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Scripture Reading: Romans 4:20-25, 5:1-11
20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith[a] “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23 Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
- Romans 4:22 Gk Therefore it
Results of Justification
5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access[b] to this grace in which we stand; and we[c] boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we[d] also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 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.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.[e] 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
- Romans 5:1 Other ancient authorities read let us
- Romans 5:2 Other ancient authorities add by faith
- Romans 5:2 Or let us
- Romans 5:3 Or let us
- Romans 5:9 Gk the wrath
Sermon: “This Grace In Which We Stand”
Once upon a time, two old German farmers were neighbors and friends. Fritz was always optimistic, very seldom discouraged or depressed. His neighbor Otto was just the opposite. Long faced and gloomy, he rolled out of bed and greeted each new morning with a sigh.
After years of trying to turn his gloomy neighbor around, Fritz bought the smartest, most expensive bird dog he could find, training him to do things no other dog on earth could possibly do.
That fall, Fritz invited Otto to go duck hunting. As they sat in their boat, some ducks came in. Both men fired, and several birds fell into the water. “Raus,” Fritz said to his new dog, a gleam in his eye. The dog jumped out of the boat, walked on the water, and picked up the birds one by one.
“Well, Otto, what do you think of that?” Fritz asked.
Otto just shook his head and said, “Ja―he can’t swim, can he?”
Life eventually brings each of us an Otto. Optimism may be a good and necessary thing, but its power and reach have their limits. An even bigger danger is for us to baptize optimism and call it “faith.” When we do, we don’t really have faith. We don’t even have hope. What we have are the lyrics for a Disney song.
When You Wish upon a Star
Christian hope isn’t wishing upon a star, waiting for things to magically happen. That’s why, in the book of Acts, just after Jesus’ ascension, two angelic messengers challenge the disciples. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” In other words, “Get to work!”
Even if angels give us a gentle—or not so gentle — shove down the road, walking as Jesus’ disciples doesn’t guarantee anyone a safe, smooth journey. Paul knew that, writing to the Romans.
They were dealing with what a lot of first century Christians dealt with: persecution, economic hardships, and temptations to stray from Jesus’ way, along with all the other human frailties that surface whenever people get together.
Knowing life for Christians in the Empire’s capital city couldn’t be easy, Paul wrote to them, “We boast in our sufferings, because suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”
Notice that Paul doesn’t claim that God will make the Romans’ suffering go away. He never says God will reward them for their faithfulness with health and wealth and power. He doesn’t paint the picture of a day when Christianity will be the official religion of the Empire. Paul knew better.
He knew what had happened to John the Baptist and Jesus. He’d been there, helping, at the death of Stephen. Since his turnaround on the Damascus Road, Paul had been no stranger to suffering himself. So, Paul didn’t sing, “When You Wish upon a Cross,” or some first century version of “Tomorrow” from Annie.
Paul held out to the Romans instead the One raised to heal the breach between humanity and God. Paul then frames what he says about suffering in terms of the reconciliation that Christ’s resurrection makes possible.
Thanks to “this grace in which we stand,” a full and complete relationship with God is now possible. When we break that relationship, though, we separate ourselves not only from God, but also from ourselves and from others.
The movie “Best of Enemies,” released this April, is set in 1971 Durham, North Carolina. The film tells the story of the unlikely friendship between a Ku Klux Klan leader named C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater, a community activist.
They ended up as cochairs of a meeting between white and black North Carolinians to discuss peacefully finishing the desegregation of Durham’s schools. Here’s a report from a Durham TV station on the movie, followed by a trailer for the film.
“Best of Enemies”
The thaw between Atwater and Ellis started with the music of a gospel choir. Later, they discovered that they had something in common—poverty and powerlessness. Both led hard lives. Both had children in the Durham schools. Neither had any say in Durham city politics.
Bill Reddick, who you saw in the clip, described what happened at the final meeting. Atwater and Ellis both had the chance to speak. Ellis went first, and told the room of 200 to 300 people that he had agreed to fully desegregate Durham’s schools.
“‘If schools are going to be better by my tearing up this card, I’ll tear it up,’” Riddick remembers Ellis saying. And Ellis did just that, ripping his KKK membership card to shreds.
“I was shocked,” Riddick said. “Shocked. If you take my family out of it, it was the most shocking experience [of my life].”
“[Ellis] had found his soul,” Riddick said, “Found who he was, who he is. I didn’t expect a miracle, but I got one.”
Atwater agreed. “In church, the preacher says that if you want to be like Jesus you must be ‘born again.’ That really is the only way I can describe it,” she later wrote. “We couldn’t be friends without forgiving one another.”
Ellis died of Alzheimer’s in 2005 at the age of 78. Atwater gave the eulogy at his funeral and said, “God had a plan for both of us, for us to get together.”
If we were reconciled to God while we were enemies through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (Romans 5: 10)
Our country today is surely no more divided than Durham, North Carolina was in 1971, nor are whatever differences we have as Americans any deeper or more profound that those that divided C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater.
Why do we act as though they are? Are we looking up to heaven like the apostles in Acts, or wishing upon a star like Jiminy Cricket, expecting things to miraculously get better without our doing anything or being willing to change?
It’s a struggle, I know. Sometimes our differences seem to be more than we can overcome. Sometimes suffering comes, and it makes no sense and it has no meaning.
At times like that, we need to stop explaining, stop coming up with excuses, and lean on the Lord who tells us, “I’m all the endurance and character and hope you’ll ever need.” Then we need to stop looking up to heaven and get back to work.
In the end, Paul says, our hope won’t disappoint us, because God’s love pours into our lives, a gift of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s living presence with us. We should never forget the power of that love, you and I.
Here’s how theologian Karl Barth describes it in his commentary on Romans.
Love is that which endures in our endurance, which is proven in our probation; it is the hope in our hope. By its power, hope isn’t put to shame; by its power, we glory in hope, glory even in tribulation; by its power we have peace with God; and by it we are what we are not—a new creation.