So I said last week that we would be taking on these passages from Romans as sort of a 2-part endeavor. We left off with a call for living in hope – a holy sort of hope that’s not dependent on our being optimistic about the state of our world
Which is a good thing, right? Because it’s not like this week has been a whole lot brighter. We’ve still got those things I mentioned by name last week – children fleeing violence in their Central American communities, bombs killing civilians in Palestine and Israel, grieving families and a stunned world coping with the Malaysian plane’s downing – and this week we add in some other air disasters and plenty of other ongoing wars and those specific seering things in our own lives. Those are still with us.
But even when we can’t put our burdens or our blessings into words, we’re still called to that hope in God, through God.
So that’s where left off last week here in the 8th chapter of Paul’s letter to the people of Rome. We’re going to pick up from there.
We’re going to get there first by way of a story.
I love blueberries. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I ate so many that it’s amazing that she didn’t come out with a blue tinge to her. I can eat them by the handful and then another handful. Well, last week I took the kiddo to camp – up in the mountains there is a sign we’ve passed over the years. A pick your own blueberries place. I noticed it again as we drove up. After I dropped her off, I had some time. The weather was cool and cloudy, which is good and rare blueberry picking weather. It was a weekday, so I figured it wouldn’t be too crowded. Enh, why not stop?
Now it had been raining – that’s an important point in the story. It had rained pretty hard for a bit. That was actually good for me. I had one of the dogs with me, so having it cool & cloudy, post-rain, meant I didn’t have to worry about her staying in the car. It’s hard to pick blueberries and hold a dog leash at the same time.
The sign said it was ¾ of a mile off the main road, so I went bumping down this deeply rutted, muddy dirt road. ¾ mile is a pretty good ways on a bad road, but I finally got there without losing my oil pan. I pulled in as some other folks were leaving. They cautioned me about the chiggers. I’ve learned to keep bug spray with me so I was good there.
The place had an old shack with gallon jugs sitting out, a box where you could drop in your money. $8.00 gallon. I left $10. I figured I’d eat at least $2.00 worth while I was picking – and long row after long row of blueberry bushes. Are you with me? Can you see it?
I walked in a couple of rows. Lots of folks only go that far, I figured those would be picked over). And I started picking — up, straight ahead. And then – then I looked down at the ground. And I saw there were all kind of blueberries on the ground. A few were rotten, but most of them were perfectly good – and in fact, perfectly ripe. They’d mostly been knocked off by that hard rain that had just passed through. So there were all these wonderful blueberries down on the ground where they were going to go to waste. We had blueberries up high and blueberries down low. But these blueberries on the ground, they would get overlooked, stepped on, squished. By everybody who comes along and just looks up and right in front of them. They were going to go to waste. And that was a shame.
Now some of y’all might have figured out where I’m going with this. We have a culture where a lot of people end up on the ground. Our society treats a lot of people as disposable. This is especially true of folks in certain categories – this came up last week too, some of this living by the ways of the world, the ways of the flesh. IF you are poor. If you are black or brown. If you are gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender or queer. If you have a disability. If you are old or if you are a child. If you don’t speak English. If you are a woman. If you are any of those things or several of those things, you have a greater chance of being considered disposable by the world that runs on money and power and imposes its definitions of what’s considered preferable.
Plenty of people knocked to the ground. Overlooked. Without value. Disposable.
Now if that’s where you were thinking I was going with this, you’re right. And you’d be right to guess that I knelt down and picked up a bunch of those blueberries there on the ground – and felt a little self-righteous about doing so.
But there’s a little more and it’s important.
What I discovered as I picked blueberries off the bushes was that if I wasn’t careful, I would knock some other berries off too – knock them right down to the ground.
And it got even worse. I noticed that even when I WAS careful, I still ended up knocking some down.
It’s easy for me to be a part of the problem too.
So here we are – called to a holy sort of hope in a world that treats a whole bunch of people (people like some of us in this room) as disposable – in a world of war and pain and cruelty. In a world of famine and peril and persecution. In a world of the sword.
