Reformation 500 Picnic Service
Keezletown UMC, St. Jacob's (Spaders), Trinity
July 30, 2017
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
After leaving the U.S. Navy eventually an opportunity to participate in a year Clinical Pastoral Education internship at a state psychiatric hospital. We had a very different supervisor. He grounded our experience in prayer and theological underpinnings for working with people who were obviously wounded. It was an environment where if you wanted to discover what buttons you had that could be pushed that was the place. If you needed a guide to help work through and reorient the gut reactions Bill Voris was the man. His faith base was one he expressed a number of times. It was remembering Paul's conclusion to Romans Chapter 8. While Jesus great promise spoken to Nicodemus, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" is the Gospel in a nutshell for life's final end, this morning's Epistle lesson from Romans provides the great promise for living through life's roughest challenges and times. The apostle concludes Chapter 8 telling his readers "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Take some time from our lives as part of the 'Amazing Race' and reflect on the implications for living under this 'Amazing Grace'. No matter where and when you and I are in life we are being assured that no being or thing or event can separate each of us from God's love given and shown in Jesus Christ. Your parents may be mad at you. Other kids or workers may pick on you. You might be a too smart nerd or the class or office dummy. You might be seen as too uptight or too wanton. Your marriage or employment may be threatened. Weather may make your fields a desert or swamp. A bear market may make a shambles of retirement plans. One's ability to see and hear may be failing. Diseases whose mention brings dread like cancer may invade your body. Name whatever bring serious concern or fear and we can say ________ is unable to separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Paul declares God's love in Jesus trumps anything if we embrace that truth.
That love is present in something we remember every time we receive Holy Communion. Jesus tells us he is somehow present in the words "This is my body" and This is my blood". These words are spoken "In the night in which he was betrayed".
That is 'Amazing Grace'. For many people that would be a night of despair or a night to vow revenge. Much that is wrong is happening. The official leaders of the sheep of Israel want him dead. One of his core disciples has acted to help them and plays coy while Jesus celebrates and transforms the Passover with his closest followers. A few hours later his most vocally bold disciple will deny him. The rest will run for their lives. Knowing this has happened and will happen Jesus tells them that he is giving himself in the bread and the wine to them and us for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus will literally give himself to them and us with his body and blood on a cross of execution. He pours out his love and overcomes many of the most powerful things that draw us away from God and other supports of life.
The person who writes this promise is a man who knew the power of Jesus' love in difficulties. If anyone outside the Holy Week schemers and arrangers of Jesus execution deserved to be on the receiving end of divine retaliation it was Paul. Paul in all his self-righteousness persecuted Christians, approving of their leaders being stoned and taking active action driving them out of the synagogues and arresting them. Jesus love not only transformed him but sustained him. During his ministry others jailed, beat, and drove him and his companions out of cities and towns. Internally at times he felt himself ill used by people in churches he either established or visited. At times Paul was wrong and it took time to recognize it. He ended a partnership with the man who took him under his wing and vouched for him when many Christians did not trust his conversion. He broke with Barnabas wanted to give a young man John Mark a man whose homesickness led him to abandon a mission trip, a second chance. Jesus love sustained him through the harsh treatment and personal misjudgments. He could sing hymns when imprisoned, note those who appreciated him and come to see that a John Mark was a useful man and a comforting support. Enemies, fair weather friends, and his own faulty analysis could not separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Jesus love is something we can see operate in life. Working in skilled nursing centers I would often see people who have the most serene faces thought their physical capability is diminishing and their lives have had to me more than their share of hardship and tragedy. Most of those I spoke with shared an awareness of God's love. At times I still picture a parishioner from the first parish in Nebraska. Mary's mother died when she was ten. Being the oldest female she raised her siblings while her father worked for the railroad company. She found work she enjoyed, first as railway express agent during WWII, processing discharged service members after the war, and later as a school teacher. She left teaching to help her sister raise her children when the sister's husband died. She married and adapted to farm life. Her only child died young. She became a foster parent and helped establish a rural Head Start program. Dementia set in. Even then she did quite well with Wheel of Fortune. She missed home when her aging husband could no longer provide care and placed her in a local nursing home. At times she was a difficult resident. Most of the time she had an awareness of Jesus' love for her. Her last wish was to die and go to her heavenly home. In all her ups and downs she knew nothing could separate her from the love that was in Christ Jesus.
Make God's promise through Paul your promise. Reflecting on this lesson I can think of how each day might begun, "Remember Kirk nothing in or out of this world can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus" and its positive effect in whittling down life's minor irritants, major concerns, and justified self second guessing, to a most manageable size. I encourage you to fill in your name in this Good News from God's written Word.
Let us pray. Lord, for these wonderful assuring life centering words of yours from Romans, thank you. Amen.