New Year’s Eve
Wednesday, December 31, 2003
I’ve been thinking a lot about the people in Bam, Iran, this week, as the count of those killed in the earthquake continues to rise. Last estimates put the figure near 50,000 people dead, out of a city of 80,000.
I did a little research into whether there were Christians in Bam, and I found that about ½ a percent of the population of the country of Iran is Christian. Lutheran World Relief is coordinating their efforts with congregations in Iran. I did not find out if there was a congregation in Bam, but we know that there is a small number of brothers and sisters in Christ in Iran, trying to maintain their faith in a Shiite Muslim country.
So I do not know for a fact that there are Iranian Christians in Bam, but if there are, Paul’s words from Romans chapter 8 speak words of comfort, strength, and truth for their situation: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, for I am convinced that nothing will separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The earthquake in Bam caused telephone lines to be cut off. Electricity, water, heat, have been cut off. Routes into the city were cut off, destroyed by the upheaval of the earth. Those trapped underneath the rubble were cut off from daylight, from rescue. The thousands killed in Bam were cut off from life.
But those who believe in Christ will never be cut off from the love of God in Christ. Communication, power, water, transportation may all be cut off. Life may be cut short, but these things will not, cannot separate the believers from the love of God in Christ.
God’s love doesn’t need power lines or pipes to get to the people. God’s love doesn’t need roads. God’s love doesn’t need a clear path. It doesn’t even needs bulldozers to clear the rubble. God’s love cannot be stopped by the tragedies of this world. God’s love cannot be kept from reaching out to His people, from gathering those who have died in the faith.
So even now after thousands have died in Bam, we can confidently say that that earthquake didn’t keep any believers in Christ from receiving eternal life. Those who died in the faith in the earthquake will receive life after death through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
And even now when Lutheran World Relief workers and many other Christian agencies enter Iran to help the people of Bam, even now God’s love will not be stopped. As those relief workers give medical help, food, clothes, and shelter to the survivors, may God’s love be shared through their actions. The government of Iran has made it extremely difficult for Christians to share the message of Good News, but the Christians have found ways to share Christ anyway. There has been active churches in Iran. The government could not cut off God’s love from His people.
And now in the midst of tragedy, God is again showing that His love will not be cut off; the people will not be separated from God’s love. God is reaching out through Christian relief agencies to show once again that He is love, that He brings salvation, that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. May the survivors hear the Good News of Jesus even in the midst of tragedy. May they know the words of Paul that nothing is able to separate them from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
But we have suffered our own earthquakes this year. Maybe nothing so incredible, so newsworthy, so massive as the earthquake in Iran, but we suffer our own earthquakes, our own tragedies, our own difficulties each day. Paul quotes Psalm 44 saying, “We face death all day long.” Indeed, as we reflect on 2003, as the New Year approaches tonight, you know what earthquakes you have suffered, earthquakes of all sizes, earthquakes and the aftershocks.
Sickness. Not doing so well in school. Injuries. Asthma. Damage from a thunderstorm. Losing your job. Accidents. Fight with a friend. Fight with a family member. Fire. Seeing someone go off to war. Divorce. Abuse. Alcoholism. Drug use. Death of a loved one.
Yet, what is true for the Christians in Iran is true for us: nothing is able to cut us off from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. All of these difficulties and troubles may lay at your feet like rubble. You may still feel trapped underneath the weight of it all, but these things will not cut you off from the love of God.
(start unrolling a string that is attached to the altar to be stretched down the aisle)
I’m here to tell you tonight: we will not be cut off from God’s love. We’re here tonight to be reminded: we will not be cut off from God’s love. We have received God’s love through His Word. We receive God’s love through the Lord’s Supper.
Thinking of the altar as God’s presence among us, then tonight remember that God’s love stretches out to you. We will not be separated from God’s love. We will not be cut off. No matter how many tragedies and disasters and life’s rubble gets dumped on us, God’s love will not be stopped.
(pieces of paper with words, drop on string, fall off)
The difficulties of life are not strong enough to break God’s love, to stop God’s love. Trouble—falls right off. Hardship—not hard enough. Persecution—can’t crush this love. Famine—won’t starve God’s love; He is the Bread of life. Nakedness—can’t change the fact that we’re clothed with Christ. Danger—there is no danger within the mighty fortress of our God. Sword—an earthly sword may stab and kill, but we have the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, which brings His Truth and His love to us.
All of these things that stand in our way, all of these things that make our lives so desperate, so difficult, so sad, so lonely, all of these things are like feathers when it comes to God’s love (throw papers into the air). To us any one of these things can feel like a 2-ton truck sitting on our shoulders, trouble or danger or hardship, but they are light as a feather when it comes to trying to crush God’s love. They fall right off. They might seem like wrecking balls to us, but they cannot bring down God’s love. Nothing can cut off God’s love. Nothing can stop God’s love from getting through.
That’s not to say you’re suppose to feel like the difficulties of 2003 were light as a feather. God knows that certain things have brought you low, have made you feel sunken inside, made you feel burdened. That’s not to say in the future that your troubles and hardships will feel less painful. The message for you who are heavy burdened today is that even when you’re broken down at the side of the road, even when you’re standing all alone, even when you’re stuck in bed and can’t get up, even when you’re trapped beneath the difficulties of this world, God’s love is more than strong enough to reach you.
Christ doesn’t make our lives easy and painless; this is a sinful world, and we suffer the consequences. But Christ’s love can’t be stopped by this sinful world. When you’re crawling underneath your pain, God’s love is not affected. When you feel like there’s no way that anyone can help you, God’s love still gets through. Above all the things that may happen to you in this life, God’s love has got a hold on you. God’s love will not fail you when you’re trapped in the earthquakes of life. We will not be cut off from God’s love. He remains strong even while we are weak, sick, troubled, and dying. He remains strong and stretches out His love to give you comfort, strength, hope, and faith, stretches out His love to give you life after death through Jesus Christ.
I want you to know that you are connected, you are not separated; you are attached, you are not cut off. I want you to know that God’s love is with you no matter what has happened in your life in 2003 and no matter what happens in 2004. Please stand. I want you to move into the center aisle so that the people on the aisles can gently hold onto the string, and then join hands. In this way, I want you to know that you are connected, you are attached to the love of God.
And now as you hold hands and hold this string, as you realize that God’s love has found you and has a hold on you, I want you to again hear the words of Paul: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, for we are convinced that neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.
Relief for Iranian Earthquake Victims
Lutheran World Relief is working to provide assistance to survivors of the earthquake in Iran and asking for donations toward relief efforts from supporters in the U.S. When disaster strikes, in addition to prayer, the greatest immediate need is cash so that our local partners can quickly and efficiently provide needed assistance.
To contribute online or find out more, go to www.lwr.org
You may also call 1-800-LWR-LWR2
Or mail a check or money order to:
Lutheran World Relief - Iran
PO Box 17061
Baltimore, MD 21298-9832