This sermon was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Dearborn Heights, Michigan and was focused upon Romans 5:1-5. The audio recording is above and a written manuscript is below.
This opening paragraph of the 5th chapter of Romans contains many powerful, evocative words. And very likely, if we reflect on them, we’ll notice that these words usually have stories attached.
There are words like faith, peace, grace, endurance, character, hope, and love.
These words weave their way through the letter Paul is writing, and as we connect to them personally, there are probably stories attached. . .
There are moments in our lives when we’ve felt our faith was deeply rooted and connected to the faith of others. . .
There are moments when we’ve felt a deep and abiding sense of peace. . .
There are moments when we became suddenly aware of the grace of God and the ways it impacts our lives. . .
There are moments when we’ve lived stories of endurance, character, hope, and most especially love. Or at the very least, these are the stories we want to live, don’t we?
We want to live stories of endurance, character, hope, and love,
and these are the stories we want to share.
Certainly these words are a part of our collective life together also — not only our individual life – but these words involve the very life that God is weaving through all humanity. These words are the stories God wants us to live.
Yet I also notice in this passage there is a challenging word too. It’s an honest word, and it is a word that likely has stories attached also. The word is suffering. There are moments in our lives when we have experienced deep suffering –
moments of loss, illness, confusion, and isolation,
moments when we began to question whether we were worth very much,
moments when we questioned whether our life has value and meaning.
Our world knows suffering too, including communities that surround us right now. We live in a world where poverty, racism, and classism all exist, along with the many divisions we create to separate some from others, declaring worth and value upon some while viewing the rest as ‘less than.’ The word suffering has stories attached too.
Interestingly, Paul says, “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. . .” Why? “. . . because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
So many times, well-meaning people have looked at stories of suffering and tried to make them better than they really are. We have so many ways of speaking trite expressions, trying to make the suffering better in some way, but without recognizing the pain that is found within ourselves, our friends, our neighbors, and our world. We say things like,
“God will never give you more than you can handle.”
But we know that some bear burdens that do feel absolutely unbearable.
Or we say,
“Everything happens for a reason.”
This can make our pain seem as though it is somehow necessary,
like it is some crucial sacrifice toward an amorphous, future good coming into being.
Goodness does often come into being, but it doesn’t make our pain necessary.
It doesn’t mean it is God’s plan, hope, or desire for us.
I don’t think Paul is talking about any of these platitudes when he says, “we boast in our sufferings.”
Let’s hear that sentence again. Paul says, “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. . .” Why? “. . . because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
I think Paul is saying that God’s love is the final word, and God’s love is weaving its way throughout our lives — so much so that it is even present in the suffering. Perhaps, it is known most intimately in the suffering, not because God needs us to suffer to discover it, but because God loves us so deeply, that God will be with us right there. God will love us always, and God’s love will be revealed in and through even the stories of suffering.
And that brings us to other words found in this passage. They are tiny words, and on the surface, they seem insignificant, yet they reveal God’s posture toward us.
Words like with.
Have you ever thought about how amazing that word is? Paul says, “We have peace with God.” With. God seeks to be with us. God shows up, including the deepest stories of suffering. As God is with us, we feel peace, and sometimes we feel this beyond our deepest understanding. The word with reveals God’s posture toward us.
Or how about the word through?
Paul says we have this peace with God “through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.” Through. We have received God’s love and mercy through Jesus Christ. We are reconciled through his very life. This word reveals God’s posture toward us.
Or how about the word into?
Paul says, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Into. This love comes into our very being, and the Holy Spirit dwells with us. Into. This word reveals God’s posture toward us.
In the midst of the season of Pentecost, today is Trinity Sunday. This is a day in the Christian calendar when we ponder the love of the Triune God. We don’t just do this solely with our thinking, working really hard in some way to wrap our minds around the reality that God is somehow three and one at the same time –One God, Three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is not some game of mental gymnastics.
This is a day when we can ponder the Triune God with our hearts and our very lives.
This is a day when we ponder the Triune God with our very life stories.
And perhaps we could say,
this is a day when we ponder not only the Iove of the Triune God,
but the loves of the Triune God.
These loves might just transform how we see our stories.
When we say that God is Triune, and
when we say that God is one in three persons,
we are saying that at the very heart of God —
at the very heart of Who God Is —
lies the existence of community.
God is one, and
God exists in a community of relationships,
as love is shared and expressed between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And here is one of the most beautiful truths about this revealed vision of Who God Is:
God wants us to join the community of these loves.
It’s not that we become God,
but each of us and all of us
are invited truly to an experience of the life of God.
This Triune vision reveals God’s posture toward us,
so we know when we suffer,
we are never alone.
We are surrounded by God.
We are surrounded by a community of loves –
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit –
and we are invited into the community of loves that exist around us
in our own relationships,
in this community of faith,
in this entire world
where God can be found
around every corner,
under ever rock,
and revealed in and through every human life,
each one infinitely filled with worth and value.
These are the loves that surround our lives.
These are the loves that transform our stories.
So let’s hear Paul’s words one more time:
“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.”
These are the loves of God for the people of God.
 Image: Andrei Rublev, public domain.
 My thinking on ‘the loves of God’ was strongly influenced a Trinity Sunday sermon preached by the Rev. David Nelson Roth at St. John United Presbyterian Church in 2006.