A Sermon Based on Romans 8:31-39
The Girl Who Was Alone
My name was Alone. Women in their early twenties, unless they have teardrop bodies and prefect skin, often feel this way. I didn’t just feel it skin deep—I lived my name, cringed when others said it, breathed it out like a sigh whispering in the darkest corners of my bedroom. It was hard to even introduce myself with a name like that. When someone noticed me, which didn’t happen often, they would ask who I was and, sighing, I declared, “I am Alone.” It’s never what I wanted to say, but what else was there to say? I was Alone.
You may think, “what cruel parents you had to give you such a name!” But they weren’t cruel. They wanted to let me know what was coming. See, my mother, strong as she was, raised me and my little brother all alone. On the day I was born, the man who knocked up and knocked about my mom, left. Not a word. No note. Nothing. Mom raised me to be Alone. She always said, “It’s better to be Alone than abused. You can’t rely on no one in this life. Better learn yourself that now.”
Mother stood tall, talked tough, and never backed down. She carried loneliness like a shadow, walked on it every chance she could; raised herself up above that troubled past. Her name was Petra. She was a rock. I was Alone.
I didn’t just carry my shadow with me, but my brother’s too. He died when I was four and before he was even one. Mother often went out drinking when I was younger, saying, “might as well celebrate.” But really, looking back, I know she was still trying to hide her shadow in those early days. She acted strong for me, like nothing could break her, but she always stumbled through the door later that night with a man in toe, carrying more than his shadow behind him. She kicked them out, every one, when the morning sun gave her a hangover to knock her senses back in place. She said, “See, baby. When you’re Alone, you can have whatever and whoever you want. No strings attached.” But, my baby brother was a string she didn’t plan for.
Mother was a rock, but he wasn’t. She denied her pregnancy right up to the end, and drowned the lies with booze. When he came into this world, all kicking and wild like a barn cat, mom named him Samson saying, “You need to be strong in this life.” He was strong enough to survive the abuse she did to him in the womb… but not much afterwards.
Mom cracked then, another weakness she covered up later in life. Samson’s birth was my fault, and so his death was too. Why? Because I should have reminded her that it is better to be Alone. She didn’t bring any men home after that. Mom replaced that lifestyle with a second job, coming home late and leaving early. I had to learn to fend for myself. All alone, “And better for it,” mom would say.
I made it through to adulthood with less mishaps than my mom had. (Maybe her training did me some good.) No teenage pregnancies. No men in my life. No substance abuse. Just Alone in a one-bedroom apartment with a part-time job that barely paid the bills.
My life was the same every day. Wake up. No coffee. No breakfast. No money. Go to work. Every day I passed by the same billboard. “Need a home? We got you covered.” I remember thinking. One day. Once I even called them to see how much money I might need for a down-payment. I didn’t have more than two pennies and a prayer, but still… it never hurts to plan ahead. The lady on the phone informed me that they were actually a roofing company. I apologized for calling but she said, “No worries. We get these calls a lot. Probably more than actual clients. I keep telling those bozos in the office they should take the sign down because it’s just confusing. But they think it’s clever. We got you covered.” She scoffed and hung up.
One day they must have listened to her. The beams stood tall and naked save for a post-it note sized phone number with a heading, “Your Ad Here.” Alone. I made up signs to take its place, thinking of what humorous quip the next company would come up with. Maybe a cleaning service, “Stop cleaning that can. Call Pam!” Pet grooming, “Time for a trim? Don’t paws your life.” Or a bar, “The first drink’s on us. (Please, not literally).” The sign that did show up was not nearly as cheesy. It was obviously designed by an amateur, and I surely wouldn’t have noticed it unless it was on my daily route. Just five words black on white. “Are you alone? Come home.” A simple picture of a cross attached to the bottom of the “L” in alone with an address written across it’s length.
For some reason I couldn’t get those five words out of my head. With nothing to do on the weekend but sit alone in my apartment, I went for a walk. My feet carried me, by habit, past the sign again. This time, I stopped. “Are you alone? Come home.” I was Alone. If anyone could say that, it was me.
The church was just a few blocks away. There was no great steeple or fancy stained glass, but the smiling man at the door radiated more than the two combined in those old picturesque buildings. I hesitated, almost walking away, but he called out to me, “Come in, come in.” So, I crossed the street.” He shook my hand enthusiastically. “It’s so good to see you. What’s your name?”
