I Know This Much Is True
by Louise Westfall
Once upon a time there was a man. A man of God, a man of great faith. A man who was constantly in trouble. Good trouble, but trouble nonetheless. In the course of the work he felt called by God to do, he was beaten multiple times, imprisoned without due process, given the sentence of 39 lashes with a whip not once but five times, and survived a stoning. He was shipwrecked on three occasions, was abandoned by friends and publicly ridiculed. His life was in constant danger and at least once escaped arrest by the skin of his teeth, lowered down a second-story building in a basket. He describes a “thorn in the flesh” –perhaps some chronic medical condition—which was never resolved. At the end of his life he was confined to house arrest, manacled, and finally executed by order of the Roman government.
I hope you’ve identified this man as none-other-than the apostle Paul, author of the letter to the Romans we’ve been exploring this summer. Today’s text might be considered the “Colorado fourteener” of his writing, the absolute pinnacle of what he believed about God and God’s relationship to people. It’s the unsurpassed summit, really, of all his sermons, expositions, and explanations. The heart of the Christian message. In the face of suffering and disappointment and illness and uncertainty, the apostle could proclaim I know this much is true. A reading from the letter to the Romans in the 8th chapter, verses 31-39. Listen for God’s Word to you and me and to all who have ever wondered on what truth they could stake their lives.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? The One who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will God not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress, or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? NO, in all these things we are more than conquerors through the One 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 Word of the Lord…thanks be to God!
Once upon a time there was a man named Dominick with a twin, Thomas. He and his brother loved each other fiercely as the only children in a deeply troubled family that included abuse, violence, abandonment and secrets. Thomas had spiraled downward into undiagnosed and untreated mental illness as an adolescent which became so severe that later he cut off his own hand at the behest of voices he heard in his head calling him to atone for the sins of his ancestors. So unspools the novel by Wally Lamb, I Know This Much Is True. I’d read the book years ago, but this summer watched the adaptation as an HBO miniseries, both twins played unforgettably by a single actor. There’s almost unrelenting sadness in the opening episodes as you witness the tragic consequences of generational pain that has never been addressed. Layer upon layer of heartbreak builds up around Dominick to the point that he pushes away everyone who tries to draw close. He is wracked with guilt and rage at people and situations over which he had no control but for which he feels responsible. There are no easy comforts for him, no Damascus Road epiphanies. Redemption does come, however, slowly and painstakingly, when Dominick is given the opportunity to learn family secrets, confront unknown truths therapeutically, and experience the grace poured out in unmerited suffering. His saga concludes I am not a smart man, particularly, but one day, at long last, I stumbled from the dark woods of my own, and my family’s, and my country’s past, holding in my hands these truths: that love grows from the rich loam of forgiveness; that mongrels make good dogs; that the evidence of God exists in the roundness of things. This much, at least, I’ve figured out. I know this much is true. [Wally Lamb, I Know This Much Is True]
Love that is more than a feeling, but is a spiritual power that actually can change things, or reveal the road to change things; love that gives and forgives and makes a way: to mend what is broken, restore humanity’s essential goodness, reconcile what has been torn apart, and nourish the most scarred and beat-up soul.
Dominick had a lot in common with the apostle Paul in the realization that even the worst ingredients can become distilled into truth and goodness through the catalyst of unconditional love. Divine love from the very heart of God, even as it is demonstrated in the stumbling, frequently–messed-up love of flawed human beings. Love that holds on, despite suffering and sorrow and pandemic and guilt and rejection and injustice and anything else the world can throw out. Love that is more than a feeling, but is a spiritual power that actually can change things, or reveal the road to change things; love that gives and forgives and makes a way: to mend what is broken, restore humanity’s essential goodness, reconcile what has been torn apart, and nourish the most scarred and beat-up soul.
And this is the love from which we can never be separated. It’s the love of God who is unequivocally “for” us—humans who are such a mixed bag of generosity and greed, faith and fear, compassion and selfishness. We can’t be counted on to love perfectly. We fail. We get scared. We run away and try to hide. We judge others and ourselves. We live daily amid conditions we didn’t choose and over which we have little control. We also live daily with other consequences of our own wrong choices. But nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing can separate us. Nothing.
And friends, if all you know is this, it’s enough. Because it’s everything. Love begets love begets love begets love…
Once upon a time there was a man. A man of God, a man of great faith. A man who was constantly in trouble. Good trouble, as he called it, but trouble nonetheless. In the course of work he felt God had called him to do he was beaten, imprisoned, ridiculed, persecuted. But he believed each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up, and speak out when something isn’t right. He said each generation must do its part to build the Beloved Community, a nation and world at peace with itself. John Lewis was a civil rights leader and congressman who never stopped standing up and speaking out and acting on behalf of justice. In a final essay he asked to be published on the day of his funeral, he witnessed once again to the love from which we can never be separated: Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn…let future historians say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.
I know this is much is true.
Thanks be to God.