Fr. John Allison
1 Kings 3:5-12
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
July 30, 2023
Christ Church, Hudson
“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.”
These words from the latter half of our epistle this morning are perhaps familiar to some of you as one of our most beloved texts for funerals—not even death has the power to separate us from the love of God. Yet this week, as I reflected on our readings, I’ve found my attention drawn to those other elements that Paul names as threats to our perception of God’s love. For it’s not only death that he names: neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers . . . essentially nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Who will separate us from the love of Christ, Paul asks. Will hardship separate us? Distress? Persecution? Or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
No. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God. We know that. We are told that again and again in scripture. But, life is hard. We struggle. We suffer. And, indeed, separation is a very real issue in our lives. Paul knows that and would have known well, firsthand, all the conditions he names as threats of separation. And not just separation from the explicit love of God, but separation as loss—loss of loved ones, or loss of relationship. Loss of security. Loss of place or of freedom. The list goes on and on. Loss is part and parcel of the human condition, of our existence as finite beings. And with loss, or with the threat of loss, comes grasping. We hold on, or we struggle to hold on at all costs, for those things that we deem valuable or necessary. This is the cause of much suffering. Very real suffering. Very deep pain. But this is not the end. This is not our end.
Paul says, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” You see, God’s purpose, our purpose, our end, our completion, is in Christ. Christ is the point toward which all creation groans, to paraphrase last week’s reading from Paul. And along with all creation “we groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, for the redemption of our bodies,” Paul tells us. We groan inwardly as we wait in the already but not yet of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus tells us today that the Kingdom of Heaven 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.” What must we let go of to acquire this pearl of great price. What do we hold onto that hinders us from discovering that one thing from which we can never be separate, that one thing that is already ours— the love of God.
In his book, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation, professor and spiritual teacher Martin Laird recounts his work with prison inmates in a program that sought to address the spiritual needs of prisoners by teaching them how to pray. One young man he worked with told of how for years he would cut himself with a sharp knife to dull the emotional pain he felt. “For as long as I can remember,” he said, “I’ve had this hurt inside. I can’t get away from it and sometimes I cut or burn myself so that the pain will be in a different place and on the outside.” After several weeks of praying, of learning and practicing silent prayer in particular, he found something different in himself, or perhaps I should say he awoke to something different in himself. “The pain is not so bad,” he said. “And for the first time in my life I can see a tiny spark of something within myself that I can like.” He says a tiny spark, Jesus might say a mustard seed, or a measure of yeast.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God because God is with us. God is here. As St. Augustine says, “O God you are closer to me than I am to myself. O Beauty, ever ancient, ever new, you were within and I was outside myself.”
The beauty, the majesty, the outlandishness of this gift of God’s love is that it is ours, already ours. All we have to do is say yes. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. When we accept the truth that God is the very ground of our being, that, as Martin Laird says, “the relationship between creature and Creator is such that, by grace, separation is not possible. God does not know how to be absent.” It may not always feel that way. All of us experience times of great distress when, indeed, the feeling of separation is quite real. But this perceived separation is not the last word. It is not the end. The great poet William Blake said, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is—infinite.” To that I might take the liberty to say, If the doors of perception were cleansed we would see ourselves resting in God’s infinite love, God’s infinite peace.
Elsewhere in Paul’s writings, in his letter to the Ephesians to be specific, he prays that his listeners be strengthened in their inner being with power through the Holy Spirit. This is my prayer for you, that your inmost self be made strong, that all that might obscure your inner vision fall away as your are being rooted and grounded in love and conformed to God’s purpose.
We face many trials in the world. There is much suffering. There is hardship. There is distress. There is persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and even the sword. Even amid the good, yet sometimes hidden, providence of God there is much that we cannot understand. Blessings may be hidden and gifts may look different in the light of day. We do not have to know. God knows for us and knows us, and knows what we need even before we ask. The Holy Spirit prays in us and through us with sighs too deep for words. May we rest in that knowledge. May we rest in the assurance that nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love. Amen