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“The Good Part”
One of the first hospital visits I ever did as a pastor was to a woman named Jane (not a coincidence). She was in her 80’s, and was a Texas woman through and through, hard enough to handle farm life, but kind, and sweet, and generous. I hadn’t met her before, but someone had told me she was in the hospital so I headed out. When I got to the hospital room and told her who I was, she looked me up and down, and said,
“I see you brought your Bible. Good. Romans 8. Read it.”
“Do you have a particular verse you want me to read, or….?”
“Just start from the beginning.” And so I did. I read her the whole chapter, and at the end of it she said,
“Read me the good part again.” Now in seminary and training, they teach you to be a good listener and not to make judgments about what someone might think. Don’t assume you know what someone is thinking or how they feel about something. So I said,
“And which part is the good part for you?” And she said,
“You know what I mean. Read me the good part again.”
And I did know what the good part is, and you should too, because I think it’s the fundamental message at the heart of the gospel:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor 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.”
Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Our passage for today does not include the good part—which is a crying shame, if you ask me—but that’s where it’s headed.
The reason that we’re reading this passage today is that it is Trinity Sunday. We interrupt our standard lectionary programming with a set of passages designed to help us meditate on the triune God. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not particularly good at theology, and a lot the finer points about the Trinity go over my head. Don’t get me wrong, I passed my ordination exams and everything. But when the theologians start to go at it, it all starts to seem like semantics to me.
When you get to that point, it’s okay to stop. The Trinity is not who we worship. The Trinity is a doctrine to help us understand the mystery of the God we worship. Spending too much time on the doctrine of the Trinity is kind of like taking detailed measurements of a finger in order to better understand what it’s pointing at.
The point of the Trinity is to help us understand and come to believe the good part – that nothing can separate us love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. It helps us understand that the nature of God is in relationship. And the defining characteristic of that relationship is love. God is love, we read a few weeks ago, but for there to be love there must be relationship, the one who loves and the one who is loved and the love itself.
In the cross, God’s love is revealed to us in a three-part way. Jesus suffers with us, God defeats evil and delivers us, and the Holy Spirit unites us with Christ and with God’s victory. The cross is God’s loving response to suffering. And in the cross, the love of each of the persons of the Trinity is revealed.
Jesus, in coming down to earth, became one of us. He knows the pains that we know, he knows the struggles that we deal with. And he spent his life walking amongst and caring for those who were forgotten, ignored, and abused. He healed the sick, cured the lame, and insisted that God’s kingdom was not defined by who it keeps out, but by who it lets in. His idea of God’s justice and mercy got him into trouble. We should take those ideas seriously enough to get into trouble too. Jesus’ love was to be with us. He lived as one of us, and he died as one of us: weak, and scared, and alone.
God delivered Jesus from death. God has always delivered. God delivered the people from Egypt, and God sent prophets and judges, warriors and priests. Always victorious, and always deeply in love with God’s children, the love of God delivers us from evil. Both the evil in our world and the evil of our own creation, sin. Jesus’ death was not defeat but the beginning of God’s victory. God’s love is to liberate us.
And the Spirit lifts us up to God. It is from the Spirit that we receive the grace of forgiveness of sins, and it is through the Spirit that the church is called to its holy purpose to proclaim the good news of God’s grace and pour it out on the world. The love of the Spirit adopts us so that we are a part of God’s victory. In the Spirit we are united with Christ and lifted up in God’s victory over sin and evil.
In our passage, Paul is talking about the role that the spirit plays in this divine dance, but he captures the whole thing. Starting towards the end of verse 15: “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” When we cry out to God, when we suffer, Christ suffers with us. And the Spirit unites us with God, who is victorious over all sin and suffering,
The Trinity is the relationship through which God’s love is made manifest. But it is the way that we experience God. In the Son, the God who loves us enough to suffer with us, in the Father, who delivers us from evil, and in the Spirit, who unites us with the Son and the Father and welcomes us into the heavenly banquet.
In the cross, Jesus unites himself with the abandoned and the forgotten and the defeated, so that through the Spirit we might be united with God in victory. This is the nature of God’s love. It is for God to be united with us in suffering so completely that we are united with God in holiness and victory. God’s response to suffering is to take it on Godself in such a way that God liberates us from all suffering.
This is God’s response to suffering. And the Christian response to suffering is like it. To stand with, and suffer with, those who suffer. To overthrow the evil which causes suffering, both the sin in ourselves and the powers that be.
And to welcome everyone into relationship with the God, knowing and proclaiming that nothing, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor 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.”