Sermon from July 27th, 2014. The text for this week was Romans 8:26-39. May God’s blessing go with you this week and always.
God is the One Relationship We Can’t Screw Up
One of my mentors, Laurie McNeil, told the story of an old friend of hers when he was a young boy. He hitched a ride with his friend and his parents to family camp so that he could go up early. His parents had to work, and so they wouldn’t be able to get to family camp until the next morning. They told him, “You can go on ahead, just don’t get into trouble.” So until then, Bill and his friend had the run of the camp. They skipped stones in the lake. They caught crawdads in the creek. And they played this game where they took turns throwing a ball as hard as they could up against the wall of the fellowship hall. Until one of them threw the ball, and it went right through the sheet rock. When the director found out, he was furious. “You’re going to have to pay for the damage that you did!” Now the other boy’s father wasn’t pleased, but he was able to pay for his son’s half of the damages and send him on his way with a warning to be more careful. But Bill knew that his parents didn’t have any money to spare. Bill’s Mom and his Dad were both working all the time, just to keep Bill and his siblings in shoes and socks. Bill thought about how mad his Dad would be when he came up tomorrow to find out that Bill had broken a wall, and they would have to pay for the damages. He spent the rest of the afternoon ashamed of what he’d done and afraid of how much trouble he’d been in.
It’s the waiting, that’s the hardest part. When my brother and I boys, sometimes my Mom wouldn’t feel up to spanking us. She’d make us wait until Dad got home, and then present ourselves to Dad in his big leather chair and ask for him to give us the spanking. It was the waiting that was the terrible part. The spanking would just last a moment, but the waiting seemed to drag on and on. I couldn’t do anything to get it out of my head, nothing was fun because all I could think about was the fact that I was in trouble.
The waiting is the worst part because you know that something is wrong in your relationship. And it feels bad to have something wrong in your relationship with someone. Whether it is a harsh word that you had with a friend or colleague or an old wound that festers in your mind, it hurts to not be in right relationship with someone. That’s why we teach children how to apologize at such a young age, even before they can really understand what it means. To apologize is to seek to restore a broken relationship, and we know how important that is. To live life without apology is to live a life separated from and in conflict with our brothers and sisters.
Some relationships, however, are too broken for apologies. Sometimes we do more damage in our relationships than we have the ability to heal. There are conversations we will always regret. Friends we won’t get back. Conflicts that won’t be resolved. Other times, people refuse to see the wounds that they have influcted upon us. There are apologies owed, but never given. Relationships that end because the abuse will not stop.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul is talking about our relationship with God. Many of us struggle to be in right relationship with God. A sin at its very heart, is something that separates us from God. Sin, whether it is committed against God or our neighbor, damages our relationship with God. That’s why we come and confess each and every week. We apologize to God for the sins that we have committed against God and our neighbor as an attempt to restore us into right relationship with God.
I think a lot of us see our relationship with God in the same way that we see our relationships with other people. And for those of us whose lives hold the wreckage of broken relationships, failed reconciliations, and deep wounds, we can believe that our relationship with God, like our past relationships, can be too broken to fix. Or we simply find ourselves stuck. We know that the relationship has gone off track somewhere, but we don’t know how to repair it.
And for all of us who have gotten off track with God, Paul’s words to the Romans are good news. He tells us that our God is not a God who distantly withholds affection when we aren’t doing right. God is constantly seeking relationship with us. God is taking the responsibility to restore us to right relationship, and God has promised that it will come to a good end. In other words, God is the only relationship that we can’t screw up, because God is taking on the burden of restoring us to Godself.
And God does this by sending Jesus Christ to die for us and the Holy Spirit to intercede for us. In 2nd Corinthians 5, verse 19, it says “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” God placed Christ in the position of judge and redeemer. What happens when the jury and the defense attorney are one and the same? Paul says to the Romans, “Do you think that Christ died for you so that he could condemn you to death? No! He died so that he could raise you to life!”
What does it mean for us that God is the one relationship we can’t screw up? When you think you are forsaken, you are not. When you think you are forgotten, you are not. When you think you have made too many mistakes, broken too many hearts and bodies and relationships, and it is too late for you to be redeemed, it is not. Because neither death, not 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!
When Bill’s dad showed up at the church retreat center the next morning, the director was there to tell him what happened. He looked at the hole in the wall, and he looked at Bill. He didn’t say a word. And he asked the director if he could talk to him for a minute. Then he left. And he came back with drywall, compound, and paint. And without saying a word, he started patching up that wall. Bill was absolutely floored. Here he had made this mistake that was going to cost them money and one of their few weekend trips, and his Dad didn’t have a single harsh word for him. He just silently went in and repaired the breach.
This is the love that God has for us. This is who God is. When we have failed too many times, broken too much, hurt too much, God himself, in the form of Jesus Christ, comes in and repairs the breach. This is the kind of love that is hard to accept, but glorious to receive. It is the promise that there is nothing that can separate us from God, and that if we want to be redeemed and set once again into right relationship with God, all we need do is stay close and trust the one who has promised to make everything right. This is the love that we have in Christ Jesus. And if you have experienced that love, either from God or from God acting through someone else, maybe you can help someone else experience it too.