Prayer of the Day
Beloved and sovereign God, through the death and resurrection of your Son you bring us into your kingdom of justice and mercy. By your Spirit, give us your wisdom, that we may treasure the life that comes from Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
1 Kings 3:5-12 Solomon’s prayer for wisdom
Romans 8:26-39 Nothing can separate us from God’s love
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Parables of the reign of heaven
Title: Unobstructed Peace
Are you feeling at peace? Are you feeling comforted? It’s sort of what has been promised to you. It’s what Paul shooting for in his letter to the Romans. Vicar John and I promised a three week exploration of the wonderful 8th chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. A chapter that begins with that great comforting and peace-inviting statement – Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Just hearing that statement of grace with the ears of faith should bring peace and comfort to any baptized child of God. And yet, I fear that John and I have led you from that opening line of security and serenity down paths of challenge and unease. Two weeks ago John asked you to consider a transplant – a major change to be sure that could make the most solid tremble with anxiety. And last week, I insisted on asking you to bring to mind debts. How did that make you feel? No comfort there. And I fear that I am not going to be any more helpful with this third and final installment of our Romans 8 examination. Because after reading it, I just can’t help but to ask you…(are you ready)…
What obstacles do you face? Oh, let’s not limit the tension – think about all your obstacles: professional, personal, financial, health, physical, time, geographical, even gravitational for those who are longing to fly. For all you lovers and dreamers out there that Kermit the Frog sings on behalf of, life can seem like a myriad of obstacles blocking us from whatever Rainbow Connection we are searching and striving for. It can seem overwhelming and stifling. And I haven’t even mentioned spiritual obstacles.
Or perhaps you are like me, you just deny and/or ignore the obstacles and think you can just move forward, making dreams come true, achieving success, only to be stopped by an unforeseen obstacle in the midst of it all and feel like a failure, not only for not succeeding, but also for not having been aware of those obstacles that were out there from the beginning.
And while we can be encouraged that so many obstacles have been reduced and eliminated over the years – thanks to things like: advances in medicine, and in technology, and in transportation, and improvements in civil rights, marriage equality, cross-cultural conversation, and multi-cultural understanding. We also know our work is not done dealing with remaining obstacles and in some cases new obstacles that are being threatened, that deny us our comfort and peace. Some new obstacles are appearing that even demand that we take a stand and become obstacles ourselves. Again, not a thought that brings peace and comfort.
So what does Paul have to say to us this week? About obstacles. It’s really quite simple…there are none. Paul out. Mic drop. Okay, Paul out. We need to pick up the mic and dig a little deeper. And the place we start is with the last verse of last week’s portion of Romans 8. Paul was talking about living in hope through the Spirit and he wrote: But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. With patience. Ah, another obstacle. But actually there is good news here…well, at least, compassionate news here. But you have to look hard for it, because the editors of the lectionary decided to leave out the first word of today’s portion because it is a connecting word. But connecting to last week is exactly what we need to do. For the sake of hope. For the sake of peace and comfort. You see, they left out the word Likewise. They probably thought the listener would be confused hearing a connector but not hearing that it was connected to. Like watching Empire Strikes Back without having seen Star Wars.
With the Likewise, our challenging task of living in hope and waiting with patience is met with help from the Holy Spirit. While we are waiting in hope with patience, likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. Our own inner obstacle is met not by our strength of faith, but seen as weakness to which the Holy Spirit comes to our aide. For all who say they can’t pray, who say they can’t draw closer to God, who see only obstacles in the way, Paul assures and comforts us with the good news – you don’t even have to pray. Let the Spirit pray on your behalf, he advises. Surrender yourself to the care of the Holy Spirit and know that God is at work in you and through you. With the eyes of faith, see that there is no obstacle in your relationship building with God. God is reaching out. The God who knows no obstacles. So, be at peace.
And as we grow in understanding of this obstacle-less God, we see that in all things, God is with us. Now some abuse that next verse and try to say that God makes tragedies happen for good endings. I cannot believe that God is so cruel. Rather, my life has taught me that what Paul is suggesting is that no matter what this damaged and damaging world does to us and to those we love, (and even to those enemies we are called to love,) when clinging to the presence of God that is assured, we can come through the darkest valleys stronger, more deeply aware of God’s constant compassion and mercy. Surely we are wounded, scarred even, but thus with a more profound experience of God’s healing power, we go forward renewed and resurrected with God.
And finally, just to make it clear how obstacle-free God is, Paul finishes this chapter of grace with the all-inclusive assurance that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.
Paraphrasing – So what do you have to say about any obstacles you may be anticipating? If God is for us – HA, who is against us? If God did not even withhold Jesus the beloved Son, how could God withhold anything else? God, the only judge justifies. Jesus the Christ, our truest friend, speaks on our behalf before God.
And just in case you haven’t gotten Paul’s assurance, let’s say it together. Take a look at the second reading. I’m going to ask the question in verse 35 and then together let’s answer it with 37 to the end. (And let’s really hear that No at the beginning of 37.)
35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor 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.
Today marks the end of my 6th year of ministry here at St. John’s with you. And if you have heard nothing else from me, if visitors and neighbors, organizations and individuals have heard nothing else from me in 6 years, I pray that you have heard that, in and through Christ Jesus, there are no obstacles between God and us. I hope that you are, at least, a little more convinced.
And now, as we continue our work together, let us, with all the fearlessness that Paul encourages in this 8th chapter of Romans, with transplanted spirits born and renewed in the waters of baptism, with our debt to God well and completely payed through Jesus life, death, and resurrection, and with no obstacles to frustrate or prevent us; let us, a diverse community of faith, strive to share this love made known in Jesus Christ with all creation. (All the while keeping in mind what Jesus points out in his parables, even our concerns of scarcity are no obstacles in the face of God’s abundance.)
For the Spirit is moving among us and in us so that we might truly be convinced, and we might live, trusting that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. May this be our true source of comfort and peace.
The Rev. Mark Erson,