preaching text: Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. [NRSV]
First of all, it is Trinity Sunday, a day to highlight the triune nature of God as reflected in this passage – peace with God through Jesus Christ and God’s love poured into us through the Holy Spirit. Our God is three-in-one – One God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Theologians still debate exactly what this means. But we all agree that it is a mystery – something about God’s nature that is not grasped by rational thought, but is revealed by God. I suggest that Trinity is not a theological concept for us to understand, but rather a theological example for us to practice. God exists not as one individual being, but in community. In the same way, God’s people exist not as individuals, but in community.
Watch where you stand. Paul wants us to remember that nothing we do can make us right with God. That is what the church calls “works righteousness” and was one of the predominant issues that led to the Reformation in the 16th century. Luther, Calvin, and even John Wesley relied heavily on Paul’s writing here that we are justified, or made right with God, because we have faith. And we have faith because we stand in God’s grace.
So how can we be sure we are standing in God’s grace? Do we need to perfectly practice all the teachings of Christ in order to stand in grace? Or does that lead us right back to “works righteousness”? Do we know we are standing in grace when things go well for us – when we are healthy and prosperous? What about when trouble comes?
Much has been written about suffering. Why does God allow suffering? Why do good people suffer? Some have suggested that God uses suffering to punish the wicked or to test the faithful and make us stronger. I don’t think it is fair to blame God for suffering when we broken human beings are responsible for much suffering ourselves. When Paul writes about boasting in our suffering, he is not placing the source of suffering on God, but he is reminding us that God is present in our suffering. It is God’s presence and the power of God’ s grace working through us, even in our suffering, that gives us hope and keeps us focused on the promises of God that lie ahead.
We must stand in God’s grace – a grace revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – a grace poured out on us through the Holy Spirit. We are empowered by grace to face suffering with hope that we may live as the community of faith God wants us to be.
Grace and Peace, Pastor Rik