It’s the way things are done. We have all of this against us. All of this done through us. At times done in our name and by our own hand. If God is for us, who is against us? Paul asks. The fact is that our own material world works against us all the time. The ways of the world even make us work against ourselves and our brothers and sisters in life. I knocked some of those blueberries to the ground myself, didn’t I?
And then Paul says: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. And I say really? Really? I mean really? All things work together for the good? Really?
Somehow we have to get from there to here – from discarded people – from good fruit of the spirit, good fruit of MANY spirits that’s left overlooked, disposable, discarded and we have to go from there to ‘all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose’
That’s our holy hope – that IS where we are going to end up. But let’s figure out how to get there – because we all need to get there together.
We understand what our culture teaches us – the way of the flesh, a path of death, a path of trampling on others – and often getting trampled on ourselves. A path of failing to see the richness of the folks on the ground.
But here is literally our saving grace – God is for us. God. IS. FOR. US. God wants us to live out God’s path of love, which we SEE INCARNATE in life of Jesus – neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, — Paul is pure poet here — nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is counter-cultural. It is not the way of the world. It is not easy. But, Paul says, 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. We have help – and love – even when we don’t have words.
I barely even have to preach this – PAUL preaches it himself.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are being accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, — Paul says No — in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
So nothing separates us from the love of God. That love is all over that blueberry patch. Right at eye level, way on up high, right down at the knees, and definitely, surely, certainly, there on the ground. It is a single, constant, never-fading, never-ebbing love.
It is there for us, not just for us to take – but to let flow through us. Nothing can separate us from it. But we have to let ourselves see it. We have to feel it for ourselves. And then we are called to share it.
Let’s talk about this notion of calling for a moment. We’ve got those who are called according to God’s purpose.
Brothers and sisters, we are all called. Every one of us. We are called to live in this love. To be more than a conqueror – there are plenty of conquerors in this world of ours. God wants us to transcend the conqueror goal and reach for something better.
The specifics may vary, but each and every one of us has a call. We are called to dwell in the spirit of God’s love. We are all called to walk in the path of Jesus, however that makes itself manifest in our own lives.
When we live that out, when we take that idea deep inside ourselves and we let God work in us and through us, then we are participating in all things working together for the good.
It will not necessarily be easy – it can be difficult to swim against the culture of the death of the spirit. God may justify us, God may call us in a spirit of adoption, but God didn’t exactly make it easy for Jesus, now did he? – he did not withhold his own Son. We may not have to follow that call into death, like Jesus did or thousands of early century Christians did, but we can expect some challenges along the way.
But none of that, none of those challenges, none of it can separate us from the love of God. There’s the hope. There is the goodness.
Before we are done, let’s make sure we’ve got it.
There’s a passage we read last week, chapter 8 verses 24-25. – Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
We come back to this place of hope, this place where we hope for things unseen. And you know what? I CAN’T SEE how all things are going to come together for the good. Talk about unseen. . . But hope that is seen is not hope, right? Things that are proven don’t require faith. So I can live in the certainty of cynicism – there is plenty of visible evidence to support that assessment . I can be persuaded by the voices of death in our culture that it’s okay to treat people as disposable. I can give up on goodness.
Or I can tap into God’s ever-present, ever-abiding love, that love from which we cannot be separated. God calls us there. God calls us to be so infused with that love that we believe, even though we can’t see it, that all things will come together for the good.
And here’s the thing – we have no way to know. People live and die each day, people get stepped on and crushed by the ways of the world. It can be pretty awful to witness and worse to live through. But I can promise you this. If you pattern your life after that love, suffused with wisdom as you pick it up along the way, your spirit will experience that goodness. I’m not talking about heaven. I’m talking about here.
That spirit, that goodness is God within each of us. There will be rough moments, but if you live in and through God’s love – which is accessible to us all – then you. will. experience. God’s. goodness. The ways of the world — the troubles and the travails — they will not vanish. But You will know God’s goodness within yourself, no matter what is going on in the world around you.
God does not waste anything or anyone. God engages what is best in our spirits. No matter what, you will have that. No matter what, you can live in the fullness of responding to God’s call. And. that.is.good.