Jeremiah 31:31-34 "Behold, the days are coming, says YHWH, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors, when I took them by the hand and brought them up out of the land of Egypt- a covenant they broke- though I was their spouse, says YHWH. But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says YHWH. I will put my Law in their minds and on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will they have to teach one another or remind one another to listen to YHWH. All of them, high and low alike, will listen to me, says YHWH, for I will forgive their misdeeds and remember their sins no more.
Romans 8:31-19 What should be our response? Simply this:"If God be for us, who can be against us?" Since God did not spare the only begotten, but gave Christ up for the sake of us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that God will freely give us everything. Who will bring a chage against God's chosen ones? Since God is the only one who justifies, who has the power to condemn? Only Christ Jesus, who died- or rather, was raised- and sits at the right hand of God, and intercedes for us! What will separate us from the love of Christ? Trouble? Calamity? Persecution? Hunger? Nakedness? Danger?Violence? As scripture says, "We are being killed all day long; we're looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered." Yet, in all this we are more than conquerors because of God who has loved us. For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither heights nor depths- nor anything else in all creation- will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Savior.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God... that's a big, powerful claim by the Apostle Paul. It sounds so permanent- like God's love is there all the time- that it's unbreakable- Nothing can separate us from the love of God sounds like to words that we usually reserve for things that we are sure of (like death and taxes) that come whether we want them to or not, even without our permission, or less negative- things that we can count on no matter what, like the sun coming up every morning... NOTHING can separate us from the love of God.
These words were written in the first century, to people in a small church in one of the largest cities in the world- Rome. The church people were trying to figure out how to live in a new way that would follow Jesus's radical love. But that way looked very different than the way their neighbors lived, or their friends acted, and definitely very different than what their laws said. Jesus walked around from place to place taking to people about how much God loved them- no matter what. It didn't matter who the person was- rich or poor, sick or well, Jesus went there.... even to places where you and I would probably never go, talking to people he wasn't supposed to talk to, touching people who society said were throw-away's, unlovable- by virtue of who they were, or what they'd done, or for any of 100 reasons, were looked at by the bulk of the world as beyond hope. (do you know anyone, beyond hope?).
Jesus's message to those beyond hope was very simple: "God loves you." God loves you. To people who had been told their whole lives that they were worthless, or evil, or unloveable, 'beyond hope' to hear a message like that must have sounded almost ridiculous. After all, no one was deemed beyond hope without good reason- something had happened in that person's life, whether they did something themselves or whether something was done to them, to cause society to push them to the sidelines, or lock them away, or exclude them from community. Hmmmm, now beyond hope doesn't seem so foreign... we do that to people all the time, don't we?
Those of you in schools, don't you know someone who has made a mistake, or two... and now is no longer your friend, or anyone's friend? And we write them off, and go sit with our friends in the cafeteria- who cares... they did it to themselves. Or that one kid who just never fit in, even in kindergarten, he was weird- I'm not going to talk to him- or that girl who always throws herself at every boy in school- forget her- I'm not having people think I'm friends with her... beyond hope?
And it's not just in school, is it? That sense of judgement follows us our whole lives, from working, to living in neighborhoods and cities together, to functioning as a society & nation... it's our pattern- we size someone up based on whatever standards we've set, or whatever we are feeling at the moment, and then we slap a label on them,- good or bad, acceptable or not- in or out. After all I don't want to be caught at work with that guy who is always late, or never meets his deadlines- what will the boss thing of me? ANd how about that guy down the block who never talks to anybody, yard full of weeds and bare spots... its an eyesore... hopeless- why don't they just move somewhere else instead of bringing our property values down? One person told me that when she meets someone for the first time, she asks about their political party affiliation because she doesn't want to waste time with someone who doesn't believe like she does... "beyond hope" .
Thank goodness for the church, right? Because at church, everyone can find a home- everyone can embrace Jesus' message of "God loves you" right? Except the church has traditionally been no better than the rest of the world when it comes to unconditional love... I know that some of my best friends have been told they were unlovable just because of the way they look- or the color of their skin. Some of my friends have been told God wants to love them, but can't because of who they choose love, or their gender identification. Some of my friends have been told they were not welcome anywhere near God (not by God of course... but by other people who claimed to know God's mind.) because of mistakes they've made, or crimes they committed. Some have been told that unless they live differently, unless they change their behaviors, or get rid of addictions, or get 'right with God' they aren't really acceptable...
We are very good at telling each other how we don't measure up to God's standards.
ANd you know why?
Because, sometimes... just sometimes... the message of "God loves you", almost sounds ridiculous to me! Sometimes I dont recognize any God in me at all- I just feel disobedient, or worse I feel lost, and alone... and at those moments, I don't know how to get back to God, to find God.
I mean, each of us know ourselves... don't we? I know who I am (I think) or at least the things I'e done. I know that I haven't always been the best person- I know that I have thoughts inside my head that aren't always good... I know that sometimes I do things that I wouldn't want anybody to know about, much less God- things I'm not proud of. Worse, I know that even when I try to behave well, I slip up- I know that my past actions have really hurt some people, and I know in my heart, I'm going to do things that will hurt others in the future. I've been one of those people who sizes people up, and slaps labels on them, and excludes people when it benefits me and wishes people would move... sometimes I see injustice, or people being treated unfairly, and i don't step in to help, in fact, sometimes I thank God it's not me that ti's happening to... I know that's wrong... but... it's me... it's me... I'm the one, beyond hope... And God could still love me- no matter what?
Centuries before the Apostle Paul wrote the words, ;nothing can separate us from the love of God;, the prophet Jeremiah was sent to preach to a very broken, very divide people- people who decided they would do things on their own- who built walls around their hearts so that they didn't have to remember they were God's people, and that God loved them... they embraced instead a mindset that they were beyond hope.. they had no idea how to get back to God- to find God- lost... and so Jeremiah's message to the people was simple... God loves you, no matter what. Jeremiah told the people, the way you are living right now, and the heartache and brokenness you are living through are consequences of not embracing God's love for you... you've stopped teaching each other about love- you've stopped reminding each other about God's forgiveness and grace- and now you are a broken people.
Now for you or I, being God for one imaginary moment in that situation, I can picture writing off the people at that point- saying- look, I gave you love, you rejected it, so now I'm done with you. But God doesn't do that... instead, to a people who admittedly were beyond hope, God does something even more radical... God says, "the love I love you with is an everlasting, or steadfast love... and because your hearts have blacked you from feeling that love, So, I'm going to not only break down the walls you've put up around your hearts, I will write my law right on your hearts, meaning, at the core of your being... you won't have to rely on anyone to tell you what's right or wrong, you wont have to look to find me anymore because no matter how lost you fel, you will be found- from now on, I'll find you!- I will find you... you wont ever have to feel alone- you just have to look to the core of your being, your heart... and you will know my love, you will know me because it is within you...
Yes- its easy to forget this message... its easy to forget God's law and gods love lives within us... but its the reason God sent Jesus with that simple message that changed the world. It's why the apostle paul was affirming and reaffirming that message every time he wrote... it's the reason God intends for us to be in community with each other, so that we can continually soften each other's hearts, continually remind and encourage each other that we are not, no matter hat you think, or feel, no matter what you think yove done or how beyond hope you think you are, that God loves you... you're are never beyond hope- when youre feeling alone, and lost, just look within you... God is already there..