Romans 5:1-11                “I Hope”

 

            Today, I offer to you a very beautiful text from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. This is like a flower that should be seen in its entirety in this aspect. There is a beauty as a painting that one must step back a few paces to appreciate. In this I recognize that Paul was quite a wordsmith. He was very creative indeed.

            That being said, we see that the text as it opens up in the first verse is all about peace. It is about finding God’s peace in your lives. Some of us think that we will have peace when our lives settle down. The truth is that finding peace with God settles everything down in our lives. In a nutshell this is what God tells us through Paul this day.

            Are you today at peace with God? Are you at peace in your life? The question reminds me of the story of Forrest Gump, either the book or the movie. The character of Lt. Dan (as played by Gary Senise in the movie) is saved in an ambush in Viet Nam by Forrest Gump. He is dragged to safety and medi-vacced to an army hospital where he lives, but he must have his two legs amputated. Lt. Dan is upset with the world, with Forrest, and with God. He complains that he should have died as all of his forbears had on the battlefield.

            Some years later, Forrest is on his shrimping boat when Lt. Dan shows up. He becomes the first mate on the boat. Then, as a hurricane approaches one day, Lt. Dan is on the mast of the boat yelling at God to do His worst. The boat is saved. Lt. Dan makes his peace with God. He jumps in the water and swims into a beautiful sunset. Later Lt. Dan is seen walking again at Forrest’s wedding. He has gotten new legs—made of titanium. He truly is thankful to God for all of the blessings.

            We all want to reach this kind of peace in our lives. Sometimes it seems impossible. Paul is writing to an entire church in Rome that is seeing its people quite literally being thrown to the lions. The persecutions were atrocious. Yet, Paul talks about peace with God. I am not sure how his words were accepted by the Romans.

 

            Finding peace with God is not as easy as snapping one’s fingers. Paul says this outright: “Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope.” Believing in Jesus means that we will still have suffering in our lives. It also means that we will endure, have character, and hold on to hope.

            How does that actually work? Some months ago someone asked the question: “When life throws up barriers before me, what should I do? Should I spend all my time and energy trying to get over the barrier? Or, should I just take it as a sign that I should not proceed in that direction?” I gave the initial response of how leadership means always overcoming barriers and obstacles.

            Then, one day while in prayer, I think the Spirit whispered to me that I had given a false response. The words to Psalm 121 came to me: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from whence cometh my help. My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will not slumber or sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”    

            When you stumble or fall in this life—look up to where your help comes from. Look up for hope in the Lord will not disappoint. When it looks as if you are facing an insurmountable obstacle in your life, look up to the mountain from whence comes God and your salvation. Make sure God is telling you to climb that mountain. Cue the music from the Sound of Music musical “Climb every mountain.” 

            Hope does not disappoint. If you lift up your eyes to where your help comes from, you will not be disappointed.  Jesus himself says in the sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:9-11, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread will give a stone? Or, if a child asks for fish will give a snake? If you then who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?”

 

            Let us look at verse 6 from Romans 5 again: “While we were still weak. . .” What does this mean? Does this not mean that we are now no longer weak? Does this not mean that we are now made strong in the Lord!?

            Now I say all of these things in jest to point out that it is our usual human propensity to weaken as we go on in life. It is normal for us to become physically weaker, perhaps morally weaker, and to want to do ever less with the time we have been given on this earth. This feeling has been enhanced by what has become known as “The Great Resignation” after the Covid pandemic. I was speaking with someone this last week who says he wants to retire at 45 because he is not as strong and quick as he used to be. Of course, the question comes up: “What are you going to do then with the rest of your life?”

 

            Paul is saying that Christians have the antidote to the “Great Resignation.” Now we have taken on this new kind of existence in which we actually are building ourselves up. Our endurance is increasing. Our character is being ever refined. And, most importantly, our hope is growing ever stronger.

            There is one line in today’s scripture that sums up what has happened to us. We now “stand in the glory of God.” Did you catch that? We are not sitting. We are not lying down. We are standing strong in the glory of God. We are in His light. Our strength comes from without. It is because we are now in the glory of God that we grow stronger as the light of Christ gives us that strength.

            We might think that hope is something that we all tend to generate from within our own hearts. That is not what this passage in the Bible tells us at all. Our hope comes to us through Jesus Christ. It comes to us from outside of ourselves. You see, I do not care how strong I think my own character might be, I could never hope from within that I would just die and then pop back up to life. Who among us would ever generate that much internal hope as to assume resurrection to God’s Kingdom? I think that is impossible.

            No, our hope comes from Jesus who suffered and died for us. He endured for us and was resurrected to the life eternal before us so that that hope would come to us! He is the perfector of my soul. Not I! When I stand in God’s Glory it is because Jesus tells me where to stand. It is because of Jesus that hope cannot disappoint.  My hope comes from Him—not from me.

 

            It is our calling now to bring others into this understanding of the hope of the world. Others should also come to stand in the light and therefore gain His peace.  Amen.