Nothing...Nothing Stops the Spirit

The Voyage Home  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  26:45
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The powers of the world want to hold us back, to stop our movement home, to stifle our imagination for a world where God reigns and all is made right. But the Holy Spirit will not let this happen. Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is calling us forward into that new day. No power of hell, no scheme of man, no might of empire: when we are called home, we are called home.


26 Likewise 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. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

God’s Love in Christ Jesus

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 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? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;

we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.

We continue on in the book of Romans this week and celebrate the powerful persistence of the Spirit of God, welcoming us home in Christ. Last week, we ended with the reality check that what we hope for is yet unseen — we wait in patience.
Don’t we want to come home? We can’t wait much longer, can we? We say, how long, O Lord, must we wait?
Out of the groaning of our hearts, we sometimes run out of words. Thankfully, today we hear that the Spirit “intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” I love this phrase. In fact, this passage today is littered with some of the most powerful affirmations of God’s faithfulness we find in Scripture. Those sighs, too deep for words: Those are the deep rumblings of longing and truth and hope that we don’t even know are in us. They are the subconscious, the sub-subconscious. In our weakness, the Spirit of God who has invited us to rest at home in Them speaks for us what we cannot even utter. More than we even know, the Spirit is welcoming us home into Christ, to our truest home, our deepest belonging of self and who we are meant to be — found not in playing by the rules of the Empire, but letting our deepest groanings be known and spoken for us by the Spirit.
And we hear that this is good. Very good. For those who have found their home in Christ, when we are always a bit skeptical about whether we belong elsewhere in the world, whether we’ve got it right and all together and we’ve checked all the boxes — for those who instead find their home in Christ, there is not threat of being homeless again.

But the Struggle Continues

When we’ve come home in Christ, we cannot be made homeless again. And life will continue to be hard. Because we live in a tension between our home in Christ, within the world, and a world that is still trying to make us homeless, untether us, and detach us from that hope we’ve found.
This is where the challenge of the Christian journey makes the most sense to me. Not that God is not faithful or just or good. But that I am constantly torn away (or tempted to be torn away) by lesser loves, other homes that look intriguing, penultimate desires that will feed my need for release in the moment, but ultimately leave me hanging and hungry and homeless.
This past week, I watched a movie called Vivarium. It’s a bit of mystery and mind-boggling story. A young couple ventures out with a real estate agent to look at a new housing development. They have the starry eyed look about them, searching for the ideal home for their life together. They also have the apprehension of savvy young home buyers: they aren’t about to just be sold on any old house — it needs to be ideal.
I won’t ruin the plot for you, because it’s an interesting story, but the thing I take away from the movie is that we often settle for a place or a home that makes us feel like we’re checking off all the right boxes. Good yard, good view, nice neighbors, etc. But what we discover is that is not what makes a home. A home is only found when those who inhabit it are at peace, at rest in living there. Perfect architecture and a beautifully manicured lawn may indeed hide a great deal of sorrow, anxiety, and heartache. Just because its a house, doesn’t mean its a home.
And that’s what I think we’re challenged with in the Christian journey. Its what the Roman Christians were up against: They had to wrestle with whether they would accept that the Empire has essentially made them homeless and instead seek to find their home in Christ alone.
There are a lot of reasons to pick the picture perfect house. It’s safe, it plays by the rules of society. There are a lot of reasons to settle for Caesar and the rule of law of the Empire — it provides security, stability, and a sense of protection. On the other hand, finding home in Christ presents those who follow with the prospect of being on the margins, having to stand against the powers of the world, finding grace and mercy, but also struggle and difference.
When you push back against the stable home the empire provides, you rattle against the status quo and the power of the dominant perspective.
I think we’ve seen a fascinating example of this play out as we’ve watched the COVID-19 pandemic sweep our nation. There is a strong sentiment amongst many who make their home in our country that our individual liberties and freedoms empower us to make our own decisions about how we will maintain safety and health amidst this pandemic. Specifically, we see this in the argument about whether people should be wearing masks in public spaces. When we find our home in Rome, in the Empire, we yield to ideological practices and perspectives that say individual liberties are most important. That’s part of what it means for us to find our home in the American empire, is it not? It’s generally accepted, standard operating procedure. That’s a practical way that some of our neighbors are living out their “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”
That is all well and good — except for when it contradicts another agreed upon principle of “all being equal.” And then, when you throw on top what it means to give allegiance to the way of Jesus first and foremost in our lives, we find a stronger contradiction to the commandment to love our neighbor as we love our self.
The pursuit of liberty is fine…but it is also a tool of the empire to ensure that unity is harder to establish, an ideal we pursue in hope for mutual care and concern (which are very Christian ways of being). And so it brings the question we’ve been asking through this whole study of Romans to the forefront: to which Kingdom do we belong? Which is our home: the Empire, or the family of God?
You may say we can have both. Certainly! We can…mostly. But there will always be time when the priorities of which home comes first will challenge each other.
This is what the Roman Christians faced. They were not so much persecuted for having faith in Jesus — it was more that their faith and belonging in the family of God was at oftentimes at odds with or contradictory to the practices of the Empire and therefore they were challenged to examine and choose priorities: Is Jesus where you find home, even if it means giving up some of the power and privileges of the Empire?
When you challenge the status quo, when you push against the normal practices of the culture, when you step outside of the norm of the manicured lawn or the perfect career or the picturesque family photos and you adopt a pattern of living in the way of Jesus instead…it begins to challenge your place in the Empire.
Unfortunately, the home we find in the Empire is more fickle and more easily offended than the home we find in Jesus. This is the bad news: when you make your home in the ways of the Empire and then step out of line, you risk losing your home, your place, your power, your position.
Continuing with the example of wearing masks in public, we even realize that right now, the problem is compounded because there has been lack of unambiguous leadership about whether people should wear masks to protect the vulnerable. So who’s doing it right? Should we or shouldn’t we? Ok, not clear, well, let’s divide and push against each other and live in conflict and confusion: this is a ploy of the powers of the world to undermine collective action and unity that people who live in community ought to practice. Said practically for our context: we’re going to ask you to wear a mask here at the church when we are back in the building. Not to tread on your liberty…but because the mutual care and concern for one another that we abide by as followers of Jesus supersedes liberty and personal expression. We mean no disrespect, but liberty is less important than the self-sacrifice we practice in the house and way of Jesus.
Sorry…but not really sorry.
Out in the Empire, the disunity of the rules allows the Empire to stay in control. And perhaps even tells us that some of us don’t belong here, that it’s not everyone’s home, that we may in fact be pushed aside.

