Bible readings Psalm 116:1-9 Romans 5:1-8
Its been so exciting to see our new building finally becoming a reality. Finally getting to a place where the dream, the hope is being fulfilled. If we were to think in terms of a pregnancy, we have been pregnant for 5 years outdoing even the elephant by 3 1/2 years…. It has been an ongoing tumultuous trial for the members of the dream team as hoop after hoop had to be jumped through and one hinderance after another appeared out of nowhere… And I’m sure there have been many times for you as a congregation where you have wondered if it was a phantom pregnancy!!
There have been many times when I’m sure we have all wondered what God has been up to?
One thing we can be sure about is that God has been working on us as much as working on the building, our growth matters to God… if I could use one word around what this process has required of us all… perseverance would fit the bill well.
For those of you who weren’t here last week we looked at the power of praise. How praising God through the difficult times of life can open the door to God moving in amazing ways and how praise can literally be good for us in the effect it has on our brains. How, when we praise God, we choose to be more confident in God than we are fearful of our circumstances… How praising God has a way of neutralizing fear and opening us up to understand that God’s hand is at work for us and how faith and trust are the two vital ingredients needed to enable our praise to rise.
Flowing out of Sunday a conversation arose during a visit early in the week where went on to talk about how much perseverance is needed to maintain a posture of praise. So today we are delving into the power of perseverance. The Miriam – Webster dictionary defines perseverance as the “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.” Other words used to describe perseverance include, steadfastness, endurance, determination, tenacity, diligence, resolve, doggedness, grit….
This was something Paul understood, much of his ministry was carried out despite difficulties, despite failure and opposition. Its thought Paul wrote his letter to a group of Roman Christians somewhere between 55-57 AD. At the time Paul was staying in Corinth and planning a trip to Spain and he hoped to go via Rome... so he was writing to make a connection and garner support for his missionary trip. He also wrote with pastoral concern as the church had struggled with factions caused between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.
Over and above that Rome itself was becoming a more dangerous place to be a Christian. Nero Claudius Ceasar had taken power in 54 AD. As one commentator observes ...
“Paul was writing to a group of Christians for whom hope was no doubt in short supply. They lived in the heart of Roman darkness, right under the nose of the Caesar himself. They lived in an empire in which that same Caesar was declared Deus et Dominus, God and Lord, on every coin in their pockets. What’s more, the regime was increasingly hostile to the then-new Christian faith and before too much longer would flex its muscle in trying to get rid of this new band of believers, putting to death even the very apostle penning the letter to the Roman Christians.”
So in a back drop where hope was hard to find Paul was helping the Roman Christians understand that their hope for the future didn’t depend on their circumstances... Helping them understand, like we heard last week, if they could see their sufferings as opportunities to persevere in their faith then hope was possible... as was the ability to thank God in the midst of suffering.
So, do you think Paul is being realistic or do you think this is pie in the sky stuff? I mean how can we persevere and even persevere with thankful hearts through the long dark valley of suffering?
Romans would show us that Paul is totally sincere... for Paul suffering hope wasn’t pie in the sky thinking. For Paul there was a total confidence in the future whatever it brings because it’s grounded in God. God’s faithfulness to keep his promises. As one commentator says “What God will do for the believer in Christ is grounded on what God has done for the believer in Christ.”
What has God done for believers in Jesus?.... Paul spells it out for us all. God has made a way to access God’s grace, God’s love, God’s hope through Jesus dying for us when we didn’t deserve it.
The Greek word for grace here, charis... has several meanings including favour, blessing, benefit, gracious gift and privilege...
We need to remember most of Paul’s world believed that God could only be accessed through careful obedience to religious laws, or good behaviour, or deep philosophical thinking... reaching God all depended on us....
Stop and think for a moment, if we believe our access to God depends on our behaviour, what happens when suffering enters our lives?
We can believe God has abandoned us, we can believe we have disappointed God somehow... we’re robbed of hope and without hope we are robbed of our ability to persevere.
Lewis Smedes reminds us that “our souls need hope the way our lungs need oxygen. Because we are inextricably temporal creatures who are forever moving into an unknown future, we need hope to keep us moving lest we become stuck, struck dumb with a paralyzing fear of the future.”
Paul’s saying hey guys when the tough times come and you want to give up don’t forget whose you are... our faith isn’t about us reaching God, it's about God reaching out to us in love and making it possible to get to us through Jesus... Jesus layed down his life for us when we were anything but good... pure grace...
