Sunday, June 23, 2019

Relational Gifts—a sermon about Discernment and Wisdom

Rev. Teri Peterson
Gourock St. John’s 
Relational Gifts
James 3.13-18 (NRSV), 1 Samuel 16.1-13 (NIV) (Wisdom and Discernment)
23 June 2019, Spiritual Gifts 2

With children:
The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.’
But Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.’
The Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.’
Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, ‘Do you come in peace?’
Samuel replied, ‘Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.’ Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.’
But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’
Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, ‘The Lord has not chosen this one either.’ Jesse then made Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, ‘Nor has the Lord chosen this one.’ Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, ‘The Lord has not chosen these.’ So he asked Jesse, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’
‘There is still the youngest,’ Jesse answered. ‘He is tending the sheep.’
Samuel said, ‘Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.’
So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; this is the one.’
So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.


I am often asked why we still read the Bible and take it so seriously, when it’s thousands of years old, written for people of a different time and place. After all, within our holy text is all kinds of teaching that makes no sense for us, or that we disregard—like the dietary laws, for instance. In both the Old and New Testaments there are many pages of rules regarding what the people of God can and cannot eat. They are meant to remind people that God is interested in every aspect of our lives, and to set us apart from people who worship different gods. Those rules created a particular kind of community. We no longer follow those parts of the Bible, though there are of course people who do. Similarly, there are things in the Bible that feel so far away from us—stories of God seeming to sanction war against the indigenous people of Canaan, letters to churches that have long ceased to exist, and teachings that feel very bound to their time and culture.

It’s true that the Bible contains all those things, and that it can be a challenge to discern what the enduring message is for us today. Sometimes it might very well be “don’t allow this history to repeat” or it might be a catalyst for discussing what it means to be God’s people and how others would know us as Christians, for instance.

It’s also true that sometimes we get readings like today’s, and it is shocking just how contemporary it feels. German theologian Karl Barth advises that we should always read with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, and today you don’t have to look far for examples of “where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” It’s almost as if James had a copy of the news from 2019. Though I think even someone from the first century Roman Empire would be shocked and appalled at the thought of children being kept in cages at the American border, sleeping on concrete floors with no blankets, no medicine, and no soap, while the world looks on in silent disbelief that concentration camps can be happening again. I think even someone from the first century Roman Empire would be surprised at the people we have chosen to lead our nations—in fact, reaching farther back, I think even Samuel might be surprised, given that the story we heard a little while ago so clearly says that looking only at appearances instead of at the heart is the way to choose the wrong leader. God looks at the heart, the character, of a person, and may choose someone who surprises us. When we look only at charisma or bank account or whatever other strange criteria seem to apply, then we end up with leaders who don’t think twice about tweeting celebrations of the Windrush generation that same leader tried to deport only a year or two ago, or with leaders who can congratulate themselves for pulling back at the last second from starting a war, or leaders that are so far removed from reality that they can’t see how Universal Credit drives families further into poverty and puts women at risk...the list could go on. I could stand here all day with the newspaper in one hand and see the examples, worldwide, of the disorder and wickedness that comes from envy and selfish ambition.

Yet we want leaders who have the gifts of discernment and wisdom. Those are the gifts Solomon prayed for when God asked what he wanted—the ability to know what was right, what was God’s direction that he was to lead the people toward, and the ability to see the application of God’s teaching to daily living and leadership, to understand God’s will and live it out.

Now, I think even Solomon would admit that even having received those gifts from the Holy Spirit, he still made mistakes. He still sometimes acted from selfish ambition rather than from God’s wisdom. Having a spiritual gift doesn’t mean we are perfect, or that we use it correctly all the time. It means that God has a purpose for us to fulfil, and gives us that gift as a tool—and we have to learn how to use that tool wisely.

