What separates you from God? If you are familiar with Romans 8:38, you may think this is a trick question. But last year on the same Sunday we heard those comforting words, we also hear the unsettling words of Matthew 13: 47-50.
Nothing Can Separate Us From The Love Of God
In Romans 8:39, Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God:
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.
But Jesus tells this parable in Matthew 13: 47-50:
[T]he kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
I rarely prefer Paul’s words to Jesus’s, but this particular parable is pretty harsh.
While I believe that Paul’s words are true, I also believe that we can let things come between us and God–or at least between us and our awareness of God.
I started thinking about this when I was grappling with my annoyance with a regular worshiper at my church who always grabs a cup of coffee on his way in to the sanctuary.
First, I wondered why it bothered me so much. It’s not like he slurps noisily–I wouldn’t even notice if I didn’t see him with his cup.
My best answer was that it was disrespectful–or at least that I had been taught that drinking coffee in church would be disrespectful.
Then I found myself judging him–if he wanted coffee so much, why didn’t he get coffee before church like the rest of us?
But as soon as I formed that thought I recalled the many Sundays I risked being late to church so I could enjoy one more cup of coffee at home.
I rationalized that at least I didn’t let coffee distract me once I made it to church.
But then I thought of how frequently my mind wanders during service–to my grocery list, the route for next our bike ride, or whatever is going on at work.
I realized that I had no business judging him for his cup of coffee when I also let worldly things interfere with my own worship.
I realized that while “neither death, nor life, … nor anything else in all creation” can “separate us from the love of God,” there’s an awful lot that can distract me from listening, learning, praying and worshiping. Drawing on other words from Paul, I need the Spirit to help me with this weakness.
How do you cope when someone annoys you in church?