Hope That Doesn't Disappoint
Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God's glory. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed us great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. -Romans 5:1-8 Read the whole chapter.
Our text for this morning is from Paul's letter to the Romans. Romans is probably the greatest work of Paul in which he fleshes out and explains his understanding of what it means to be God's people saved and justified by faith through grace. Paul begins this letter and talks about a number of things. Chapter 5 is when he really just puts it all out here and says "all right, so here's what it is". Because in chapter 3 in Romans is where we hear him write those words "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. He basically is making the case for why we need God in the way that we do. So we begin chapter 5 with him saying "therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." This word justification is one that we use in our everyday language by to be justified is not just what you do on your computer for where the words line up on the edge of the page. To be justified doesn't just mean that you are entitled or right to something, but rather in the sense that Paul is talking about justification means literally just as if you hadn't sinned, just as if your relationship with God had not needed restored. Justification means that we are in a place of being set right with God and that happened through Jesus Christ on the cross and through the empty tomb we were set right with God. So Paul says we are justified by our faith, by our trust, by our conviction, and by our acceptance of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Because of that, we have peace with God. It is through him that we've obtained access to this grace in which we now stand and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
This word boasting is another one of those words that we use often but we don't always use it in a positive way, in fact, we kind of condemn it. We don't like people that are arrogant, proud, puff themselves up and say how good they are. Yet Paul uses this word to say "you know what I'm not boasting about me, I'm boasting about this God who has done so much for us. Who through His Son has put us at a place where we can stand with confidence in this grace to share His glory. That friends, is the hope that he points us to. Paul points us to a short road and a long road to hope. This short road, it is just that he says God has given us this hope and made it available to us. We boast about this hope that God has given us but Paul also points us to the fact that sometimes life isn't neat and tidy.
He goes on to say we boast of our suffering as well. I don't know about you but I've suffered some. I wouldn't say I've suffered a lot in my life. Some of you maybe more so, but suffering isn't something that we take a lot of pride in. Suffering isn't something that we feel proud to go, share and tell other people about. Yet Paul is saying we boast in our suffering. Then he gives us this litany of this progression about boasting: that suffering leads to endurance and endurance leads to character and character produces hope and hope doesn't disappoint us. He says that the road to hope through suffering isn't an easy one. In fact, it's a long one. Endurance implies that this is gonna take a little while. To be honest, when we look at what Paul has to say here we might want to qualify it ourselves. We might even be tempted to say you know we boast in our suffering knowing that suffering sometimes produced endurance or suffering might produce endurance. The truth of it is, we know people who have been broken by their suffering. We know people who have emerged from their suffering bitter and angry and have yet to see the light of that hope at the end of their journey.
So what do we do when we find a passage like this? It's important for one to know that everything that Paul is saying here is plural. Paul isn't saying that I'm boasting about this hope that I have. He says we the community of faith, we the believers stand in this hope and have this grace that is made accessible to all of us. We together boast in our suffering seems a rather timely message for us to be reflecting on given the state of our world right now. As if this pandemic and all of the trickle-down effects that it's had on our lives weren't enough, we're having all of the civil unrest, economic turmoil and everything that the uncertainty of the future holds looming over us. It would be nice to be able to say we stand in this hope right now and everything's good. But it seems as though the journey that we're on as a congregation, as a nation, as a world is this long road. Because in some ways, there's probably some suffering that everyone of us have experienced to some degree throughout the last three months.
There's a poem that circulated on Facebook and other social media early on in this pandemic and it basically shares the message that we're not all in the same boat but we're all in the same storm. The point of this poem is that for some of us this storm that we're in hasn't been too bad. We've been able to isolate at home. We've had the resources to be able to continue to pay our bills and put groceries in the refrigerator. But for other people it's not been the case. They've still had to go to work or they've still been out of work and trying to figure out how to make ends meet. We're fortunate that our community has not been heavily or devastatingly hit by this disease unlike other parts of our nation. The reality of it is that we're not all in the same boat but we're in the same storm. We're in this together. And while there's some truth of that statement, I would like to hope that maybe even if we're in different boats we're still mindful and aware of what the people around us are experiencing, of what they're going through, of how we can maybe be of assistance and that life raft for someone else that is in a boat that's about to go under.
