Monday, August 25, 2014

People of Impossibility

People of Impossibility

Today we hear a portion of the letter
Paul wrote to the Christian community in Rome.

Rome was the capital.
The political, military and economic capital of Paul’s first century world.
What happened in Rome,
rarely stayed in Rome.
What happened in Rome
rippled out to other areas
and this was not always good news,
especially to the early Christians.
The political backlash from Rome could be brutal,
sometimes even deadly.
Life was dangerous for first century Christians
and Paul certainly knew it.

Paul writes to his brothers and sisters in Rome
to offer hope and encouragement.

It is easy to think that we are nothing like the people of Rome,
people who lived in the first century.
But we are probably wrong.
We, too, live in dangerous times.
We too often are caught in the riptide of political backlash.
We, too, need encouragement and reassurance
and hope.

Paul’s theology tends to be quite heady,
But this passage from Romans is all heart.
(Well, once you get through the verses about predestination and such).

Paul is celebrating the generosity of God.

Paul tells us that God knows our limitations
and it doesn’t matter.
Even when we cannot pray,
God hears us.

Yes, even when we cannot pray
God hears us.

...the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

Whatever happens in our lives,
God is there.
God is here.
God is present.
Paul proclaims,
that whatever our doubting, fearful minds teach us,
God is still with us and that matters.

If God is for us, who is against us?

This passage is no doubt familiar to some of us.
It is a passage that is often read at funerals.
It is a passage that many want read at their own burial service.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Hardship? Distress? Persecution?
No. Nothiing.
Nobody. No thing. No one.
Not even death.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
This is the good news that Paul is preaching.

What Paul preaches here can seem impossible.
Impossible to believe that God is always with us,
always loves us.

In pondering impossibility this week,
something kept popping up in my brain
and I kept pushing it aside;
because I knew if I used this image,
it was going to require a confession of sorts.
So here it is.

I am a bit embarrassed to admit this,
but I recently watched
the television show
American Ninja Warrior.

Actually, I better just tell the whole truth
and admit that I have watched it
more than once.
In fact,
please do not phone me between 9 and 10 pm on Monday evenings.

Now, if you aren’t familiar with American Ninja Warrior
(and yes, I concur, it is a stupid name,)
it is, in essence, a test of physical fitness.
People compete in an obstacle course.

This is not your average hopping through tires
and going under and over ropes sort of obstacle course.
This is an over-the-top obstacle course
that requires strength and agility that is beyond
my wildest imagination.

It is indeed a competition
but I felt the people, male and female,
are mostly competing against themselves.

What these amateur athletes do
seems impossible.
And yet they do it.
They make it through the course.

Recently a young woman,
Kacy Catanzaro, completed the course and qualified
for the next level of competition.
Some people said it was impossible for a woman to complete the course.
Kacy Catanzaro proved that strength and agility are not gender-specific.

Truthfully I don’t see how ANYONE--woman or man--
completes the course.
It requires a level of fitness and a level of confidence
that seems impossible.

I think I like this TV show
because it seems metaphorical for all the obstacles in our life paths;
and yet again and again,
we keep showing up to face a daunting course
and to face it with hope.

It is this hope in what appears impossible
that somehow morphed American Ninja Warrior 
and Paul’s letter to the Romans in my mind.

Paul repeatedly tells the Romans
that with God, with faith,
even things which seem impossible
are possible.
God’s love will get us through anything.

Also, the pacing of Paul’s writing in this passage
has a similar momentum to the Ninja warrior obstacle course.

Paul starts out slowly and quietly,
sort of walking on tiptoes.

He stealthily jumps here,
breaks into a run with his words
and then---
watch out!
Full steam ahead!
Paul is on fire to preach this Gospel message
of God’s inseparable love for us.

We need to hear this message.
It is not a message to toss aside or disregard

The world needs this message.
Most of the hurt that is done to other human beings
is done because we do not feel loved--
and this hurts so badly, so deeply
that we react by wanting to hurt someone else.

A harsh word.
An unkind remark.
A sharp email sent too hastily.

Our deepest need is to be loved.
Our deepest fear is that we are not.

Paul knows there are obstacles in our way.
Paul knows that life is not easy
and that God sometimes seems absent.

And yet Paul stands firmly, For I am convinced...

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.

No one can separate us from the love of God--not even ourselves.
Many of us put up a mighty battle though.
A loving non-judgmental God? Really?
For some this just seems impossible.

But the truth is
impossible things happen every day.
Not just completing an obstacle course on American Ninja Warrior--
thought if we are honest
life can feel like an obstacle course.

Jumping over hurt feelings,
spinning around misunderstandings,
facing walls of discrimination,
encountering jumbo size obstacles
like wars and bombings, planes being shot down,
innocent people being caught in the cross-fire
of competing political agendas.

Yet Paul preaches mightily
that regardless of the many obstacles,
God’s love is at work in the world
even when we ourselves are an obstacle to that love.

This is the kingdom of heaven that Matthew writes about.
Love is the kingdom.
Love is the seed and the yeast and the hidden treasure
and the one pearl.

I remember riding up in a hospital elevator
with a woman whose husband was  dying,
dying much too young,
and as the doors began to open
she grabbed her children’s hands
and said in a firm voice,
Remember, children, 
we are resurrection people.

She was not making a credal statement of belief
to her children--
she was telling--teaching-- her children---
we are people who hope.
People who will find hope in the bleakest of times
in the most impossible of situations.

We are people who face the obstacles that every life places in our path
and we run
and grab the top of the wall
and with God’s help,
with God’s love,
we pull ourselves up over the edge.

We are God’s Ninja Warriors
and nothing will ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.


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Sermon for Year A Proper 12
Sunday, July 27, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul
Burlington, VT
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

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