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The Slippery Side of Hope

Romans 5:1-5 (CEB)

Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness combined with our faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory.
But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope does not put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

June 17-18, 2017
Romans 5:1-5
“The Slippery Side of Hope”

Our New Testament Scripture comes from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. This letter is thought to have been written near the end of Paul’s life and ministry, perhaps somewhere around the middle of the first century.
The letter can be viewed as a summary of what Paul had learned about faith and hope and love through his own journey of trials and problems and suffering. Paul had suffered much in his life and would suffer even more before his death a few years later in Rome.

Paul will tell us in this Scripture that hope can come even in the midst of problems and trouble.

(Read Romans 5:1-5)

The verses I read from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans are perhaps familiar to you…”trouble produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

Paul speaks of enduring life’s hardships and troubles and suffering; and about having peace with God and a hope that makes the enduring possible. Paul certainly must have been a man of deep inner strength.

One person has written about inner strength saying,
If you can start the day without caffeine,
If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it,
If you can overlook when people take things out on you,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can relax without liquor and sleep without the aid of drugs,
If you can do all these things…
You are probably the family dog!

In our scripture passage, the Apostle Paul gives assurance to the Church of Rome that God’s promises are fulfilled through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, as well as the Holy Spirit. That, I suspect was the source of Paul’s inner strength.

Paul begins by saying, “Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness combined with our faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Righteous is one of those “churchy words” that is often explained as someone thinking they are better than someone else. We’ve heard people say, “Oh, she thinks she’s so righteous,” when they believe that person is thinking they are above others.
But actually, being made righteous is what God does for us in Christ Jesus. Being righteous is a relational change that leads to a restored relationship with God and with one another. But we cannot be made righteous on our own. It is a combination, Paul says, of God’s faithfulness and our faith.
And the best example we have of this righteousness, Paul says is Jesus the Christ. Jesus is the window through which we see God and through which we have come to know this right relationship and presence of God.
It is God who makes us righteous…who gathers us in, who nurtures us and sends us out to be witnesses to this love we know through Christ.

“We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through Christ,” Paul says.

Paul then goes into the boasting part…

He called the church at Rome to be faithful, knowing that in their faithfulness they would discover God’s faithfulness…They would discover God’s love, at work among them, and out of that could find hope in any and every circumstance of life. And in this, Paul said, we can boast!

“Boast,” is a rather noisy word in our English language and is sometimes misleading. It can mean bragging and being full of self-pride. But Paul does not intend that.
Perhaps the NIV Bible translation says it best, using the words, “We rejoice,” instead of the word “boast.” What more could we ask, in the midst of the pain and suffering that comes to us all, than to find joy!

We rejoice in the One whose mercies are unlimited; we rejoice in the One who is compassion and forgiveness; the One who is our rock in a weary land; our manna in the wilderness; and our anchor and our safe harbor.
That’s what our boasting is about. You see, the only reason to hope is because of the assurance that God is expansive and endless love; and sufficient in all things.
When you and I are grounded in this expansive love we name as God; then it is possible to endure. It is possible to get up again tomorrow. It is possible to turn and go a new way. It is possible to navigate the darkness.

It is possible because we dare to have faith in something bigger than the darkness, the sadness, the grief, the suffering, the oppression, the injustice and the hatred.

And so Paul writes, “We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope does not put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Paul seems to be saying that hope is the gift of faith that remains when all the evidence around us points to despair. Hope is the strength within us that surprises us at times. In painful times of loss and heartache, we somehow make it through and believe that better times are coming. That’s hope…poured deep into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

But what do we do when hope does put us to shame…what do we do when hope does disappoints us?

What do we do when grief consumes us, when peace in our lives and in our world seems a long way off, when injustice against God’s people is allowed to continue, what do we do when hope gets slippery and all the handholds seem to be just beyond our reach, what then?

It seems pretty empty to simply say that “trouble produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope” because we have all seen suffering that simply produces despair.

That is where the role of community comes into play…community can make all the difference in fostering hope. When suffering is held over time in the company of others then experiences of suffering can push through to compassion and hope because when the sufferer is someone we care about, the transition from despair to hope happens.

You may remember the movie and Broadway play, Steel Magnolias. The storyline is about six women in a small town in Louisiana. The first scenes are fun and light-hearted, with a lot of laughter and kidding. But as the story goes on and time passes, the women and their families encounter tragedy and suffering and problems, but grow stronger and closer in the process.

There is a depth of character in the women that does not appear on first look. They may be flowery on the outside, but they have the character to deal with life’s major problems. Perhaps each of us has a “steel magnolia” in our lives; someone who has stuck with us, or a community that has journeyed with us no matter what and taught us about endurance, character, and hope.

Community makes all the difference. And this season after Pentecost is about being a new community. The question for the early believers at Pentecost was, “How do we now live, now that Jesus has been among us and still moves among us…How do we now live? It is the same question for us.

And it comes down to the common good of others in community. How do we realize that the common good of others is really our own good and really our only hope?

A life of faith is about being part of community…a community that rescues us from despair; extends our reach so we can hold on; and carries us when we cannot take another step. Community rehearses the stories that sustain hope and witnesses to the assurance of God’s saving and transforming love.

Paul was right on this one…”Hope does not put us to shame or disappoint us,” because it is rooted in the assurance that in all things and at all times God is with us; we are not alone.

The Apostle Paul found new life in Jesus Christ, who gave him an unshakeable new faith.

Turning away from his old ways of being a punishing crusader, Paul became a man of hope. Instead of continuing as a persecutor, he became a man of compassion. He preached Jesus’ message of hope and new life.

God’s promise is never that life will be fair or without problems or suffering. God’s promise is that we don’t have to confront the unfairness and the problems and the suffering alone.

In the midst of our own problems and suffering and the problems and suffering of the world, we can be hopeful. The late theologian, William Sloane Coffin said, “Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world.”

“For like nothing else in the world,” he said, “hope arouses a passion for the possible.”

So, what does a passion for the possible look like…what does hope look like for us, for the Church, for our communities and for our world?

It looks like what is given to us in Jesus the Christ. That’s where we see God. That’s where we see compassion, devotion, obedience, faithfulness, kindness, justice, endurance, character, and hope.

That’s where we see the life of inner strength that helps us to be other-focused. That’s where we see what it looks like to be in a relationship that is at-one with God. That’s where we see that sin and death do not have the last word. That’s where we need to make our home and say to our children…look to this man’s life…Jesus the Christ, and know hope.

When we feel like we are on the slippery side of hope, our faith points us to the message of the resurrection that says love is stronger than hate; good is stronger than evil; and resurrection hope is the heart of the Christian faith that offers us life and hope now and always.

Go share that life and hope with others in how we live our daily lives.

This is the Good News of God this day.
Thanks be to God.
Amen.