What Is Left

Romans 8:31-39
 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.
Unfortunately, I did not have the privilege of getting to know Mae the way many of the people here remember her.  When I met her four years ago, her illness had already begun to affect her memory.  Even though I am not entirely sure that Mae ever knew exactly who I was when I came to visit her, over the years, I think I got a pretty good sense of the essential “Mae.”  She had lost many things, but what remained was lovely.
The most striking thing about Mae, of course, was her beautiful smile, which could only have emerged from an incredibly gentle and loving spirit.  When Mae smiled, she glowed.  Even toward the end of her life, when conversation became more and more difficult, the glow did not diminish, at least in my eyes.  When everything else had become so hard for Mae, the loving glow remained.
And I see that same glow today in the faces of those Mae loved so dearly.  In Jim, her dear husband of more than 50 years.  In her devoted son and daughter-in-law, Bruce and Aline.  And most particularly, her granddaughters, all of whom seem to have inherited her smile.  Mae has died, but the love she embodied has been beautifully planted in all of you.  Even now in this sad space it blooms.
Which brings to mind the Romans text we just read. “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.”
It’s hard for us to believe that promise sometimes when we see the people we love being separated from us – especially bit by bit, as it did for Mae.  For many, Mae’s failing memory may have caused some of you to feel you lost Mae long ago. That you had been separated from the Mae you had known for so long – the warm and kind woman playing the piano before Sunday school for 20 years.  The engaging grandma baking endless dozens of cookies in her kitchen. Upon her passing from life into death – that separation that felt so painful and gradual seems now to be complete. 
But Paul reminds us – this is not the case. While many things in this world seek to separate us from God and one another – nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing – not even death itself.
We are reminded in this letter to the Romans that God’s love is the only thing we can count upon in life and in death. That the cross is the strong evidence of how much we are loved. It is in this love that we find our identity. It is in God’s love that we find what we thought was lost, what we thought was being taken from us forever.  When everything else is gone, what remains is God’s love.
Mae knew she was embraced by the God who made heaven and earth.  Mae was held in  love that reaches into the depths of human despair, embraces those who live in the shadow of death, that challenges the rulers of the world and shows them up as a sham.  A love that looks at the present with stubborn faith, and at the future with sure and certain hope.  A love that is not dependent on memory or words, but rubs off from one person onto another like wet paint from a bucket that never runs dry.  A love that claims us in our baptism and completes us in our death.  A love that overpowers all powers that might get in the way, and declares to the world that through God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ, love has won the victory – the victory over all powers in the world – including death itself.
Paul points out to us and asks many questions: “Who is to condemn? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness or peril, or sword?” Paul’s answer is always the same – NOTHING.  NOTHING has more power than God’s love for us. God’s love is perfectly expressed in Jesus Christ who came to take everything that is broken in us or by us, and put it back together.  The healing power of God’s love still happens in every moment of our lives through the creative breath and healing power of the Holy Spirit.
So while it may have felt as though Mae was slowly being taken away, that we were being robbed of her gifts and her presence – Paul assures us of the exact opposite. That while horrible things like Alzheimer’s happen, God is still at work making things new.  None of these things – not even death itself – can separate us from God’s love and from the power of the resurrection.
When everything else has gone from us – youth, memory, beauty, health, even our very lives – one thing endures.  This constant love of God, which is the earth’s heart beat.  The love of God that seeps into our lives and moves from human heart to human heart, not requiring words, but the shared experience of our lives.  And when our lives on earth are over, that pure and gorgeous love takes us, redeems us, and plants us in the very heart of God.
The loving smile of Mae has returned to the heart where love begins.  The heart of God who created her. The heart of God who loved her through each moment of her life, the joyful stuff and the scary stuff.  Nothing will separate her from that heart.  And it is God’s heart, God’s everlasting love, which will keep us connected to Mae.  Forever.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.