Home in Christ

Thankfully, with that bad news, and with this passage in particular, we find that home in Christ is quite different.
Once we have found our home in Christ’s house — we will never be homeless again.
“Nothing can separate us from the love of God; nothing can make us homeless again.”
In the second section of this morning’s text, vs. 31-39, we hear the powerful affirmation of our permanent belonging in the house of God. This house is not going anywhere and we are not going to lose our place in it.
“If we are welcomed home in Christ, then who can render us homeless? If Christ has died and risen and now sits at the right hand of God, then who can separate us from his love? No one and no thing!” (Disarming Romans)
If God is for us, who is against us? Will God not give us a space in this house?
There are lots of things we might consider threats to our home in Christ. For example: hardship or distress, persecution or famine, nakedness, peril, the sword? How about unjust laws? How about lack of financial stability? How about offering sanctuary to the poor, the widow, the immigrant, or orphan? Those things might separate us from the house of the Empire — they push us out of generally accepted standards of living, right?
But here’s the good news, the Good News of the Gospel. Distress, persecution, instability, famine, pandemic, injustice: These are nothing. You want a list of powerful things? Those simple issues have been conquered...
How about these, will these kick us out of the house of God? Death, life, angels, rulers, things happening right now, things in the future, powers of the world, height, depth…really, like…anything in the whole of creation? How about those? Can those things separate us, make us homeless again, kick us out of the house of God?
The New Revised Standard Version God’s Love in Christ Jesus

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.

For I am convinced.
Feel those words, feel the strength and certitude in them. So few things can be called secure these days. And so it would have been for Paul and the Roman Christians. So few things were certain for the ones who would challenge the status quo of the Empire, who would choose to stand outside its rules in any way.
And yet, Paul speaks with deep conviction. Feel how those words would be coming out of your mouth: For I am convinced!
Friends: When you’ve come home in Christ, you’re home.
Never forget this. Never fear that you do not belong.
Certainly, we’re a messy bunch of people and we’ll do things from time to time that make each other feel like maybe we don’t belong. That’s what it means to be human. And we say we’re sorry, we seek forgiveness, we patch things up.
But hear how different, starkly different, this is from the affirmation we receive as the ones who belong in the house of God: Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nothing stops the Spirit, who is working on our behalf. Nothing makes us homeless again. Not even social distance. Not even masks. Not even race and bias and injustice. Not even differences of our own opinions, not even our wars or ideological squabble. This stuff doesn’t separate us from God’s house. It might be used to separate us from the powers of the Empire, to push us into a state of homelessness and unbelonging in the world.
But nothing stops the Spirit of God that is inviting us and welcoming us home.

What Home Looks Like

What does home look like, by the way?
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus explains what the Kingdom or Reign of God looks like by using parables, stories that invite us to have a greater imagination and understanding of what that home looks like. He paints provocative pictures of what the Kingdom is and will be and how people abide in it.
Today, I want to simply synthesize those parables and say this: The Kingdom is here. The home, in Christ, is right here. Because its not about mansions or fields of glory or just making it to the streets of gold. Our home in Christ looks like you and me and all of us, in mutual, loving, supportive relationship with each other, for the glory of God. It looks like caring for the sick and the brokenhearted. It looks like singing together and laughter and love. It looks like seeing your faces and seeing Christ in you. This is home.
Would you like to come in? We’re so very glad you’re here.
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