Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Other Side of the Gospel

August 31, 2014–– 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 20:7–9 / Romans 12:1–2 / Matthew 16:21–27
The Other Side of the Gospel

Gospel means Good News. The Good News can be expressed a number of ways. Perhaps the most well-known is John 3:16––For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. God’s love is a major and recurring theme throughout Scripture. A popular Evangelical cliché says “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” So, again, Gospel means Good News.

There is a prominent TV preacher (whose name I’ll forgo) who uses a stadium for the crowd that gathers each week to hear his always positive “talks” (I can’t bring myself to call them sermons). Now, only the Lord knows his heart, but he is not proclaiming the whole counsel of God. His is an incomplete and stunted “gospel”. I have never heard or read anything from him that boldly proclaims Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. This is the other side of the Gospel.

There is no good news without bad news. The very word “good” requires a larger context that provides its contrast. No one has reason to be happy about being found if they have no idea that they are lost. To have any comprehension of being “saved” we must first know that we are in grave danger. The Good News of the Gospel comes to us in the context of the bad news of sin and the very real and appropriate fear of a holy God.

We live in a part of the world that can avoid facing this. We can insulate and distract ourselves from ultimate reality––for a while. Our danger right now is not that of our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria. For them, the danger is a very real persecution. They are faced with the issue of whether Christian Faith is worth dying for (the very literal application of Jesus’ words here). Our greatest danger is seduction. We are inundated in an atmosphere of comfort, convenience, and pleasure. We face hard things, of course, but we want answers that do not cost us the price of even a personal inconvenience. The world tells us we should be able to spend our money on what makes us feel good. The world tells us that our culture’s obsession with sex as a means (and a so-called “right”) for personal pleasure is not so wrong. The closest we get to persecution (so far) is the ridicule and vitriol directed at us when we try to give a witness to traditional Christian values and morality. And there is a suggested way to avoid that: keep religion private; do not give your “personal” beliefs expression in the “real” world because “faith” (instead of being any kind of objective reality) is just an inner feeling that helps some people feel good. This is a betrayal of the Gospel.

We can too easily forget––too “conveniently” avoid––facing a huge divide that is clearly revealed in Scripture and taught by the Church. Jesus warns Peter about thinking not as God does, but as human beings do. We do not like to hear this. It goes against everything the culture around us believes. It goes against our natural desires for ease and comfort. It is obvious that a one-sided “positive” gospel can attract––the popular stadium preacher proves it, but that does not negate Jesus’ warning in another place: Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Mtt 7:13,14).

The Scriptures give this other side of the Gospel over and over. God speaks through Isaiah:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts (55:8,9).

This is what St Paul is exhorting in today’s Epistle: Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…. (Rom 12:2). If we are too much like the world around us, our souls are in danger!

Yes, our salvation is based totally in Jesus Christ. Yet this is more than what Jesus has done for us. Christianity is not merely forgiveness. Billy Graham’s famous Crusade invitation was accompanied by the song Just As I Am. That is indeed the love of the Gospel. God welcomes you just as you are. We do not have to become, first, “good enough” to gain God’s attention or earn his love. But––and this is a huge interjection––God does not leave those who belong to him where they are. We are to be transformed. We are to become like Jesus.

Christian Faith means following Jesus. And before we can hope to follow Jesus into the glory of the resurrection, we first follow him to the cross. This is the other side of the Gospel. The way that we are transformed into his likeness is to put to death in us all that is not like Jesus. When I want to please myself instead of loving and serving others, the Spirit of Jesus in me wants to put that to death. When my thinking is not as God does, but as human beings do about things such as money, possessions, sex, power, or even “freedom”, then I need to follow Jesus and submit my errant thinking to the cross.

It would be nice if the role of a Christian preacher was only to make people feel good. Sometimes I feel like Jeremiah in today’s reading: 

I am ridiculed all day long;
    everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I cry out
    proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
    insult and reproach all day long.
But if I say, “I will not mention his word
    or speak any more in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.

