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 is one of my favorite quotes from all of scripture – such a gorgeous over-
abundance of language to tell us and remind us that we are never, ever separated from God’s love. If you want a scripture to commit to memory, this is the one. It has such power to it that it can wipe out all despair and self-doubt and fear. At a youth ministry retreat when I was a teenager, I copied this phrase out over and over into little gift messages for the other participants. As teenagers in all our teenage angst, we needed to hear that message: God loves you, always, no matter what. At the time I imagined that all the grown-ups I knew already knew this, that they couldn’t be plagued with all the self-doubt and bad feelings that seemed endemic to being a teenager. Well. Now I know better. So, grownups? Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing.
How many of you have seen the Barbie movie? This is not a spoiler alert, and no, I’m not going to preach on Barbie today. But I will say I found the film surprisingly moving – I did not go to this pink bubblegum movie expecting to break down in tears. But when I later read an interview with Greta Gerwig, the director of the film, I realized why. She told of close family friends when she was growing up who would invite her family to Shabbat dinner – observant Jews including their progressive Unitarian friends in one of their central family rituals. One of the parts of the Shabbat meal is the father blessing his children, and he would bless the young Greta as well, laying hands on her head and saying the words: May God bless you and protect you. May God show you favor and be gracious to you. May God show you kindness and grant you peace.
In the interview, Gerwig said, “I remember feeling the sense of, ‘Whatever your
wins and losses were for the week, whatever you did or you didn’t do, when you
come to this table, your value has nothing to do with that…You are a child of
God….And that’s your value.’ I remember feeling so safe in that and feeling so,
like, enough.” When people go to see the Barbie movie in an air-conditioned
movie theater on a hot summer day, she said, “I want people to feel like I did at
Shabbat dinner. I want them to get blessed.”
Well holy cow, I thought, that’s exactly what happened for me. Unbelievably, I got blessed by the Barbie movie. It came out of nowhere. Just when I want to despair over the state of the world – unchecked climate change, a government system that persists in its brokenness, my own stupidity and frustrations – something like this shows up. And isn’t it just like God to send these coded messages, out of the blue. By the way: I love you. And nothing can separate you from that.
Jesus found all kinds of ways to teach this very point. God’s love, the kingdom of heaven, well, it’s right there in the fabric of your everyday life. To the farmers and fisherfolk of his time, he said, The kingdom of heaven is like seeds, like soil, like catching fish. It’s like a mustard seed someone sowed in his field. A little seed of an invasive weed, sown by a farmer, weirdly, in the neatly cultivated field. And the tiny seed grew into a plant that took over and then the field was full of wild birds. Something small and insignificant, totally transforming the world into something else.
The kingdom of heaven is also like a woman hiding yeast in three measures of
flour – that’s sixty pounds, by the way, that’s going to make a lot of bread. The
kingdom of heaven is unexpected, expanding, nourishing and feeding more
people than can possibly eat of it. And the kingdom of heaven is like someone finding treasure in a field, burying it again, and then buying the field. Or like a merchant selling everything to buy the one pearl of great price. The kingdom of heaven is so great you’ll do anything to get it, you’ll trade in everything to get something much richer and more wonderful. It’s better than anything you have ever found before. The kingdom of heaven is like nets full of fish that aren’t sorted yet. Anything and everything is dragged to shore. The kingdom of heaven is a mixed bag and it’s not up to us to figure out what’s in and out of it.
There it is: The kingdom of God is like yeast mixed into flour, like a treasure
hidden in a field, like a tiny seed growing into a ubiquitous weed, like a whole lot of fish. Like laughter in the midst of tears, like wind on a hot summer day. Like a childhood blessing erupting into mass entertainment that blows box office records. It’s everywhere.
In our Eucharistic prayer we’re using this season we ask God to ‘open our eyes’ to see God’s hand at work in the world about us. I’ve always loved that bit, with its acknowledgement of how God is at work all around us if we only have eyes to see it. God is absolutely at work here in church today, in this place at this time, speaking through the words of scripture and our Book of Common Prayer. But God is also at work with those who didn’t get here today, who are traveling now, those who are resting and spending time with family this summer. God is with our teens at the Peacemakers program in the UK learning alongside kids of other faiths, and our kids at summer camps. God is at work, apparently, in Hollywood, astonishingly enough. Which means that God is also at work in all kinds of places: in Washington, D.C. and Florida, at the contentious family reunion, in the extreme heat and the climate crisis, in the fierce fights our country is having over race and gender and the nature of democracy. There’s no separation of where God is and isn’t. Nothing separates us from the love of God.
Why is it so important that we remember this? Certainly it’s important for that
inner teenager in all of us, the part of us that feels lost, unloved, unlovely, not
measuring up in some way or many ways: God loves you. It untangles all kinds of things inside us when we can really accept that. But it is also important because to claim the love of God active in the world means to live in hope. To live in Christian hope, an unattached hope, a hope that isn’t tied to a particular outcome being achieved – I hope that I get this job, and I’ll despair if I don’t. Christian hope is living in a posture of hope, a trust that whatever comes of this present moment in time, these acts of history, this particular decision, I trust that God will work it for good – even if only in God’s time and in God’s way, not mine. And when we live in that trust, we are freer to love those we come across in our life, freer to give of ourselves and our time and resources, freer to be part of the work God is doing to heal the world. We can get into God’s work because we can let go of our own. Or as my colleague Jennifer Maxell likes to say, Free people free people.
When we live in the kingdom of heaven, when we see that we are right in the
midst of God’s all-encompassing love, we have so much more to give. And the
world is so much the better for what we can offer. Blessings have a way of
reverberating – from one father decades ago to millions of moviegoers today, to
name just one example.
So if you’re needing a reset of hope, you could go see the Barbie movie. You could
also read some scripture, or you could watch the sunset, or you could look, really look, at your child or your friend or your dog, and give thanks for them in your life. You could ask God to open your eyes to see God at work in the world about you, even on the grotty streets of New York in the summertime. There are a lot of ways to see it. Mostly seeing God at work asks of us the willingness to put on those particular glasses, the blessing glasses, and look through them. And then to let what we see settle into us, in our hearts. But sometimes God will just show us, unexpectedly, out of the blue. Because nothing can separate us from the love of God. Ever. Amen.