statement of faith that prefaced the questions that followed.


This passage is, said Bill, about ‘God’s love, in Christ Jesus’.


This is the absolute, the basic conviction of faith:

            that God is love,

            and that God’s love is made known to us in Christ Jesus.


This is the certainty that Bill himself lived by,

            and it is offered to us today

            in the face of the questions of this day.


So when the questions come tumbling,

            we already have the beginnings of the answer.


When uncertainty beckons, and doubt descends,

            when faith wavers, and grief overwhelms,

we have this assurance of faith:

            ‘God’s love, in Christ Jesus’.


And so the ancient apostle Paul leans out of the text of his letter to the Romans,

            and asks of us, today, ‘What then are we to say about these things?’


What is there to say in the face of death?

            What is there to say in the face of loss, grief, and mourning?


Just this: ‘God’s love, in Christ Jesus’.


But Paul is not yet done,

            and his next question explores this conviction in greater depth:

He asks, ‘If God is for us, who is against us?’


Despite any evidence or feelings or convictions to the contrary,

            Paul’s assurance is steadfastly that God is for us.


And if God is for us, will not God with Christ Jesus

            give us everything we need at the point of our deepest need?


If God is for us, who can accuse us? Who can condemn us?

            Who can separate us from the love of Christ?


Let’s see, says Paul…

            Will hardship, or distress, or persecution,

            or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?


No, none of these, says Paul,

            can separate us from ‘God’s love, in Christ Jesus’.


But what about death itself?

            No, says Paul, not even death

            can separate us from ‘God’s love, in Christ Jesus’.


And so we come to the final verse of the reading,

            in which we encounter one of the great articulations of the Christian faith.


After all the questions, Paul circles back to God,

            and to God’s faithfulness to all that God has made,

            and to God’s love that transcends even death itself.


For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, n

            or 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.


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