13 Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A 2020

1. So, where have you been the last three and a half months?

2. If you are like me, you spent most of them indoors.

a. Some of us acquired new habits;

i. we read, cooked, learned a language, practiced yoga.

b. Or maybe, that is what we wanted to do;

3. IN reality what we did was

a. ate too much, drank way more than usual, and watched a lot of TV.

4. That is what I did.

a. I love documentaries; especially those about our city,

b. and one that I saw was the 2008 film Man on Wire,

c. which chronicles the 1974 crossing on a tightrope

i. of Philippe Petit between the towers of the World Trade Center.

5. I remember that crossing;

a. I was 14 at the time and saw it on the news.

6. And I also remember the fear I felt.

a. I am terrified at heights;

b. as a child I could not go onto balconies;

c. even the second floor of the mall was frightening.

d. some days even this pulpit is a bit high for me.

e. Just watching that documentary made me weak in the knees.

7. fear is not an emotion which is unknown to us these days.

a. Ever since the pandemic wrapped itself around our world like a wet blanket,  

i. we have lived in a state of fear.

b. Some of us have borne the weight of this fear relatively well;

c. others of us have been incapacitated by it,

i. unable to leave our houses, walk down our streets, live our lives.

8. That is why I watched this documentary – I wanted the answer to two questions that had plagued me ever since 1974.

a. Why? Why would someone want to do something like Petit did?

b. And how do you conquer the fear of doing it?

9. I wish I could say that the documentary answered the whyquestion for me,

a. but it did not.

b. When asked point blank WHY he did what he did

i. Petit simply answered that

ii. from the first day he saw a picture of the twin towers

iii. in a newspaper in his dentist’s office

iv. He knew he would one day walk between them on a tightrope.

1. Why? He did not know. “There is no why.” He said.

10. However, the documentary did give a hint as to the how.

a. It showed him practicing, sure.

i. He was a tightrope walker, after all.

b. And his preparations were thorough;

i. but there came that moment when thepreparations were done,

ii. and He was about to place his foot on that wire

iii. stretched between those towers.

c. He remarked almost in passing, that at that moment, he knew his life was over.

d. It was only then that he could step out on the wire.

11. It wasn’t he realized that he could die; all of us realize that;

a. it is precisely why you could not get me up on that wire

i. for all the money in the world!

12. It was that he realized he was already Dead

a. because he would die if he DID NOT do it, and so out he stepped.

13. The step was different, but no less decisive

a. for the people the apostle Paul was writing to in today’s second reading.

14. All of Paul’s writings are letters sent to communities he had founded or had worked in.

15. With one exception; his letter to the Romans.

a. In this letter he is introducing himself and his message

b. to the community of Christians in Rome.

16. Since it was an introduction you would expect Paul to be positive.

17. Since it was an introduction you would expect him to be upbeat

18. Since he was making a formal introduction to a group he had never worked with before,

a. you would expect him to highlight the most attractive parts of his message.

19. And yet what does Paul talk about here in his letter to the Romans? Death!

a. He talks about Jesus’ death –

b. He talks about their death;

c. he talks about living life as if they were already dead.

i. Hardly the kind of upbeat presentation

ii. you would expect from someone

iii. who hoped to be welcomed by your church!

20. And yet of course they welcomed him

a. and that is because they shared something in common with him

b. with us – and with Philippe Petit; they were afraid!

21. Why? because to be a Christian in the Roman empire was dangerous.

22. Roman society was built around the concept of pietas

a. which is that religious respect you show to your superiors;

i. to the father of the family,

ii. the emperor of the Empire,

iii. and the Gods.

b. With parents and other superiors

i. you do that by being loyal and subservient.

c. With the Emperor and with the Gods

i. you do that with worship;

ii. a pinch of incense on an altar to Caesar,

iii. a sacrifice at the temple of your family’s favorite God or goddess.

23. Christians had no problem with honoring fathers or mothers or even emperors;

a. worship was another matter; how could they?

b. They believed in the God of Israel, and other than the LORD God

c. there were no other Gods.

