Friends in Christ, this is the passage to read when you’re all out of words. These words of Paul have carried us Christians through the most difficult of times. Through death itself. I read this most recently at the bedside right after, LM took his last breath on this earth. All I had was my little prayer book. I open. At the close of the day, at the close of Lee’s life, and we read: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” This is the thickest, meatiest theology in Scripture. Right here before us on a nice, summer Sunday morning.
Don’t blow this stuff off -- these words have been present at suicides. At car accidents. At shootings and hate crimes and church burnings in the deep South. Battlefields in Vietnam, coroner’s labs, the falling of twin towers, stillbirths...“The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray...but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” [pause] Rip this passage out of your bulletin today, fold it up and keep it in your wallet...better yet, memorize it and keep it in your heart. These words can save you in your darkest moments, these words can raise the dead.
I had a preaching professor, who used to talk about raising the dead in our preaching. He would practically taunt preachers (I wasn’t a fan of his, but I remember): “Oh, you preached today? How lovely. Did you tell a funny story? Did you make the people laugh? Did you share something touching about your personal life? Oh good. Did you give some good advice? Did you impress everyone with your research of and insight into the holy text? Hmm, that’s nice.”
I think of my professor with passages like this one today: “When we preach,” he’d almost shout, “we raise the dead. We tear down walls that divide us, we defy death itself as we point -- sometimes, with all evidence to the contrary -- to Jesus.” [Reformation art] This one Jesus changes everything! Intercedes for us “with sighs too deep for words,” promises never to abandon us, even and especially in the most painful and horrifying of moments and days. [pause]
It’s kind of amazing how so many of us can keep this page in our bibles so pristine and untouched. BUt not everyone: I remember seeing my Grandma Roschke’s bible (AK and BN, I believe, have Bible’s like this too...BK had one). Those bibles are far from mint condition: they seem like every page is tattered, the whole book swollen beyond the width of the spine, because someone’s been literally clinging onto it over the years, crinkling and folding pages, highlighting and bookmarking favorite verses, madly scribbling notes and prayers into the margins. And the salty water stains of tears have smeared the ink.
Often for those with bible’s like that, the page at the end of Romans Chapter 8, is an absolute disaster.
Paul wasn’t messing around. He gave us a life boat.
And right here, on a nice, summer Sunday morning, we get to visit it again. Interesting contrast, really -- at least at the moment, there’s no immediate crisis. In fact, it’s quite a lovely morning. We’re not hanging on for dear life. We get to walk around these verses, like taking a tour of the fire station, calmly admiring that big red vehicle, with all its ladders and hoses and First Aid. It looks so clean today, more like it belongs in a parade, not at the foot of burning building on the scene of a terrible tragedy.
But this firetruck-of-a-text actually and actively (it’s not just a relic) saves lives! Dousing the very flames of death, and rescuing suffocating sinners. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul gives us the most precious gift today: the very core of our theology (Know what that is?) -- “God’s got us.” The Spirit not only sits with us, She advocates and prays on our behalf. Jesus extends the ladder, soaks us with grace and mercy, and brings us at last to safety.
This is enough. AMEN.