Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
I had my first nightmare about Donald Trump a few nights ago. I know a few of you are probably saying, “What, just your first one?” In my dream, I was invited to his place for dinner. There was someone else there, I can’t remember who. But I felt like I had to go and I had to stay. There were white tablecloths and a lot of gesticulation and hyperbole. I don’t remember exactly why I was invited or why I felt like I had to go, and I don’t really remember the table conversation. But I do remember a crawling, panicking feeling: I have to leave.
I think that’s the question that gets to me more than anything. And I forget, quite often, how much I depend on obscure laws that limit out of pocket payments, and the willingness of the general population to follow those laws. The typical American story is a fantasy of hard work, fair pay, and a vacation. A significant portion of the country has achieved this dream. A significant portion of the country has not. And it seems like the have nots have grown. It seems like the haves have more, the have nots have less, and the general trend is that the story of America we tell has grown darker and less hopeful. The question might be—which version is most real? Which story is true—the decent and fair one, or the angry and shameful one? Or maybe, the true story is something altogether different. Perhaps we are measuring our lives by the bread that does not satisfy.
Nevertheless, we are in a crisis. Some of you who are older remember the Nixon era, the Vietnam War, and Civil Rights. I remember two Gulf Wars and the impeachment of Bill Clinton, and in my mind, none of this is like what we are living now. Now we have a commission that seems to be attempting to strip voting rights from people, led by a person whom the courts in Kansas and even in federal courts have determined regularly misleads the courts in order to take votes from the elderly and other who are not sympathetic to his causes. Who does that? Who believes that is even a good idea? The only thing I can come up with is that people who do this are people who can’t win on their ideas or through the democratic process. And, people who are willing to cheat democracy probably have some bad ideas for governance.
There’s a lot to worry about. If you’re not anxious, if you’re not worried, if you’re not wondering what in the name of blazes is going on, you’re not paying attention.
But, to all this anxiety, to all these threats, to all these injustices we daily experience and witness, to all these things Paul asks: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” As I noted in my weekly e-mail, Paul here lists every deprivation of human dignity he can think of: from poverty to shame, from danger to death. “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor 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.”
I think the question for Christians today, the real question we need to ask ourselves before we ask any other: What if that’s true? What if it is true that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord? What could that mean for your life? What would that mean for us—that each person here, together, has a love stronger than death?
If we can say that having the kingdom of God is receiving the love of God, then Jesus seems to be saying to us today that everything we value, everything this earth both offers and takes away, is worth giving up to know that love of God that can never be taken from us. The love of God is the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price. It is life-changing because it changes the direction of your life; it changes what you care about.
More than that, it changes what you’re scared of. I read it this week when I was afraid and doubtful, with creeping worry and some pretty dark visions of the future. Paul seems to be telling me—what comes will come. God does not promise that this world is going to be perfect. Instead, God says, remain faithful to the love I give. Because I will always remain faithful to you. And in God’s faithfulness, we receive the strength we need to overcome the injustices of the world.
Evildoers will come, some raging and powerful, others given space by our own negligence or ignorance. The powers of government will sometimes be in the hands of those who try to wield them for good, and sometimes in those who will wield them for ill. Will they be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? No. And the love of God is stronger than death. So we can continue to witness to God’s love by loving the people of this world in courage and not in fear. Indeed, witnessing to this love, demonstrating it, being proud of it, proclaiming it, doing it is the best witness against the powers that will try to separate us from God’s love. This love of God doesn’t just mean comfort, it means freedom. It means that nothing can be thrown at us that God cannot overcome. All things work together for those that love the Lord, Paul writes, and he doesn’t mean that everything is going to turn into fair pay, hard work, and a vacation: it means that God weaves all our witness and our faithfulness into his faithfulness to the world he made, and will end these cycles of injustice. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not one thing, not anything, nothing at all. That’s why it’s worth giving up everything else for it.
It’s so important to hold on to that promise. Paul writes these words because he knows that the Christian way of life is the way of the cross. So, in the events of this week, remember that no matter what happens, nothing will separate God’s love from you. No suffering, no bill, no law, no small-minded and evil congress, no power at all, not even death, can separate you and God. You were made part of God’s family in baptism—you were joined to the death and resurrection of Christ. You are God’s. You are the treasure that God gave everything to claim.
Nobody, no one, can take God from you.
Reverend John Flack