Samuel is a good example. He once was the young boy whose mentor, Eli, was blind—both physically and spiritually. Samuel was given the gift of discernment, to be able to see where God was leading, to be a good judge of character and to sense what was the movement of the Spirit and what was a distraction or a false teaching. But now he is older, more experienced, and more burdened. By the time we get to the story we heard today, Samuel is blinded by grief about Saul, and perhaps about his own failures as well. When God calls him to go to Jesse and choose one of his sons to be the next king, Samuel has to be persuaded, and when he arrives he initially thinks he’ll just choose the obvious firstborn, who is tall and handsome and the eldest, and so clearly must be right.

But God intervenes and reminds Samuel of his gift: don’t consider his appearance or height or birth order or inheritance. Remember how to use the tools you’ve been given to judge right from wrong, to see what God sees, to discern. God doesn’t look at appearance, but at reality. Appearance is no substitute for substance, for heart, for character. 

That’s a hard lesson for a people obsessed with curating our entire existence into social media stories.

But as we know, whatever image we project, God is not deceived. And honestly, even our neighbours know better, if they think about it for more than a few seconds. Everyone knows that there is more to the story than what we portray on instagram or facebook. When we look past the filters, we can get glimpses of who people really are. Though sometimes, as in the case of a few leaders that come immediately to mind, we don’t have to look hard, and I’m reminded of Maya Angelou’s line “when people show you who they are, believe them.” Especially if it’s an inadvertent glimpse behind the curated image, when we see something that demonstrates someone’s character, that might be a nudge from the Spirit’s gift of discernment.

James says that wisdom will be visible in works—that the way a person lives, behaves, acts, speaks, will be a demonstration of what sort of wisdom they have. Worldly wisdom comes out in envy and selfish ambition, boasting and falsehood, and results in disorder and wickedness. God’s gift of wisdom, though, looks like foolishness to the world—it is marked by gentleness, peaceableness, willingness to yield, mercy, a lack of partiality. This sort of wisdom doesn’t seek power, doesn’t result in neighbours being afraid enough to phone the police, doesn’t put children in cages, doesn’t start wars, doesn’t shut others out when they are in need, and isn’t interested in personal gain. 

Instead, God’s gift of wisdom allows us to see what is true: that often, we have confused being with having. When we measure our worth by what we have, whether that’s possessions or power, then the result is envy and selfish ambition—making everything about us, our position, our status relative to others. When we instead measure worth by who we are—beloved children of God—we find that right relationship to God and each other leads to a way of life that is in accord with God’s teaching, with what we know to be true at the deepest level: that the word that created the world is love.

Both wisdom and discernment are, at their heart, relational gifts. And their absence is often marked by a sense of individualism and jockeying for position for oneself. The ability to cut myself off from caring about others, or about God, as I seek my own interest, is not a gift, but rather a lack of gift. 

Samuel demonstrates that discernment is a gift that requires constant attention to the voice of God inside us. He nearly makes a terrible mistake, but he listens to God instead, and as each son passes by, he listens again. To use well the gift of discernment means being in constant open and honest communication with the Holy Spirit. Which, of course, is something that I hope we all want to cultivate, as Paul teaches us to pray without ceasing! 

And James gives us a description of what wisdom looks like, and it is entirely made of relational words. Unlike the individualistic self-seeking of worldly wisdom, God’s gift of wisdom leads us to make peace, to be gentle with one another, to know when to compromise to help another along the way, to do mercy, and to be fair, showing no partiality. To live like this requires careful attention to the image of God in other people as well as in ourselves, and a sense of the right order of relationships—with Christ at the head, we are all together in this Body. No one is more important than another, we are all needed, wanted, and loved.

It sometimes feels as if these two gifts are in short supply in the world just now. But we know that God gives us what we need to pursue God’s work in the world, so perhaps the issue is not that God has not given the gifts, but rather that we have not yet learned to nurture the relationships that make these gifts work—open and honest, marked by careful and constant attention, to the voice of God inside us and speaking through others. Whether we have these particular gifts or not, nurturing our relationship with God and our relationship with each other can only help—as James says in his letter that is as true today as it was thousands of years ago, a harvest of righteousness is sown by making peace. 

