1 Kings 3:5-12 Psalm 119: 129-136
Romans 8:26-39 Matthew 12:31-33, 44-52
Last week I was interviewed by a reporter from the Daily Guard who asked me, “What is your favorite scripture?” I was about to say I didn’t have one, but stopped and responded by saying it is Jesus’ answer to the question “What is the greatest commandment?” His answer in said at the beginning of our Rite I service: “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And the second is like unto it, ‘thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.'”
When I was in seminary a priest told me that priests tend to preach on the same topic over and over again – and I realized fairly recently that I reference this scripture over and over again in my sermons. Love God and love one another. In the Rite I service, we include the next verse as well, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” So if Jesus said that everything we are taught in scripture flows from these two commandments, I think it is a theme worth repeating in my sermons and an appropriate choice for my favorite scripture.
However, as soon as I read today’s reading from Romans, I realized that it contains another of my favorite scriptures. Paul writes, “For 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.” This, of course, can be summarized as “nothing can separate us from the love of God – not even death itself.”
Some of us have tried, some of us have tried very hard to separate ourselves from God, but I agree with Paul. Absolutely nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God – not even the sins we have committed. Ultimately I believe God’s love will overcome anything we have done to distance ourselves from God. Those who believe this life is a test, a trail, and only those who commit their lives to Christ will be rewarded with eternal life, have a different understanding of this passage.
I believe that Christ’s victory over death demonstrates that Paul was right those who deny God by thought word and deed in this life will come to know and experience God’s love after their death. To think that the God who created the heavens and earth will fail to reach any one of us, is to underestimate the depth of God’s love for us. God never gives up on us.
Not only does Paul speak to the power of God’s love, he also asks, “If God is for us, who is against us?” And, “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” These questions speak to the depth of God’s love for you and for me.
Still, those of us who know God’s love fall short again and again and we do not follow the two great commandments . We know to love God and love one another; but we are unable to do so at times. So I find comfort in what Paul’s has written. And, the parable of mustard seed that Jesus tells in today’s gospel encourages me to keep trying. Jesus says of the mustard seed, “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.”
This parable encourages me because there are times when I don’t feel my faith is adequate for the task before me. Yet, this parable reminds me that God needs only a little to accomplish great things. As we say in one of the dismissal at Morning Prayer, “Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”
The gospel continues with more examples of what Jesus says the kingdom of heaven in like. It is easy to understand the hidden treasure and the pearl for which a person is willing to invest all they have to obtain it as meaning the kingdom of God is to be valued above all else. But then we have the parable of the net which catches both good and bad fish. Jesus says, “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Last Sunday, in our gospel, Jesus told the parable of the wheat and the tares – or weeds, in which at the harvest the wheat and the weeds are to be separated and the weeds thrown into the fire. Passages such as these two, seem to contradict what I was saying about Paul is writing – that nothing can separate us from the love of God suggesting instead that God’s love will ultimate destroy those who are evil.
I read one commentator simply make the point that although there will come a time when the good and bad are to be “separated and sent to their respective destinations,” this is God’s responsibility – not ours. I agree, but to this I would add that the furnace, or fire, is used to separate impurities from precious metals. And, if we believe that we are all created in God image, we can understand that though the process of removing impurities may be painful and result in weeping and gnashing of teeth, it is necessary to recover what is of value within each of us.
So, rather than, view this as referring to separating good people from bad people, I find it helpful to acknowledge that we are all flawed, in that we all sin and we suffer as a result. It may be painful to remember what we have done and to make amends, but it is necessary for us to move forward and follow the two great commandments.
Difficult, but not impossible because, it only takes a tiny bit of faith for God to accomplish wonderful things through us!
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, we give you thanks for showing us the depth of your love through your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us, we pray, to follow your commandments and use us to accomplish your purpose. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.