God’s Love Is in You!

 

Meditation on Romans 5:1-5

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

June 16, 2018

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Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we[ have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and 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.

 

***

 

Friends, I have missed you and my adopted hometown of Coshocton this week! I have been away at Pittsburgh Seminary beginning a new educational program for pastors. When I told one of the children that I would be away at school for 2 weeks, she said, “Grownups don’t go to school!”

Then, on the first day of school, when nothing seemed to be going right, I began to think that she had been prophetic! This grownup shouldn’t be going to school! The amount of prep work for these classes is substantial. We were assigned about a dozen books and another dozen articles to read and two papers to write before the first class meeting—a vocational memoir, sharing our stories, and a contextual analysis of our ministry, describing our particular church in our particular place.

On my first day of school last Monday, we learned that most of us had not finished the readings for the week. I had at least 4 more books to read. Some didn’t realize the papers were due before the class, so they hadn’t done them, yet. One didn’t know the books had to be read before the classes began, so he was in a panic. We were all in a state of high anxiety, feeling unprepared for the work ahead and worried about what would be required of us. Making things more difficult, we were tired from travel and the busy work of ministry the week before. Things are always harder when we are tired and anxious, aren’t they? It’s harder to have grace for ourselves, and we didn’t have a lot of grace for ourselves that first day of school.

But as the days passed, we began to get to know each other and our teacher through our worship and prayer, reading and writing, eating and conversation. We started to laugh and enjoy being together. The 15 of us have come from different ministry contexts—small congregations and larger, small towns and big cities, hills and valleys, on the beach and in the country. We are different ages—from early 30s to late 50s. Solo, associate and youth pastors, heads of staff, chaplains, church planters, spiritual directors, and ministry consultants. Baptists, Methodists, UCC’s, and Presbyterians. About as many women as men. We who have come together to study and discern God’s will want the same thing—to help our congregations face present and future challenges and be strengthened and transformed for the work of ministry to all the generations.

The Spirit exposes our gifts, our growing edges, and vulnerabilities; it comforts and heals us, unites us and builds our confidence. The Spirit fills our hearts with love.

***

If we are looking for an example of a servant leader in the New Testament, we need look no further than the Apostle Paul. Notice that he freely admits his own failings and weaknesses—even boasts of them, as he says in 2 Corinthians 12:9—so that the power of God at work in his life and person may be seen and others may come to know the Lord. Paul is confident in the man God has called and equipped him to be. Once a persecutor of Christians and a destroyer of the Church, he is no longer an enemy of God; in Christ, we are a new creation. “The old has gone,” he says in 2 Cor. 5:17, “The new is here.” He is led by the Spirit, which keeps him from preaching the Word in some places, we learn in Acts, but opens the way to share the gospel and plant churches in others. In Romans 1:16, he says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Some estimate that Paul, with his fellow laborers for the gospel, may have planted 20 or more churches, and he didn’t stop there; he continued to pray for them and build them up through letters and visits, when possible.

In the first chapter of Romans, Paul assures the church how much he prays for them and thanks God for their faith and their “proclaiming it throughout the world.” It’s not clear if Paul, a citizen of the Roman Empire, planted the church in Rome. In any case, he tells them that he wants to visit them, build them up, and be built up in his faith. “For I am longing to see you,” he says in 1:11-12, “so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.”

Today’s reading in Romans 5 follows Paul’s discussion of God’s promise realized through Abraham’s faith. “Hoping against hope,” Paul says in 5:18, “he believed that he would become the father of many nations…(now verse 21) being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” But revisiting Abraham’s story in Genesis, we are reminded that Abraham is not always faithful and obedient. He isn’t always “fully convinced” or if he is, he isn’t always patient enough to wait for God’s promises to come to pass. He fathers a child with his wife’s slave, Hagar, at his wife, Sarah’s request. Later, he abandons Hagar and their son, Ishmael, when Sarah is jealous and demands that Hagar and Ishmael leave. Abraham’s story, more than revealing his steadfast faith, reveals God’s steadfast grace and faithfulness.

In chapter 5, Paul connects all that he has said at the beginning of the book about what God has done through Christ to this conclusion, reaffirming his call to share the gospel and his hope of being resurrected and glorified with Christ in the world to come. Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” The Greek word translated justification—dikaíōsis—means “divine approval.” We have God’s approval because of Christ’s suffering work on the cross! We are made right with God when we are justified through Christ. In Him, we are redeemed; we are no longer guilty for our sins! We have peace with God—and this peace isn’t just a warm, fuzzy feeling or absence of hostility. This peace is shalom­, reconciliation between God and human beings and human beings with one another. For if we are right with God, we are also right with each other. The Lord commands us in the Old and New testaments to love God AND neighbor. Jesus says in Mark 12:30-31, “There is no greater commandment than these.”

But we struggle to love, as God loves. The good news is that what is impossible for human beings is possible with the Lord’s help. This is true for Paul’s claim that suffering in our lives—not just physical or emotional pain, but trials and troubles—opens us to God’s transforming work and leads to the spiritual fruits of endurance, godly character, and hope. Especially hope! For suffering draws us closer to the Lord, to rely more fully on our Creator and Healer.

“And the Spirit (that lives within us) helps us in our weakness;” Paul says in Romans 8:26-27, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

***

On Friday, one of the 15 pastors in the program with me at Pittsburgh Seminary was suddenly in tears as she shared her heart with us. But it wasn’t sadness. The week that started out to be overwhelming and frustrating had become an unexpectedly sweet blessing. She was grateful to God—and so was I—that we had the opportunity to gather for prayer, study, worship and important conversations about ministry.

Sisters and brothers, I know you have hurts, some that you haven’t shared with another soul! God knows your struggles and pain, your suffering, trials and troubles! You don’t have to hide them from the Lord or us! Like Paul, we can boast of our sufferings, so that in our weakness, God is strong! And the Lord will be faithful to use our suffering to bring forth spiritual fruit in us. This will be our witness to the world.

May the Spirit draw you ever nearer to your Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer and Source of all life. May you find healing and relief from anxiety, pain and worry as you seek God’s will for you and your family of faith.

I have so much hope for our ministry together. Will you pray with me that we will touch the lives of many people in our community in the years to come, and that they will touch our lives, too? Let us pray that the Lord would strengthen our ministry, especially to children and young families. Because this next generation really needs us and maybe no one else will reach out to them! Let us reveal to God and neighbor that we are not ashamed of the gospel! It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith. They need to know the hope that doesn’t disappoint, our hope in Christ alone.

May the Lord stir our community to see what I see—what inspires me every time we gather for worship! And makes me want to cry tears of joy!

God’s love is here for us! For God’s love is in you!

 

Let us pray…

 

Holy, Triune God, thank you for our redemption in Jesus Christ, who on the cross did the suffering work of atonement for all our sins—the sins of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for pouring your love into our hearts so that we would have the hope that would not disappoint and for interceding for us with God the Father, with sighs too deep for words when we don’t know how to pray. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for not waiting for us to come to you and recognizing our need for redemption, but loving us first, while we were yet sinners and sending Your Son to die for us. Thank you, Jesus, for revealing what leadership should be, for being our example of one who came to serve and not be served, one who lived courageously a humble, faithful life, in perfect obedience to God’s Word. In your name we pray. Amen.

 

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