Romans 5: 1-11

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 

through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 

perseverance, character; and character, hope. 

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 

Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Here ends this reading of the word of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Let us pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

Message                 Blessed Are Those Who Suffer

            The ways of Christianity are often opposite of the ways of the world. We learn in school when we are young, and from our friends, and from our work colleagues, and from tv shows and movies and television commercials, that people who are blessed live the good life. The better grades we get in school, and the more we study, then the better college we will be accepted at. The harder we work, the more money we are supposed to have. The more we exercise, and participate in sports, the longer we are supposed to live. The world tells us we just have to follow a certain formula, and we will become rich, and successful, and popular, and blessed.

            But, this is not what the Bible says. And this is not what Jesus said. The ways of Christianity are not the same as the ways of the world.

            This morning, we read a portion of St. Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. The Roman’s lived in a city that was the most powerful city in the world at that time. They could observe the wealthy ruling class who lived in palaces, and the tragically poor people who were scraping by.  They lived in a place with terrible inequality. And, the Christians in Rome chose to align themselves with a new religious community, a new sect that was not favored by the government or popular or appreciated by outsiders. They chose to be Christians because they were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and our God was “the” only God, but this convocation didn’t help them to become safe or rich or favored.

             Paul’s letter to the Romans contained assurances about our faith and worked to help the Christians in Rome understand Paul’s perspective on several theological topics. There were competing ideas in the baby Christian church about how to practice our faith.  The Roman church was a mixture of formerly Jewish Christians and formerly gentile Christians, which caused some cultural clashes within the community. They were all worried about the potential pitfalls of following Jesus – there were afraid of religious persecution, and rightly so. Since they were close to the seat of power in Rome, they knew how irrational the Roman government could be. Eventually Paul himself was killed during the reign of the Emperor Nero because he blamed Christians for the great fire at Rome. So, the Christians were increasingly under threat by the unsympathetic rulers.

            Paul’s words were to remind his fellow Christians that we are justified, saved, by our faith in Jesus Christ. Despite our salvation, we will still suffer. Our belief doesn’t protect us from suffering. But, then Paul said that suffering produces perseverance, which in turn produces character, and character produces hope. And the Holy Spirit encourages our hopefulness.  As Christians, we are called to be assured that because Jesus taught us and died on our behalf, we are in turn entitled to a wonderful relationship with God.

            Like the early Roman Christians, we have trouble understanding suffering and coping with it. We do our best to prevent hardships for ourselves and for the people we love. And, we struggle to accept that bad things happen to good people, that bad things happen to us when we least expect them to happen. This is difficult and scary.

            But, in the midst of the challenges we endure, we have a hope-filled relationship with God. No matter how miserable we feel, God is with us. Jesus assures us God will never leave us or forsake us. As it says in the first letter of John: “We know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”

            So, being a Christian and practicing Christianity doesn’t ward off suffering. Unexpected things still happen to us. Unkind words are still said to us. Unfortunate events still befall us. But, when they do, we can confidently remember that God is with us. God loves us and will never leave us alone. And, through the sacrificial love of Jesus, we will always be God’s beloved children. So, when things fall apart, we can count on God’s Holy Spirit to guide us and nurture us.

            When people live without a relationship with God, they can easily fall into despair. They have no hope. They have no reassurance of better things to come. We all know people like this – one of two tragic events happen and they are done for. It is like they are in a pit they can’t see the way out of. Our faith in God provides us the reassurance that God is with us despite our sufferings. And, we have hope we can hang on too – things will get better. We can take comfort in the presence of God’s Holy Spirit to be with us, to lift us up, to carry us through the hard times.

            It sounds ironic to say “blessed are those who suffer.” But, as people who are Christians, we are assured that when we suffer, we can still have hope. And, through confidence in Christ’s death and resurrection, we can not only have hope but can work to support and love each other in response to the love we have received from God.

            Let us never forget the hope that comes from our faith and from our relationship with God. Amen.