I have been called a “Bible thumper”. I have known people to leave the congregation because what was preached offended them. But some day I am going to stand before the Judge of all the earth––as are each of you––and there will be an accounting. Matthew gives us these words from Jesus: I promise you that on the day of judgment, everyone will have to account for every careless word they have spoken (12:36, CEV). I do not want to be “careless” in my preaching. I want to be faithful to what God has said. To be faithful to my calling, I must give the other side of the Gospel, especially when the Church faithfully draws our attention to texts such as these.

But before I quit I want to be clear. It is not my intent––and Jesus did not say these things––to discourage us or merely make us feel guilty. Notice that I said “merely”. Guilt is a good thing when it accomplishes its intended purpose. Paul told the Romans: God has locked all people in the prison of their own disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all (Rom 11:32). God wants us to know the full hard truth so that we run to him. That is the Gospel. In spite of the hard things––even through them––God is at work for our salvation. Jesus gives us the whole truth because he is our Savior.

Hear, truly hear these words of our Lord: Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. This is the Gospel.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

God At Work

August 24, 2014 –– 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 22:19-23 / Romans 11:33-36 / Matthew 16:13-20
God At Work

Peter’s profound declaration about Jesus and the response of Jesus to Peter is one of the bedrock Scriptures of Catholicism. We hear this and it seems so apparent. Yet there are devout Christians who read and hear this and do not see it. I was one of them for almost fifty years of a dedicated faith life. When I finally “saw it”, it was as if someone gave me a major missing piece to a puzzle. After years of trying to be sure I was interpreting the Bible properly and faithfully proclaiming Christian Truth, I found relief in this text about the Church because it released me from trying to figure out all the things of God within my own understanding. Jesus has provided a protected authority.

On the other hand, being overly familiar with a text––as most practicing Catholics are with this Gospel––can limit one’s understanding. Even as I found a new “release” in these words, it is also possible for some people to hear this with a “restriction” from seeing beyond one basic truth. There is more here than Jesus founding the Church and establishing Petrine primacy.

This is not some isolated incident. It does not stand alone. It is not meant to be lifted out of its scriptural setting and isolated into one of several key dogmas. As we read and hear Scripture, we are being pulled into the activity of God who is at work for all that is right and good and true. This is part of God at work for our salvation. I say “part” because God was at work before this and he has been at work since. God is at work right now for our salvation!

God was at work when Isaiah was writing. There had been unfaithfulness in Israel. God’s desire for his people had been corrupted. Instead of being a model to the nations of who God is, Israel had become like the pagan nations around them. But in the words of St Paul in last week’s Epistle, the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. God never abandons his purpose to have a people who are distinctively his, and belonging to God “distinctively” means being holy––“different, for Jesus’ sake”. There comes a point where God says Enough! to the Shebnas who profane his name; God raises up people like Eliakim, people who honor the ways of God.

Think about this: God at work means, among other things, that he uses real people. Eliakim was a man, like us, who had a heart for God. Peter was a man––very much a regular human person with idiosyncrasies and weaknesses just like we have––but Jesus set him apart in a very special way for the work God is doing to save us.

In last week’s homily I differentiated between the big-picture––macro––activity of God and the small, detailed––micro––ways that God works in individual people. Peter was selected for a huge role in the big plan of God. The scope of the Church is beyond any one person’s comprehension, yet Peter was indeed a single individual. Jesus responded to Peter on the basis of who he was as one person. The same can be said today of Pope Francis. There is excitement and a palatable Spirit of Life in Pope Francis because he opens himself to Jesus.

Now, just because the “big” and the “personal” come together so demonstrably in people like Eliakim and St Peter and Pope Francis does not mean the same dynamic does not happen in people like you and me. We may not have recognition nor high visibility in the Church at large, but you and I can be personally so plugged into the big activity of God at work that we give witness to what is right and true and good within our own circles. When we confess with personal conviction that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, as Peter did, we get pulled into the same saving scope of God at work that has marked all the people of God through centuries and millennia. Each one of us can model holiness: being different for Jesus’ sake.

