Lectionary Sermon for First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday

Romans 5:1-5    Investing in Hope

While going through a very testing time I received a card from a friend that stated on the front, “Experience is a great teacher.”  Inside the card, there was a picture of a cat surrounded by several large, angry dogs with their teeth bared.  The caption under the picture stated, “What a lousy system of learning.” There are times I fully agree with this assessment. Still, experience is a teacher whether we like it or not.

Have you ever been in a situation in which you felt so overcome, so stressed, so pressured, that you didn’t even feel what to pray for, much less what action to take?  All you felt you could do was to hold on and hoped you would get by or even how you would survive?

Maybe it was a health situation you or a family member was facing.  Maybe it was a family crisis that was having a crippling effect on you or others.  Maybe it was (or is) something at work, school, a relationship, or just the mental weight of living in an age that has outstripped its ability to integrate its technology with its social and ethical responsibility. Chaos has a way of happening.

Whatever this happened, is happening, or when it most certainly will happen in the future, the crucial question, the deepest concern becomes, “What can I do? Is there any hope?”

When these events happen, it can be very hard to believe there is any hope unless we have already established a reason to have hope in the first place.  In these times I find myself using the repetend prayer, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”

The word hope in its biblical context is a word meaning an expectation, a confident expectation that comes from trust.  It is not a wishful shot in the dark. It is not a pipe dream. The hope that is offered to us by God is not the same hope as saying, I hope I win the lottery.  The hope that God gives to us is a hope that is not based on if but when. Not longing for hope, but preparing for hope.

This is what Paul is talking about in our passage today.  Paul says we have peace with (or because of) God.  Jesus said to his disciples on the evening before his crucifixion, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (Jn. 14:27 ESV)

The peace Jesus gives is not a fantasy world of no conflict and/or problems, but a real presence, strength, confidence, and assurance that whatever we face in this world will pass.  As Paul states, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom. 8:18 ESV)

Paul understands the truth of this life, for every one of us this life will have its crisis.  Again, everyone, everyone will face crisis.  Everyone will face suffering and loss.  In the OT, the writer of Ecclesiastes put it so well, “But human misfortunes are overwhelming because no one knows what will happen, and no one can say when something might happen. No one has control over the life breath, to retain it, and there’s no control over the day of death. There’s no release from war, and wickedness won’t deliver those who practice it. (Eccl. 8:6-8)

Even in what appears to be the grimmest of situations, we can still have peace, we can have hope.  However, it is not magic twinkle dust.  It is not an over-the-counter remedy.  It is not an on-demand attribute we can claim anytime we want.  Hope, God’s founded hope, grace-given hope does require an investment by us.  It requires an investment in faith.

Look again at verse 2.  We have access.  The word access is a translation of a word meaning the privilege of entrance.  Hope is available to us.  Jesus’s peace is available to us.  It is available by grace into faith.  This faith is more than just saying, it is doing.  We must stand and we must boast.  The word stand carries the context of anchoring ourselves.  The word boast means to act through an attitude of confidence in God. Do you have confidence in God?

God’s peace comes when we establish our life tied to standing, depending, making our choices on the promises of God, and seeking a lifestyle in which our trust is in seeking the will of God. How does our relationship with God play out in our everyday lives? This is something we should reflect on continually.

Look at verse 3.  Does this sound strange to you, “take pride in troubles”?  The word pride is the same word translated as boast.  The word trouble can also be translated tribulation.  It is a word that means pressure.  So what Paul is saying is that it is possible to “act through an attitude of confidence in God” whenever the pressure of life comes our way. In fact, it is the only real way to deal with this pressure that is compounded by our spiritual foes.

We can act through an attitude of confidence in God when we experience the pressure of conflicts, the pressure of pain, the pressure of unfairness, the pressure of loss, the pressure of sickness and yes, even the pressure of death. 

With hope that has been obtained through peace obtained by grace through faith in Jesus, we can believe what Paul states in 1 Thess. 4:13 when he says, “Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about people who have died so that you won’t mourn like others who don’t have any hope.”

But to have this hope, we need to learn to face trouble with an attitude of confidence in God.  This produces endurance.  Endurance is a commitment to accomplishing.  Endurance is not easy.  Endurance must be built up.  Endurance can be built up through a choice of commitment.  

I doubt if there would be any argument with the statement, “It takes endurance to run a marathon.”  And how do you get that endurance?  You train.  You begin to run a short distance and then build on it.  Will it hurt?  Yes.  Is it worth it?  That depends on you.  If your commitment to the goal is strong enough, then it is worth it. 

What determines our goals?  Jesus tells us our hearts determine our goals and our goals determine our hearts.  He said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:21 CEB)

What can the goals tied to this world, money, status, recognition, power, pleasure, control do for you when time and tragedy take them away.  

Jesus told a parable: “A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful crop. He said to himself, What will I do? I have no place to store my harvest!  Then he thought, Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods.  I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.  But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’  This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God.” (Lk. 12:16-21 CEB)

Instead, desire his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well. (Lk. 12:31 CEB)

With an attitude of confidence in God and with a willingness to stand upon God’s promises, with a commitment to endure to obtain the goal, Paul tells us we gain character.  Character is the quality of being approved, the proof of genuineness. 

God does not fail.  God does not betray.  God does not abandon.  God sustains, restores, empowers, lifts up, renews, and resurrects.  Character comes from experiencing this in our own lives to be true.  And this experience produces hope. It is this hope that blesses us.

And as Paul states in verse 5, this hope will not disappoint.  This hope will not let us down.  This hope will prevail.  This hope will give us a song in grief, and give us shelter in pain.  This hope will give us a light in the darkness, a presence in loneliness, and the promise and assurance of life in the face of death. 

This hope will give us the reality of God’s love.  Jesus became a human being, faced the world we face, died on a cross, and came back to life not to abandon us.  No to give us a religion, but to give us hope, a hope of not if, but when. 

So the question, “Is there any hope?” can be answered, “Yes, there is hope by grace through faith in Jesus.”  This is where we should invest our life.  The choice is yours.  You should grab the opportunity before trouble comes and it will come.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13 CEB)  Amen.