Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
“Hemmed in with troubles . . .” We know the feeling. I’ve always been captivated by Paul’s list of what “troubles” can bring:
- Passionate patience
- Alert for whatever God will do next
But isn’t that just theological talk? Paul can write that he is filled with joy while being beaten and thrown in jail, but can we? I read confirmation of this in a source I didn’t expect. I’ve been reading the book, Half the Sky. It’s taken me, something like, six months to finish it, because it’s so depressing. What can happen to women and young girls in this world is profane and horrible. Yet, at the end of the book Kristof and WuDunn write this about US:
Social psychologist have learned a great deal about happiness in recent years, and one of the surprises is that the things we believe will make us happy won’t. People who win the lottery, for example, enjoy and initial spike of happiness but then adjust and a year later are not significantly happier than those who haven’t won. . . People in end-stage dialysis, for example, turn out to be no different in their moods through the day than a comparison group of healthy people. And while those who suffer a crippling disability are initially deeply unhappy they adjust quickly. One study found that a month after becoming paraplegics, accident victims were in fairly good moods a majority of the time.
Half the Sky pg. 250
So what is the answer? How do we maintain a happy outlook no matter what the circumstances? The answer is service to a cause greater than ourselves. Perhaps this is why Paul is so filled with joy. He’s found a cause (or rather a cause found him!)–the saving grace of Jesus Christ for all people. He makes it clear that we cannot in any way save ourselves. Left to our own devices we tend to only imagine a God of wrath and judgment. It took Jesus’ selfless life, death and resurrection to break into our troubled world and demonstrate God’s incredible love for every person.
Perhaps that is why being a mother (or a father) is such a rewarding experience. It is not, contrary to what some children imagine, how wonderful our children turn out to be. The best kid is incredibly hard to raise, and requires almost constant sacrifice. But mothers do it all the time. Why? Perhaps it is because nurturing a young person; feeding them; clothing them; kissing their hurts and sending them off into the world is a very high calling. Martin Luther referred to parents as “bishops to their children”.
I struggle with why Jesus had to die on an instrument of torture. I also don’t especially like “bloody Jesus” hymns. But Good Friday made a lot more sense to me after witnessing the birth of our children. A great act of sacrificial, pain-filled love with plenty of blood and water that created something wonderful. When I think of Jesus’ death in that way–creating a brand new world of love and grace–it is much easier. We are facing some transitions in our church. Many of us won’t like them a whole lot. But we hold on to the promises of Paul in today’s lesson that eventually we won’t be able to round up enough containers to hold all of the good things the Holy Spirit is going to shower down upon us. Not that loosing a limb is a lot of fun, mind you. But God will bring good out of it, somehow, someway.
Quotes for the Week
“A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.” Mahatma Gandhi
“Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That’s what little girls are made of.” Bethany Hamilton
“We face up to awful things because we can’t go around them, or forget them. The sooner you say ‘Yes, it happened, and there’s nothing I can do about it,’ the sooner you can get on with your own life. You’ve got children to bring up. So you’ve got to get over it. What we have to get over, somehow we do. Even the worst things.” Annie Proulx
“Somewhere it is written that parents who are critical of other people’s children and publicly admit they can do better are asking for it.” Erma Bombeck
Lesson: Romans 5:1-11 (The Message)
5 1-2 By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.
3-5 There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
6-8 Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.
9-11 Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we’re at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life! Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!
Questions for the Week
What is one difficult thing you have been through in your life? How did you get through it?
Are you using your gifts and passions to serve others? Why, or why not?
How might we as a church help you to find that place of service?