I was confirmed by the late George MacLeod. Sermons I normally forget, but I remember a poem he quoted on that occasion (p33 in his book One Way Left). The poem is an old ballad by Le Poer Trench, the story of a young man who turned against his mother, tore out her heart, but then tripped and dropped it — and the heart as it rolled away down the road is crying out, “Are you hurt, my child, are you hurt at all?”
Both believers and unbelievers have often found it hard to make up their minds about love and justice. These two great factors hang around human life, as realities or as chimeras. Is it possible to reconcile the two, and how? And does it leave humankind in different heaps, as sheep or goats, or in a single heap — whether all are saved, or all are disintegrated for ever, or all keep going somewhere somehow (whether by reincarnation or recycling of stardust).
In this passage Paul seems to go for a ‘single heap theology’, but the way he puts it leaves us with the challenge to accept or reject it. We are left not with some static solution to a theological question, but a dynamic promise that nothing can exclude us from God’s love (except perhaps ourselves). Paul assumes that we want to embrace and be embraced by such love — the irrational possibility that someone might choose against is rightly left out of the picture as the logic of hell. This is gospel truth, the love of God, which Paul encourages us to present as just, just good news, just the only thing which offers lasting hope.
Therefore, godliness has profit, for this life and for the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8). It crosses the boundaries which God has already crossed for ever in the person of Jesus Christ his Son.
Dear God, you have journeyed further in Jesus Christ than we have any right to expect. You have crossed boundaries between race and culture, male and female, rich and poor, heaven and earth. You have torn up barriers, and redefined borders. We thank you from the top of our minds, from the bottom of our hearts. We seek your praise in the high places of human obedience, and in the low places of human failure. We pledge our obedience in the hard times of testing, and seek your guidance in the uncertain places of human fallibility.
Bless those we shall meet this day, whether they help us or curse us. May your word light up our lives to explain our boundaries to us, whether they be proper or improper, real or imaginary. May your spirit strengthen our obedience, and weave a song of joy around our hearts, through Jesus Christ, to whom with you, our Father, and the blessed Holy Spirit, be all glory and praise for ever, Amen.
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.