As we continue through this discovering what life is going to look like tomorrow, next week, and next month, we do it together. If it's possible maybe we should boast in our suffering because it's an opportunity for us to discover what it means to utterly and completely rely upon God. Maybe we should boast in our suffering because it's an opportunity for us to learn what it means to have other that reach out in love and compassion for us or for us to have those opportunities to do likewise for others. Maybe we need to have a greater understanding of what the 'we' Paul is talking about.
We're in this period of civil unrest as well. If you watch the news you see there are some things changing slowly on the national scale of some of the icons and images that are associated with our racist past, like the confederate flag is being intentionally removed from national venues. Some of the statues lifting up and celebrating Civil War, Confederate generals are being taken down. Those are symbols of this tragic past that our nation has had. One of the things that I think is starting to change is that there is a greater sense of 'we' in the midst of the civil unrest. Because for much of my life, I think a lot of people were probably content to say 'well, I'm not racist therefore I'm not a part of the problem.' But the problem is that it's not a black problem, it's not a white problem. It's a society problem of which all of us are a part. We need to look at this issue particularly as an issue of how we can as a society be a support and assistance to those who have been treated as less.
There's an African word called 'ubuntu'. It's a Zulu word and the concept in a nutshell means 'I am because we are'. It recognizes that each of us as an individual find part of our identity in our connectedness to others. That our connectedness to others is necessary and helps to establish who we are. This concept really became more widely known around the globe as South Africa was emerging from it's apartheid history. That the segregation of the minority white's having a dominant position in that society. Part of the awareness that was brought out through this concept of 'ubuntu' was that as long as there are any among us whose lives are diminished, all of our lives are diminished. So if there are people who are oppressed among us because of there ethnicity, the color of their skin, their gender identity, their sexual orientation, if people are treated as less than others because of factors that just are, then we are all pulled down as a society.
Part of South Africa in moving forward with their justice and reconciliation efforts that they had to go through was an acknowledgement of the fact that maybe those in positions of power could have done more to help. So in this time of racial tension, we may not be directly suffering and yet there are members of our society who are. What can we do? I don't have the answers necessarily. Education, learning, listening are a part of it, recognizing that our lives are blessed is a part of it. Recognizing that sometimes people need an opportunity in a space to speak. When we see those banners and t-shirts that say 'Black Lives Matter', we need to be able to understand and hear what that is. Because there's been a lot of shouting back that saying but 'All Lives Matter' but if you've ever had a friend that came to you and said 'I just found out I've got breast cancer' would your response be 'oh yeah? I had prostate cancer ten years ago'? It doesn't help to change the subject. It doesn't help to redirect that focus away from the person that's saying 'I'm hurting right now' and saying 'Oh I've hurt before too and I matter' because it takes that conversation away from the other back to yourself. So sometimes listening is how we get to a deeper understanding. Sometimes hearing another person's hurt or suffering and allowing us to be drawn into that suffering a little bit, is how we help, support, and encourage.
When Paul says we don't get to opt out as the community of faith. We are in this together. In these times of suffering we are in this together. May this suffering be an opportunity for us to learn how to endure, to allow that endurance to produce some character, character that maybe shifts, changes and forms new thoughts and opinions, and opens up to new ways of expressing compassion and kindness and love and producing a hope not just for ourselves, but a hope for others around us. Hope that maybe others haven't yet experienced. The hope rooted and grounded in this love that God has made known through Jesus. Because that is a hope that will not disappoint. It's through the cross of Calvary and the empty tomb, the suffering of Jesus that God demonstrated that hope can emerge from suffering.
I think maybe Paul's pointing us back to that cross of Calvary and the empty tomb that it might be the source of hope that we experience as well. In fact when Paul goes on and says 'for while we were still weak at the right time Christ died for the ungodly', it was through Jesus that God's love has been poured into our hearts by His Holy Spirit that we might know how well and how great we are loved. We often hear that phrase in times of suffering: God helps those who help themselves. Anybody have any guesses as to the Bible reference of that? The answer is it's not. The most common attribution for that phrase is Benjamin Franklin in his 1757 version of the poor man's Almanac. Because when we find a verse like this, for while we were still weak at the right time Christ died for us, in the midst of suffering there may be things that we can do but often there isn't. Often there are times and circumstances and situations that are beyond our ability to do anything about them, except cling to the promises of God. The God who sent His Son that while we were yet sinners God proved His love for us by sending His Son.
We give thanks to this God who loves all of us with a love that can bring us to hope even through the sufferings of this time, even through the things that affect us individually, but more importantly corporately. The love of this God can and will and does forever change us and give us a hope that will not disappoint. Amen.