Sunday’s sermon: Mountain-Goat Faith

mountain goat

Texts used – Psalm 18:1-5, 16-24 and Romans 5:1-5

  • It’s time for a little show and tell this morning, all. This is a mountain goat, Latin name: oreamnus americanus.
    • Stats[1]:
      • Found only in North America – Rocky Mountains and Cascade Ranges, all the way up Canadian Rockies into Alaska
      • Largest mammal found at altitudes in which it lives – 13,000 ft.+
      • Not related to domesticated farm goats
      • Herbivores
      • Live 12-15 yrs. in the wild, up to 20 yrs. in captivity
      • Stand more than 3 ft. tall
      • Can weigh up to 300 lbs.
    • Up to 300 lbs … that’s huge! But if you’ve ever watched a mountain goat – in the wild, in a zoo, or even just on the National Geographic channel or YouTube – they’re nimble and light-footed and spry. When they’re jumping from rock to rock or climbing steep cliff faces, they look like they weigh nothing at all. Imagine! Creatures so big, so bulky (especially when they have their big, shaggy winter coats), and yet they have the grace and agility to survive and even thrive in places that most humans won’t even dare to venture.
  • Great! … So why the heck are we talking about mountain goats this morning?? → plenty of times in our lives when we feel all the weight and uphill battle of the mountain goats without any of the agility and grace
    • Weighed down and overburdened by struggles and challenges in life
      • Worries that weigh on our minds – worries about family/loved ones, worry about job, worry about health, worry about future
      • Fears that plague our thoughts by day and our dreams by night
      • Doubts and uncertainties about ourselves, our relationships, our careers, our life paths
      • Frustrations that run rampant through our days, draining our energy and creativity and patience
    • Uphill battles that we wage day in and day out
      • Battles against diseases, be they chronic (fibromyalgia) or acute (cancer)
      • Battles against our own demons (faults, addictions, prejudices)
      • Battles against the injustice in the world – poverty, discrimination, hunger, human trafficking
    • I know we don’t like to think about it. We don’t like to talk about it. But we also can’t ignore it. Sometimes our lives are challenging. Sometimes our lives include struggles. Sometimes things are scary or painful or overwhelming or just plain hard.
  • Scripture itself mentions these rocky places again and again and again.
    • Scattered e.g.s
      • Psalms of lament – e.g.: By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?[2]
      • Imprecatory psalms (affectionately known as “ticked off psalms” that invoke judgment and calamities and curses) – e.g.: Send the Evil One to accuse my accusing judge; dispatch Satan to prosecute him. … May there be no one around to help him out, no one willing to give his orphans a break. Chop down his family tree so that nobody even remembers his name.[3]
      • Challenges voiced by all the prophets in the OT – e.g.: Woe to you who are rushing headlong to disaster! Catastrophe is just around the corner! Woe to those who live in luxury and expect everyone else to serve them! Woe to those who live only for today, indifferent to the fate of others![4]
      • Nearly every letter that Paul wrote mentions struggle in some way!
    • Reality of struggles recognized in Scriptures we read this morning , too
      • OT speaks of “[running] for dear life, hiding behind the boulders … The hangman’s noose was right at my throat; devil waters rushed over me. Hell’s ropes cinched me tight; death traps barred every exit. … They hit me when I was down.”[5]
      • NT text (which, by the way, is one of Paul’s letters) mentions being “hemmed in with troubles”[6]  And, friends, it doesn’t say “if we’re hemmed in by troubles.” It doesn’t say, “Hey, maybe we’ll hit a tiny little bump in the road now and then.” Paul doesn’t hedge, and he doesn’t waffle. No sorta, kinda, perhaps, almost, or possibly about it. Paul says “when we’re hemmed in with troubles.” Ya’ll, troubles are a reality for every person on this earth. There is nothing special or magical about race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level, socioeconomic status, faith system or anything else that exempts us from facing challenges in our lives.
        • Not so different from mountain goats in the terrain in which they live – can’t avoid the sharp boulders, the uneven ground, the slippery pathways, the sheer cliff faces, the unstable escarpments
  • But here’s the thing: Mountain goats are specially equipped for making their way through those rocky paths and risky landscapes.
    • Mountain goats’ “special equipment”
      • Pads on their hooves help them to climb the crazy cliffs and ice crags for which they are so well-known
      • Special hoof … toe … claw … thing – “dewclaw”: It’s basically as close to an opposable thumb as a goat is ever going to get. It’s a long, two-pronged hoof-lookin’-thing on the back of their foot (sort of where their heels would be if goats had heels) that helps them to grip the rocks and the ice as they climb.