I looked at him briefly, then turned away with a shy smile. It was always easier to respond this way when people asked. That way I didn’t have to say, “I am Alone.” Besides, he didn’t really care who I was.
“Well, it’s good to see you anyways. Come on in and join us.” He ushered me through the door and helped me find a seat at the back. “If you need anything at all, let me know.”
The songs were off-key. The sound system must have been from the 80s. The man up front with hair to match the grey carpet and face looking worse for wear than the pealing paint on the walls looked like he would fall over, gripping the pulpit for support. The sermon was from the Bible, a book I had only heard about, never read. Everyone had their Bible’s open, nodded and whispered to their neighbours as he spoke; I was in a crowd, but still Alone.
Suddenly my head snapped up. The pastor was looking right at me as he quoted the billboard that had brought me here. “Are you Alone? You don’t have to be.”
I remember thinking, “Yes I do. That’s my name.”
“God wants to give you a new name.” The man replied.
Silence. Did he just reply to my thoughts? What kind of place was this!
“You are Loved. God will never love you any less than he does right now, and he will never love you any more. He loves you as much as anyone could possibly love, and even more. In the Bible people often were named because of a special event in the lives of their parents when they were born. And God named you because of what he did so that you could be born again. He came because he wanted you, died because he loved you, and rose again so he could be with you, and you with him. You are Loved. That is your new name.”
My name was Alone, but it has been many years since I sat in that service. Much has happened, but nothing more important. See, that was the day I met my Father, the only one I’ve ever known. No, he didn’t come walking into my life and apologize for everything he had done by walking out on my mom and I. My Heavenly Father came in and said he was sorry for everything everyone else had done. And, just like my mom on the day I was born, he gave me a name that matched what was going through his heart. My name is Loved. Now, when people ask me who I am I tell them with my smile on my face, “I am Loved.” And, when they ask me how I got such a name, my smile gets bigger and I share with them this story.
The woman in this story found courage to get through every day because of God’s love for her. When asked about it, she shared her story with boldness, not because of anything in her, but because of everything in Christ. She went from Alone and shy to Loved and bold.
There are many stories in the Bible about boldness. Think of David who dressed in shepherd’s clothes and marched out on the battlefield to face Goliath, or Moses when he facing Pharaoh with little more than a stick and a prayer. How about Noah as he said, “the rain is coming” to a world that knew that sky and water don’t mix? What of the fire chasing Paul into the mission field, boldly proclaiming the gospel to those who threw him in prison?
Jesus story is one of bold love. He didn’t live like a coward or die like a shadow. He proclaimed the message of Good News despite what people might say, practised what he preached despite what people might do, and when asked if he was the Son of God, on trial for his life, he boldly proclaimed, I AM what you say I AM. Jesus knew something that we so often forget. He was loved by God.
There is power in God’s love. Power to be bold. Jesus faced death because of his boldness. He hung on the Cross, screaming in pain at the clouds without reply. Why did he do it? Why didn’t he just deny what the people were saying about Him? Why didn’t he turn His back and say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Because He knew the end of the story. He knew that the power of His father’s love would raise him from the dead.
Paul, in His letter to the Romans, gives us a reason to be bold. 8:31 starts out by saying, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things?” What things is he talking about? The death and resurrection of Christ. Many of us believe in the Easter story, and maybe some of us don’t. But, do we truly believe it unless we do something with it? Do you believe that your parents are coming on the weekend if you don’t bother to make up the spare room? Do you believe that your car is going to get you to work if walk instead? Do you believe that the roof over your head will keep the rain out if you wear your raincoat when in the house? Do you believe in the power of God’s love in your life doesn’t change as a result?
So, if a response is required, what is it? The rest of Vs. 31 tells us – “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
When David looked at Goliath, he didn’t see the man’s size, the length of his blade, or hear the boom of his laughter. It was a still stall voice inside that captured his attention. “If God is for me, who can be against me?” Not Goliath. When Moses faced off against the most powerful king in the land, he was not dissuaded by the serpent’s eyes staring at him from Pharaoh’s staff. He boldly entered in saying, “If God is for me, who can be against me?” Not Pharaoh.
Why can we have boldness in God? What is it about Him that nurtures such a response?
We can be bold because of God’s love. He did not spare his own Son. Vs. 32 starts out with this declaration – “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all…” John 3:16 puts it this way, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He held nothing back. God’s love is as wide as the distance between his palms… and love did not die with him, but revealed its power through him.
