Forming Faith Blog

Nothing in All Creation (June 9, 2019)

A girl hugging an older woman. Nothing can separate us from God's love.

This upcoming Sunday is Pentecost, which means that it is the last Sunday in the primary Narrative Lectionary year. This also wraps up our final thematic unit Gifts of God’s Grace with the powerful gift of God’s self, the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost

As expected for this festival day, our assigned reading starts with God’s gift of the Holy Spirit as the disciples were gathered together during the Festival of Shavuot (Pentecost). This is the event that gave birth to the post-resurrection Church. Many churches already do a more accessible, multisensory, and intergenerational service or parts of the service here. The story just lends itself to that with flames and rushing wind and the sounds of different languages.

Romans 8

Paired with this traditional Pentecost story is our last reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Romans 8:14-39. It is not accidental that Romans 8 was chosen, as it is a chapter about God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. We learn that the Spirit dwells in us, bearing witness to our adoption as children of God and interceding when we don’t know what to pray. This is in addition to what we learn from Acts 2 (and Acts 1:8), where the Spirit empowers us to spread the good news about Jesus and the kingdom of God.

Nothing Can Separate

Romans 8 ends with what is one of my favorite statement in the Bible:

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 8:38-39

To me, this is a powerful expression of the good news. Not only does God love us more than we can ever imagine, but nothing can interrupt or separate us from that love. This is good news that can give me peace of mind. I don’t have to worry about it. God’s love is unconditional and uninterruptable. While I do believe that how I act is important, it is not something that can get in the way of God’s love for me (as I also fit in the “anything else in all creation”).

This is also the focus of our free activity for the week “Because of the Holy Spirit.” This is written for our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd), but can easily be adapted for different age groups and different settings.

Love = Relationship

One thing that I sometimes forget is that love requires a relationship. Love isn’t an object that God hands to us. It’s not an emanation from the Divine. It is a descriptor, a quality, of a relationship. God’s love for us is a way of describing God’s relationship with us. A “relationship with God” is a phrase that we hear a lot. But, it’s one that I struggle with. The problem is that with all my other relationships, we have a concrete, often tangible back-and-forth. We are physical beings who communicate with words, sounds, looks, and touch. We interact in clear and concrete ways: conversation, a hug, a backrub, playing a game together, sharing a meal, even keeping in touch through texting.

Relationship in Spirit

What is difficult about a relationship with God is that God is spirit and not a physical being. Of course, Jesus is the incarnate Word, but I cannot sit down with him over a cup of tea or give/receive a hug. I can speak to God in prayer, but I’ve never had a back-and-forth conversation like Moses had. It’s just a different kind of relationship with different kinds of interactions. I’m a physical, concrete person in a relationship with a Spirit. There’s a mental disconnect for me.

I actually feel bad about saying this. Our relationship with God/Jesus is so much the bread-and-butter of our faith lives that it seems something shameful to admit, especially since I’m a “professional” Christian. But I have found that confessing my shortcomings and weaknesses can be a relief to those who look to me for answers. Admitting that I have doubts and struggles and things I don’t understand has given some people around me “permission” to share the doubts and struggles they are having.

The Good News of God’s Love

This struggle brings me back to Romans 8:38-39. Here I read that nothing can separate me from God’s love in Jesus the Messiah, not even my doubts and struggles. This is something that I can meditate on. I am a beloved child of God, and there is nothing that can change that. Nothing will change God’s mind about me.

The Holy Spirit and Community

While it is important that the Holy Spirit comes to you and me as individuals, I think it is more important that the Spirit comes to us as a community. For me, and I think for most people, the most powerful experience of God’s love comes through relationships with others. I have a few friends whose love for me I experience as God’s love for me through them. The Holy Spirit comes to us, as individuals and as communities, to empower us to incarnate God’s love for others. People can believe that God loves them because they experience love from God’s people.

Love as Faith Formation

This means that building loving relationships is key, the key, to faith formation. Kids, youth, and adults of all ages can learn all of the information about the Bible and God, but if they do not experience the grace of loving relationships (empowered by the Spirit to be free and unconditional), then it amounts to nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2). These relationships can be formed in Sunday school or small groups, over coffee/lemonade during fellowship hour, while we pass a dish at a church luncheon, during (cross+gen) worship, and while we work together on service projects.

Summer Love

So, the major question now is: how to do we work to build those loving relationships over the summer when you might not have a lot of faith formation programming and church attendance often falls? Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple answer for that. In part, that’s because it is very contextual. What works in one church in one community will not work in another. But here are some thoughts:

  • Keep in touch. Whether people are traveling or at home, think of ways to stay in contact. This can be done through email, texting, or social media, though you should keep it short and relevant. I receive so many emails/newsletters that many times I just delete them without opening. Phone calls, visits, or even small gifts (delivered in person or in the mail) are more time consuming or expensive, but they also are therefore more effective.
  • Take advantage of small numbers. If attendance drops in your congregation, use that to benefit those who are there. It is very difficult to build relationships when there are a lot of people present. Whether it be during the typical Sunday worship or a Wednesday night summer service, use these small numbers as an opportunity to connect people through conversation and working together. If your attendance is still too big for this (yay!), then you can break people up into smaller groups.
  • Make plans for the future. If “building loving relationships” is not a part of your faith formation planning, add it. Education is important to faith formation, but loving relationships are critical. Think about how to connect kids, youth, and adults both with others like them (generally within the same age groups) and with people of different generations. Studies have shown how important multigenerational connections are for youth, but this is true for everyone.
God Is Love

Nothing can separate us from the loving relationship God has formed with us. In fact, it is this relationship that defines God’s interactions with us (1 John 4:16), how we experience God. And, the best, most reliable way for us to experience that love is through loving relationships with each other. So, go build relationships with each other!

In Christ,

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Year 2 (2019-2020) products have launched. Check out the announcement blog post for more details. All products are ready to order, and you can see which product quarters are available for immediate download on our Release Dates web page.

For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our complete Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!

Be sure to download our free Narrative Lectionary 2019-2020 Planning Tool, NL Readings Overview, and Scope & Sequence.