I am easily distracted.
Like a bird or a little kid, I’ll always forget what I’m doing if I see something shiny. And I’m the person who will enter a grocery store with five items on my list and somewhere to be in 20 minutes and end up leaving an hour later with a jar of kimchi, peanut butter cups, preserved lemons, and something called Watermelon Water in addition to 15 other things that I didn't need—only to find when I get home that I forgot to buy eggs.
For those of you who don’t live with me, my scatterbrained self might seem sort of harmless and cute. In reality, however, my distractible nature has much less to do with sparkly rocks or a new flavor of ice cream and much more to do with worry—which may be something many of us have in common right now.
Whether it’s the pandemic or our 24-hour news cycle or something as simple as the weather, there seems to be a lot more to worry about these days. We go about our lives attending to our tasks when suddenly we realize we’ve been grinding our teeth over a problem we can’t solve or a possibility we can’t prevent. What’s going to happen? What are we going to do? How can this ever be fixed? Around and around the questioning goes until we’re too dizzy to think straight.
All too often, it can be a struggle to live in the moment, to accept reality as it is, to trust that our Lord knows what he’s doing and hasn’t left us to fend for ourselves. We look at our world, and we can’t help but wonder if what we can see is stronger than what we can’t.
This is a season of life, for me and for many of us, where it can be hard to believe, to feel that we have been brought from death to life. There is so much to worry about, so much present trouble that Paul’s declarations in our epistle passage seem more like whispers, whispers that are very easy to forget.
And yet Paul keeps on whispering, telling us that we have been raised to new life in Jesus Christ our Lord—who conquered death and the devil, who is living and actively working for the good of all people, who speaks to us from the Word, who knows our fears and our doubts because he felt them too. Through him we have received the free gift of God that is eternal life, a gift that isn’t simply of the future but one that begins now.
Despite the pandemic and the politics, despite even our own worry and doubt, Christ has acted once and for all to free us from the dominion of sin and death. He has freed us from enslavement to anxiety and fear so that we might live for him, a new and gracious Lord who has promised to bring good from even the worst situations.
God knows that you and I will continue worrying, that we’ll struggle to live as though a new light has dawned. He knows and he understands and he calls out to us anyway from the Word and in the Sacrament, reminding us that nothing—“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.”
Our lives may be messy right now. We may fear what is to come. But the Lord is here in the mess, and he is will not leave until every one of his sheep is gathered into his fold. As he says at the end of Matthew’s gospel, “I will be with you always,” he says. “To the end of the age.” AMEN.
Some of us are physically back in church this week, in a familiar yet now quite unfamiliar setting. Some of us have chosen to continue in the Emmanuel community by virtual means for the time being. All of us, though, are grounded in the same things: the truth of the Gospel, the reality of God, the gift of belonging to Jesus Christ. We are not grounded in the experience of being together in the church building or the experience of waiting to be together. We are not actually grounded in our own experience at all. Our experience comes and goes. Grounding in God is what’s given us the strength to get through these past months and will give us the strength to get through the months to come.
I was struck recently by a remark by Fr. Andrew McGowan from the Yale Divinity School, that made the same point about this time when we’ve not been inside the church as we’re used to. He said “While our celebration of the Eucharist is the center of our worship, the eucharistic givenness of Jesus is not created by our [gathering] or limited to it. We are created a community by him and our participation in him, not the reverse. We come and go, as our recent experience during the pandemic has underlined so sharply, but he does not; we may not have been in Church, but he has.”
Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
It has been a long time, my friends, since I have spoken to you in a homily and the first ever that I have spoken in this format. Please know how grateful I am to be with you today sharing my thoughts on the Epistle of the week, the beginning of the fifth Chapter of Romans. I have been told that attention spans are shorter on line so I will ask you to hold onto four words from this passage. The first three are Grace, Peace and Hope. I will save the fourth for a bit later. Grace, Peace and Hope.
At the time this letter was written to the church in Rome, Paul was at the height of his ministry. He had traveled throughout Asia and Greece, spreading the gospel and founding many churches. His reputation was well established as a strong believer in Christ and a mature theological thinker. While the Roman church had been started by others, Paul knew of their struggles and successes through communication with their leaders. The main purpose of this letter was to communicate Paul’s understanding of the meaning of Christ’s life and resurrection, and its application.