A sermon delivered by Michael Cheuk, Pastor, Farmville Baptist Church, Farmville, Va., on July 24, 2011.
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
As a young child, one of my greatest fears was being separated from my Mom and Dad. I remember one time, when I was six years old, my Dad, my uncle and I were taking the Star Ferry from the island of Hong Kong to go back home to Kowloon on the Chinese mainland. In the jostling of people as we waited for our ferry, somehow I lost track of my dad and uncle. As I frantically looked for my dad, all I could see was a jumbled forest of legs and unfamiliar faces. And then I heard the announcement that the ferry to Kowloon was about to leave and everyone should come aboard. But I still couldn’t find my dad and uncle, and I was so scared that they would board the ferry without me. And the harder I tried to find my dad, the more confused I became. Words could not express my panic, and so, I finally gave up and just cried. I was lost and I was scared. My stomach had that terrible empty feeling terrorized by the thought that I would never see my family again. Thankfully, a gentle hand took hold of my hand, and through my tear-stained eyes, I looked up to see the familiar face of my uncle. He walked by my side and led me to my dad, and my dad scooped me up into his arms, and everything in the world was all right again.
Now that I’m an adult, I no longer fear being separated from my parents. But that does not mean that I have a shortage of things that concern and frighten me. Every day in the news, we hear of something terrible that is happening in the world like the bombing and shooting attacks in Norway or the impending national budget crisis. It seems that creation itself is groaning as each week we hear about earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, flooding and heat waves. We worry about our aging parents and our failing bodies. We suffer from loneliness and strained relationships. We chafe under the stinging criticisms of others, and worse, we condemn ourselves with our inadequacies and failures. In all these things, we are overwhelmed with life; we feel helpless and words escape us. As Christians, we know that we ought to pray about this, but sometimes, we find ourselves not knowing what we ought to pray. Other times, we find ourselves not knowing how we ought to pray. And that adds to our guilt and we feel weak. We want someone to just scoop us up into loving arms so that we can know that everything in the world is all right again.
If you can relate to any of what I’ve just said, then I’ve got good news for you this morning. In our epistle lesson from Romans 8, in a chapter that began with “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Paul now affirms this good news: “God is for us.” God is for us because the Spirit helps us in our weakness. Earlier in this chapter, Paul reminds us that the Spirit testifies that we are God’s children. In our weakness, God’s Spirit even pleads on our behalf so that in all things God works for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose. Now, I must say, sometimes it is hard to understand God’s purpose. Why do we have to go through this period of suffering? For what purpose do we have to go through this hardship and pain? God does not necessarily give us answers to these questions. But God did give us an example in His Son Jesus Christ. While Jesus was on earth, God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all. On the cross, God did not shield his own Son Jesus from the anguish and pain of humanity’s sin and cruelty. Jesus understands our experience, because on the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God was silent on that day, but on Easter Sunday, God proved once and for all that He did not forsake Jesus, and that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers can separate Jesus from the love of God. And this resurrected and ascended Jesus, who sits at the right hand of God, is now also interceding for us, praying on our behalf.
As children of God, we are called to conform to the likeness of Christ. And as we examine the life of Jesus, we now understand that God is for us, not primarily by shielding us from suffering, pain, or hardship. No, God is for us by being with us in the midst of our suffering, our pain and our hardship. As Psalm 23 reminds us, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 118:6 also says: “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” In other words, if God is for us, who can be against us?
But this statement, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” was not intended as a boastful slogan uttered by the strong, the powerful and the winners of this world to claim that God is on their side. Rather, this statement was intended as an encouraging word for the hurting, the suffering, and the weak. It is a word of love that a parent says to a lost and frightened child: “Son . . . daughter, I’m right here by your side! I’m with you . . . always.”
One of the most moving scenes in the whole Harry Potter series for me takes place in the final book, chapter 34. Now for those who have not read the book or seen the movie yet, you may want to stop listening for a moment if you don’t want me to spoil the plot. In this scene, Harry believes that he himself must die in order to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort. As Harry prepares for his death, he discovers that he has in his possession a magical stone that has the power to bring back the dead. And so, he uses the stone to summon from death two family friends and his father and mother who were both killed by Voldemort when Harry was just a baby. As Harry looked at them, each was smiling, but Lily, his mother’s smile was the widest of all.
“You’ve been so brave,” Lily told Harry.
“You are nearly there,” said James, Harry’s father. “Very close. We are . . . so proud of you.”
“Does it hurt?” asked Harry. His childish question had fallen from Harry’s lips before he could stop it.
“Dying? Not at all,” says Sirius, his godfather. “Quicker and easier than falling asleep.”
As Harry began his walk toward his expected death, he asked his shadowy companions, “You’ll stay with me?”
“Until the very end,” said James.
“We are part of you,” added Sirius.
Harry looked at his mother and said quietly, “Stay close to me.”
And with that, Harry set off like a sheep to the slaughter. Beside him, making scarcely a sound, walked his departed loved ones, and their presence was his courage, and the reason he was able to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Now of course, Harry Potter is just a story, but in my opinion, this scene reflects the Christian truth that Paul is trying to communicate in today’s epistle lesson. In life, we will face trouble and hardship. In life, things will not always go our way. But as the beloved children of God, we have the resurrected presence of Christ who promised us that He will be with us, be a part of us, stay close to us, even until the very end of the age.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Listen to Paul’s answer with fresh ears: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither good health nor chronic illness, neither popularity nor loneliness, neither poverty nor riches, neither the acclaim of fans nor the disdain of critics, neither the heights of ecstasy nor the depths of depression, neither job layoffs, government shutdowns, deranged killers, stifling heat waves nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
That is the good news of the inseparable love of Christ! May such love give you the courage and strength you need to meet the challenges of life. Amen.
 J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pps. 699-700.