May it be so. Amen.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Faith Seeking Understanding—a sermon on the spiritual gifts of Knowledge and Faith

Rev. Teri Peterson
Gourock St John’s
Faith Seeking Understanding 
Romans 4.16-22, Daniel 1.17-20 (faith and knowledge)
16 June 2019, spiritual gifts 1

(With children)
To these four young men (Daniel, Hananiah/Shadrach, Mishael/Meshach, and Azariah/Abednego) God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’

This summer we’ll be looking at the various gifts that the Holy Spirit gives us, and what the people of God have done with those gifts through the centuries, and praying for the Spirit to reveal what gifts we have as we follow God’s call to us, and to help us develop them to be more faithful.

It’s easy to gloss over the idea of spiritual gifts, either insisting we don’t have any, or that whatever gifts we might have are unimportant. Neither of those things is true—everyone is gifted. Paul says “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” We may not recognise our gifts, but they are there, often in abundance! And within the Body of Christ, every gift we need to fulfil God’s purpose for us will be present. Sometimes that’s one of the best ways to determine our calling, actually—to look at our gifts. Because God always gives us what we need to do what God calls us to do. Which means sometimes our gifts change throughout our lives, or as needs in the community change, or as the world around us changes.

Gifts from the Spirit are different than our own talents, though they may sometimes be related. Gifts are things we cannot earn or create or cultivate in ourselves. The Spirit chooses, and gives, and takes away. Full stop. We do not make ourselves have faith, or wisdom, or the ability to speak in tongues. So we don’t get to claim some kind of special favour when we do have those things, because they aren’t about us anyway, they are always about fulfilling God’s purpose and vision for the world, and for each place and time.

So each Sunday we’ll hear about a pair of gifts. Then on Tuesday evenings, starting the 25th of June, we’ll also have a chance to study what the Bible says about spiritual gifts, and explore what we think our gifts might be. 

Have you been able to guess what this morning’s pair of gifts is? In some ways, it was the easiest pair to put together, though in other ways it seems almost like they are opposites. 

Daniel and his four friends were gifted all kinds of knowledge, because it would help them to glorify God in the midst of the foreign king’s court. They had the gift of studying, and understanding, God’s truth through many different avenues—it says they had knowledge of literature, psychology, and all kinds of learning. It is indeed a gift, to love learning and to be able to see God in it all, to be able to gather and analyse information and use that for God’s glory. The gift of knowledge also challenges the rest of us, to seek and study, because God’s word and God’s world are endlessly fascinating, full of new things for us to explore and learn.

Daniel and his companions were already faithful. They didn’t receive the gift of knowledge in order to grow faith in themselves, but rather to demonstrate God’s faithfulness to others. But I suspect they still enjoyed the learning, and the journey of applying that knowledge to the situation they found themselves in. 

There is an old description of the Christian life, possibly written by St. Anselm, that says that what we are about is “faith seeking understanding.” In our life with God, we are always learning and growing, because both God’s faithfulness and our faith drive us to seek understanding. Not knowledge for the sake of simply knowing things, and not that information or logic can create faith. Rather that faith makes us want to know God more, in order that we may grow closer to God and better carry out God’s will.

Of course, it isn’t only knowledge that is a gift of the Spirit, but even faith itself. It can feel a little bit strange to think of faith itself as a gift of the Spirit. Yet the apostle Paul describes it that way repeatedly, even saying that no one can call Jesus Lord unless the Spirit gives them the ability, and Jesus says that no one comes to him unless drawn by the Father. To have faith is a gift. 

What is faith, exactly? Sometimes we use it to mean belief, in an intellectual sense, like in the creeds that lay out the propositions to which we are to give our assent—I believe in God, the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. To our modern ears, it’s a statement about what we think is true, that God exists and is creator of all. Though that would probably fall more under the gift of knowledge, than of faith! Because faith is really much more than an intellectual exercise. And to believe in God is to say more than that we think God exists. 

Writing to the Romans, Paul describes the story of Abraham by first pointing out that, intellectually, Abraham knew there was no hope. The facts were against him, and against God, frankly. He’d been promised many offspring, but both he and his wife were too old. He’d been promised land, and yet they were wanderers. He had left everything, and by all accounts it seemed to be for nothing. 

