I’m quite certain that I’m not very far off the target here. What a lame way to start a sermon! What in heaven is he talking about? I’ll tell you. I suspect that very few of us here this morning got the holy shivers while I was reading this passage. And I don’t think that that is altogether a bad thing. The book of Romans is pretty much the Apostle Paul’s doctoral thesis on Christian theology. And as such, it is very difficult to read and to comprehend. Much of it has challenged the greatest theological minds of the last 20 centuries, and all of it speaks of matters that are bigger and wider and more expansive than any of us will ever fully comprehend in a life-time of concentrated, serious study. So the question comes to mind, then, if this book is so far out of reach of the ordinary person, why bother to read it at all? And the thunderously loud voice from on high answers us and says, because we must. And we must, because as people of faith, we must never be afraid to venture into territory that will challenge our hearts in ways that our minds could never imagine. There is something in this book for everyone. That is the whole basis and motivation of the Christian Missionary Community. We are people of the Book. It is why followers of Jesus boldly go where angels fear to tread. And it is because all of God’s word will always provide all of us with a blessing.
And so we start our adventure this morning by discovering that we human creatures are fully at odds with God. We have God as an enemy. And right off, not one of us wants to think of ourselves as having God for an enemy. We bristle at that. We would rather say that we have God as a friend. I suspect that we even want to think less about God having us for an enemy. But the enmity is mutual. Enmity usually is.
I am sincerely hoping though, that many of us this morning on hearing that, have already slipped over into the Gospel of John, and are rehearsing the 16th verse of the third chapter. So, let us ponder for a moment; if God’s love for the world is so profoundly evident in that verse, how then, could any of us be even remotely considered to be the enemies of God? Aren’t lovers and enemies on the opposite ends of the spectrum? Well, maybe. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, and if Jesus expects us to love our enemies, then we can be reasonably sure that God is perfectly capable of loving his enemies. Which is, of course, a very wonderful thing.
And here’s another bit to ponder: ff God so loves the world, and if God is clearly a God of love, why is there even any enmity at all? There is enmity because we humans create it, and we are very good at creating it. We love to offend the God who loves us. Now that sounds perfectly awful, doesn’t it? Why would we love to offend a God whom we believe to be perfectly loving? Wouldn’t we more likely be prone to pleasing God rather than offending God? That sort of makes more sense, but it is not necessarily true. Sin is something that we do not readily eradicate from our lives. Too often, we nurture our sinful natures to the detriment of our redeemed natures. We have this expectation that God will be standing hand by us, even though we have no interest at all in deepening our relationship with God. God is handy by on the shelf if we should need him to perform a few tricks for us, but he best not be meddling with us in our everyday affairs. We will take care of those ourselves, without any interference. And that is the source of our enmity with God.
There is, wonderfully so, a remedy for this enmity. It is simple, believing faith in Jesus Christ. When faith blossoms, enmity with God is erased. Oftentimes, we use the words “faith” and “belief” interchangeably. And there’s nothing really wrong with that unless we start measuring and quantifying faith like the T.V. preachers do. They are stunningly famous for doing this. T.V. preachers describe faith as if it is an empty jar that needs to be filled up, as if faith is something that we need to conjure up on our own in order make ourselves worthy enough to convince God to do some tricks for us, or to get out of God what we need or want. That isn’t faith at all. Faith is simply the gift of God placed into our hearts. Faith does not produce wealth, faith does not provide large houses, faith does not assure us that we will acquire expensive automobiles. Faith, which comes from God, and God alone, is simply the assurance of, and the confirmation of our belief in God. Belief comes first in our relationship with our Savior, and faith provides us with the resources to become confident and responsible disciples. When we believe, God gives us the gift of faith that justifies, and puts us at peace with God, erasing all enmity. That’s most of verse one.
We most likely have all heard the word, “Justification”, somewhere in our spiritual journey. It is a Bible word, to be sure, but in spite of itself, it is still a very wonderful word. Justification is God’s stamp of approval on us. Justification is God’s affirmation that belief has occurred, that faith has been given, and that we have become forgiven sinners, fully acceptable to God. I sure am glad that justification is God’s work, not mine. I couldn’t justify myself before God, because I continue to sin. It is quite a privilege to be a justified, forgiven sinner. I’ll take that status anyday over just being a plain old sinner. Justified, forgiven sinners have the hope of sharing the glory of God. Our pew Bibles say that we “boast” in the hope of sharing the glory of God. In our constantly evolving language, “boast” has negative connotations. A better translation might be that we “exult” in the hope of sharing the glory of God. There’s joy and excitement and enthusiasm in “exult”. And I can’t think of anything more joyful or more enthusiastic or more exciting than having the hope of sharing the glory of God. This is what we were created for. God intended for us to share his glory from the very beginning. We are made to reflect God’s glory. There is nothing mediocre about being human. Justified, forgiven sinners are solidly on the path to glory.
So we’re on this joyful, exciting, wonderful, path to glory, and the first thing that besets us is suffering. Glory and suffering seem miles apart don’t they? No they don’t, they seem light years apart. They seem to be totally contradictory. And yet, glory and suffering are both part and parcel of the human experience. Both were very active in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus frequently used both terms in the same sentence when he explained his earthly mission. The Apostle Paul was no stranger to either glory or to suffering. We walked with him just last week as he set the captive slave-girl free, and then immediately ended up being beaten and imprisoned for daring to invoke the glory of God.
So, as much as we do not want it to be, suffering and glory go hand in hand in our own lives, also. They are inextricably linked. Suffering, Paul says, produces endurance. When I think of endurance, I think of the ability to forge ahead boldly in spite of my pain. It’s the old, no pain, no gain, no glory mentality. But in real life, that just doesn’t work. It is quite foolish, actually. And so endurance has to be something other than conjuring up enough strength to tough it out. Endurance then is an attitude that welcomes God to teach us to look through and beyond our sufferings, so that we can discover a deeper understanding and a greater appreciation for God’s calling in our lives. In God’s loving hands, suffering can be transformed. It can be changed from something that paralyzes us into something that empowers us. Suffering does not always go away, but it can become an instrument of faith in our lives rather than an instrument of loss and discouragement.
Out of endurance comes character. Character is the result of a deepened relationship with God and a fuller understanding of God’s daily activity in our lives. It isn’t just moral improvement, although that’s a part of it. Mostly, character is knowing that we are nestled in the confident approval of God. It is God’s affirmation that we are learning and growing through all of the experiences of our lives, both pleasant and unpleasant. Character, as Paul describes it, is confirmation that we are allowing God to be a transforming power in all areas of our lives. Character is understanding that everything that comes our way brings a learning opportunity with it. Character is a joyful pursuit to discover something new about the ways of God.
Finally, there is hope. Hope takes us all the way back to the beginning. In verse two, hope is the assurance sharing the glory of God. Hope pushes us beyond the ordinary, the mundane, the pain and even the pleasures of this life and into the amazing place of full participation in the glory of God. Hope is a long, long way from being at enmity with God. It is more than miles and miles; it is more than light years upon light years from being God’s enemy. It is instead, basking in God’s very loving presence, as an invited, welcome and permanent child. Human words cannot fully describe what it means to participate in the glory of God. But this we do know: it is an eternity away from being an enemy of God, which is where we all began. We are all on a journey. The journey began when we said, “I believe.” It took off when God supplied us with faith, and declared us to be justified and at peace with him. This journey carries us through our suffering, it develops endurance, and it builds character. But more than anything else, as we continue on this journey of faith, and as our relationship with God deepens and matures, we absolutely experience, even now, at this moment, of that glory that we will fully share for eternity.