On Tuesdays three of us pastors get together to reflect on the lessons for the next Sunday and begin our sermon preparation. I was taught in seminary that a sermon needed to be distilled down to one sentence. So, I struggled with that much of the hour. Finally, I decided the title would be “Do you have what it takes?” I gave the title to Anne for our bulletin and continued my study of the scripture until yesterday when it seemed it should be ready to become a sermon. But I realized after studying the scripture for a week a different title emerged, “Therefore”.
The scripture from Romans from which comes today’s sermon starts out “Therefore”. All of what is in this passage is based on what Paul wrote in the first five chapters of the book of Romans.
Paul’s letter to Rome was his introduction to the Christians there in preparation for a visit. The beginning chapters tells us that God in his goodness has created humanity and has given them the task of taking care of the creation God had given to them. Humanity decided they wanted to decide for themselves what they needed to do, and humanity was expelled from the Garden of Eden. In the fullness of time, they were given rules to live by best represented by the God’s will for them. But even the commandments became a cause for sin by humans trying to twist them around to say what they wanted to do, so the commandments became a cause for sin.
So, Jesus came to show us the way to live in relationship with God, the creation, and each other. But they rebelled once more, and that rebellion put him on a Cross to die between two thieves. God used that event to absorb the powers of sin and death and open the way to a new life that never ends for those who believe and trust in Jesus when he rose from the dead on the third day.
So out of awesome love for humanity God has established a new relationship with humanity through Jesus.
This change is like that of marriage. You find a partner and make commitment to live together richer, or poorer, better or worse, in sickness and in health as long as you both shall live. It is a relationship based on mutual love and respect that grows through all the challenges that life brings — even death.
So, Paul writes one of my favorite passages of scripture. “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is a living relationship of trust and love based on knowing God loves us and is with us no matter what we experience in life, even if we fall flat on our face. We have the confidence God is our savior no matter what.
Paul next shares what for me is the heart of living this life. “Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
We do not have a fair-weather God. We have a God who becomes real to us in times of struggle, pain and sorrow. God becomes real to us when we lose our job, our spouse, or are facing the difficulties of aging.
Not only that but character grows by facing life’s challenges head on. I will never forget the terrified man in his fifties whose mother had just died. His family in the interest of protecting him from grief never took him to a funeral when members of the family died such as grandparents. So, in his mid-forties he had to face a funeral for the first time and was terrified.
God gives us the strength and courage to face loss, pain, and sorrow, if we but face it with God on our side. This is what we are doing on Thursday nights as we face grief together as we study the book; “Good Grief”. We are just getting started and encourage you to come and take the journey of walking through our griefs together.
Like a spiritual athlete we grow through facing with God life’s curve balls, and the ability to face life becomes a little easier. Our faith grows and we are able to endure more with God at our side leading us through the valleys of the shadow of death.
Then we discover another quality in our life of faith surfaces. Our ability to reach out to others who are going through life’s struggles increases. We know the road of pain and sorrow and we know how to walk beside someone else in this scary valley. Paul calls that discovery and the ability to respond to the needs of others as character.
And character experiences hope. Death, loss, disappointment, and sorrow are a part of every person’s life, but as Christians we know that death does not have the final word. Resurrection has the last word.
The Sunday before I met Ann on a blind date a woman I was really sweet on dropped me like a hot potato. I did not want to show up on Wednesday evening, but my friend Greg Neuman insisted I show up. I did and I met the woman of my life. We are celebrating our 56th wedding anniversary today. When I met Ann, I became a new person. Continuing to become a new person has been happening since.
I believe when we recover from a great loss or disappointment, a new person is born of greater endurance, character, and hope. That new person comes to be because of the love our God poured out to us through the Holy Spirit. So I suggest to all of us: let’s allow God to lead us into the great therefore. Amen.