Grace Amid Heartbreak


August 6, 2017

Romans 9:1-5

James and Elena were longing for the wedding of their dreams. They were both in their early thirties, so they each had some time to think about what that wedding may look like. It would be a fabulous celebration that their friends and families would remember for some time and would be just the beginning of their lifelong commitment to one another.

Unfortunately, I had the opportunity to meet Elena in the emergency room. Her fiancé, James, had been struck by a car while crossing the road and was barely hanging on to his life. Elena was heartbroken, and their dreams for the future had come crashing down. She would be called on, along with family, to help make the decision to remove him from any form of life support.

Heartbreak comes in many forms, with this story being one of the more devastating I encountered while doing my Clinical Pastoral Education. We may also experience heartbreak in broken relationships, a job loss, expectations not being met, and many other things that I am sure you could name.

Paul is not unfamiliar with heartbreak.

He laments for the first time in our lesson from Romans this morning. While he has been busy speaking of the overwhelming grace of God that has been made aware to us through Jesus Christ, there seems to be a little something that is bothering him.

His heartache, and heartbreak, comes from his relation to the people of Israel. He has grown up among them as one of their own. He was taught in the finest schools.  He was seen as a leader among their leaders. Things change. He is called into a place in which he is now proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. It is this good news and the affect that it may have on his Jewish brothers and sisters that he is concerned.

There appears to be a division now between the followers of the Way of Jesus Christ and those that are following the Torah. There is a dualism that is apparent to Paul, and in his rationality, there is either/or. Either the Jewish people must start following the way of Jesus, as it has been proclaimed, or the promises that have been made to them through God’s word in Abraham may not be fulfilled. Paul states, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them according to the flesh, comes the Messiah.”

This is the source of Paul’s dilemma and heartbreak. What will happen to his friends and family if they do not come to know Jesus Christ as he has? There is a division that occurs in their midst that Paul seems not quite sure how to account for now.  It is still Paul’s hope, as he states in the opening verse of chapter 10, that, “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”

This is heartbreak in the midst of relationship. We can relate to Paul today as we encounter many of the same issues. What about our friends and family that have not grown to know Jesus Christ the way that we have? What about those that are following other religions? What about those that state they are atheist and do not follow any religion at all? Our own hearts break over these questions and concerns for those that we love so dearly.

We have a great and powerful God that is above all and we can never truly know God’s intention on this earth. It is a mystery that we learn to live into, yet will never fully experience it until the kingdom of God is fully revealed to us. God has not given to us the gift of judgement upon others. We have been given the gift of grace.

We will all have our hearts broken at one point in our lives, if not multiple times. Yet, God is present with a sign of grace for all of creation.

I returned from Arizona late Thursday night after spending a wonderful week with my sisters and brothers of the Order of Lutheran Franciscans. We met amid heartbreak. Earlier this year there were some disagreements that threatened to tear our order apart. People felt called to go in different directions and it left many wondering what was next. This past week proved to be healing. Where there appeared to be death and ashes, God was playing in them. Bringing the promise of new life and helping us to refocus on our call as Lutheran Franciscans. Our hearts have begun to mend and reconciliation is occurring.

The rabbis note that God writes the word, the law, on the heart rather than in it (Jeremiah 31:23). They say this is so that, when the heart breaks, the word falls into it. Absent the heartbreak, the word is never internalized as completely. Maybe this is how we come to know God, when God enters our hearts as fully as we have entered God’s and we share some of the pain of God’s love rejected. Because surely God, embodied in the Messiah (v. 5), grieves at our refusal to be part of the blessed community. [i]

We see this community revealed in the feeding of the 5000 in Matthew’s gospel. It is Christ’s love for all people that appears in the abundance of food that is available for all that are there to listen. We are fed and nourished through the word of God, and weekly at the Lord’s table. While heartbreak is always going to be present, may you feel the healing in the promise of Jesus made to us in the bread and wine.

[i] Highsmith, Martha. Meditations from Feasting on the Word: Year A, pg 401.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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