One summer while I was still in school I got it in my head that I wanted to visit some caves. I think it resulted from the traveling I had done the previous summer through states like Kentucky and Tennessee and seeing those continuous advertisements for all the caves which serve as tourist attractions along some portions of those highways. So I did some research, and among the things I discovered was the word for cave exploring that I don’t believe I had come across up to that time – the word spelunking. Spelunking is cave visiting, cave searching, cave exploring.
What I could not research in advance, however, was the actual feeling I would get when I was spelunking way down in some of those mammoth caves like, for example, the most famous cave down there called Mammoth Cave –the feeling you get – or at least the feeling I got –when they take you down those narrow winding steps where the oxygen level seems to get less and less and the temperature seems to get lower and lower and the guides turn off their lanterns making it so dark you literally cannot even see your hand in front of your face – all of which results in the beginning stages of hyperventilating – and then comes the vow from the bottom of your fast-beating heart, even if not expressed out loud because you don’t want anyone to know how scared you are, but you wonder if everyone else is thinking the exact same thing, “I promise, God, if you get me out of here I will never do anything like this again!”
To this point I don’t believe I have broken that promise, though I imagine it’s possible I will do so in the future, but there have been any number of times before then and since then – just as I am certain there have been – and continue to be – any number of times in your life where you feel like you are in the depths of a cave, without being able to see an easy way out – or any way out – where all seems dark and cold in your life – and where the steps forward seem to get windier and windier and you don’t really have any idea where they may be leading you, though they may be leading you to wonder if you are going through life separate and alone.
Today the apostle Paul begins by asking us, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” and then he ends by answering, “For I am convinced” that all kinds of things – including height and depth (like feeling you are in the depths of a cave) – that none of those all kinds of things, he says, “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Let’s see how God takes us from that honest question of life to his honest answer of love and thank God with this thought that when it comes to our Lord we are Inseparable, Even While Spelunking.
None of this comfort that we are inseparable from our Lord can be separated from the promise God gave us in one of the verses right before our lesson, when he gets to the heart of our faith by saying, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things.” In other words, if God has done the most important thing of making sure that because of what Jesus has done to forgive our sins, we will not be separated from God after we die, it is not possible for us to be separate from God while we are alive.
But while we are alive we give God every reason to separate himself from us, don’t we? Sometimes we even try to distance ourselves from him by wanting what we want to be or what we want to do to be more important that what God wants us to be or to do – and then we wonder why things are all messed up in our lives. The prophet Isaiah wrote about that very thing once when he said, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save… But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you” (Isaiah 59:1-2)… And still God says nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God, even though we deserve to be left in the depths of a cave by the Lord and Savior who instead went to the depths of a grave after being separated from his Father on the cross in order to give us this very promise.
And it’s that promise we need to keep hanging onto, because even though by faith we know nothing can separate us from the love of God, what we experience by sight is that quotation in verse 36 of our Lesson: “As it is written, ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’” Those words are from one of the Psalms of the Bible, where God’s people were wondering where in the world God was when things were going crazy in their world and nothing was making sense. They cried out to their Lord, not in anger in this case, but in desperation, “Are you sleeping, Lord? Please wake up, Lord! Please don’t reject us forever, Lord! Please don’t hide your face from us and forget the misery we are going through. Please rise up and help us because of your unfailing love.”
Is that any different from what God’s people have ever said at any time of life throughout any time in the world – and now at this time of life in our time of the world what we say as God’s people? It is always the same. The questions, the fears, the concerns, the worries, the diseases, the deaths – they are always the same. It’s just that sometimes we are forced to think about them more specifically because they are more obvious and can be seen more easily. And thank God for those times. In that sense, thank God for these times. Because sometimes when it is not so obvious that we are in the depths since things seem to be going well, it can be so easy to forget that we are always in the depths. We are always deserving God’s punishment because of our sin, and we are always facing death and suffering and problems all day long because of sin in the world in general – and sometimes the sins of others against us precisely because we believe in the forgiveness of those sins by the Savior of the world, who was the only one who was unjustly considered as a sheep to be slaughtered – so great was his love for us – that love from which you and I can never be separated.
And that is why St. Paul assures us in verse 37 that you and I are “more than conquerors.” We are super-winners. We are the champions of the world. But notice in what way we are conquerors and winners and champions. We are not winners because by faith in Jesus we can get to the point of never going through bad things. That of course is one of the devil’s big temptations. “How can you be a winner when in your life you are such a loser, or you are being treated as a loser. Some God that is…” the devil says. No, we are winners even when it doesn’t look like we have won. We are winners even as we go through all kinds of bad things and temptations to look upon God as the cause of those bad things. We are winners simply because God says it is so – and because God has made it so, as he so says here, “through him who loved us.” Since Jesus loves you and has forgiven your sins, in the imagery of the last two verses of our Lesson we can say: Whether you are dead or alive makes no difference; whether you know angels surround you or demons are tempting you makes no difference; whether you are thinking about your present circumstance or some circumstance that may develop in your life in the future — no matter how many powers of this earthly world or powers of the spiritual world every single day try to lessen your resolve to hang on to Christ — makes no difference; whether you are up high on a massive mountain or way down low in a mammoth cave makes no difference. The Creator of heaven and earth says, “Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. We are inseparable, even while spelunking – or thinking that we are.
In the darkness of whatever cave you may be in right now where you feel you can’t even see your hand in front of your face and you have no idea which way to turn to get on the right path, know that, as a child of God, Jesus is always holding your hand — the one who is the light of world, the one who is himself the way to the Father, the one whose conquering of the grave makes you a winner in any cave your dear Lord decides is good for you to explore. Right now, for reasons that only he alone may know, that is where your dear Lord and Savior wants you to be… and he is right there with you, because he lives right here (heart) in you, because of what he did right there on that cross for you. Amen.