Meditation on Romans 5:1-5
June 20, 2017
Merritt Island Presbyterian Church
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and 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.
When I accepted the call to minister here at MIPC, I was anxious to communicate with my new congregation on Facebook. And that is how I met Gail, before I met most of the church. She was the creator and administrator of our congregation’s FB page, and she and her daughter had designed the original MIPC website. Communication via social media was just one of her many talents and skills, I would soon find out. In a flurry of emails, back and forth, she welcomed me to Florida and the church and answered many questions. I felt an immediate connection with her, though she was in Maryland and would be for a while. She regretted not being at the church to welcome me in person, she said, or to attend my installation. She told me she was undergoing treatments for cancer. But when I expressed concern and sadness at her news, she assured me that she was “feeling well most of the time.”
She was as wonderful as I expected when I met her in person some months later–an intelligent, strong woman of faith who loved the Lord and loved this church, so much that she suggested we walk around the building and pray for the Spirit to cover this place, to be poured out on God’s people so that we may be changed and the ministry built up and protected from evil.
At our first meeting, Gail seemed to be glowing. People who hugged her in the Narthex after worship exclaimed, “Gail, you look great!” If she hadn’t told me she had cancer, I would never have known it. Her face shone with joy as she greeted longtime friends, fellow laborers for the Lord. She had the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding!
God had a plan and a purpose for her life. She had endured not only physical illness but the pain of intense grief and loss. I didn’t know until a few weeks ago that she had lost her husband to cancer when he was only 39. Gail, a longtime, active member of our congregation, trusted in God’s love and His promise, as Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, to complete the good work in us that He has begun. She took seriously Christ’s call to follow him, sending out into the world those he equipped to do compassionate ministry. In Matthew 5:16, Christ tells his disciples, “Let you light shine before others so that they may see your good deeds and glorify God in heaven.”
Gail raised her 3 children to know God’s love and encouraged their participation in Kids Klub, Praise Band, Sunday school, and other activities with our congregation. She served as a deacon, on fellowship and outreach committees, and taught children’s church, parenting classes and Life Study Classes. She went on numerous mission trips, including one in 2013 to an orphanage in Haiti. She was an active volunteer in the community, serving on the Board of the Sharing Center, as a member of the Junior League of Central and North Brevard, and as President of the Friends of the Library. She earned the rank of captain in the U.S. Navy and served her country as a coordinator of medical services during Desert Storm. Then, she used her skills and experiences for medical mission work in Haiti and Nicaragua.
Her greatest passion was for helping needy children and families. She earned a bachelor’s in Occupational Therapy and a doctorate in Psychology. She served as a counselor/therapist at Merritt Island Christian School and was instrumental in the founding of an early intervention program, the “Lab School” at Brevard Community College, now Eastern Florida State. She taught parents and their children the great joy of being God’s special creation and fostered self-esteem.
Her one, uncompleted goal was to write a book on Conscious Discipline for the people of Haiti. But in the sharing of her passion with others, another Christian educator/therapist is committed to finishing the work, so that Gail’s dream will come true–and many children will be blessed.
Gail was a rock and inspiration to many. She continued to encourage and serve others while she was very ill, traveling to North Carolina to care for her mother last year. But even as she was a rock and inspiration, she was also supported and sustained by a circle of friends at her special Monday night Prayer Group for more than 3 decades. She believed in the power of prayer and the importance of staying connected to the community of faith.
When I asked Gail how she was feeling that day I met her–when she was glowing in the Narthex, she turned the conversation to the future. She thanked us for our prayers. She was making plans. She anticipated God’s healing. For, as the prophet Jeremiah assures God’s people living in exile, Gail had a future filled with hope.
Friends, Romans 5 speaks to those of us who mourn the loss of loved ones and for those who are enduring suffering and struggling to keep the faith. As I studied Paul’s letter, I realized that the apostle is teaching about suffering because he, too, has struggled and is worried for others who will suffer and be persecuted–because of their faith.
Paul in 2 Cor. 11 describes some of what he has endured, beginning at v. 24: “Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.”
But Paul concludes in 2 Cor. 12 that he will “boast” of his weakness and sufferings because they have a purpose. In his “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ” is where Paul finds his strength!
In Romans 5, Paul tells us, again, to boast of our sufferings for they have a purpose; suffering shapes our character and produces, of all things, hope!! HOPE is what gives wings to our faith and carries us through the most difficult and painful times. Hope is what keeps us walking each day, clinging to our faith, loving God and neighbor, as the Lord calls us to do, whatever our situation, in times of health and illness; in times of joy and sorrow.
Remember, hope isn’t something we conjure up with our own willpower. It is a gift from the Lord that we receive by grace in the community of faith. We don’t earn hope, just as we can’t earn our salvation. We can only open our hearts and pray the Lord will fill us up. “For 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.”
The Spirit poured a variety of gifts into Gail that she sought to develop and share with the world, just as God has given all of us gifts He wants us to use for him. She took advantage of many opportunities to serve and help others, sharing from all that God had made her and all that he had given to her. She listened to her Savior, who tells his beloved in Matthew 10:8, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”
When we hear the stories of what Gail did for others–the countless lives she touched –we can easily imagine the Lord’s greeting of, “Well done, faithful one,” in the early morning hours of June 5, the dawning of a new day. That’s when she experienced the answer to all our prayers for her–complete healing, wholeness in Him.
All the faithful have this hope, not because we believe in ourselves and trust in our good deeds, intellect or accomplishments, but because we believe in the one who gave himself for us, who died so that the world may obtain access to God’s grace. We endure suffering and loss, as Gail did, trusting in our loving God and listening for His Word, knowing that suffering will shape us into the people God wants us to be. And that it will produce hope, which gives wings to our faith and “does not disappoint us. For God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”