Romans 5:1-5 (NIV)
5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.
In the book, Born Again, former United States presidential aide, Charles W. Colson, describes the way some of the strongest men he observed in prison would give up and give in and turn into walking vegetables. He noticed that men walked slowly in prison. They called it the “prison shuffle.”
Some men slept every minute they could. It was their way of escape. Others turned inward and began to brood and be filled with bitterness until even their physical bodies began to brood and droop along with their minds. “They are men,” says Colson, “who have given up thoughts of release and given in to a life of bondage.” (from Sermon Illustration Sourcebook Series 1)
We can easily become like those prisoners, “given in to a life of bondage.” We can easily live as though life is a burden to be endured, a road to be trudged, a roundabout going nowhere which we will never get off.
This may be because of hurt and pain from a damaged relationship, the loss of a loved one, economic complexity or emptiness, spiritual malaise, loneliness and or physical illness or disability.
Martin Luther tells how “when sorely vexed by my own sinfulness, by the wickedness of the world and by the dangers that beset the Church,” he had fallen into a state of utter hopelessness and depression, and went about the house mourning and dejected.
Seeing his wife all dressed in black, he asked the reason.
“Do you not know,” she said, “God in heaven is dead.”
He looked at her in amazement. “What nonsense!” Luther said. “How can God die? He is immortal and will live through all eternity.”
“And yet,” his wife Kathryn said, quietly, “you go about hopeless and discouraged.”
“Then I observed,” says Luther, “what a wise woman my wife was, and mastered my silence.” (Here I Stand by Roland Bainton)
Spiritual depression is not uncommon. Martin Luther knew that God lives. He believed it. But he did not always live in the peace that God gives to His people. He needed his wife to remind him of the reality of God’s relationship with him.
We may worry about our relationship with God. But God takes care of it. He fills His people with peace. Peace is a condition – a state of being in a relationship.
Luther may not have felt at peace with himself, the world and the struggles of the church, but with our living God there is no need to give up hope. It took another servant of God, inspired by His Holy Spirit, to remind Luther that God was, is and will remain God, and provide what is needed for faith and life.
Let’s put it another way. Those of us who are married may not always feel we are married as we are distracted from being joyous in our marriage by the concerns of the world.
Perhaps we’re busy with the children and or grandchildren, work is consuming our time and energy, our recreation has filled in every spare moment we have and we hardly see or talk to our spouse.
The reality is that we remain married to them even if romance is barely a glowing ember all but snuffed out – there is the ring and the marriage certificate to remind us of the true state of our relationship.
Hope is always there for the celebration of another romantic evening, another anniversary, another holiday together.
The true state of your relationship with God is that you have been made righteous and acceptable in His company. You have been given peace, even though you may not feel or realize that peace in your daily living. It may be compared to ‘having millions of dollars in the bank and living as though we are broke’.
You can live at peace with God and each other because Jesus has become one with you in flesh and blood, suffered and died on your behalf and risen for you so that we can have life through Him.
Jesus, being true God, has deposited life in your account so you can be at peace with Him and each other – even though you might be living as though you’re spiritually destitute, weary or bored with church.
You have access to God because He has come to you, shared His life with you and committed Himself to your eternal wellbeing. Your past and present have been secured with God.
When you were Baptised, God accepted you into His family. In your confirmation He affirmed what He did for you in your Baptism. As you hear His Holy Word and receive His body and blood with the bread and wine in Holy Communion you are assured of His eternal favour and presence with you.
So you can move into the future with confidence, assured of God’s on-going providence. Your fears for the future are nothing but fears with no substance because God is in control as Kathryn Luther dramatically reminded her husband.
You can look forward to nothing less than the glory of God. You have hope even in affliction – you’re in God’s hands and have His promises. “Ah,” you might say, “but can we trust God?” Of course you can, because of His faithfulness to the saints who’ve gone before you and His personal promise to each one of you when He adopted and named you in Baptism.
Past experience gives us hope. God has seen you through your troubles to this point in your lives. “Yes,” you might say, “but look at all the troubles we have now.”
You can have hope in all the troubles you have now because in those troubles you can see your need for God, so you can trust more fully in Him. In 2 Corinthians 11:30 ESV St Paul says, If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
It’s in your weaknesses that God’s strength is seen to be greatest. Jesus takes your weaknesses and replaces them with His strength. Jesus absorbed your afflictions and the consequences of them on the cross. The troubles, tensions, sicknesses and disabilities you endure today are only shadows which will pass away.
Today’s troubles are merely a sign of the end times and Jesus’ immanent return. With Jesus Holy Spirit you can endure and share the victory with Him. As you endure the troubles of today you grow as God’s people.
Look at the sports stars – they undergo hard training in order to play the game and celebrate victory together. They must give up the “high life” of parties and self-indulgence to perform on the field. They must work their muscles to the point of pain to prepare for the physical stress of the big match.
Through a period of trials, each member of the team is tested, coached and selected to represent their region, club and or country. Together they have hope for the future – a victory at the grand final.
Through past experience each player knows what his or her team-mates are capable of in terms of performance – they’ve come through past games together and they look forward to the next game – they have hope for the future. Even the Chiefs have hope as they conquered the Rebels last Friday to give them an opportunity in the Super Rugby Playoffs.
God has selected and is coaching you. His Son Jesus has vouched for you. His Holy Spirit coaches you in life today for the eternal victory feast. He helps you through the troubles, tensions, sicknesses and disabilities you endure today – in these things you identify with Jesus suffering and can appreciate His victory for you.
With God’s approval - there is hope as you look at what Jesus has accomplished for you. You must look to Jesus, not to your weaknesses, for assurance of the future.
With faith in Jesus you don’t waste your lives chasing myths and legends – you’re empowered to live despite our weaknesses. You may say you can’t do much – but together you can accomplish great things. Look how we hosted the recent Convention of Synod.
One brick doesn’t make a wall, but many together builds a church where praise can and is offered to God.
There is no shame for those who believe – You have the Advocate – the Holy Spirit to encourage you. Luther reminds you of what you have in his explanation of the Apostle’s creed:
But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel,
enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and kept me in the true faith.
In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens,
and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth,
and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
In this Christian Church day after day
He fully forgives my sins and the sins of all believers.
On the last day He will raise me and all the dead
and give me and all believers in Christ eternal life.
This is most certainly true.
God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
I may have told this story before, but like Kathryn Luther’s encouragement for her depressed husband we all need to be reminded that God works great things through ordinary things.
Some years ago I was having minor faith crisis about my perceived lack of effectiveness in the parish because I couldn’t perceive any great things happening. In a moment of procrastination I phoned a pastoral colleague.
When he asked how the parish was going I told him nothing was happening and that parish life was pretty boring. He immediately responded, “You’re preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, aren’t you?” “Yes”, I replied. “Who said nothing great is happening?”
It was like God had spoken and I was shaken from my malaise, revitalised by the Holy Spirit with hope for the future renewed because God was and is at work within me. It doesn’t depend on you but because you have have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.
So, freed from the past and present sin and weaknesses, you can rejoice in the great things God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit has done, is doing and will do amongst us for His glory.