If God did not hold back his only Son, the most precious thing in his life, what won’t he hold back from us? That is what Paul asks in the rest of vs. 32. This one who didn’t even hold back his son’s life… “how will he not also graciously give us all things?” All things are summed up in his love. We can love others because he loved us. We can love ourselves because he loved us. We love him because he first loved us.
What about people who don’t first love you? What do we do when spat on, ridiculed, laughed at, torn down? Do we cower? Maybe we fight back? Or are we bold? When is the last time you boldly walked past the playground bullies? What about that neighbour who yells at you for breathing his air? What about those who stop talking once they find our you’re a Christian? Vs. 33 says, “who can bring a charge against us?” Vs. 34 – “who is the one who condemns? No one.” But those rocks don’t feel like nothing. The barbs coming from her tongue sure do sting. The weight of second-hand gossip crushes me. If we can be so confident in what the world thinks about us, we can be even more confident in what God thinks about us. Vs. 34 continues, “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
Yes, Jesus died. But he conquered death. He holds the power of life and death in the palm of his hands, and it left a mark. He faced the Cross, and boldly went where no man had gone before. He descended into Hell itself, looked Satan in the face and said, “You have no power over me! Not even death can keep me down!” He rose like a phoenix from the ashes, spread his wings and soared into our hearts. And this is the one who loves us! He did all this because of His love.
So, when others reject us, when the world tries to put us down, when we feel hated, called Alone, made to feel like nobody special, it is them who act this way that are nobody special. Next to Jesus, they are nothing. Put Goliath beside God and he looks like an ant. Put Pharaoh next to Jesus and we can’t even make out the snake on his headdress. Put gossip next to God and it is not more than a gaggle of geese. Put destruction beside deity and it is far from defeat. Put liars beside our living Lord and you can’t even hear their slander any more.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
This life is not perfect. It isn’t easy. There will be trials, difficulties, frustrations, pain. But, if anyone knows about pain it’s the one who felt the thorns pushing into his brow. If anyone knows slander its the one who was spat at while hanging on the Cross. If anyone knows rejection it is the one who even His own Father turned his face away at the lowest point in his life. But, he is also the one who loves us. He experienced the troubles of this world in a far greater degree than we can ever imagine, yet boldly believed in God’s love.
Without God’s love, Jesus death was pointless. Without love, his life was meaningless. Without love, his resurrection was impossible. The power of love raised Jesus from the dead.
What does the power of love do for us today? Are we even convinced that love has power? Somewhere between the fighting and divorce courts there is something that once looked like love… but it’s gone now. Before he started coming late or never, he said he loved me. Before she disrespected me in front of our neighbours, she said her vows.
What we call love is not love. Calling this love does not make it love. It’s like taking a picture of your spouse in a dark room and not turning the flash on. Then show the picture to someone and say, “this is the woman/man that I love.” All they can see is a haze of blackness, and maybe there is a person behind it. It’s like taking some sand and water from them beach, bottling them up, and showing the mud to someone declaring, “the beach is so beautiful! It looks kind of like this…”
The love that God has for you cannot be taken away. It is the love of someone who died for you. A few chapter back, in Romans 5:7-8 puts it this way – “Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” This is the true message of Easter. It is a story of love: love that never fails, never gives up, never runs out.
The final verses of Romans 8 say it more beautifully than I ever could.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When God says he loves you, he means it, when he declared he would die for you, he did it, and when he proclaimed he would rise again he proved it. And nothing can separate us from that love.
What if our responses to the trials of this life were built on that foundation. If the world calls us Alone, we will feel it in our very core. If we call ourselves Useless it will untie the strings of our heart. If you call yourself worthless, you will wear it on your sleeve. But, what if we called ourselves Loved. Then, when the trials and struggles come, we will stand wielding the power of God that is greater than all other names, and has even conquered death! When Goliath stands before us, we can sling a stone at him. When people make us feel small we can laugh and say, but you are smaller than God! And He loves me!
What boldness would that give us in this life? I love the Gospel of John because whenever talking about himself he says, “the one whom Jesus loved.” How can you hurt someone like that? We can have the bold strength of David, bold words of Moses, bold faith of Noah, and bold witness of Paul because of the bold love of Jesus! He defeated death, is larger than life itself, turns pain into praise, torture into triumph, and cowardice into a more than a conqueror. If this God is for us. Who can be against us?