The Love of Christ We Offer Others
[from the Sermon Series, WHERE’S THE GOOD IN THE NEWS]
Evil can kill a person, but never conquer a people
P. O’Neil, Ottawa Citizen, Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Romans 8:28, 31-35, 37-39 (NRSV)
… at least 100,000 people rallied in Oslo and tens of thousands more marched in cities across Norway in a nationwide expression of grief and unity over the massacre. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg addressed the evening crowd, many of them holding up red and white roses for remembrance, his voice trembling with emotion: “By taking part you are saying a resounding ‘yes’ to democracy.’ He called the Rose March a ‘march for democracy, a march for tolerance, a march for unity. Evil can kill a person, but never conquer a people.’ [Excerpt from Ottawa Citizen]
Just read today’s Citizen – Saturday July 30. There’s an article on page A6 “Norway begins to say goodbye to victims” – blew me away! The first funeral of the 77 dead was just held yesterday. It was for a Muslim teenager, Bano Rashid, 18, an immigrant from Kurdistan, who had written on the evils of racism. She was killed at the summer camp (her younger sister escaped). It was an interfaith memorial service held at a Christian church. The girl’s mother said: “The answer must not be hatred, but even more love.” Wow – that’s short, simple, powerful, Christian-like!
The picture above the article shows a young Muslim girl embracing the Norwegian PM after the service. A very moving graphic symbol! The PM went on to Oslo’s largest mosque to mark the one week since the attack with Muslims celebrating Friday prayers. He said: “Evil has brought out the best in us. Hatred engenders love. We want to be one community. Across faith, ethnicity, gender and rank.” What a message! [An email of an OUC member]
I think I already realized even before I preached last Sunday, what news story would shape this Sunday’s sermon. The Oslo bombing and Utoya Island shootings eclipsed most other news in a remarkably busy week of headlines. And Norway’s immediate response, very early on, pointed to a “grace and peace” that felt very gospel-like to me. In the midst of such hatred, anger, and violence of another, the word from prime minister, and survivor, and average citizen alike seemed to encourage, “more democracy, more tolerance, more love” … even as their grief overwhelmed them. The headline on Tuesday morning, ‘Evil can kill a person, but never conquer a people’ was a profound insight of our shared human experience. We accept that even though some regrettably will die at the hand of human violence, we will never give up on the common good embedded in our human spirit. That is the hope in the midst of suffering; there is the power of love in response to vengeance; this is the goodness in tragic news.
When Molly and I talked about what scripture message would help frame our Christian response to this unfolding story, her immediate reaction was, “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus.” (Rev. Molly has such good instinct, doesn’t she?) And when she said it, something felt very familiar … and I realized that this passage from Romans 8 was an assigned reading for last Sunday. So it seemed timely to look at this news story through that lens.
Scholars point out that these verses from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome are embedded in a section that addresses suffering and hope among believers. It was not an easy time for Christians and many suffered daily persecution and some even death. Paul first asks a couple of rhetorical questions, the answers to which seem obvious (though not easy) and apparently do not need to be spoken. “If God is on our side, who could destroy us?” And of course the answer is “Aaah, no one, I guess … but we’re still suffering and dying at the hands of others.” “Won’t God, who gave us Jesus, give us everything else?” “Mmmm, yes … but when?” And almost as if Paul anticipates their doubt he begins to ask questions that he then answers himself. “Who will charge us?” “It’s Jesus who justifies.” “Who will condemn us?” “It’s Jesus who intercedes for us?” “Who can separate us from Jesus’ love?” “No one, God’s love will prevail when we love through Jesus.” And even Paul’s great list of things that might separate us from God – they are no match for Christ’s love when we embrace the power of that love as conquerors in grace.
What I’d like to observe with you this morning is a curiosity concerning how we interpret the phrase “what can separate us from the love of Christ?” Almost every teaching I’ve ever heard focuses on how much Christ loves us, and as recipients of God’s love in Christ, we are safe and secure, even when crisis hits. Christ’s love for us is the gift that keeps us in God’s embrace. It’s what we have as believers. It’s ours.
But I noticed in Karen Chakoian’s essay in the Feasting on the Word commentary, a question about verse 28, which we heard during prayer time today: “all things work together for good for those who love God.” What she ponders is the Greek verb which is translated as ‘work’ here. And it has to do with tense … now it’s complex, and I don’t understand the subtleties, but according to her it’s not clear whether this verb implies that “God is working for those who love God” (acting on our behalf) OR that “God is working with those who love God” (cooperating together, encouraging our partnership).
So what? So when I contemplate Christ’s love and what can separate us from it, I wonder if the love of Christ referred to here is really our possession at all. Is it ours to keep? What if the love of Christ referred to here is not primarily what we receive from God, but what we offer others? What if the love of Christ is essentially what we have to offer, to share, give away, to sacrifice, even and especially when vengeance and retribution seem like more appropriate responses. What if the question, “what will separate me from the love of Christ?” is really “what will it take to separate me from loving like Christ loves? What will it take for me to compromise my faithfulness? What will it take for me to refuse to love, to forgive, to help? What will it take to turn my back on Christ’s love … and hate, judge, and condemn others instead? Will another’s violence or bigotry? Will another’s greed or abuse? Will another’s arrogance or persecution?” “No, in all things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loves us.”
Which brings us back to this remarkable headline, “evil can kill a person, but never conquer a people.” Norwegians have collectively modeled for us the kind of pro-active response to senseless violence that is possible. Following last Monday’s memorial in Oslo, a CNN reporter asked a Norwegian student who survived the massacre if she would like to strike back? (just the sort of question one might expect from North American media outlet) But her response was as unexpected as it was grace-filled. “If one person can hate so much, imagine the love we can show together.”
Friends in faith, sometimes the gospel can be proclaimed as boldly in the daily news as it is in the sacred scriptures. “The answer must never be hatred, but even more love.” Wow! How simple, how powerful, how Christ-like!
Orleans United Church