Happy Sunday, everyone. Here are some thoughts on one of today’s Scripture readings…
The New Testament reading assigned for today, the third Sunday in Lent, is definitely timely. Here’s the first part of it, from Romans:
“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, 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.” Romans 5:1-5
“Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”
While it appears that only a small number of us in the U.S. will suffer directly from covid-19, all of us will get in on some measure of endurance. The word here connotes an intentional patience in the face of something difficult. For a lot of us, isolating ourselves and waiting is the opposite of what we’re motivated to do in a crisis. It feels better to get more active, more busy rather than less so.
It’s a different kind of trying time, when what we’re called on to do for our neighbor’s sake is stay away from them. Temporary Bible motto: Don’t be a good Samaritan, be like the priest who crossed to the other side of the road?
But, back to our actual passage…
Paul is saying to the Romans that, whatever our circumstances and even in times of suffering, we have the most important thing, and that’s peace with God. We’re reconciled to God and happy in that primary relationship. And, as we know from own home lives (growing up and as adults), unresolved grievances in our most fundamental relationships unsettle everything, but reconciliation brings peace.
So, peace with God is the foundation here. And, when we have that foundation, we can get through anything. We can get through the difficult times, even times of suffering, and grow from those times in our stamina and patience, become stronger people (character), and build deeper reservoirs of hope.
Now, if you know the Apostle Paul at all, you know that he’ll bend over backwards to remind his readers that they have nothing to boast about in and of themselves. Peace with God is a gift from God, a gift to be cherished and even boasted about, so long as we’re boasting about God’s amazing love and generosity.
And the hope we have, the hope that’s strengthened by endurance of adversity? That’s also a gift. If it were just generated by our own ability to survive challenges, it wouldn’t ultimately be reliable. Only hope grounded in God will prove out ultimately, when our own abilities reach their limit and when our life-span runs out.
This hope that we have “does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” God has not only reconciled us to himself but filled us with his Spirit and his love. The bond God has made with us is indelible. God’s own Spirit resides in us. Our hope can’t be disappointed, it can’t be thwarted. Nothing is stronger than God’s love.
The rest of the Romans passage goes on to spell out just what God did for us in love (again, without our input, so don’t boast, Paul would say).
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:6-11).
“God proves his love for us”: God doesn’t just want us to be reconciled. God doesn’t just want to be able to look at you and me and say, “They’re OK in my book.” God wants us to know, to see, to understand, and to live in that peace, with all the benefits that come with it, through all the times of our lives.
May you all have that peace and hope. May it be the bedrock of your lives. And, remember that this is something you can share with your neighbor. Social distancing can’t stop the transmission of a good word from God.
Here’s a hymn you can listen to or sing along with, in various versions for various musical tastes:
It Is Well with My Soul: