The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

THE LOVE THAT WON'T LET GO

Delivered 8/3/08
Text: Romans 8:31-39
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

A Sunday School teacher was telling the story of Abraham and his sacrifice of Isaac. With great drama, she made the narrative come alive - the three-day journey to Mt. Moriah, the pain of a father about to lose his boy, the child-like trust of a son, the hard stones of the altar to which the lad was lashed, the flash of the knife poised to strike. Suddenly a little girl became so nervous she shouted, "Oh, please, stop - the story is terrible," and she began to cry.

Laughingly and with wonderful confidence, another child exclaimed, "Oh, Mary, don't be silly. This is one of God's stories and they always come out right." (1) I say Amen!

So, I think would the Apostle Paul. Our lesson is from his letter to the Romans. Through the first eight chapters, Paul has been traversing the theological landscape - he has been reflecting on the pervasiveness of human sin, the impotence of the Law to make us righteous, God's judgment, the plan of salvation, justification by faith, the inner conflict between right and wrong, suffering. Now, like a magnificent attorney in summation of his case, Paul reaches his soaring conclusion:

Romans 8:31-39


YES! This is GOD'S story, and it WILL come out RIGHT! Paul has the unshakeable confidence that if God is on our side, nothing can ultimately defeat us. Why is the Apostle so certain? He recalls the incredible price paid for our redemption - if God "did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all" - incredible generosity, amazing grace - can you imagine that God would withhold anything else? Of course not!

But Paul knows that we will have concerns. We may have no doubt about God's power, but we may have serious doubts about our own worthiness. Perhaps our own failings will convince God to abandon us. Paul says NO - "It is God who justifies." It is God who has established this relationship with us and given us a clean slate; it is Christ who died for us and rose again who keeps that slate wiped clean.

A young man was observed to enter a Roman Catholic church at midday to kneel at the altar for a very few seconds and then depart. Day after day the scene was repeated. The priest's curiosity was stirred so one day he stopped the young man and asked why he did it and why his devotions were so brief. The lad replied that he had to come during his lunch break and that he had time for only a very brief prayer before reporting back to work. "What do you say?" asked the priest.

"I say, `Jesus, it's Jimmy,'" replied the lad. The priest was deeply moved.

Sometime later that priest stood in a bedroom...Jimmy's bedroom. Jimmy had not much time left. The priest reported that as he stood there in the silence, he heard an unmistakable voice: "Jimmy, it's Jesus." (2) Even death cannot "separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

But sometimes death is less of a problem than life. We are under attack from "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." Paul understood. There must have been moments when he wondered how he would continue for even one more day - he had suffered imprisonments, beatings, was often near death. To his friends in Corinth he wrote,
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (3)
In the brief lesson this morning he rolls off a similar litany of adversity: "hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword." For Paul, this was nothing exceptional, just day-to-day existence. We have a different set of day-to-day problems: tax audits, house payments (or foreclosures), cavities, arthritis, leaky roofs, crab grass, lawsuits, sleepless nights, noisy neighbors, flat tires, $4.00 gas, even boring sermons. Life may suffer no crushing blow but simply drags on from one day to the next with no apparent meaning, no aspiration, no adventure, no joy. Then add to the list the big things that DO shake us to the roots: failing marriages, rebellious children, abusive parents, dying loved ones, cancer, bankruptcy, alcoholism, drug dependency, unemployment. Paul's word is that not one of those, not the little things or the big things or even ALL those things put together can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (4)

That is good news. The good news to Christians in California whose lives have been charred and burned in recent weeks is that wind-whipped wildfires cannot separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. To Christians in the Midwest along the Mississippi, the good news is that massive floods and massive misery and massive clean-ups cannot separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. To Christians in the Middle East, the good news is that despite the devastation of your homelands by the armies of the "Christian" west, nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. To you and me living comfortably in Warren but sometimes faced with moments of quiet desperation, the good news is that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Oh love that wilt not let me go;
I rest my weary soul in Thee


Yes, there are moments when we feel like the little girl sitting on her bunk at summer camp and crying her eyes out. "Are you homesick?" asked the counselor.

"No," she whimpered, "I'm HERE-sick."

We know what she means. But remember, this IS God's story - you are a part of it; I am a part of it; this whole wide world and everything it holds is a part of it - and the story WILL come out right. Nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus. When a prayer is whispered, he is there. When the scriptures are opened, he is there. When the bread and cup are shared, he is there...with a love that won't let go.

Amen!

1. G. Ray Jordan, Beyond Despair, (New York: MacMillan, 1955), p. 163

2. Robert Luccock, If God Be for Us, (New York: Harper Bros., 1954), pp. 21-22

3. II Corinthians 11:24-28

4. H. Michael Brewer, "Preaching on the Lessons," Church Management - The Clergy Journal, Oct., 1990, p. 23

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