The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson
Nothing but Good News
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 of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If you have been wondering: what exactly is this Good News we're always talking about in church? What is this Gospel that we are called to share beyond those heavy doors? This is it. This is the Good News. This is the Gospel.
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 of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. There is nothing that can separate us, nothing that can separate me, nothing that can separate you, from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing.
Like Paul, I too am convinced. I am convinced that this simple truth is the Gospel, this is our Good News. I am convinced because this news is so good that even Christians have a hard time believing that it is true.
I first realized this as a young Pentecostal. I must have been in my early teens when I saw a picture of a protester holding a sign that said, “God Hates Fags.” I had heard a lot of things in my church as a child but this was new. I grew up singing “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.” It never occurred to me that there were Christians who believed that God hated people, that God hated some of this world's children. The Bible says: nothing can separate us from the love of God. But some Christians simply cannot believe that God's love is that radically inclusive. Some Christians find that kind of love so offensive that they stand outside of funerals with signs proclaiming bad news – a message that directly opposes the Good News of God's love outlined in our Epistle reading today.
But it wasn't the last time. Those folks from Westboro Baptist Church, who became much more well-known in later years, are pretty explicit in their disgusting brand of prejudice and hatred. They are an extreme example. But I started to notice that much nicer Christians also had an argument with good news at the end of Romans 8. There was the sweet young Baptist girl who informed me that Roman Catholics were going to Hell because they were not saved and so were the Pentecostals in my church because we were just a cult. There was my freshman year roommate who was a very strict Calvinist and believed that God created some people just to populate the tortuous circles of Hell. So much for the love of God. So much for that Good News that nothing can separate us from God's love. Apparently there were all kinds of things – everything from denomination to destiny.
And then on a college break I visited the old Pentecostal church which I had attended during my teenage years. I still had friends there. And I knew the rhythm of the service; it was less formalized than our pattern but predictable nonetheless. I knew the service would end with an altar call; it always did. But I had been away for awhile and so I listened with fresh ears. And the pastor said to a room full of Christians, mostly the regulars, “If you died tonight, on the way home, if you were hit by a bus, do you know where you would go? If you died tonight would you go to Heaven or Hell?” And then he encouraged the congregation to think about the past week. Had they sinned? Had they done something wrong? A yes answer meant potential damnation. And then he reminded everyone, especially those who felt certain of God's approval, that there are a lot of good people are in Hell. The altar was open. Salvation, it turned out, was week-to-week. Hell, separation from God and God's love, was not impossible as Paul tells us in Romans 8, but instead a constant threat.
And then, more recently, In December of 2011, my former Bishop, Mark Hollingsworth was invited to appear on a local Cleveland radio station by one of the morning shock jocks. The deejay was infuriated by an ad campaign the diocese was promoting. In a series of radio and billboard ads, the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio decided to simply spread the Good News: “God Loves You. No Exceptions.” That is what the ads said.
And that message set the deejay off. He brought the Bishop on to tell him off. The deejay spent most of the interview berating and belittling the Bishop. Bishop Hollingsworth calmly listened as the host angrily expressed how offensive and irresponsible it was to tell people that God loves bad people, to tell victims that God loves the very people who hurt them and their families. The Bishop listened carefully and acknowledged the deejay's feelings. And then to this angry host and his audience the Bishop calmly stated one of the most offensive truths of the Gospel of Christ, one that even Christians have a hard time believing: “We don't deserve God's love; we get it, whether we deserve it or not.” Nothing can separate us from God's love. No exceptions.
This is our Good News – a Gospel message drenched in impossible grace. And it is too good to be true: love that defies explanation, love well beyond what we could ever deserve, love that stakes an unbreakable claim. It is too good to be true, but also it is. It is true. I am convinced.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It is this passage that gives me the strength to walk into this world as a minister of the Gospel – to sit and speak hope into the life of another grieving spouse or another heart-broken child of God, to shout my alleluias at the grave and preach resurrection into the face of despair. Because I am convinced that nothing – not even death – can separate us from the love of God.
It is this passage that comforts me when my troubled mind keeps me up at night – unable to sleep because I cannot stop thinking about that day's failures or all of the things I am anxious about tomorrow or the weight of mortality and what will I do if something terrible happens to my wife or my boys. I am convinced that no matter what happens, nothing will separate us from the love of God.
It is this passage that gives me the courage to fall more in love my kids every day. Because even though I know that I brought them into a big, dangerous world that will break their vulnerable hearts over and over again, I am also convinced that nothing can separate them from the love of God. And so they will be OK.
It is this passage that allows me to stare down the cloudy future, fully aware that sorrow and sadness and pain and death are out there waiting for me – an unavoidable part of this earthly journey. 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 of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It is news so good that it is hard to believe. Can you believe it? If you can, it will change your life. I promise.
This is our Gospel. This is our Good News. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And nothing means nothing. No exceptions. God loves you. Hard stop. Our world is filled with people who feel unloved and unwanted; this world is filled with people desperate to hear that they are loved with a truly unconditional love. And that is our message. The Church has spent centuries drawing lines and defining conditions and listing exceptions. Because the Good News seems too good to be true. But I am convinced by the nothing.
I am convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God. That is the Good News that we are called to live for and die for. That is the Good News that we are called to share. It is so simple, but it is so powerful. Can you believe it? Will you believe it? The world needs us, those of us who have experienced God's amazing love, to believe it because it is impossible to share our Good News if we do not believe it. But it is impossible not to share it when we do.