24. That meant they could not gather with their families for religious observances.

25. They could not offer sacrifices to the emperor.

26. In Roman eyes their behavior was disrespect of the highest order;

a. directed at the emperor it was treason;

b. directed at the Gods it was blasphemy;

c. Either way to be a Christian was a death sentence.

27. And yet Paul is writing to a group of people who had become Christians;

a. Many people must’ve wondered how they could do such a thing

b. they must have wondered why?

28. And maybe some of those people

a. were among those listening to today’s reading when it was first read in Rome.

i. Because to be a Christian was terrifying.

29. But no! Paul was saying;

a. to be a Christian is not to fear death;

b. it is already to be dead.

c. “Are you unaware, brothers and sisters that we who are baptized into Christ are baptized into his death?” says Paul in today’s second reading.

30. In other words, to be baptized is to accept that Jesus’ fate will be our own;

i. We will be rejected,

ii. we will be judged;

b. some will escape death at the hands of others,

i. but even then, we are already dead;

ii. dead to our families and our friends and anyone

iii. who cannot understand why and how we took that step and were baptized.

c. But Paul understood why;

i. WHY?! they believed in Jesus –

ii. in his message of a New World

iii. where the divisions and injustices of their world–

1. a world where they could be killed

a. simply because of what they believed in–

2. would be overcome.

31. How could they turn their backs on that hope? To do so would be to die.

32. IN Paul’s words they heard their own lives described – they were already dead;

a. but if nothing not even death could stop Jesus

i. then they did not need to be afraid;

1. for nothing not even death could stop them;

b. THAT is why they became Christians;

c. THAT is how they put their foot out on the tightropeof faith;

d. and stepped into the pool of baptism.

33. Philippe Petit Stayed out on that tightrope for almost 45 minutes, walking, bouncing laying down and rising up. When he was finally done and came across on to the second tower, he was promptly arrested. What he had done was a crime, punishable by a fine and or prison.

a. However, the judge, agreed to drop all changes if he did one thing;

34. put on a tightrope show for city children.

35. Petit was glad to do it; but truth be told he was not worried by the verdict; he had just faced his own death, walking across a wire between the twin towers; who cared what happened to him after that!?

36. I must admit I struggle to understand that sentiment.

a. I struggle to understand how he could step out on that wire.

b. I struggle to understand why he would face his own death.

c. I struggle to understand Paul’s willingness to face his own death in baptism,

d. And how he says we do the same in ours

e. I struggle to understand how a few handfuls of water could be so deadly;

f. Or at least I did, before the past few months.

37. For now our baptismal fonts are empty; our holy water fonts, dry.

38. Hands, even empty hands have become possibilities for plague and disease.

39. We have retreated into our apartments, our homes, into our refrigerators and liquor cabinets;

40. We have been so afraid, just like those first Christians in Rome most have been; afraid to step out of our homes, andlive our lives.

41. And while it is important to be careful

42. and it is important to be prudent

43. It is also important not to be afraid;

a. for fear lames us,

b. it paralyzes us- it kills us!

c. if not literally then in terms of our relationships our communities and our lives. For a life lived in fear is not a life; it is a prison. It is a death sentence.

44. which is why it is so important to gather. It always has been. To sit together and not online at home. It always has been. To listen together and pray together, to come together around one altar and eat from the same plate and drink from the same cup; it always has been.

45. And while prudence and hygiene and good common sense have caused us to sit farther apart, wear masks be careful how we gather at the altar and how we receive communion, we dare not let fear stop us from doing these things altogether;

46. For as we begin the difficult and complex process

a. of restarting our economy

b. reopening our cities and

c. returning to our lives

d. We dare not forget Jesus’ own words

i. Repeated over and over in the Gospels:

ii. DO NOT BE AFRAID

e. And Paul tells us why;

i. because fear is a death sentence;

ii. it is the opposite of faith.

f. And he tells us how;

i. or at least how he and the first Christians did it.

ii. For they knew that if nothing not even death could stop Jesus;

1. then nothing not even death could stop them.

g. Knowing that;

h. facing that squarely,

i. enabled Paul to step out on the tightrope of faith.

1. And encourages us to do the same.


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