Text: Romans 5;1-5; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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:: Testimony :: Megan Butler testimony (audio link)
:: Scripture and Music ::
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: Hark, the Herald Angels Sing (MENDELSSOHN) (link)
Song of Praise: Arise, My Soul, Arise (Kevin Twit/Indelible Grace)
The Word in Music: Silent Night (arr. Austell) (link)
Offering of Music: Bobby White, piano; Linda Jenkins, organ
Hymn of Sending: O Little Town of Bethlehem (ST. LOUIS)
Song of Hope: Even So, Come (Tomlin, Ingram, Cates)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
“We have peace with God through Jesus.” That’s how Romans 5 opens and that’s what I want to talk about with you today. And right off the bat notice that it doesn’t say “we CAN have peace with God”… if you do this or say that or accomplish these seven holy things. It is ALREADY DONE. Jesus did it; he made peace. It’s already there through him. And this passage is going to walk us through what that means.
Introductions and Celebrations (vv.1-2)
I appreciate the word choices in this passage. They break up the dense theology of “having been justified by faith” into bits I can grasp and comprehend. And it’s all about knowing and experiencing God. It starts with an INTRODUCTION. Through Jesus “we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand.” “This grace in which we stand” is the justification. It’s the right-standing with God that we cannot earn or accomplish on our own. It was the obedience and perfection of Jesus-in-our-place that earned that right-standing for us. And it through faith – trust – in Jesus that we obtained an introduction into this grace, this justification, this right-standing. Psalm 24 says, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place?” The answer is “The one who has clean hands and a pure heart.” Back to Romans… Paul makes clear that no one has clean hands and a pure heart except one: Jesus. But he brings us into the presence of God and says “She’s with me; he’s with me.” That’s the “introduction into grace.” It’s grace because it’s a gift; we don’t earn it, we receive it.
And that’s worth celebrating! That’s what “exult” means. We celebrate “in hope of the glory of God” because Jesus has introduced us to God; he has brought us before the glory of God. If you have been here to hear the stories of folks about how they came to faith, they involved celebration. It’s a joyful thing to come to know the Lord. It can be a sobering thing, a weighty and humbling thing, to realize the magnitude of the gift of being put right with God; but it is a joyful thing, this “hope of the glory of God.” Hold on to that HOPE; we’ll come back to that.
Redeeming Struggle (vv. 3-5)
I appreciate that reality of the next few verses. They name the STRUGGLE that is this life: tribulation is a catch-all for struggle. The word that it translates – thlipsis – literally means ‘pressed’ or ‘squashed.’ More broadly, it describes the distress or anguish that comes from physical, mental, social, or economic adversity. That covers a lot, right? Now you may have read or heard this verse before and written it off as UN-realistic because after the briefest mention of the struggle, it moves to perseverance, character, and hope. Or you might have been put off before even getting to the struggle because it starts – it STARTS – with “we also exult in our tribulations.” But let me dig into that a bit.
The struggle is real! That’s a saying… a few years old now, but applicable. And the last thing, the very last thing this verse is describing or calling for is what is so prevalent in southern, Christian, evangelical, white, culture. Why do I name all those? I do because it’s the water I swim in and I’m an expert on it! What is prevalent in my waters? It is putting on a smiley, happy, “Christian” face that says, “I have some struggles, but praise the Lord, it’s okay.” [the fakeness of this may be lost in print!] And what’s worse is when we set up a cultural expectation that if you are a “good Christian” you won’t struggle or be angry or get too discouraged.
These verses are among the most powerful of verses describing the human condition because they describe how God REDEEMS STRUGGLE. There is no way to get from the anguish of physical, mental, social, or economic adversity to celebratory hope without the help of God. Those steps – perseverance, proven character, hope – those are what God brings about. And here’s where I think we miss it; here’s the part that WE do. We either reject God’s ability to be present there or we reject the reality of the struggle. The first is despair and the second is deception. And we are perfectly capable of either or both. Rather, we must cling to God’s promise, “I AM there.”
I am still sitting with the testimony Marlis shared a few weeks ago. If you were not here, I encourage you to listen to it on the website, under sermons. She began with her testimony of becoming a Christian, but she ended with an honest faith-filled, faith-FULL testimony to looking for God in the struggle. She might not use the word faith, but I do, because she has neither given in to despair or deceit. I know she’d probably tell you she’s had her moments, but Lord, what honesty! I met with another brother in the church this week who poured out to me his own struggle. He’s railed at God over the struggle, but he has not rejected God; and he sure doesn’t want to gloss over the struggle. That is real faith! And like it or not, I know just enough about most of you to know that each of you struggle in some way – in really significant ways.
And what I want you to hear this morning is two things. One, I want to be a pastor and for us to be a church where it’s not only okay to struggle out loud and honestly, but expected, accepted, and encouraged. We do not do God or each other any favors by glossing over the struggle. Second, I want to be a pastor and a people who cling to hope – that keeps calling each other back to the hope that this [struggle] is not all there is, that there is a God and He is not blind or deaf to your struggle.
So, for a change this morning, all I’m going to say about the exult, perseverance, character, hope part of that struggle verse is that God can redeem struggle; and all that is God’s doing. God can bring hope out of despair, light into darkness. But that’s God-sized work, not a flimsy mask we put on to appear “Christian.” Know that as we are honest and struggle together, THAT will be a church where God shows up in His glory.
Be Reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5)
Finally, I want to jump over to our other passage, 2 Corinthians 5. I mention it because it reminds us of the powerful work God does in a human life. It begins with this declaration: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creature.” (v. 17) And it reminds us that the gift of grace is from God: “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ…” (v. 18) Reconciliation is another way of talking about peace. And Jesus made peace for us with God where there was no peace. There’s much more that could be said about reconciliation, especially because WE are then charged with being reconcilers – peacemakers – with each other. But I want to end with the appeal at the end of verse 20: “we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Notice it’s not “reconcile with God” like it’s something you have to initiate, because we’ve already heard and talked about Christ already having made the peace. It’s BE reconciled: accept the peace that God has made possible in and through Jesus. Don’t turn away from it; don’t minimize it or deceive yourself that it’s not needed. In Christ, you have been declared just and at peace with God; you have been introduced into the grace-gift of God. God even redeems struggle and anguish, though that is usually a longer journey than we realize. We are new creatures in Christ. And He pulls us into that reconciling, peace-making, struggle-redeeming, work as partners, as “ambassadors.”
Be reconciled to God. That’s the invitation to know God through Jesus this day. Amen.