Saturday, June 02, 2007

PEACE WITH GOD

Romans 5:1-5

What is peace? Is it a nice, quiet spot in a grassy meadow to take a nap? That’s called "peace and quiet?" It’s fleeting, but it’s welcome.

There’s something called peace of mind, which happens when we have a clear conscience.

Peace can be the absence of war, but that kind of peace is rare. Just as one war ends, it seems like another one starts. I doubt anyone in the room remembers the slogans, but World War I was supposed to be the war that ended all wars. Unfortunately it wasn’t long before an even bigger war began.

I’m for peace, in all its forms, but there’s a kind of peace that’s not determined by our circumstances, and that’s peace with God. It’s a peace that surpasses understanding.
Peace with God
Peace with God is a gift that’s received by faith in the one who makes us right with God. This is what justification means. And it’s Jesus who is the one who extends God’s grace to us so that we can experience peace with God. This grace is needed because too often we put barriers up to keep God at bay.

When it comes to experiencing peace with God, how we understand God will determine how we receive this peace. There are, after all, many definitions of God. There’s the angry God who takes pleasure in making life difficult. There’s the demanding God whom we never can seem to please. There’s the distant God, who just doesn’t seem to care. Then there’s the omnipotent God we sang about in the opening hymn – the all-powerful one. I think that’s the God most of us believe in. But maybe there’s another way of looking at our Creator that makes more sense of life and how we live it.

The God we meet in Scripture is present, passionate, committed, caring, and loving. It’s this God who made a covenant with Abraham and Moses and Jesus. It’s this God who walks with us when we experience pain and suffering, for this is the God we meet in Jesus. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann calls this God we meet in Scripture, the "Crucified God," because we meet this God on the cross and ironically it’s in the shadow of the cross that we find peace.
Peace with God and Human Suffering
To be at peace with God doesn’t mean that life will be easy or that it will be free of suffering. Paul says that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character instills within us a sense of hope. Suffering is, as we all know, part of life. But the good news is that suffering doesn’t have the last word. And we have the promise that we don’t endure it alone, for Jesus has already shared in our suffering and experiences that suffering with us.

It’s common to think of suffering as an expression of divine judgment for sin – or maybe it’s just karma – and yet too often we see the guilty go free and the innocent suffer. War is that way – it’s the innocent who generally suffer more than the ones who are guilty of the violence. Consider for a moment the millions of Jews who died in the death camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. What did they do to deserve their fate? Such events in history pose a difficult question for those of us who believe in a compassionate and caring God. Why, the critics ask, if God is omnipotent, did this happen? Where is God in all of this? And my only answer is this, God is present with us in our suffering, strengthening us so that we might endure and gain character, which leads to hope.
PEACE, HOPE, LOVE AND SUFFERING
Although I will take a nice quiet day, I know that peace must be found in the midst of conflict and suffering. I think that the reason Paul says that endurance builds character is that it’s in the midst of such experiences that we are open to listening for God’s voice. Too often when things are going well, we neglect to listen for God’s voice. Biblical scholar Beverly Gaventa writes that Paul’s view of hope is very different from

"the flabby and trivial hopes for pleasant weather or a hearty supper. `Hope' for Paul is not the equivalent of desire or wish. To the contrary, hope refers to confidence, trust, conviction. The `hope of sharing the glory of God' is Christian certainty that God's glory will be shared with all."1

Hebrews says that we have a high priest who has been tested in every way like us, and yet does not sin (Hebrews 4:14-15), and sin is according to Bruce Sanguin is "making sacred that which is not worthy of hallowing." In other words, it’s idolatry.2

Because we’re prone to idolatry and often make things that are of less consequence an idol – be it baseball, music, food, drink, or power – we need grace. We need an invitation to have our slate wiped clean so we can start over. This means that in Christ our past doesn’t determine our future. This gift comes to us from the God who is compassionate and caring, a God who isn’t worried about image or getting revenge, a God who doesn’t need a blood sacrifice to settle accounts. And Jesus offers us that invitation, because he has shared our lives and therefore he sanctifies and makes holy the lives we live.

Today, according to the church calendar, is Trinity Sunday. This is a day to remember that the God we worship comes to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity bears witness to the holy and righteous God who is present with us in Jesus, so that this holy God might share life as we live it, and then empower us by the Holy Spirit so that we might live fully before God as compassionate and loving people. When we do this, then peace will be at hand – not peace as the world defines it, but peace as God defines it.
As we sing John Newton's testimony to God's transforming grace, may that grace wash over us. And as it does, may we all experience God’s healing presence, a presence that changed a man like Newton from slave trader to abolitionist. Peace with God involves being righteous before God, and as, Kathleen Norris writes, that Bible consistently defines righteousness "as a willingness to care for the most vulnerable people in a culture, characterized in ancient Israel as orphans, widows, resident aliens, and the poor."3 If we’re at peace with God, then we will be living lives full of compassion and grace.
  1. Beverly Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, C, (WJK, 1993), 357.
  2. Bruce Sanguin, Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos, (Copperhouse Books, 2007), 156.
  3. Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace, (NY:Riverhead Books, 1998), 96.

Preached by:

Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall

First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Lompoc, CA

Trinity Sunday

June 3, 2007

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