May 26, 2019

“Living with Hope”
Romans 5:1-11
A sermon for Hawaii Kai UCC by Janice Ogoshi
May 26, 2019 (NL Easter 6)


Romans is a hard book to read and understand.  When I saw that it was the epistle focus for this season in the Narrative Lectionary, a feeling of dread came over me.  How would we ever grasp all of Paul’s theological ideas and arguments in just a few weeks?  How could I possibly help you understand righteousness, grace, reconciliation with God, peace, hope, justification and salvation in 15 minutes each week for 3 weeks? 

I sat down to read Romans, I started reading it with my head and my brain got all fuzzy.  But then I tried reading it with my heart.  I asked what God wanted me to hear?  What did God want me to say to you?  What I heard was that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  As I read about humanity’s sinfulness, the Law, and God’s free gift of grace, I began to see and feel God’s love for us, for all humanity, for all creation.  Sometimes it’s best to keep it simple and bask in God’s love and grace. 

I think underneath all the words, Paul really intended to share a message of love and hope with the church at Rome so that they would be encouraged in their faith.  He was aware of how challenging it was for them to keep their faith.  Can you imagine what it was like to be a Christian who confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, at the very center of an empire in which Caesar held the title Deus et Dominus, God and Lord?  Talk about going against the tide and resisting the powers and principalities of the day.  It would not be many more years before the hostility towards Christians became more open and brutal.  

Last week we read the theme of this letter in Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes:  first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.  For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” 

The gospel is the power of God in a city in which the power of the Roman empire was evident everywhere, every day.  It took great courage to proclaim the gospel in a city like Rome, and the faith of the Christian community needed to be strengthened and encouraged.  Paul’s aim was to help them to live with hope. 

Hope is nurtured when we know we are loved and we know that love will always be with us.  Even though we can’t be certain about our future, we know enough about God’s love and faithfulness to trust God’s promises.  That’s hope.  Our reading for today begins with an amazing affirmation of God’s love for us:  “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (v. 1).  We’ve been justified.  In the Word app, you can click a button that will make all your text line up neatly on the right or left, or spread out evenly.  Through faith, God has made our lives neatly line up, reconciling us to God and giving us peace.  Through Jesus, God has given us this gift of grace—undeserved and unearned.  Paul pointed out that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8).  God has justified us and made us righteous simply because we believe in God’s promises and stand on God’s character.  Just think about that for a moment.  No—don’t think about it, feel it.  God’s love for us is free and unconditional. 

But then Paul shakes us and says that we glory in our sufferings.  At this point I want to argue with Paul.  I don’t glory in suffering.  I run away from it.  Now Paul is getting into an area that feels a bit uncomfortable.  If God loved us, why wouldn’t God take away our pain?  It sounds like he is trying to explain away our pain, give us a pep talk to help us endure our trials and tribulations:  “we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (v. 3-4).  If we need to suffer in order to end up with hope, I’m not sure I really want hope.  It sounds like Paul is trying to minimize suffering. 

Janet Hunt suggests that we read this passage collectively rather than individually.  She notes that the personal pronouns in our reading are all plural.  Take note of the pronouns as I read verses 1 and 2 again:  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Indeed, Paul is writing to a church, a group of people.  He’s thinking of them collectively, an including himself with them. 

So when Paul talks about our suffering in verses 3-5, Rev. Hunt notes that “Maybe instead they are meant to speak to the sort of suffering we do in behalf of one another… Indeed, as Christ did --- in behalf of the whole world.  Maybe that is actually the kind of suffering which leads to endurance and character and the kind of hope which does not disappoint.”

Janet H. Hunt,  Accessed 5-24-2019 

Jesus entered into our lives and into our suffering and pain so that we—all together—might have hope.  

And so it is right that we gather each year together to remember our loved ones who have passed away.  Three years ago when Fred came to the Worship Planning Team and proposed this annual Service of Remembrance, I had no idea how it would go, and whether it would be helpful or meaningful.  But each year I watch as we light candles and I see our collective remembrance yielding hope.  We need to remember and mourn together as a family of faith so that we can become hopeful together. 

We remember together, we mourn together, we support each other in our grief and grieving processes, we heal together.  Our suffering produces perseverance because when we share each other’s burdens, when we stand with each other in our pain, we can stay on the journey of life and faith for the long haul.  Our perseverance produces character, because over time the love of God flows and the faith of our community becomes visible and our character built of our faith in Jesus becomes more evident as we live together.  And character produces hope.  Because we have seen God at work among us, because we have experienced God’s faithfulness through the years of life together, we know that we can depend on God’s promises for the future.  That’s the hope we share. 

In the face of suffering, in our grief, in our pain, God reaches out to us.  God has continually reached out to humanity since the beginning of creation.  While we were powerless, while we were still sinners, while we were God’s enemies, Christ died for us and reconciled us to God. 

If God has treated us with that kind of love and grace, how can we not put our hope in God?  How can we not live with hope?  

So instead of trying to figure out what exactly Paul meant by righteousness and justification and grace and reconciliation, sit with this:  God loves us all deeply, unconditionally, freely.  In Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, God entered into our suffering with us and for us to show us what love actually looks like, and how very powerful that love is, so we can all grow together, so we can all live with hope. 

Friends, let’s receive God’s gracious love and live with hope.