Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Not Even Death

Romans 8:31-39
Tuesday, 8 July 2008

There is a poignant and pivotal scene in the movie The Color Purple, when Celie and her sister Nettie are being forcibly separated because of the evil heart of Celie's husband Mister. As Nettie is dragged away, Celie yells, "Write." Nettie stands up straight and looks past Mister into her sister's eyes, "Nothing but death will keep me from it."

I think of this scene because the issue of disconnection is also at the heart of today's lesson, one of the most famous passages in all of Scripture. The passage is a declaration of love and victory. It reminds us as believers that God has cast the decisive vote in our favor, and because God is for us no one and nothing can succeed against us. Then Paul encourages us to imagine a list of everything that might arise to challenge the God who is on our side. Hardship and distress rear their heads, but fall quickly in a battle against God. Those foes are followed by every other category of challenge that might arise to defeat us by separating us from the love of Christ. The conclusion: Nothing in creation can separate us from Christ's love.

The sisterly love that Celie and Nettie share in Alice Walker's novel transverses a lifetime without contact, the machinations of Mister who withholds Nettie's letters, and even the Atlantic Ocean, joining their hearts even while their bodies are separated. It is a great love, but God's love is greater. And as believers we give thanks for the love of Jesus that has defeated death - a love so strong that not even death can keep us from it.

Sing, "Jesus Loves Me"

Let us pray:
Almighty God, in whom we live and love, we are awestruck by the depth and consistency of your love for us in Christ Jesus. Yet despite our inability to understand it, we rejoice in its certainty. We thank you for the way that living in your love intensifies our ability to love. But most of all, we thank you for your victory over our greatest enemy death and for the eternal love we share because of you. Amen

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Free Indeed

Matthew 11:16-30
Sunday, 6 July 2008

Over the last several days the word freedom has been on our minds. It happens every year on July 4th when this nation celebrates its independence. We are reminded of our unalienable rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" here in the "land of the free and the home of the brave," a place of "liberty and justice for all." Yet for all the importance that the words liberty and freedom conjure, there are also misguided notions of what those words mean, exemplified in the sarcastic words of an errant child justifying her/his disobedience and recklessness with the words "It's a free country."

Just as children often misunderstand the meaning of freedom, especially in their teen years, defining it as the ability or right to do whatever they want, especially the wrong thing, we Christians too sometimes see ourselves as most free when we are least within the will of God. Yet Jesus' words seek to right our wrong understanding of what it means to be free and at rest. The beginning of our liberty is not found in the Declaration of Independence but rather in the recognition of our utter dependence on Christ lovingly to direct us into right paths. Our first step toward true freedom responds to the most blessed invitation ever offered. Jesus beckons, "Come to me." We exchange the yoke of sin which is too burdensome to bear, for the yoke of discipleship which is easy and light.

So much of what it means to mature is to recognize the difference between what seems good and what actually is good. This is true also of spiritual maturity. Lawlessness and faithlessness attract us with their empty promises of true fulfillment and joy, but they leave us ultimately empty and burdened. Embracing the way of Christ, and more importantly, having Christ embrace us leads to true joy and fulfillment. Whom the Son sets free is free indeed.

Sing, "Come Unto Me"

Let us pray:
Loving Savior, it is sometimes hard for us to admit how tired we actually are of living our own way. We have been oppressed so long that we struggle to imagine that real freedom and rest are even possible. Grant us in this moment simply to take your word for it. Draw us near to you so that we may be freed by taking on your yoke, by living life your way. Amen