Narrative Lectionary Text: Romans 5:1-11
listen to the sermon audio CLICK HERE.
Are you discouraged today? I have to be honest, I often struggle with discouragement.
So many people are suffering at different levels.
On Wednesday, our bishop, Ann Svenegsun’s son died. He was Downs Syndrome and had leukemia. He died at age 30.
I look around and I watch families struggle. Some break apart, some suffer in silence.
I watch the elderly slowly fade into the margins. I watch young people struggle to find meaning and hope for their future.
I turn on the news and watch as another earthquake devastates a region in Nepal and Afghanistan, as militant groups kill each other and innocent citizens suffer and die.
And then, I look at my own life and I get even more confused. I actually have really good news to share with you. Two incredibly significant things have happened in the last two weeks. Both of these things are events for which I have struggled and worked and waited for four years.
The first is that we finally hired a full-time youth director. Kristi Larson will start on June 22. This will allow us to pour for more time and energy into our youth ministry, and allow me to work more intentionally with adult ministry and missional work.
The second thing is that I officially turned in my dissertation. I’m done writing. The defense is scheduled for June 26.
Here’s the weird thing. When these two things happened, I expected that I would be flying high, floating six inches off the ground, ready to party for a week. But, all I wanted to do was take a nap. I felt empty, numb, and a little bit discouraged.
What is up with that?
I think all these different types of discouragement that I’ve mentioned have something to do with HOPE and our understanding of it.
As we turn to our text for today, that is the lens through which I want to look. What is hope? Where does it come from? What does it do for us?
OK, so I have created another visual map of our text. This is a picture of Romans 5:1-5. I would like to walk us through the text, phrase by phrase for a moment, because the apostle Paul is constructing a very detailed argument here, and we don’t want to miss it.
He starts out with the word, “Therefore.” Now, any time you see the word therefore, you need to ask yourself, “What’s it there for?”
Remember, last week I showed us that Paul is constructing an argument for the people in Rome about what the Gospel is all about. It is very important to remember one crucial thing when reading Romans. Paul is speaking to a group of people who believe that their particular way of understanding God is the only way to be right with God. They believed that their circumcision, which was a ritual performed on all baby boys, was the mark of God’s favor. They also believed that their dietary laws set them above all other people as better than everyone else, and
God’s chosen, and only people. There was a hard circle around them. They were in, everyone else was out. And they would boast about this all the time. God loves us, too bad for you.
Paul is arguing against this type of thinking.
So, let’s walk through this passage.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith…
This raises a big question, which we can’t spend much time on.
Who’s faith? Are we justified by God’s faithfulness to God’s promise that God will bless ALL nations, or, are we justified by our own, personal trust that God will be faithful to the Promise?
I could spend two hours on this, but I’m simply going to say, “Yes.”
The point of this text is the next phrase…
We have peace with God…
Do you see the power of this phrase? We have peace with God. God is for you, not against you. God loves you, not based on your goodness, but based on the fact that you exist. This is the amazing good news of the Gospel.
How did this amazing grace happen?
…through Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we obtained access to this grace in which we stand…
This is all because God revealed Godself in the form of a human. God became flesh and entered into our human brokenness, showed us the way of life, showed us what life looks like when we are in fellowship with God, demonstrated true love by giving himself on the cross and forgiving the ones who killed him, and then conquering Sin and Death by rising from the dead.
So, if you are going to boast in something, this is what we boast in.
We don’t boast in circumcision and observing the Law. That is what divides us.
There are two things we do boast in.
First, we boast in the hope that we will share in God’s glory.
I need to stop at this point.
I think this is the spot where we get into trouble. What is God’s glory? Much of the time we think of God’s glory as being some sort of point at which we reach perfection and escape all the pain and suffering of the world.
Here’s where we come back to my opening statements. Do you feel discouraged?
Discouragement happens when we have an expectation that something is going to turn out a certain way, and then it doesn’t. We tend to think of life, especially in our culture, as if it is on a scale of bad, good, better, best, and our whole purpose in life is to climb that scale until we reach the ultimate.
- In politics we dream of becoming President.
- In economics we dream of making our first million before we’re thirty.
- In sports we dream of going pro.
- In academics we dream of getting a PhD.
- In religion we dream of an easy button.
- If we pray this particular prayer, or
- believe this particular doctrine, or
- get baptized in this particular way,
- then, click, we’ve escaped the world and we are “in.”
And then, when we get there, we realize that…nothing has really changed.
It is good to set goals and achieve them, but when we attached our sense of worth, or goodness, based upon that scale, or attached it to God’s blessing or lack of blessing, then we are setting ourselves up for disaster, and discouragement.
But, here Paul reminds us of a central point. God’s glory is not perfection and escape from this world.
God’s glory is the cross. God reveals Godself through Jesus. Paul told us in Philippians that Jesus, not considering equality with God something to be grasped, emptied himself and became a servant, even to the point of suffering on the cross.
Here, Paul says that we also boast in our suffering,
- because suffering produces endurance,
- and endurance produces character,
- and character produces hope.
And hope does not disappoint.
“because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
This is not just for the circumcised, or the in group. This is for us, for all people.
You see, that is our hope. That is the point of the Gospel.
Salvation is for all people.
Salvation is free, but it ain’t easy.
So, how do we deal with the discouragement? How do we deal with all the pain and suffering in the world?
Do we fight against it, as if it is a sign of God’s judgment or lack of blessing, as if we have failed once again?
do we realize the amazing good news that God has entered into this messy thing called being human and joins us in our suffering to work out our salvation through the ongoing, painful process of growing together in God’s love?
I want to leave you with a simple story.
I spent last year working on the research project for my dissertation. A group of people from three suburban congregations gathered together for nine months. One of the things we did was we each chose a project to work on and we would journal about it.
I chose a project that some people mocked me for, because it seems kind of silly.
I like to go for a walk at least three times a week. I have been walking the same path for almost eight years. The path takes me along the bike path behind the Festival and Target down here on Bunker Blvd. There is a series of man-made ponds there.
Last Spring, as we were considering these projects, I noticed that a bunch of Canada geese arrived. Then they started pairing up, and then a bunch of goslings appeared. These are the cutest things.
So, I decided that I would meditate on these geese and journal about it. That’s the point at which people thought it was weird. But, I did it anyway.
I started to mark my time by the development of these geese. I watched them grow from little, wobbly fluff balls into sleek, majestic geese. Summer came and went. The leaves turned color and the cold winds of November blew them from the trees. As my project was ending, and the first snow began to fall, those geese flew away, and, honestly, I was sad.
I don’t like winter. It is cold and dark. I wrote my dissertation over the winter. And then rewrote it, and rewrote it. And, I missed my goal of graduating this May. I was extremely disappointed.
When I turned my paper in, and hired the youth director, I felt empty and numb.
And then, I’ve been meditating on this passage all week. I’ve been thinking about hope and I’ve been thinking about the fact that God’s glory is in the suffering and painful process of helping us grow and mature through life.
And I’ve also been thinking that this is Mother’s Day. Who knows better about the pain and suffering of helping children grow than a mother? God is our Father and Mother. God has entered our suffering, and we are at peace with God.
And then, this Friday, as I’m walking and meditating on this passage, do you know what I saw? Another gaggle of goslings.
The cycle of life continues.
There is hope.
I don’t know what you are struggling with right now. Know this. You are at peace with God through Jesus, and the love of God is being poured out through the Holy Spirit. May we walk together through our suffering and grow in the Grace of God, for this is our hope.