Psalm 5, 6 (Morning)
Psalm 10, 11 (Evening)
Numbers 35:1-3, 9-15, 30-34
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He 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? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who 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. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 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. Romans 8:31-39 (NRSV:)
Many of us learned at a very young age that separation is simply a fact of life--the norm, actually. Even the common task of preparing a meal affirms it. (Can you tell I was working on supper when I was thinking about writing this reflection?) Cooking a meal might well involve separating pits from fruit, potato peels from potatoes, or lean meat from fat, gristle, and bone. So at one level, Paul's claim in today's Epistle that we are inseparable from the love of God almost seems to run afoul of the laws of physics (or at the very least, the laws of the kitchen.)
It definitely runs counter-intuitive to our histories when it comes to relationships. In fact, it's these separations that define us from the time we are born. The emergence of teeth begins the process of being separated from our mother's breast. The first day of school plunges us into the world outside our home. Graduations separate us from the comfortable relationship of being a senior student. Relationships fizzle and romances burn out. Each of us will, someday, be permanently separated from all that we know and all that we think we are, by that vast chasm called death, and others we love will beat us to that one.
In fact, the whole chapter of Romans 8 is flanked by two seeming impossibilities--the chapter holds us smack in the middle between "no condemnation" and "no separation"in the Jesus-centered relationship with God. Our rational mind just spins and spits if we try to work this one out in our head.
Ah, but that's where another concept of the kitchen comes in. It only becomes believable when we account for the possibility of transformation. What starts as flour, water, milk, yeast, salt, sugar, and shortening, with mixing and kneading and heat and time, becomes bread. Those individual things are no longer separable. I've never seen anyone successfully pull the salt out of bread, have you? Good luck with THAT.
In this reading, it's a pretty safe bet that all the items on that laundry list of potential separators in the final verse of this reading were all things that had been part of Paul's experiences in his travels to the various churches and in preaching the Gospel. But as Paul himself became transformed by a life in Christ, these things began to lose their power to separate--in fact, quite the opposite. They all became important ingredients in being the transformed Paul. Paul would not have been Paul if any of them had been missing.
We see that in recipes too. I don't know how many times I've looked at a recipe for something sweet and said to myself, "Really? That much salt? I want this to be sweet--how's that not gonna make it more salty and less sweet?" I've thought I knew better and left out the salt--and discovered in the end it didn't taste quite right.
All of the flavors and textures in our world--the sweet, the salty, the bitter, the sour, the fleshy, the gritty, and the smooth--contribute to the bread of the Body of Christ. Leave one out and it would not be the same. That person that grates on us constantly is a vital ingredient. Those things we don't like about ourselves are not unworthy of being added to the mix--in fact, it's essential they be added so that they be transformed. Rather than analyze the ingredients and try to figure out what's in the recipe, can we simply trust that God knows how to cook?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid