Monday, March 01, 2010

Sermon on Romans 5:1-5, for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, "Chain Reaction!"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Welcome again to our church on this Preschool Sunday, and thanks to our children for singing their praises to God today! The Bible reading that I want to speak to you about is the second reading you heard today, Romans 5:1-5, printed in your bulletin.

5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

In everyday life there are many circumstances where access is denied. We walk past “secret doors” in airports, hospital and government buildings, and elsewhere. “Employees Only” or “Authorized Personnel Only” may be written on the door. We see “No Trespassing,” “Kapu,” or “Private Property” posted along roads and certain lands. For those who work or live in such places, they can go through the door, enter the property, and have access to what’s inside. There’s nothing secret about it for them. We, however, don’t have the security clearance, or employment to allow entry. We aren’t owners, we aren’t family. So for us, it’s Access Denied.
Often people assume that we automatically have access to God. We assume that nothing hinders our relationship to God. It’s like walking through the building and opening up any door you want, and paying no attention to the signs or whether entry is allowed. We think: sure, there’s a God up there, and I don’t know who He really is, but any time I need to contact Him, I can count on the fact that I’ll have direct access. But if we don’t know who God is, how can we know that we have access to Him? What if He’s a distant and uninterested God? How do we know He hears prayers? How do we know whether He is angry or pleased when He hears them?

These are all really “access” questions. As you can see, without some knowledge of God, we don’t reliably know God’s attitude toward us. We don’t know if we have access or not. But God is not unable to communicate to us. He is not unable to make His love to His creation known. He came down to us in the person of Jesus Christ, and made Himself known, that we might have access to God through Him. This was what St. Paul was writing for us in today’s reading. He was writing about this access that we have by faith in Jesus, God’s Son who came into the world to grant us access to the grace of God. Paul writes about the fact that we don’t automatically have access to God. There is a natural barrier between us that keeps us from having direct access to God. That barrier is our sin, or the disobedience to God’s Law. It’s the guilt of sin that prevents us from having an “open line” with God. This disobedience to God amounts to us being at war with God; more than simply being a “rebellious child.”

But that’s not the end of the story. Paul explains this in the first 4 chapters of Romans, then arrives at the conclusion in the first verse we read today: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Paul explained to the Romans that the sole basis for their access to God wasn’t any privilege they’d earned—they didn’t qualify for access to God on the basis of good behavior—it was solely through Jesus Christ that they had access to God and peace with Him. How? Jesus took away all their guilt through His suffering and death on the cross. Even though we were as guilty as sin, God declares those who have faith in Jesus as innocent. Because of Jesus’ innocence and because He died for our sins, our relationship with God is restored. Instead of “access denied,” the sign now reads, “Access granted.” Access granted by faith in Jesus.

Faith in Jesus, then, is our access to God, the foundation for peace with God, and for a hope that’s solidly founded even in the midst of uncertainties and great difficulty. This is the rest of what Paul tells us. He said that this access to God’s grace, the undeserved love of God, gives us reason to rejoice in two things. The first is to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. We rejoice that our hope to enter heaven is secure because Jesus repaired the relationship with God for all who believe. Of course we’d rejoice in that! It’s an indescribable gift that we couldn’t have deserved. But the second thing Paul tells us we can rejoice about is quite a surprise.

He says, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings!” Our sufferings?!?! Who rejoices in hardship and difficulty? Here we must understand that the wonderful truth described already—the truth that we’ve access to God through Jesus Christ, and innocence by faith—this truth allows us to face hardship and suffering in a whole different way than before we believed. Faith affords us a new perspective. When faith in Jesus is in effect, there’s this amazing chain reaction that takes place, that explains why we can rejoice in sufferings. This is the chain reaction Paul describes: suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Hope that doesn’t disappoint is the end result of that chain reaction, but let’s look at the steps along the way.

Suffering produces endurance. Endurance means the ability to bear up under suffering. It’s the same as patience. To face a hardship or difficulty without giving up or giving in. Now when the Bible teaches us that suffering produces endurance, its more than just “grin and bear it.” It’s not that if you just “tough it out and everything will get better.” It’s not a promise that everything will be rosy. Instead of having a rosy path, instead of simply having everything go right for us all the time, suffering teaches us patience. It teaches us that things don’t always come easily. It takes patience and determination—wherever we face challenges.

