PROPERS: PROPER 12, YEAR A
TEXT: ROMANS 8:26-39
PREACHED AT ST. PAUL’S, MAGNOLIA SPRINGS, ON SUNDAY, JULY 30, 2017.
ONE SENTENCE: The essence of God’s faithfulness is found in Paul’s words today – faithfulness that transcends all the limitations of creation.
I love to read complicated books. Nora will tell you that I read very long books. The current book I am reading is some 1,600 pages long. Since I am a fairly slow reader, each book takes me a long time to read.
I like books that make me think. It is not unusual for me to ponder a passage, without turning a page, until I can really get the grasp of what has been written.
I am having to pause frequently in the current book. It is the story of the creation of the atomic bomb, and it deals extensively with philosophy, with physics in general, and nuclear physics in particular. Not exactly my wheelhouse.
Now this may cause your eyes to glaze over, but stay with me for a minute. It gets better.
The book deals with the first three laws of thermodynamics. That may sound very complicated – and it is. But it can be boiled down to this: all of creation is winding down. We are all heading in the same direction. Everything in creation is heading toward entropy – heat death. Absolute zero. Everything. All of us.
A movie I saw many years ago illustrated this fact very simply. The movie was A Brief History of Time, about the life and theories of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.
The simple illustration which represented the direction of creation was this: A coffee cup falls off of a table and shatters. That happens, perhaps frequently. But you never see the shattered coffee cup rise off the floor, come back together, and resume its position in the saucer.
Keep in mind this scriptural truth: Creation emerged from chaos. We see that in the first chapter of Genesis – “In the beginning…” Science is saying that we are heading back – slowly, inexorably – to chaos.
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The fact is that we know this. We do not need physics or the first three laws of thermodynamics to tell us that. We don’t need Stephen Hawking or anyone else to weigh-in on that one.
We all live in the human condition. We face our limitations. Ultimately, each of us will reach our end. We are likely to experience loss along the way. We will say good-bye to those we love. There may be illnesses.
As a priest for 30 years, I have seen it time and time-again. In hospitals, nursing homes, at bedsides, and at gravesides. Yes, we experience creation and new life. But we are all ultimately heading in the same direction.
That is the cost of being human. On one level, it is a one-way street. No one needs to tell us that.
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So, do I need to reprise Roy Clark and Buck Owens from Hee Haw – Gloom, despair and agony on me…?
No, I don’t. I don’t need to do so because the laws of physics and thermodynamics do not have the last word.
Through our eyes of faith, in a very important way, God has the last word.
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Our second lesson today is my favorite passage in all of scripture. It is, I think, the high point of the New Testament.
Keep in mind that the author – the apostle Paul – had been through all sorts of trials. He had been whipped, beaten with rods, stoned, jailed, shipwrecked, and spurned by his faith community. Yet, even in the midst of all this, he maintains a hopeful perspective. He sees God working through it all.
For Paul, life informs faith. And faith certainly informs life. There is reciprocity. But the apostle does not let the bitter circumstances of his experiences overwhelm his Christian hope. Paul has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of human existence, and he sees a radiant beam of light at the end of the long, dark tunnel.
Hear his words:
“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he 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 him who loved us."
Paul’s theology reaches a crescendo here:
"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.”
Listen to those last words, once again: “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.”
If we are people of hope… if we are people of faith… if we embrace the words and prayers we offer here… we know that our eternal fate is not established by the winding down of creation.
Our hope is in the Creative force which called into being the Cosmos – the Word of God. Not the Bible, but the Word of God as in the first verses of John’s gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Jesus Christ, by his death and resurrection, overcame the darkness of the human condition. In our baptism, we have gone down with him into the grave, and we have emerged – resurrected – with him as New Creations.
Even as we face the human limitations and the shortcomings of our humanity, we are bound for all eternity to our source of hope and life. Paul makes it clear -- nothing can ever sever that bond.