As one commentator astutely says “It is not that we use Jesus to attain God's mercy, it is that God sends Jesus to enact the mercy that God has intended from the beginning of time.”
Think about our technological world today where we have access codes to get into everything... how many of us have a hidden list somewhere so we can remember our different passwords? Well the good news with God is that we can stand in God’s gracious presence anytime and we only have to remember one access code Jesus!!
Read with me from 5:1-2 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”
Grace the place in which we now stand... What was grace... favour, blessing, benefit, gracious gift and privilege... God has reached out to us in love that we access through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit and no matter what we’ve come from, no matter what our situation is the place we now stand is one of favour blessing, pure gift and privilege...
Turangawaewae is the Maori word for the place where one has the right to stand – the place where one has rights of residence and belonging through kinship and whakapapa.
Our turangawaewae our place where we have the right to stand is in the love and grace of God accessed through our kinship with Jesus.
We need to fully grasp, as Paul did, who we are in God and how much God has given to make a way for us to stand in this place of grace...
We need to fully grasp that our faith isn’t about us being good enough, or wise enough or obedient enough....
We need to fully grasp it’s about our God who loves us and has longingly reached out to us in Jesus, its then things begin to change... not necessarily in our circumstances, but in us.
I love this from one commentator “Grace, however, is not only the activity of God in Jesus Christ that reaches out to include everyone (in Paul's case, especially both Jews and Gentiles.) Grace is also our dwelling place. This grace in which we stand... Our turangawaewae.... God's goodness to us surrounds us and upholds us and defines who we are. Our lives are shaped by the gift we can never achieve but can only receive.”
Paul says it's out of this place in God that we can learn to “glory in our sufferings” What does that even mean?
Glory in this sense means the hope that we have in the divine Splendour of God, Gods presence that we access through Jesus.... so when we glory in our sufferings we are lifting our sufferings our hardships into the heart of Gods divine splendour trusting that God will be at work for us no matter what the circumstances look like. As we heard last week from Romans 8:28 “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them…”
As we stand in our turangawaewae, that place of grace we understand that Jesus suffered. Jesus persevered, Jesus endured and Jesus was even able to face the cross because of the trust he had in his Father, trust that believed even the cross could be worked for the good of all creation.
Hebrews 12:2 calls us to persevere saying “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Its as we take our suffering into the place of grace, into the heart of God that God can turn it for good. Through it God helps us to grow in our ability to persevere and as we persevere we grow in strength of character and as we stand in this place of grace God’s love is poured into us through the Holy Spirit which in turn strengthens us to persevere even more giving us hope that our God who resurrected Jesus from the dead will also bring us through our dark times into a bright new day.
Peter put it this way... 1 Peter 1: 5 &7 “Through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation...
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold.”
At prayer time on Tuesday there was an incredible moment of standing fully in that place of grace... An incredible moment of understanding God’s perseverance, God’s grit, God’s determination for Prebbleton, Springston, Rolleston, Tai Tapu, Broadfields through this church planted so long ago...
A moment of seeing every generation who had gone before and the generations yet to come.
A moment of understanding God's persevering love and God's persevering grace reaching out to each person who has been a part of this body in the 100 plus years this church has existed...
A moment of seeing God’s eternal flame of love shining through our light of the world, Jesus Christ being passed on to each new generation through the power of God’s Spirit...
A moment of seeing this church (as in the people) who have persevered, are persevering and will persevere as long as God’s eternal flame lights the way...
A moment of seeing the God given gift love poured out in this place so we can make a difference in the lives God calls us to serve.
Could it be that God is calling us to persevere with the same loving grace that God has extended to us?
When I was thinking about Christians called to persevere William Wilberforce came to mind. He battled for years to have his anti-slavery bill passed, persevering through illness, bigotry, political isolation and failure... he started his journey to change slavery laws around1787, he took bills to parliament in 1791,92,93,97,98,99, 1804,05 and all failed, the antislavery law was finally passed in 1807...
We might not all be called to campaign for great societal change but we may well have a situation we are about to give up on because it's just too hard...
What would it look like to bring that situation into our turangawaewae, into the place of grace in which we stand?
If we were to dream what might the hope of God look like in this place of grace?
Maybe hope looks like the face of a friend what would it look like for us to reach out and ask for their help?
Or maybe we know someone on the verge of giving up because it all seems to hard?
What would it look like for us to lovingly reach out in grace and stand alongside them?
God calls us to be a people of hope, a people of perseverance, a people of praise not because of anything we do, but because of who God is and for all God has done and is doing through Jesus Christ our access into this amazing grace in which are invited to stand.