The foundation of the Christian faith is that God is love. You heard it in our lessons today:
- The lord has set his love on you and chose you..... Deuteronomy 7:7
- The Lord loves you..... Deuteronomy 7:8
- The Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love to those who love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations..... Deuteronomy 7:9
- Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? ..... Romans 8:35
- No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.... Romans 8:37
- Nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our lord... Romans 8:39
It is there in the Old Testament. It's there in the New Testament. God loves us. God loved Israel. John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
What's not clear? God loves Israel. God loves the world. Case closed, right?
Well, sometimes people don't feel loved by God for one reason or another, but the Bible is clear. God loves us.
This past week Sue and I were in Montana for my Aunt Eleanor's Memorial Service. Eleanor was 101 years old, close to 102. She died peacefully in her sleep. The foundation of her life was the love of God.
Eddie and Eleanor Harmon were my godparents. Eleanor was there when Sue and I were married and when I was ordained. She made the red stole I wore for my ordination. She was going to make them all but found it was so hard that she gave the rest of the material to Sue and said, "You can do it."
I said the foundation of Eleanor's life was the love of God. I want you to know that she held that conviction throughout her life but it wasn't always easy for her.
Eleanor was born in Norma, ND. Her parents were in banking when the Great Depression hit the U.S. in the 1930's. Her family moved West. She had to live in a tent in Hogeland, MT for awhile until a house was moved to town.
My Mom said that she thought that Eleanor would never marry but then Eddie Harmon came along. He was a great guy. They got married.
Later, when I was in grade school, Eddie died while driving the tractor. Eleanor relocated and eventually married Bill Bickel and moved to Hamilton, MT. Later Eleanor would have an encounter with breast cancer and survived. Eventually Bill died.
The last years were difficult for Eleanor. She was in assisted living. It was hard for her to converse but she could listen. Even so, I would say that Eleanor lived a good life, held to her faith and now rests in God's peace.
Although life wasn't always easy for her, she kept faith. She kept her foundation, that God is love.
Alvin Rogness was the President of Luther Seminary and many years ago he wrote, "The Bible is God's love letter to you...From the Bible, the most important thing you learn about God is that he loves you and is trying to reach you. God is searching for you. He loves you and you can't stop him from loving you and from running after you. You can try running away from him but you can not stop him from staying on your trail."
The problem is not a deficiency of God's love. We've already heard John 3:16. In Romans 8:31-32, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will we not also with him graciously give us all things?"
The grand conclusion of this section of the Book of Romans and perhaps of the whole Bible is this,
"Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
So the problem is not a deficiency in God's love. The problem is sin, the devil, the world, our sinful self. We live in a fallen world. There will be struggles. Yet Paul reassures us, "For God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8
When I listen to people like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer they say that people are always telling them that "God could never love me; you don't know what I've done." Then they proceed to tell them their list.
The problem is in us. The reality is God knows every bad thing we've done and still loves us. The reality is God is good at forgiveness. God is good at 2nd chances. God is ok with leaving the past in the past and starting over but we aren't.
One of the best things we can do is trust in God's forgiveness. "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
The way forward is to build on the foundation of God's love, like my Aunt Eleanor and many other believers in the past. They knew they were not perfect but they confessed their sins and trusted in God's forgiveness and love.
Recently when I was back on our farm. I noticed this old building. It's listing now just a little bit. How much longer will it stand? I don't know, but you know what will remain even if the building falls? The foundation will remain. You see it all over the homestead areas, the buildings may fall but the foundations remain.
How does Jesus end the sermon on the Mount? With a story. "Everyone who heard these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on the rock, and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on the rock."
I started this sermon with a bunch of verses about God's love for us. That's our foundation. God loves us. Come what may, God loves us. The way forward is to build on the foundation of God's love, keep trusting. Then, like my Aunt Eleanor, we will die in peace and awaken to God's glory.