Love Proved in Pain

Fr Tom Simmons, 3 Lent, March 19, 2017, Romans 5:1-11


This week we suffered a horrible, shocking, tragic loss. Our friend and brother Jim Schatz died on Thursday, by his own hand.

We will gather on Saturday afternoon for Jim’s funeral.

Suffice it to say that Jim had a really, really bad week and this is how he chose to deal with it.

Shocking, isn’t it?

It’s scary when sudden death comes shattering into our lives.

It reminds us that every day is a matter of life-and-death…literally.

But let’s step back from that terrible precipice to think of your life last week and next week, the day-in-day-out situations of disappointment, suffering, and loss.

…times when we’re angry about how things turned out,

feeling sorry for ourselves, complaining,

nursing our grudge, “what we deserve”

Holding onto the picture in our mind of how life “should be”

casting blame on ourselves.. others... even God when life falls short of our ideal.

We all do it … some more than others.

When we read about the Israelites in the Exodus 17, I can really sympathize with them questioning God in their sufferings.

They’d been uprooted from everything familiar.

It was lousy being slaves in Egypt, but at least it was familiar!

Now they’re out in the desert, hot, thirsty, wandering around and they’re feeling a little…grumpy.

With all their discomfort, disappointment, and irritation they are doubting God’s goodness, questioning his motives.

“Did God bring us out here to kill us!?”

Israelites are inclined to think it’s true.

Two weeks-ago we saw how the Deceiver tempts us.

Remember his conversation with Eve?

No sooner had he asked her, “Did God REALLY say…?” then he was sowing doubt about God’s good intentions.

“He’s keeping some vital information from you… He’s just trying to keep you down.”

Since that time, doubting God is the default mode of the human heart, our first reflex.

People will blame God for just about everything!

Chaos and death and the evil-that-men-do strike again …and guess who gets the blame!

Satan struck first by ruining our trust in God’s goodness.

But God struck back. Paul tells us how, in his letter to the Church in Rome.

He shows how God PROVED his love in v 8, One will scarcely die for a good person, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

It’s a love proved in pain. His pain.

God feels his love for you THAT strongly!

Do you need more proof?!

We could just end the sermon there with that ringing declaration of God’s good intentions.

But let’s take it another step and think through the implications of this stunning fact.

First, Paul makes it so clear the impact of Jesus’ death.

He suffered as our substitute. He took what we deserve so that we could get what he deserves.

He took rejection so we could get access.

When you feel guilty, or afraid, or humiliated, or exposed, or alone, or powerless, or rejected, or betrayed, or accused,

…know this…Jesus was suffering ALL THOSE THINGS IN FULL MEASURE to save you through them.

He shows you his scars to prove his LOVE for you.

“These scars mean peace with God. Access.”

It is love proved in pain.

Next, this shows us a new path through suffering and loss, danger and disappointment.

His love conquers anger and despair and guilt.

No matter how bad your plight may seem, God is in it, transforming it for good.

That’s what the movie The Shack proclaims. Seen that?

It’s a good heart-healing movie.

The gospel gives us a new way to deal with loss, from the death of a child or spouse to daily stresses in traffic and everything in between.

His love is being “poured into our heart through the Holy Spirit…”

As we let that love trickle deeper and deeper into our core of who we are, down into the dark recesses and crevices of our heart

…it dissolves our insecurity and fear of being lost or rejected or abandoned by God, or people we love.

We don’t have to live anxiously protecting ourselves or promoting ourselves.

Instead of driving us away from God in anger or despair,

Paul shows us how suffering in hope changes us for the better in v 3.

“We even 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.”

When we allow the Holy Spirit to be active in our lives, infusing us with Father’s love,

…suffering leads us to deeper experience of God’s love being poured within us.

See how God doesn’t save us FROM suffering? He saves us THRU it.

It’s a love proved in pain. Our pain.

But there’s another thing I want to highlight here.

It’s the pervasive use of the word “we” and “us”, those plural pronouns that make it abundantly clear who Paul is addressing.

He’s not talking to a bunch of individuals in their personal spiritual journeys.

He’s not writing to “The Individual Believers in Rome.”

He’s writing to the Church in Rome, the body of Christ, linked together, arm-in-arm like your body’s organs.

He’s describing our life together as ONE, not our LIVES as many individuals who attend the church most Sundays.

HERE is where all that he’s describing plays out in the drama of our lives.

Here is where we share that access

Here is where we pass the peace Paul talks about.

Here is where we learn to walk that journey of faith, which Jim began with us about 5 years-ago.

Here is where we support each other with prayers and meals and hugs and counsel and tears and truth and putting up with one another.

Here is where we share our lives, and receive the support we need for the difficult journey turning suffering into endurance, into character, into hope.

Here is where we are safe to share our hearts and let grace happen.

But how can grace happen if we keep our suffering bottled up inside, secret from our brothers and sisters?

Maybe Jim’s death can spur us to find new ways for St. Peter’s to be a place where no one stands alone. Or dies alone.

The only way to experience these things with God is by sharing them with one another.

Here is where love is proved in pain. Our pain, borne together.

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