Could it be….Satan?: July 30 2023

July 31, 2023

 Year A,
Pentecost 9

have always loved this reading from Romans. 
I use it when I talk to people about prayer.  “The Spirit helps us in our weakness when we
do not know how to pray…” We often use it in funerals.  “I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come… nor anything
else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God…” 

It’s the reference to
death that leads us to use it in funerals. 
Yet notice that Paul isn’t just talking about death separating us from
the love of God…Paul mentions that life can’t separate us from the love of
God.  We rarely focus on that part of the
reading, but it’s so much more relevant for our day to day lives.  I don’t think most people spend a lot of time
worrying about what comes after they die, at least not until we are close to
death or have some brush with death (ours or someone else’s).  Most of us are more focused on what we are
going through  now, or next week.  I believe that was what Paul was concerned
with as well.

Paul talked about being separated from the love of Christ, he didn’t start with
what could separate us, but who could separate us.  I am not sure how many of you were watching
Saturday Night Live in the late 80s and 90s, but there was a very well known
bit called “The Church Lady.”  One of the
things she was known for was bringing on guests, judging them harshly and accusing
them of being Satan.  Her famous line
was, “Could it be…Satan?” There are some Christians who like to blame
everything on Satan and certainly evil is at the heart of why a lot of bad
things happen.  But when Paul was talking
about who would separate us from the love of Christ, I don’t think he was
talking about Satan.

It’s possible he was
talking about other people who could lead us down the wrong path. At the very
end, he mentions rulers among the possible things or people who can separate us
from God’s love.   One could make a case
for people in power being guilty of that to some extent.  But I think the most common person who
separates us from God’s love is ourselves. 
How often do we get in our own way in our relationship with God? We can
blame it on other people, we can even blame it on Satan, but most of the time,
it’s us.

asking “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”—he moves onto what
could separate us.  Examples include:
hardship, distress, persecution, famine, peril or violence.  In other words—suffering.  There have been times in my life when
suffering drew me closer to God, but there have also been times when suffering
drew me away from God.  I wish I could
tell you what the difference was, how to ensure that whatever suffering you
might be experiencing would draw you closer, not further.  I have not yet figured that out.  Fortunately, Paul did.  The suffering that Paul mentions—hardship,
distress, persecution, danger, violence—all of that were things he had
personally experienced.  That suffering
was also present in the communities that he had encountered and ministered
to.  What he learned through those experiences
was that nothing in all creation could possibly separate us (God’s children)
from the love of Christ because God would not allow that to happen. 

is tempting to think that it’s in our hands, that we have more control than God
over our connection to God.  But the
whole point of this text is that God is in control. If we are able to release
our tight grip on every part of our life, then we can better hold on to our
relationship with God.  Remember how this
whole text starts.  “The Spirit helps us
in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very
Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what
is the mind of the Spirit…”  There are so
many times when I think, well if I just used the right words in this sermon,
then people would be able to understand. 
And then I stress and sweat and labor over words that shouldn’t even be
my words.  It’s so hard not to want to
control God.

start every sermon with: “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy
Spirit.”  Many clergy start that way, and
there are some critics of that beginning who say that it’s kind of presumptuous.  By starting that way, it implies the clergy
is speaking on behalf of God.  I have
always started that way because that is the way I was taught.  It never occurred to me that it was
presumptuous.  But the more I think about
it, the more I realize that it’s a statement of hope as much as anything else.
I know I don’t speak on behalf of God. But I hope and pray that God somehow
speaks through me…that God’s spirit intercedes between what I say and what you
hear so that you will hear the words that you need to hear.

am telling you this, partly because it’s relevant as it’s an Instructed
and we are trying to teach why we say what we do, but partly because I wanted
to emphasize how hard it is to release control over our lives.  I have to remind myself every time I preach
that I am not in control of what you hear or what you need to hear. So I get
it. I get it that people in their daily lives feel the need to control

Obviously, we have to
plan and act.  We can’t just do nothing and
assume God will take care of the rest. 
Dinner isn’t just going to appear on your table.  You have to go to the store and then prepare
the food, or at the very least, order the pizza. But when it comes to
understanding suffering or why certain things happen, well those are things
that distract us more than anything else. 
There is so much that we allow to separate us from God….but there is
nothing that God will allow to separate us from him. I am going to say that
again: There is so much that we allow to separate us from God….but there is
nothing that God will allow to separate us from him. Sometimes the best thing
we can do is to get out of our own way and in doing so, make space for the one
true God. 

does one do that? Partly it’s by making more time in your life for God.  Recently I was reading a devotional and it
said that when most of us hear that the greatest commandment is to “Love the
Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your
mind, and with all your strength.” we take that to mean: “Just try not to
forget about God.” If we spent as much time dedicated to our families as we do
to God, we would probably be considered negligent.  And I am including myself in that assessment.  Make time for worship, for prayer, for study,
and for listening to God.  Like our
reading says, God is searching our hearts. 
God knows our hearts.  It’s time
that we get to know God’s heart as well.


[1] An
Instructed Eucharist is a regular service with some added explanation that is
presented both verbally and in the bulletin. 
We do it over a 2 week period. 
This week we are focusing on liturgy of the word.