And yet, Paul writes, Abraham was “fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”

In other words, Abraham didn’t simply believe in God, he believed God. Faith may seek understanding, but faith itself is not really about the facts, it’s about trust—which is the marker of a relationship, not a thought process. And this kind of faith is indeed a gift. We can’t force trust, nor can we think our way into it. It comes through the Spirit, continually showing us God’s faithfulness.

The promise comes by faith, so that it will be clear to everyone that this is grace—it is gift, not earned by effort. And the gift of faith ties us together with all God’s people, from Abraham until now—a faithline, rather than a bloodline, with all who are also persuaded that God has the power to do what God has promised.

Simply reading this little bit of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we might think that Abraham’s faith was unshakeable and maybe even naive. But that wasn’t the case—even Abraham is an example of faith seeking understanding, though it’s not clear whether he was given the gift of knowledge. Abraham asked God a lot of questions, he always wanted to know more. He tried to take matters into his own hands, ensuring an heir by other means, because he believed God’s promise but wasn’t always 100% certain that God could deliver through the usual methods. To stand in the faithline of Abraham’s descendants is also to be willing to know the whole story, to study the scriptures and see how God and God’s people have walked together throughout the ages. When we seek that knowledge, our faith will be deepened, as we see God at work in people just like us, in circumstances we recognise, in this life.

To say that faith—in the sense of unshakeable trust that allows us to be fully persuaded that God is able to deliver on God’s promises—is a gift is to admit that not everyone will receive this particular gift, or even that it might be given for only a season of life. Which means those who do have it cannot boast, and those who have doubts, or who have the gift Abraham-style, looking for ways to enact God’s promises themselves, or those who need more information before they will believe, are not inferior. All of us have gifts, and all the gifts work together in the Body of Christ to accomplish God’s goals for us and for the world. Those with the gift of faith can encourage us all, remind us of God’s promises and power, and guide us as we hold fast to those promises in times of storm. And those with the gift of knowledge can encourage us all in study and help us to seek understanding that will deepen our connection to God and perhaps lead us toward greater faithfulness—by which I mean acting in accordance with God’s will whatever our current state of mind or heart might be.

I had a terribly difficult time choosing a hymn that might encapsulate these gifts, especially faith, because there are so many to choose from but few that seem to encompass both. Which makes sense, as it’s easy to imagine that faith and knowledge are opposite gifts—one taking things without any proof, and one seeking and analysing and looking for information. But I think they really are complementary gifts, not opposites. Within any community, we need both. We need the people who can sing with complete heartfelt conviction “no storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I’m clinging” and “safe in the shadow of the Lord, possessed by love divine, I trust in him, I trust in him, and meet his love with mine.” And we also need those who earnestly sing the prayer “may the mind of Christ our Saviour live in me from day to day” and “let our minds be sharp to read you in sight or sound or printed page.”

As we stand in the faithline of both Abraham and Daniel, and countless others through the millennia, I hope we can see the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, the gift-giver, throughout their stories and ours. And so we sing the hymn Faith Begins By Letting Go, recalling that Abraham and Sarah’s faith included letting go...and Daniel’s involved holding on...and praying that all of us would be gifted with the ability to see God’s grace in the commonplace. If you are comfortable doing so, I invite you to stand as we sing together.

(Words by Carl P. Daw)
Faith begins by letting go,
giving up what had seemed sure,
taking risks and pressing on,
though the way feels less secure:
pilgrimage both right and odd, 
trusting all our life to God.

Faith endures by holding on,
keeping memory’s roots alive
so that hope may bear its fruit;
promise-fed, our souls will thrive,
not through merit we possess
but by God’s great faithfulness.