So the first step of the chain reaction was that suffering produces endurance; the second part is that endurance produces character. The kind of character that it’s talking about here is when we’ve been tried and tested by sufferings and challenges. Our character has stood the test and been approved. We all know that adversity makes you stronger. The Bible is full of stories of people of faith who faced great difficulties, and wrestled deeply in their heart with why they were suffering. Again and again, it was faith in God that laid the foundation for that suffering to produce endurance, and character. Their lives and character were shaped by the suffering they faced, and God’s grace carried them through. People like Joseph, Ruth, Daniel and Peter. People from the Bible stories your children learn. Consider getting a Bible story book and reading with your child about the heroes of faith, and how suffering produced patience and character in them.

Finally, the last step in the chain reaction is that character produces hope. Having a life that is matured, tried and tested by challenges, adversities, and hardships, while carried through by the grace of God, is a life that learns hope. This is a hope that’s born from facing hardship and adversity with the promise that we’ve access to God. How does a believer in Jesus face suffering? How did the saints of the Bible stories face their challenges? They faced them on their knees in prayer. They cried out to God in their difficulty and they had the assurance that they had open access to God. They put their faith in God’s promises to them, and knew that God heard their prayer. Out of the suffering they faced, the patience they learned, and the character shaped in them, they grew a lively hope in God. The God who carries us through and hears our prayers.

They didn’t always see the result of God’s promises in their own lifetimes. Oftentimes they lived on simply in faith. But they had the long record of God’s saving work to trust in. They knew God’s faithfulness to His promises. Their hope was not like our earthly hope—which is often no better than wishful thinking. Too many have experienced the dashing of our hopes as people didn’t live up to expectations or promises. Hope that rests on humans is too often disappointed. But they had hope in God. A hope that never disappoints and never puts us to shame, because God’s always faithful to His promises. He never breaks them. And Paul concludes our reading by saying that this hope doesn’t put us to shame because God has poured His love into our hearts through His Holy Spirit.

So finally, the result of our chain reaction—the result of facing suffering as a Christian, with faith in God, is that it produces in us a lively hope in God’s promises. Not a shallow or wishful-thinking kind of hope. But the kind of hope that allows us to do that rather bizarre thing that Paul suggests—rejoicing in our sufferings. Rejoicing because we know that God’s with us, we’ve full access to Him through Jesus Christ. Rejoicing that God has shown Himself faithful to carry us and other believers safely through hardship. Rejoicing that the end result of this suffering and hardship will be for our growth and for our good. The greatest and best example of suffering turning out for good, is of course Jesus Himself, whose suffering, death, and resurrection give us this unbeatable hope in the first place! So may we face our sufferings and hardships no longer with fear or despair, but with hope and confidence in God who gives us full access to Himself through Jesus Christ our Savior. In Him we trust. Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. Why is it crucial to know whether or not we have “access” to God? What would prevent our access? Read Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:1-4; Isaiah 59:1-2. How is access to God granted to us then? Read Romans 5:6-11; Ephesians 2:4-10

2. Our access to God is based on what Jesus did for us. Jesus is God’s Son, who made God known to us. His innocent life and death on the cross and resurrection accomplish for us a reconciliation with God. What does the word “justified” mean? It means that God declares us innocent by faith in Jesus. The whole book of Romans teaches this marvelous truth!

3. Access to God’s grace and love don’t come by earning it (not by works) but by faith (trust) in Jesus! Read Romans 3:21-4:25

4. Faith in Jesus and the open access to God sets the stage for some important truths about Christian life. First, it enables us to rejoice both in the hope of the glory of God (heaven!) and also rejoice in our sufferings! Second, to understand why we can rejoice in our sufferings, what is the “chain reaction” that faith allows to take place?

5. Explain with examples from your own life, how suffering or hardship produced endurance (patience), character, and ultimately hope. Read some examples of Bible characters who faced difficulty with faith in God. Read about Joseph in Genesis 37-50. Read about Ruth and Daniel in the books that bear their names. Read about Peter in the New Testament Gospels.

6. How is hope in God different from all earthly hopes? Why doesn’t it ever disappoint us? God is faithful to all His promises!

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