Aug 3, 2014
31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor 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.
- Romans 8:31-39
In her picture, Rebecca tilts her head and offers a half hearted smile. The freckles give her a girlish look and her brunette hair falls to her shoulders. The lake is behind her and you wonder what her life was like. I searched endlessly for details of who Rebecca was but only found reports of her death. A victim of bullying. She took her own life at 13. There are hundreds of articles about lawsuits and arrests of the alleged bullies. There are commentaries on bullying and suicide. But I could not find a single thing about who Rebecca was that did not revolve around her death. Her favorite color was green which I discovered because this was the color shirts supporters made with an anti-bullying slogan on them. But again I only knew this because of reports of her funeral.
What were her hobbies? What was her favorite food? Did she have a best friend? I am certain that there was more to Rebecca than the tragic mistake she made after her peers convinced her that her life was worthless. Rebecca’s story is heartbreaking, excruciating, unimaginable.
What is overweight for a 13 year old girl? was one of her latest search queries on the internet.
There are all sorts of malignant forces trying to name and claim us, says one author in response to Paul’s writing. Overweight. Underpaid. Not smart enough. Lazy. Workaholic. Selfish. Pick your poison and you will easily believe that you are the sum of your accomplishments, your possessions, or even your failures.
But our scripture lesson for today tells us a vastly different story. The Good News from Romans, the climax of the entire chapter claims us as belonging to God which determines our worth over all else. Nothing… no rejection, no failure, no enemy, no self doubt, no wealth can separate us from the love we know in Jesus Christ. We are loved unconditionally. And we are called to claim this blessing as the most defining characteristic of our lives.
Pens, pencils and notebook paper have been replaced by sheets, a mini fridge and a parking pass, said Denise Lambrianou about sending her oldest son to college. Many of our high school seniors are now college freshman entering an all new phase of learning and growing up. Others will be boldly entering kindergarten classrooms equipped with juice boxes and crayons, and learning a more structured routine. Teachers, bus drivers, aids and other support staff have already begun setting their alarms back, teaching themselves to be awake and alert to shape young minds. And the rest of us sit back and watch, remembering our own school days and all we hoped for and feared as we began another year. We each walk a different path today, but I believe there is something we all have in common, which is the need of a blessing.
Nothing will separate us from the love of God. No bullies, no meaningless work, no failed relationship, no unconquerable college course, no loneliness, no self imposed perfectionism. Nothing will separate us from the love of God because we are loved unconditionally.
Everyone will receive a keychain today with the words Loved Unconditionally. Whether starting at a new school or continuing on the same old routine, these are the words we desperately need to be reminded of each and every single day. To lean in to the unconditional love of God means that our lives have meaning even when it feels like we are walking on a constant uphill slope. To live fully into the unconditional love of Christ means that when we are rejected by classmates or colleagues, we will return to God in prayer with sighs deeper than words, and remember who we are. We will come back to our community week after week, naming and claiming Christ among each other.
I never thought I would be a part of a church that gave out key chains. It sounds a little hokey to say it out loud. It feels like a tactic or gimmick and I came up with the idea. But the website and the branding process has been a labor of love by the leadership of this church for one reason. And it is not to find a cheap or catchy way to reel more people into our institution. It is not because we can compete with the marketing of big brands.
It is because our brothers and sisters in Bowling Green desperately need a blessing. They need to know their value and that there is a place to be loved unconditionally for exactly who they are. But it isn’t just them who need a blessing. It is us. Time and time again, we need to be reminded.
You are loved unconditionally. And when people and places in your life try to lay claim on who you are, return to this place. At times it may be the physical space but it is also spiritual realm where you can remember the people who love you and know you at your best. Who will believe in you and support you at your worst.
You are loved unconditionally- by God & by the people gathered here today. This is the story we will tell our children in worship and wonder. This is the story we will tell our youth in youth group. This is the story that we are trying to shout aloud each time someone walks through our church doors, whether picking up a food bag, attending an N/A meeting, or attending a prayer group. This is the story for those wondering through our website. The blessing is the same, “You are loved. Unconditionally.”
Whether you have been asked to teach a Sunday School class, serve on a committee, wash dishes or drive the bus, you are a part of this blessing. This is our call First Christian and this is the Good News that has changed and will continue to change the world forever. Whether returning to school to begin a schedule of too much to do and too little time to do it. Or continuing a routine of trying to fill empty spaces.
This blessing is yours to claim. You are loved. Unconditionally.