Scripture Passage that Led Me to Christ:
Assurance of God's Love
March 15, 2009
The Rev. Marion Sanders
Montgomery United Methodist Church
I was interested to read Rev. Dave's sermon in “Visions of Hope” this week, since I found that his story and my own had a parallel. Like Rev. Dave, I have some friends who can tell me the exact time and place when they came to an experience of the saving faith and love of Jesus Christ. For me there was no single experience of being knocked off my horse like St. Paul on the Road to Damascus. So, when Pastor Tony asked me to preach on the Bible passages that brought me to Christ, my reaction was this: There are quite a few passages that speak powerfully to me of Christ's love and of the call to be transformed into his image. I can read these sections again and again because of their power such as Romans 8:31-39, Colossians 3, The Gospel of John, and 2 Peter 1:1-15.
As I thought and prayed about it again, I felt it might be more in keeping with my journey as a Christian to talk about passages that brought Christ to me.
Unlike both Pastor Tony and Rev. Dave, I did not grow up in a church setting. My mother was a non-observant Presbyterian and my father was a non-observant Jew. My sister and I were not raised in any faith tradition, were not baptized, and were never brought to church or Sunday school. If we had a Bible in the house, I didn't know about it. To this day, my sister is an agnostic, but attends a service if I'm preaching and she is visiting from England.
However, in what I can only consider the grace of God, I had a belief in God at an early age. I remember crawling under the dining room table to pray because I didn't think my family would understand that. Through the power of God, I was led to an interest in the Quakers whose services I attended for two years while in high school, and then after reading various Catholic writers I felt a calling to the Roman Catholic Church where I was baptized at the age of 22. It wasn't until I started investigating Catholicism that I actually started reading the Bible.
When I came to the Bible at age 22, it was from hearing the lectionary reading at Mass. Back then churches didn't have bulletin inserts, but they had little missalettes with the scripture readings in them. If I had a spare piece of paper in my purse I would write the scripture passages and notes about them, and I would consider them later.
So I am not sure where I first came across Romans 8:31-39, but since my early 20's, it has always been part of my spiritual life and it has helped me in reflecting upon difficult times during my life.
I didn't have the easiest childhood growing up. My father had early onset Alzheimer's and disappeared in the woods of Cape Breton on summer vacation when I was nine years old. The Canadian Mounted Police looked for him, dragged the river for his body, and had search parties looking for him, but they never found any trace of him. To this day my sister and I are not sure if he committed suicide or if he died somewhere up there from drowning or a fall. My mother, who was a very brilliant woman and a college English professor, was devastated by my father's loss. When school started that year and from then onwards, my mother would come home, grade her composition papers and drink herself into a gentle stupor. I think that she had undiagnosed clinical depression. The combination of alcoholism and generally not taking care of herself contributed to her death at the age of 59, when I was 25. I share these things not to elicit sympathy, but just to say that clergy people don't always have picture perfect Norman Rockwell kinds of lives.
In thinking of Pastor Tony's assignment to me, I would probably re-phrase it to say, “Scripture passages that brought Christ to me.” This is Romans 8:31-39. The first part of this passage speaks of God's willingness to send Jesus for our sake and that Christ is interceding on our behalf. No matter how badly we think we've messed-up, Christ is almost like a trial lawyer on our behalf. That's good news.
The second half of this passage is so very powerful. It expresses Paul's belief that nothing that life can hand out, and even our death cannot separate us from Christ's love. He mentions a number of terrible things. These include death, but Paul assures us elsewhere that as we die in Christ so also we rise with him. In reading this at age 22 it told me that neither the death of my mother or my father could separate me from Christ's love. Neither can angelic powers separate us from Christ. In Paul's time there was a rather elaborate view about angels-everything had an angel and they were not all kindly. We know that Lucifer was an angel before he rebelled against God. I do believe that there are unseen forces of evil in the world, but Paul assures us that even these can't separate us from Christ's love. Paul speaks of “rulers” and as I have considered this it means to me that nothing the President or Congress can do, or whatever happens in the economy can separate me from God's love.
Paul then uses a very strong image about the persecution of Christians which was happening in the Roman Empire of his time and continues in places around the world today, “For your sake we are being killed all day long. We are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” Sometimes, brothers and sisters we can feel like we are being killed all day long when our various troubles seem to overwhelm us. Yet Paul still offers a word of hope. He says, “I am convinced that neither things present nor things to come will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus Our Lord.” Notice that Paul uses a categorical statement, “I AM convinced...” He doesn't say “I might be convinced” or “If you give me enough evidence I could be convinced.” Paul speaks of “things present and things to come.” When, like so many other people in the U.S. today, I worry about whether my husband will have a job three months from now, I look at this passage. It helps me deal with any fear I have that I will be able to see things through because of God's love. Circumstances don't surprise God. God knows the future. God doesn't go back on God's promises to be with us forever.
Paul also speaks of neither “height nor depth” separating us from God's love. When I think of depth, I think of my own clinical depression. Medication and counseling has been a help to me, but so has my Christian faith. When the medication isn't working or I can't afford the medication even this can't separate me from God's love.
Because, brothers and sisters, even though we base a lot of things on our feelings, that basis is not related to God's love. Because our feelings come and go, sometimes we may say that God loves us through gritted teeth, or we may even be doubt the existence of God. But God's love is persevering. As the Biblical scholar William Barclay put it in reflecting on this passage from Romans: “You can think of every terrifying that this or any other world can produce. Not one of them is able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ, Lord of every terror, Master of every world.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, if you want to get closer to God memorize this passage of Romans 8: 35-39:
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 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.”
I suggest memorization as more than a simple exercise, because memorizing it puts in your mind and heart in a powerful way to use the scripture when things are tough. And if you are in one of those times when you have difficulty believing it, or even have difficulty praying, pray anyway, and ask God to help you to believe in its truth. Ask for your friends to pray for you. That is one of the things the Christian family is about: praying for each other. Come to church and listen for those ways God is speaking to you in the scriptures, in the prayers, in the hymns, in the sermon and in Holy Communion so that you may know the assurance of God's love. Amen.
© 2009 Marion Sanders