An act of worship at home
Reading Romans 8: 26-28, 35, 37-39
Likewise 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, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
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 who 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 wonder how often you’ve heard the saying “Everything happens for a reason.” It’s one of those phrases I hear every so often, I think quoted almost as an expression of faith and perhaps mistakenly even thinking it is a Biblical phrase when it certainly isn’t. A belief that whatever happens to us in life is God’s will and therefore that God makes it happen. At first glance Paul’s words “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God” might seem to be saying the same thing, but they really aren’t.
Since the arrival of Covid-19 and its extraordinary impact on billions of people’s lives around the world some have proclaimed it “an act of God”, taking the get out clause so favoured by insurance companies at face value and adding it to the list of natural disasters God inflicts on the world. But it is just that, a get out clause.
We don’t know the precise details of the cause of the virus but it seems highly likely it is the result of some pretty stupid decisions taken by mere mortals. Perhaps the already known to be dangerous practice of keeping wild and domestic creatures crammed together in livestock markets where diseases can evolve and spread between species. I think a notice which appeared on Facebook put it well: “Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes it’s because we’re stupid and make bad decisions.”
I do not, I cannot, believe that the God of love and grace I experience in my life would create this virus any more than God would push an elderly person downstairs and break their hip, or turn healthy cells cancerous, or cause a child to be abused. “Everything happens for a reason” is true; tectonic plates shift causing an earthquake and a tsunami kills thousands; a frail human body gets sick; a psychologically damaged person preys on the vulnerable for their own sick gratification. Everything happens for a reason but I absolutely do not believe that means all that happens in our lives and in our world is God’s will or God’s doing.
So, what is Paul saying in this reading? I think there is a strong indicator in that wonderful description of the Spirit interceding for us “with sighs too deep for words”. God feels our pains and our sorrows as we go through hardship, distress, danger, war, sickness, and even death.
“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 hope and pray that each one of us may know God’s presence with us in those tough times, feeling our pain with sighs too deep for words, transforming and redeeming them and even bringing something good from the darkness. We have seen signs of it in people genuinely loving and looking after their neighbours in ways long forgotten. Not everything happens because it is God’s will, far from it, but whatever happens nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thank God.
Loving Lord, we come to you in prayer as we truly are, with no pretence, no false humility or holiness, with all that we’re proud of and all we regret. Lord, thank you for your perfect, overflowing love for us.
We come to rest in a safe moment, held in your love, with all that troubles us. With our fears, our hurts, as well as our joys. Lord thank you that you understand us better than we understand ourselves.
We come with our prayers for all who are feeling abandoned, confused, or angry. For those who are not aware of your presence in their suffering. Lord, thank you that you hear our prayers, you know our thoughts, you feel the depth of all we feel with sighs too deep for words.
Lord, thank you that truly nothing can separate us from your love, no disasters, natural or man-made, or doubts or fears, or even death itself can separate us from your eternal and perfect love.
Lord, bring light where there is darkness, hope where there is despair, and life where there is death, in our lives and in your world.
In the name of Christ, Amen.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home!
Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.
A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while life shall last,
And our eternal home.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Go into this day knowing God is with you, and may God bless your every breath and your every step.