As we gather week by week in the Church that Jesus inaugurated with Peter, you and I––as individual persons––are participating in what it means––and has meant through the ages––that God is at work for our salvation. It is so intimate and at the same time so immense that we cannot fully comprehend it. All we can do is worship…. to bow our minds and hearts before the God who can work a salvation big enough for the whole world––truly a catholic salvation, and at the same time meet each one of us at the point of our personal need. Do you see it? God is at work in the Church founded by Peter; God is at work in you as you give yourself to him

What is your response to our Lord? How can we express such grandeur? The Holy Spirit has given us words through the Apostle:

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” "Or who has given the Lord anything that he may be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Macro and Micro Salvation

August 17, 2014 –– 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7 / Romans 11:13-15, 29-32 / Matthew 15:21-28
Macro and Micro Salvation

We frequently hear the words macro and micro in a technological context of some kind, but today’s Gospel brings these two concepts into a biblical and theological focus. Just to be clear, “macro” refers to the largest scale and “micro” to the smallest scale.

If you think about it, both of these are the object of God’s concern in the Scriptures. The Psalmist juxtaposes the two when he writes: When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established; what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than God, and you crown him with glory and honor (8:3-5). From the macro heavens to the micro individual person, God is intricately involved.

It is important to see this distinction when we turn our attention to salvation. Sometimes the Scriptures address macro salvation––the big picture. Sometimes the focus is more on micro salvation––the individual person. In the first reading, the Lord says My salvation is about to come. This has the macro perspective of a panoramic scope. Here we are reminded that God has been at work in what we call Salvation History for longer than we can comprehend. Salvation is a BIG thing, and it belongs to God. I hope you know the comfort of a salvation that is bigger than you are. While we do have a response to make, salvation is something God has initiated. It is God himself who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1Tim 2:4).

Yet God has created us with the privilege (and responsibility) of true choice. It takes time and considerable drama for God both to save us and at the same time honor human decisions. God does not force our personal salvation, and he even allows us to choose evil (and how well we should know that!).

The Romans reading is dealing with the huge issue of salvation among Jews and non-Jews. The details of God’s promises and purposes were first revealed and offered through Abraham and his physical descendants. Those promises are still important. St Paul affirms that the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. This is macro––big picture––salvation. It does not mean, though, on the micro level, that every single Jewish person is going to embrace the promises of God.

It is important to grasp these two perspectives when we come to today’s Gospel story. It appears that Jesus is totally out of character––seemingly cold and non-compassionate. He refuses to answer the woman’s cry. Then, he tells her his mission is only to Israelites. Finally, he implies she is a “dog” (which was an epithet commonly used back then for non-Israelites). Is this our loving Savior?

Yes. First, he was testing her. (How many of us get what we ask of the Lord after the first prayer?!) Second, Jesus is keeping his primary mission in focus. In order to bring salvation to a single Canaanite woman––or you and me––he must first accomplish that for which he was sent: to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. In other words, Jesus was in the world first of all to work salvation on the macro level in the unfolding plan of God––his death and resurrection for the salvation of the whole world.

But it was not all of one and none of the other. In other words, Jesus modeled micro salvation (mercy for the individual) even as he did everything necessary for macro salvation (unleashing righteousness for all people). If you think about it, it could be no other way: the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. God’s salvation works on the micro level because it has been secured on the macro level. And because God has chosen on the macro level to save, it means that you and I––on the micro level––can have confidence in the mercy and grace of God.

We see a great picture of this in the Canaanite woman. She believed Jesus was Lord––the Son of David sent to bring salvation. Because she believed this, this woman would not be deterred. She was desperate. Any parent who has agonized over the need of a child understands. Somehow this mother was able to understand: “Jesus, as you fulfill your destiny as Savior of the world, let some of that grace spill over right now on my need.” In the big picture of salvation, you and I are part of the detail. The huge grace of God is for little ol’ you and me.

Are you discouraged? Do you sometimes wonder if God knows you are here? Is your guilt or pain or bewilderment so big that you feel swallowed up? I repeat something from last time: Jesus knows that when we are vulnerable we are most open to God. Sometimes a hard thing is the very thing that gets us beyond our own agenda so that we can receive the grace we need.

