Our scripture readings this summer are following three primary texts: Genesis from the Hebrew texts, Romans from the New Testaments, and the Gospel of Matthew. We've talked about Genesis being a collection of stories told around the camp fires of nomadic people which were finally collated into a written text some 3000 years ago. Matthew, one of the Gospels is interested in showing how Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish Law – of what it means to love God, love self, and love others. Our reading this morning gives us images of the kingdom of God – what it looks like when God is active in creation, these are images of transformation and growth.
Paul's Letter to the Romans was written about 57/58, to a Jewish community in Rome that had been followers of Jesus for about a decade. It was written before the Roman Jewish war of 70, which divided the rabbi following Jews from the Jesus following Jews.
As the longest letter written by Paul, Romans is the most complicated and the most influential in the formation of Christian theology – particularly around the issue of God's judgment of humanity, also known as justification. Together our three texts remind us that God is invested in a relationship with human beings, that God poured out the fullest expression of God's love in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and that as Christians we live most fully into our relationship with God when we follow the teachings of Jesus by suspending our temptation to judge others and instead work to actively love God, love self, and love others.
Years ago I was a massage therapist. My primary ministry was working as a volunteer in a local hospital offering massages to parents of sick children. It was while doing this volunteer work that I learned a lot about suspending judgment. In the hospital were all kinds of situations – babies who had been there nearly a year – for whom I never saw the parents; singles moms struggling with failure to thrive infants; anxious parents tending to their sick child – sometimes at the expense of their healthy children at home; any number of situations. But my job, the job of everyone who worked on the Peds unit, was to set aside our judgment and understand that each family was doing the best they could to tend to the situation at hand. We had to understand that there were many details we knew nothing about, but our role was to be supportive of the family and help in every way we could. Setting aside judgment opened me to see the sorrow and fear and heartache of these children and their families.
Anyway, it was during this time of volunteer work that I began to discern a call to the priesthood. Part of that discernment time included praying with this reading from Romans. It was very helpful when I encountered so many tragic illnesses and sad situations.
Who among us has not experienced sighs too deep for words? This description of prayer resonates with my own prayer life and times when I have been so sad or overwhelmed by the injustices of the world, a sick and dying child, tragic violence like that in Norway, that I have no words. It reminds me of a book I once read called, Primary Speech. Written by a pair of Jungian analysts, the book describes prayer as coming from the core of our being. It is “said in our minds, the unvoiced longing rising from our hearts...” It is preverbal. It is “the unconscious voice that exists in us from the very beginning, the moment of birth. . . . [It] starts early in human life, with instincts and emotions.” Primary speech is inherent to human nature, as a primordial, wordless conversation with the divine, and so the authors of this book claim, there is never a time when we are not in prayer.
Everyone prays, whether we call it prayer or not. We pray every time we ask for help, understanding, or strength. The Spirit intercedes because it recoginizes our deepest yearning, she knows what is in our hearts, the Spirit resonates in and through the experience of all creation. The Spirit, as the active ongoing action of God's love enables the “love of God in Christ” to work in us, and nothing can separate us from it—not “hardship, or distress, or persecution,” to quote Paul. Not foreclosure, oil prices, climate change, nor economic collapse.
True, God does not prevent these things from happening— even Paul living in the first century knew this. God does not magically saves us from life’s traumas, rather as people of faith we can choose to put our trust in God who will not abandon us, no matter what we do or what gets thrown at us. God is present. God’s love is unwavering.
Paul says it well: For 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.
And God’s love is transformational, it's resurrection, for it is actively engaged in working all things together for good, even if we have no idea how God is doing this in our lives and the world around us.