The Church in Papua New Guinea has been enriched by martyrdom twice in the twentieth century. James Chalmers, Oliver Tomkins and some companions were sent to New Guinea by the London Missionary Society. They met their death by martyrdom in 1901. Forty years later, during the Second World War, New Guinea was occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army and Christians were severely persecuted. Among those who died for the faith were two English priests, Vivian Redlich and John Barge, who remained with their people after the invasion of 1942 but were betrayed and beheaded, together with seven Australians and two Papuan evangelists, Leslie Gariadi and Lucian Tapiedi.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted 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, 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.
The consolation of these words from Romans was hard-one by a persecuted Early Church.
They are likely to be familiar to most of us, as they are often used at funeral services, giving confidence to those who go on living that God’s love is constant across all time and space.
Such reassurance cannot be underestimated when we learn of the circumstances surrounding the massacre of James Chalmers (known as ‘Tamate’), Oliver Tomkins and companions in Papua New Guinea.
Such reassurance is needed as we face the constant stream of bad news in the media; the relentless examples of human pain and brokenness.
We are never – never separated from God’s love.
Just take a moment to know that truth. Breath it in.
When we proclaim that ‘all are welcome’ in the Church, it is this truth from Romans that underpins our declaration. For just as it is true that nothing separates you from God’s love, I’m afraid it is also true that nothing separates me either.
Nothing separates Donald Trump, immigrants crossing borders, Teresa May, those still facing screams of abuse at Pride marches, Syrians (who seem to have slipped our minds), the lonely living next door, or the 215 million Christians facing extreme persecution worldwide.
Nothing separates (insert list of all humanity here…)
God’s endless love is the place we start with faith.
Following Jesus on the way of mercy, justice, light and resurrection are what follow. They are the truths that judge us and shine light into the darkness that causes us to need reminding of God’s love in the first place.
God of never-ending, lavish love What have we done that has hidden this gift from those around us?
What have we done that means our response to Paul’s words in Romans is not “well of course we are loved!”?
What have we done.
Words that we have spoken at the foot of the cross.
How rich is your gift to us? How strong is your love in the face of us? How bright is its light, searching all our gloom?
As we begin or carry on with this day, give us a renewed sense of the boundless nature of your love and the desperate need for us to live it. Amen
The Rev’d Martin Knight is Minister of St Paul’s URC, South Croydon