Inspired by Romans 3:28-30, 5:1-11

We continue with our reading through Paul’s letter to Rome, well, the highlights anyway. Like last week, today’s reading is about faithfulness, but whose faithfulness is where they differ. Last Sunday we talked about our own faith and how we can support each other, even carry each other’s faith when it gets too heavy to carry on our own. Today, it is all about God’s faithfulness, God’s faithfulness to God’s creation, in spite of the imperfections and flaws found here. And Paul gives us a glimpse at what God’s faithfulness actually looks like in our everyday lives.

But first and foremost, Paul wants us to know where God’s faithfulness comes from, where it is grounded, where it stems from. And that, of course, is Christ, on the cross. For Paul, nothing about salvation, nothing about God’s love, God’s faithfulness, or anything really, makes sense without the cross. For Paul, the image of Christ and the cross, is the clearest image of God’s love and faithfulness that the world had ever and will ever see.

This Dutch painting of Christ carrying the cross from the early 16th century is one of my favorites. In the center you see Jesus, with cross over his shoulder. If you’re eyes eventually focus on his face you notice that it is quite serene, quite peaceful—not sad, not anguished, not anything you’d expect during an experience like this must have been.

What is even more striking is all the chaos that is going on around Jesus and the cross. There are people angry, there are people arguing, condemning, finger-pointing—anguish, confusion, sadness, and suffering abound all around Jesus. It’s quite overwhelming. At first, your eyes don’t even know where to go when you first take a look at it. And I think that was probably the point.

While the chaos abounds, Jesus maintains his focus on the cross, maintains his focus on what he’s doing, maintains his focus on the loving act that he is about to endure. Nothing, look at his face, nothing is going to distract him from giving the world the clearest picture of God’s love and faithfulness that had ever, or will ever see. While anger abounds, while sadness abounds, while condemnation abounds, while all that makes life so unbearable abounds, God’s love shines through Jesus. None of that chaos gets in the way of what Jesus was doing there. In fact, all that chaos highlights Jesus act of love all the more, makes him stand out all the more. Because while all that is going on, Jesus remains determined to love.

Paul uses that word, “while”, three times in our Bible reading, “while we were still weak…while we were still sinners…while we were still enemies…” And each time, Paul connects those “while” statements with Jesus’ death. While we were still weak, Christ died. While we were still sinners, Christ died. While we were still enemies, Christ died.

You see, Jesus didn’t wait for us to be perfect to show us God’s love. Jesus didn’t wait for us to be strong to show us God’s love. Jesus didn’t wait for us to be sinless to show us God’s love. Jesus didn’t wait for us to be allies with God to show us God’s love. Jesus didn’t wait for anything, to show us God’s love, Jesus just did it. The point that Paul is trying to make here is that God’s love for us is something that happens completely apart from us, outside of us, meaning, nothing we do or don’t do, has any effect on God’s love for us.

While we are who we are, God loves us. Period. That’s the gospel my friends, that’s the good news that we are called to spread throughout this world. And it all centers around that simple conjunction, “while.” Because it’s one thing to say to the world, “God loves you.” But it’s a whole other thing to say, “God loves you while…blank.” God loves you while you’re being a jerk. God loves you while you’re being dishonest. God loves you while you’re lashing out. God loves you while you’re being disrespectful on social media. God loves you while you’re insulting and offending others. We like to think of God loving us while we are being lovable right? But that doesn’t take much effort. It’s easy to love us then! But if the cross teaches us anything it’s that God loves us, even when, especially when, we are being unlovable.

That’s real love, right? And isn’t that the kind of love that we are called to practice in this world—to love others when they are being their most unlovable selves? That’s the real challenge! I know that not everyone in the room may have grown up with a loving family but for many, that’s the closest thing you’re going to come to this kind of love in this world. If you want to see this in action just stop by my house sometime and witness my family love me in spite of me, in spite of my moodiness, in spite of my stubbornness, in spite of my unprovoked outbursts that I blame on stress. No matter how bad my behavior may be, I never, ever, question their love for me. I just don’t. It never occurs to me to question that. Maybe I should! Maybe I’d be better behaved at home if I thought their love was on the line!

Now, if you wanna take this kind of love to the next level, if you feel like you’re up for an even bigger challenge, try it on people outside of your family. Maybe on your church family! Not that we ever get on each other’s nerves here! Maybe try this kind of love on your coworkers. Maybe try this at school with your classmates. Follow Jesus’ lead and love others when they are at their most unlovableness.

Wanna take this to the next level? Feeling hardcore about this kind of love? Ok, you think you’re up for an even bigger challenge? Ok, try this on strangers! That might be the biggest test of this kind of love! Because let’s be real, coworkers, church family, classmates, you know them and you might know a little bit about their backstory. But a total stranger? Try showing love to a total stranger when they are at their most unlovableness!

Maybe it’s the cashier at the grocery store who clearly would rather be doing anything else than that. Maybe it’s the teen driver that just cut you off for no apparent reason. Maybe it’s the elderly driver who’s driving fifteen miles under the speed limit. I dare you, I double dog dare you, the next time you encounter a stranger who’s just being their most unlovable selves, see if you can muster any amount of love for them, any amount of understanding, patience, even if it simply means overlooking their behavior towards you. Imagine if everyone in the world did that just one time a day! Heck, once a week! And if you need some motivation, think of this painting. Think of Jesus’ serene, peaceful, determined face, while, all that unlovableness was going on around him. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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