In the big sweeping work of God––his macro salvation––there is a place for each one of us. Personal faith draws us into God’s great salvation on the micro level. What is man that you are mindful of him?  ….you crown him with glory and honor. In the big plan of God, there is a place for you.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Jesus Christ Is The Son Of God

August 10, 2014 –– 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 14:22–33
Jesus Christ Is The Son Of God

The Gospels give us stories about Jesus with a single underlying conviction: Jesus Christ is the Son of God. That same conviction is what makes a Christian a Christian; it is what makes the Church the Church. The fundamental reason for preaching is this same underlying conviction: Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Yet we see that Jesus gets alone with the Father in order to pray. If the Son of God needed to make time for prayer, then what of you and me? I need to do better at creating time to pray. It was possibly toward 9:00pm by the time Jesus made his way into the hills alone to pray after a long day with the people. Jesus was making his way to the disciples during the fourth watch of the night––about 3:00am, so Jesus had been praying for maybe six hours. That kind of prayer is consistent with many of the great saints of Christian history. This challenges all of us in our prayer life. To be like Jesus, we need to be going deeper and deeper in prayer.

Another thing worth noticing here is that the disciples had gone out into the night and onto that big lake in obedience to Jesus (he made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead). At the risk of pointing out the obvious, note that obeying Jesus did not mean no problems for the disciples. In fact, they were fighting an angry sea precisely because they had obeyed Jesus and gone out in the boat. And since they had departed before Jesus dismissed the crowd and left to pray, they had been fighting the sea for maybe 10-12 hours. It seems that Jesus had even set them up. The disciples often fell into disasters whenever Jesus was absent, and Jesus knows that when we are vulnerable we are most open to God. I try to remember that when my stress levels seems at maximum level.

There is so much in one simple story from the Gospels. Again we find Peter in the limelight, another emphasis on his primacy among the original disciples. Undoubtedly, though, the emphasis is found in the response of all the disciples as they witness an incident that went beyond any natural understanding. A modern mindset wants to dismiss Jesus walking on water as an example of creative symbolism or pious legend. The disciples got the point: Truly you are the Son of God. The only way any of this makes sense is to remember that Jesus is God. This has something to say to us on several levels.

First, we need to face head-on this claim of the Gospels and the Church: Jesus Christ is the Son of God. We “say” it every time we confess the Creed, but do we believe it? As we live the routines of day by day, are our lives different because of an overwhelming conviction that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? That is the standard of Christian Faith for everyone who owns the name of Jesus.

A minister to young adults wanted to find out why so many young Christians lose their faith in college. He did this by actually asking them. One of the students said, “Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life and you would want to change the lives of others. I haven’t seen too much of that.” Again, are we living lives that show that we actually believe what we say we believe?

Yet, to be honest with the inherent weakness of our humanity in this broken world, we can often feel too much like the disciples here––alone and scared and not able to figure out the circumstances which engulf us. This story should help encourage us, though, because if we are where Jesus has told us to be, we can have confidence even if the storm is kicking and we are struggling. He knows where we are. And if his response to our trouble scares us to death, (“get out of the boat and come to me”) let's also try to remember that Jesus is repeatedly allowing us to be in situations so we can see his glory. But if we can't handle it yet, he's still not going to abandon us. His first words to the disciples were to identify himself and say, Do not be afraid.

Again, the only way any of this makes sense is to remember that Jesus, the Son of God, gives himself to us. His Spirit lives in all who believe in him, and he is wanting to extend his very life through us. To do that, we have to be open to this truth, which is why we have the Church to teach us. This is why there is preaching. But we also need to face our personal role in having a spiritual life. Remember that Jesus spent time with the Father. We all need to be growing in prayer, and we learn to pray by praying.

As Christians, we are to have a single basic focus. Above everything else––undergirding and surrounding all that we are and do––Jesus Christ is the Son of God. This is the center of everything else that happens in what we call "everyday life.” Jesus wants us to “step out” and meet him in all the circumstances of our lives. 

Are you asking Jesus to be Lord of your everyday life? Do you truly believe that the Son of God wants to live in and through you?  Jesus wants to meet us in our turbulence. He wants us to believe the confession of those first disciples: Truly you are the Son of God.

