I am convinced that neither death, nor 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.
Amen! Is there much more to say, beyond this? This absolutely beautiful, absolutely amazing statement in the letter to the Romans is one of the cornerstones of my faith. It is wonderfully comforting, wonderfully soothing… and yet, it can be scary sometimes, when we really think about what this means. God loves us. God loves me. God loves you – with such power that there is absolutely nothing that can break or even threaten that love. Even when we try to close ourselves off from God, we are not able to separate ourselves completely from that perfect, all-encompassing love. When we’re honest with ourselves, we know we don’t deserve to be loved in this way. We know our flaws, our brokenness, our pride and anger and envy and sloth (yes, and gluttony and lust and greed). We know the dark thoughts we think, and the feelings that we’d rather not share. And God knows all of these things, too, probably better than we know them ourselves… but God still loves us perfectly, completely, without reservation, so powerfully that nothing can separate us from that love.
This week’s gospel lesson contains a whole slew of analogies for God’s kingdom: the mustard seed, the yeast in the bread, the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price, the net in the sea. Each one of these analogies is worthy of its own reflection, its own meditation. Each one deserves a time where it is taken on its own, read and considered and then given space to let the words and ideas be digested. Alas, I’m not able to do this in one post here, and I know myself well enough to not promise to take one each day this week. 🙂 What I will observe is this: I read through these right after reading through the epistle reading, which ends with the words I quoted above. Thus, those words of St. Paul became the lens through which I read these analogies, so what sang to me through them was something a little bit different from what the words said, but I don’t think that makes it any less valid. Bear with me here.
God’s love for us is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.
God’s love for us is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.
God’s love for us is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, God’s love for us is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Again, God’s love for us is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.
The song I found in this gospel lesson, read through the lens of the epistle reading, is that once we find the tiniest glimmer of God’s love for us, that glimmer will expand throughout our hearts, our minds, our entire being, until we shine with the divine light for everyone around us to see. In twenty-first century America, Jesus might say the kingdom of heaven is like a virus, the tiniest of microbes, that can multiply and spread through your entire body, and move on to infect those you touch. And God’s love is like a virus – we tend to be most vulnerable to God’s love when we are weak, and once one is infected with it, it spreads through one’s entire life. It does go on to infect others, when we treat them with love and kindness.
The descant to the song is that God’s love is so powerful that even the most minuscule piece of love can have great effects on us and on those around us. Have you ever noticed that often it is the smallest of things that can turn a day from good to bad, or from bad to good? It can be something as minor as a smile from someone we encounter, a thank-you from your boss, or finding your favorite snack in the cupboard, purchased that day for you by your beloved. God’s love for us can manifest in these very small ways, but they hold such great power, these little grace notes, love notes from God.
I remember some years ago, I was stressed up to my eyeballs. My employer was preparing for a RIF, and none of us knew who would be staying and who would be laid off. I was interviewing for a new job, just in case, and one of my kids was sick, and nothing seemed to go right. And then, for three days running, I was graced with little love notes from God. The first day, when I arrived at work and parked my car, a butterfly landed on the windshield wiper right in front of me, and just sat there opening and closing its wings. The second day, as I was walking to my car to go get some lunch, a cloud of butterflies flew all around me, and I was surrounded by light fluttering wings of great color and beauty. The third day, I was trudging to the car after one of those days when I had a dozen tasks on my to-do list but got caught up in fire drills that took up the entire day, so that I didn’t get to a single item on my list for the day; I’d worked hard all day and gotten a lot done, but nothing I’d planned and hoped to accomplish, so I was tired and frustrated. On this day, a single butterfly flew down to me, and alit on my right arm. I stopped walking and stood still, just looking at this little creature, watching it open and close its wings, taking in and soaking up the beauty. And I realized that these three encounters with butterflies had been love notes from God, little mustard seeds or grains of yeast, hidden treasures or valuable pearls, viruses to infect me with that perfect, powerful love. I took a deep breath and watched in wonder as the butterfly took to flight again, focusing on its tiny body until I could no longer see it. The tiredness and frustration had drained from my body, soaked back into the earth, and a smile now graced my mouth. As I resumed my walk to the car, there was a new lightness to my steps, no more staring at the ground and trudging. I noticed all the gorgeous things around me, now that I’d been infected with love and beauty.
Jacob learned about God’s love for him, in last week’s reading from Genesis. He’d deceived and tricked and stolen his brother’s inheritance, and now was running away to his mother’s family, afraid, alone, in exile. While he slept in the desert with his head on a rock, he was given a love note from God, in the form of a dream. And this seed of God’s love expanded and spread through Jacob, so that in time, he could be renamed Israel, the father of the nation of God’s chosen people. This week, Jacob goes to work for his kinsman Laban, and he falls in love with Laban’s daughter(s?). I love the description of the two girls – Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob agrees to work for Laban for seven years in exchange for Rachel as his bride, but Laban tricks the trickster, and gives Jacob Leah instead. Then Jacob agrees to work another seven years to win Rachel, and Laban fulfills his end of the bargain honestly this time. The kingdom of heaven has been at work within Jacob during this time. He learns how to be happy, how to be satisfied with what he has, how to work honestly for the things that are worth having. He learns how to love and be loved, and finds himself graced with not one wife but with two, both lovely, both beautiful. In short, the seed of God’s love for him allows Jacob to recognize the things that are real, lasting, eternal among all the things of this world that are temporary, transitory, fleeting.
The first line of the epistle reading from Romans addresses this: The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. So often we pray and ask God for the things that are fleeting, but not for the things that are real and eternal. We may pray for the money to pay a debt or for our favorite sports team to win a game, but we don’t remember to pray for God’s love to touch us and those we love, or for the Holy Spirit to infect all people with peace. The collect for Sunday touches on this idea, too, asking God that we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal. It is often difficult to separate the temporal from the eternal, caught up in the busy-ness of living and forgetting that without [God] nothing is strong, nothing is holy. It is when we get all caught up in the temporal that God’s little love notes are so important, so powerful, and unfortunately so easy to miss. We need reminders of the mustard seed, the grain of yeast, the little pearl of God’s kingdom that is worth the sacrifice of all we have that is temporal.
So my friends, let us give thanks to the Lord and call upon his name, remembering that tiny seed of God’s love that is at work within our hearts, expanding to encompass all that we have and all that we are. Let us remember the marvels that God has done, sing praises to God, and speak of all God’s marvelous works. And let us remember that there is absolutely nothing that can separate us from God’s love, from the kingdom of heaven.
not things present
not things to come
not our flaws
not our deceitfulness
not our pride, greed, envy, sloth, lust, anger, gluttony
not our sins
not our virtues
not our children
not our parents
not our wealth
not our poverty
not our closed hearts
not our choices
not our illnesses or infirmities
not anything else in all of God’s Creation
can break us away from God’s love for us.