        • So effective that they can leap up to 12 ft. in that uneven terraine![7]
    • And in our Scriptures this morning, we find a reassurance that like those mountain goats, we have also been specially equipped, not to avoid the rocky and slippery parts of our lives, but to navigate them with grace, with joy, with courage, and even with daring.
      • Scripture speaks to greatness of God’s strength  all strengths mentioned in Rom passage tied to God
        • “We have it all together with God[8]
        • Speaks of “God’s grace and glory”[9]
        • Important little word hiding in last verse – “everything God generously pours into our lives”
          • Hidden Gr. = agape  This is that powerful, do-anything kind of love. It’s a giving kind of love, a self-sacrificing kind of love. It’s the kind of love that is all-encompassing and all-emboldening. This is the “everything” kind of love that God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit.
            • Love that gives strength
            • Love that gives confidence
            • Love that gives courage
            • Love that gives hope
      • Meant what I said a minute ago: There is nothing special or magical about race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level, socioeconomic status, faith system or anything else that exempts us from facing challenges in our lives … And that is because this agape love from God – this building-up, sure-footing kind of love – is for everyone. God’s love doesn’t just make do with everyone. God’s love celebrates God’s love celebrates all genders. God’s love celebrates all races. God’s love celebrates all people no matter what because God’s love truly is all-encompassing.
        • Scholar: Our hope is built on nothing less than the conviction that pervades Psalm 18: God will ultimately fulfill God’s steadfastly loving purposes for the world and for all its people.[10]
  • And it’s God’s steadfastly loving purposes – this strength-giving agape love – that is so highly praised in our psalm this morning.
    • E.g.s
      • I love you, God – you make me strong.[11]  There it is … there’s my sermon in eight simple words!
      • [God] stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved – surprised to be loved! God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before [God].[12]
      • God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to [God’s] eyes.[13]
    • Also the point main point that Paul makes in Rom passage – e.g.s
      • We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that [God] has already thrown open [God’s] doors to us.[14]
      • We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.[15]
        • Scholar: The more we cooperate with the reality of God in our lives, especially during times of trouble, the stronger our hope and faith become. Then a marvelous thing happens: we have the ability to hold our heads high, no matter what comes our way.[16]
    • One of my favorite verses = 1 Jn 4:19: We love because God first loved us. (etched inside wedding rings)  Yes, we love because God first loved us, but it doesn’t stop there because there’s all sorts of goodness tied up in God’s love. We hope because God first gave us hope. We forgive because God first forgave us. We are strong because God was first strong for us.
  • Friends, the rough patches in our lives come and go. But with God’s goodness and grace within us, we can take heart knowing that we do not, will not, cannot traverse those rocky patches alone. God has strengthened us through an incredible love and grace that cannot ever be taken away. Think about the mountain goats again for a minute. When you see footage of them in the wild, they’re not slowly and cautiously picking their way around the rocks and along the cliffs. They’re not sitting safely in one place just waiting for things to happen around them. They’re running! They’re prancing! They’re leaping! Are there times that their steps falter? Sure. But they go about their lives with confidence in their footing because why shouldn’t they? So where is your mountain-goat faith this morning? With the knowledge that the unmistakable strength of God’s love and grace go with you, where do you need to run confidently or leap boldly? Amen.

[1] “Mountain goats.” Accessed from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_goat on 16 May 2015.

[2] Ps 137:1-4 (NRSV).

[3] Ps 109:6, 12-13.

[4] Amos 6:3-5a.

[5] Ps 18:2, 4-5, 18.

[6] Rom 5:3.

[7] “Mountain Goat: Oreamnos americanus.” Accessed from http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/mountain-goat/ on 17 May 2015.

[8] Rom 5:1 (emphasis added).

[9] Rom 5:2.

[10] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 4. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 749-750 (emphasis added).

[11] Ps 18:1.

[12] Ps 18:19-20a.

[13] Ps 18:24.

[14] Rom 5:2a.

[15] Rom 5:3-4.

[16] Linda E. Thomas. “Trinity Sunday – Romans 5:1-5” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Press, 2003), 42.

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