The one thing this requires is making a choice––a choice that turns into a lifetime of ongoing response. You are invited to give an unqualified yes in your life to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He came into our world for that very reason. So in your own storms (and we all have them), invite Jesus to be Lord of all your days.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Glory Invades the Grub World

Wednesday: August 6, 2014 –– 18th Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 17:1–9
The Transfiguration––Glory Invades the Grub World

I love the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is meant to give us who live in this spiritually impaired world a brief glimpse of reality. This past weekend I used an illustration that I am repeating because it gives a context to extend the significance of the Transfiguration.

Imagine a colony of grubs living on the bottom of a swamp. And every once in a while, one of these grubs is inclined to climb a leaf stem to the surface. Then he disappears above the surface and never returns. All the grubs wonder why this is so and what it must be like up there, so they counsel among themselves and agree that the next one who goes up will come back and tell the others. Not long after that, one of the grubs feels the urge and climbs that leaf stem and goes out above the surface onto a lily pad. And there in the warmth of the sun, he falls asleep. While he sleeps, the carapace of the tiny creature breaks open, and out of the inside of the grub comes a magnificent dragonfly with beautiful, wide, rainbow-hued, iridescent wings. And he spreads those wings and flies, soaring out over those waters. But then he remembers the commitment he has made to those behind, yet now he knows he cannot return. They would not recognize him in the first place, and beyond that, he could not live again in such a place. But one thought is his that takes away all the distress: they, too, shall climb the stem, and they, too, shall know the glory (Bruce Thielemann, Christus Imperator).

How does this relate to the Transfiguration? Just this: Jesus, as God-Man, did the seemingly impossible because he left the realm of glory to become a “grub” –– like us, in our spiritually grub-like existence––to give us a reason for hope. In the Transfiguration Jesus was enveloped for a brief moment in his “dragonfly” glory so his grub-like disciples (all the way down to us today) can hope there is something beyond this broken world we see with our natural eyes. And the reason the Transfiguration gives a wonderful picture of reality is because Jesus brought that brief moment to full reality in his Resurrection and Ascension. On this Feast of the Transfiguration, behold the glory of the Son of Man, and know that it is the destiny of all who belong to him!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Faith and Obedience

August 3, 2014 –– 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 14:13–21
Faith and Obedience

This is the only miracle story from Jesus' Galilean ministry that is included in all four Gospels. It must have been considered very important if Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all included it. The common emphasis in the Church is Eucharistic, and that is of utmost importance, but let’s think of other implications.

The Gospel writers are called Evangelists, which tells us their purpose. They wanted to share the truth about Jesus. The writers wanted to tell enough about Jesus so people would see his uniqueness and believe. This particular miracle was important because so many people were witnesses. This wasn't something Jesus did in a corner. It wasn't limited to the disciples or one sick person or even a family. There were well over 5000 people who took part in a meal in which there were no preparations. In this feeding of several thousand, Jesus had five loaves of bread and two fish, yet everyone was satisfied and there were twelve baskets left over. It's no wonder this story is in the Gospels.

We grow up with the stories and take Jesus for granted. We can easily hear the stories without thinking about them. We accept the fact that the appearance of Jesus Christ in our world divided history, but we so easily miss the wonder. We hear all the canned answers without having first been gripped by the questions. Who is this who can feed over 5000 people with five loaves and two fish?

Those of us who know something of the wonder and power of a transformed life know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. We know what it is to pass from death to life in our souls and to have the joy of a relationship with Jesus that comes out of the assurance of sins forgiven. And the reason Jesus has the power to forgive our sins and transform our lives is the same reason he was able to feed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish: he is the Son of God.

But that's only the first level in what a miracle story from Jesus' life can mean. For Christians, the miracle stories of Jesus function on other levels. In these stories we can learn the character of Jesus and we can see issues of faith for those who would be his disciples. How does faith work in this world? What kind of response does Jesus expect of me? Those are things we can see in this feeding of the five thousand.