Faith matures by reaching out, 
stretching minds, enlarging hearts,
sharing struggles, living prayer,
binding up the broken parts;
till we find the commonplace

ripe with witness to God’s grace. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

God’s coworkers— a sermon for Pentecost

During the children’s time we read
this excellent and beautifully story of Pentecost. 
Rev. Teri Peterson
Gourock St. John’s
God’s coworkers
Romans 8.14-39 (NIV)
9 June 2019, Pentecost, NL1-40

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 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? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. 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. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
‘For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, 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.


Many of you know that I think these last few verses are among the most important words in scripture: that there is nothing, not one thing, no matter what it is, whether it’s real or imagined, desperately awful or amazingly wonderful, nothing at all in the entire creation can separate us from God’s love. It is literally impossible to be separate from God. Grace is irresistible...for us, and for the people who don’t really think deserve it, too. Nothing we do, nothing we say, and nothing we experience can ever cut us off from God’s love.  

I was all prepared to preach a whole Pentecost sermon on these few words, maybe even just about the little word “nothing.” Or maybe since I’ve probably said that a hundred times already in the 64 weeks I’ve been here, to talk about that first day of Pentecost, because I heard a really interesting idea about that story just yesterday.

But instead I can’t stop thinking about something I learned this week about verse 28. It’s such a famous verse, Christians around the world have it memorised...and sometimes it feels like one of those verses that is always being misused. But for all that, I had never read it in my Greek Bible, I’d always relied on the translations, until this week.

The way I learned the verse by heart, it says “All things work together for good for those who love God.” The translation we read this morning says “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” But in Greek, it literally says “God works together for good WITH those who love him, those called according to his purpose.” The word is synergei...the word we now use to speak about working together to make something that is more than the sum of its parts.

God works together for good with those who love God.

Or, to put it another way, God and those who love God are coworkers. Colleagues. Cooperators.

After I saw this, I started to see similar words, with prefixes “Syn” and “con” that both mean “together”, all over this chapter of Romans. We are adopted into God’s family together, co-heirs with Christ. The whole creation, together, groans, and waits, and will be revealed. And God made us to be conformed to the image of Christ—con-formed, formed with, or literally made together, to be alike. 

God works together for good with those who love God, called according to God’s purpose.

We are coworkers with God, revealing the kingdom by the ways we follow Christ, the ways we become like Christ.

And on that first Pentecost, isn’t that exactly what happened? The Spirit rushed in, and pushed the people out of their comfortable upper room, out into the streets where normal everyday life was happening...and out there, they became God’s colleagues. They told the good news of God’s love and power to anyone who would listen, in ways anyone could understand. They worked together with God to do something amazing, something they couldn’t have done on their own. And in doing so, they were formed into a new Body, the Church. Working together with God led them deeper into relationship with each other...and that led them deeper into the process of being con-formed, made together, alike with Christ...and so on, in a cycle that God uses to bring about good for the world.

God works together with us to accomplish a greater good than we could ever do on our own.

And nothing—nothing....NOTHING can separate us from God’s love. The Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts, and we are coworkers in God’s kingdom, and nothing can change that. This is a job you can’t leave, you can’t get let go from, you can’t lose, and you don’t have to search for. It’s a gift, it’s a calling, and it’s for all of us. We are literally made to be together, with each other and with God. 

On Pentecost morning, Luke records that the disciples were “speaking about God’s deeds of power” and that each person heard in their own native language. I am sure they spoke of the resurrection of Christ, but what if they also spoke about God’s power to bridge gaps, to bring us together, to hold us so close we can never be let go? The power to work together, in a world that so often tries to separate. The power to build community in a world that so often pretends we can go it alone. The power to stick together, to refuse to allow anything to come between God and humanity, in a world that believes love is weak or fluffy or ineffectual. 

In all things—even the things we think separate us, crush us, tempt us, trouble us, as well as the things we appreciate and enjoy and celebrate—in all things, God works together with us for good. Nothing can keep God away from us, nothing can come between us—not language barriers, or class, or national borders, or experience, or danger, or fortune, or heights or depths. God needs coworkers in the kingdom, and has called us for that purpose, and will stick with us in the work, through thick and thin. 

Made together, called together, working together, with love, by love, for good. That is true power indeed.

May it be so. Amen.