This morning’s scripture is dense- there is a lot of input in a short span.
It reminds me of a logic puzzle- do we have any fans of those here?
Let’s give it a try: you may want to jot down your answer
Logic Puzzle: Five people were eating apples, A finished before B, but behind C. D finished before E, but behind B. What was the finishing order? What did you get?
Answer: CABDE. Putting the first three in order, A finished in front of B but behind C, so CAB. Then, we know D finished before B, so CABD. We know E finished after D, so CABDE.
When I initially encounter a logic puzzle, my brain aches a little bit but once I get over that, I like to figure things out and typically, I can understand how the answer is arrived at.
The scripture we have this morning is no different- initially, it made my brain hurt, but I worked through that and found the crux of the argument. In between justification and reconciliation, there is love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Justification according to Paul refers to faith, not works- the fact that we do not need to work for God’s grace, mercy and love. These things are freely given to us by our God. Reconciliation refers to being in right relationship with neighbor, self and God through our faith in Jesus.
Paul guides the hearer through what he deems to be a logical procession of things- affliction [or suffering] produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
I can understand what Paul is putting forth here, it makes sense to me, but I am not sure I would have arrived here on my own. I am not sure I understand how hope comes is a by-product of character, but ok. And then, I really do not understand how shame gets thrown in there. But, ultimately, Paul ends up speaking my language with the line, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit”. This I can understand! This makes sense to me!
A lil background before we unpack this further, last week we engaged with the book of the Acts of the Apostles and heard about how the church began to form as the Apostles followed Jesus commission to go out in to the world fueled by the Holy Spirit. This week we read a letter to the church that has taken shape in Rome from the apostle Paul. Paul fully embraces the command from Christ to go and make disciples. Typically, the letters that Paul writes to the early churches are to settle disagreements or to instruct them in how to better be the body of Christ. But the letter to the church in Rome is different.
“The Book of Romans is one of the most profound books in existence… It has been appropriately termed the Cathedral of the Christian faith [because of its] theology and impressive style. When Paul wrote this epistle to the church in Rome, that congregation must have already been in existence for a number of years, for Paul writes that he had desired to visit them “these many years” (15:23). To him this church was strong enough to help him carry out further missionary activities” (https://bible.org/seriespage/1-introduction-book-romans).
Looking more deeply at Romans Chapter 5, we are presented with a few themes:
Peace with God in the present
Hope with God in the future
God’s love being poured into us through the Holy Spirit
As far as Peace in the present, Paul states
Faith in God through Jesus Christ assures that we do not need to earn our way into the Kingdom
Don’t put your faith in riches, or self-image, or sex, or power, or religiosity – put your faith in God.
As far as, Hope for the future, we need to realize that
The Kin-dom of God is not a dream but a reality that we live into – when we are at peace with God (through faith) we can begin to live into the Kin-dom (think Sermon the Mount).
Conversely, if we are not at peace – then, living into the Kin-dom is impossible – we cannot bless the poor if we feel we do not have enough, we cannot love our enemy if we are focused on how to dominate them, we cannot love our neighbor if we continue to judge them.
Peace in the present brings hope for the future.
However, being at peace with God does not mean a life free from suffering. We must address the affliction or suffering that Paul brings up. There is great likelihood that living a life of faith will bring you into suffering, but faith gives us a different perspective on affliction.
- What does “suffering” look like for Western Christians – or at least where might we start?
- suffering means doing without so others can have
- suffering means paying more for clothes so Bangladeshi workers can be safe
- suffering means paying more for food that is grown humanely and sustainably
- suffering means using public transportation to relieve congestion and pollution
- suffering means leaving apathy and ignorance behind
- suffering is an awareness of the pain of our brothers and sisters and doing something about it
- suffering is acknowledging white privilege and actively working to dismantle it
Aaron Ochart helps us to wrestle with affliction and suffering in another way. He writes, “There is a difference between my self-reflection on my own suffering, and assessment of someone else’s suffering… I can absolutely look back at the times that I have suffered (whether because of someone else’s carelessness of maliciousness, the broken system in which we live, my own negligence or ignorance or downright stupidity, or just dumb un-luck) and because of that suffering, I have gained” [He continues] “A particularly relevant illustration for this Sunday is the suffering of motherhood… There is a major element of suffering to motherhood. It begins with suffering: the process of growing a human being is a difficult one, and many birthing persons experience all sorts of challenges, ‘morning sickness’ being only the tip of the iceberg. Vaginal birth is certainly not ponies and rainbows, and cesarean birth is not either. Once the child is [born], suffering does not stop; the processes of infancy, toddlerhood, childhood, teen years, and adulthood each have their own afflictions, challenges, as well as joys [and blessings]. Yet through this suffering, endurance, character, and hope of mothering new life is created, nurtured, and blessed to continue.
Again, we find ourselves back to the center of this morning’s scripture, God’s love being poured into us through the Holy Spirit. “Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
“Paul insists that to grow in faith we don’t need to just endure suffering, but we can see that endurance and character grow from it. From those things, our hope also grows. “Hope does not disappoint us,” he says. This is a particular kind of hope… Paul is pointing us to a deeper hope, where we find ourselves so deeply rooted in God [’s love] that the other outcomes don’t matter”
I am grateful for all of the love that has been poured into me
I am blessed to share that love with others
I am deeply thankful for the love that pours into this community
And I am grateful for the love that goes forth from here
It gives me hope and I pray it does for you as well.
May it be so. Amen