We should find it reasonable to expect that Jesus will ask things of us that might seem foolish to non-Christians. There's a little song from my past which describes this kind of response:

Faith, mighty Faith, the promise sees
 And looks to God alone;
Laughs at impossibilities,
 And cries, "It shall be done."

Because Jesus is God's Son, because he can do the seemingly impossible, and because we have experienced his power through salvation, we can believe God for hard things.

Can you imagine how the disciples felt when Jesus told them to have the people sit down and prepare to eat? Despite their own experience seeing Jesus do amazing things, it seems the disciples were not expecting a miracle here. The vast throng of people needed to eat, and they knew there was no food apart from the five loaves and two fish. They were probably wondering how they were going to get out of this one.

Biographies of great Christian people testify to seemingly impossible situations. We are always being challenged to believe that God can still do the seemingly impossible today. This goes deep into the attitude of our hearts. God wants people to obey his Son just like those disciples did––willing to appear foolish if that's what obedience and faith require.

There is always something new God wants to do to stretch our faith. He wants to stretch our personal faith. He wants to stretch our faith as a congregation. But he will not multiply our loaves and fish until we step out in faith and tell the multitude to sit down. We will not grow a parish modeling kingdom values if we wait until all the money can be counted ahead of time. We will not have the mark of the kingdom's power and blessing on us if we do not step out expecting God to do something big.

God has already blessed our congregation in many ways, but faithfulness does not have a plateau. We are projecting a capital project. We also have strategic planning to do with structure, programming and staff. Those things are under way now, but our pastor is out of commission for at least two months. We need to keep an attitude of momentum with a discernment of kingdom values.

It takes time and money beyond what natural thinking can conceive, but our task as disciples of Jesus is to believe that our Lord is able for any situation that is consistent with our calling as Christians and the Church. One way to read this miracle story, then, invites Christian disciples today to be like the disciples of long ago––to step out in obedience just because Jesus is who he is. By calling ourselves Christians we are saying that Jesus is everything these Gospel writers say he is. What remains is to step out on that faith and believe that Jesus will show the power of his kingdom through our faith and obedience... to believe that we can have a part in something not too unlike feeding 5000 people.

Are you expecting God to do great things in your life? Are you expecting him to do great things through this congregation? It means, first, actively believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. It means being obedient to the one we call Lord. There are still hungry people waiting on Jesus' disciples, only this time it's a hunger of the soul, and this time the disciples are you and me.  But... it's the same Jesus, and he's with us today.

Deep Beyond Our Understanding

August 3, 2014 –– 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Romans 8:35, 37–39
Going Deep Beyond Our Understanding

We often feel the pain of hard things we do not understand. Our world is full of these things, and some of them come too close to every one of us. For those who are willing to expend the effort of understanding, the eighth chapter of St Paul’s letter to the Romans offers a wonderful perspective that gives, not easy answers, but a reasonable hope as we live in a hard world. Someone has said, “God permits what he hates in order to accomplish what he loves.” This raises the ongoing question: Why hard things?.... The inspired Apostle tilts the focus of one answer this way: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (v35). Even hard things are not beyond the love of God.

Hard things can certainly unsettle us, but when we focus too much on the hard things instead of the big picture that God gives through the Scriptures and in the Church―the “seen” rather than the perspective of the “unseen” (2Cor 4:18)―we find ourselves perplexed with questions we cannot answer. Remember the humble confession in v26: we do not know how to pray.... When we focus too much on this world (that is not our final home), we can quickly find ourselves drowning in situations where “we do not know.”

What do we do when we “do not know?” Here is yet another answer: We are supposed to go deeper. We are to dive into the sure things God has said and done. This takes us to more foundational questions, and here we get answers in this wonderful eighth chapter of Romans:

If God is for us, who can be against us? (v31)
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all―how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (v32)
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies (v33).
Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died―more than that, who was raised to life―is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us (v34).

These answers require reflection. At the same time, they are given with a force that is apparent to anyone who believes that God has acted for our salvation. Jesus himself is praying for us right now!

Hold onto this: God is going to accomplish his purpose! What is that purpose? It is to have, through his Son, people who are like him. No matter what happens in the meantime―trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword―we can believe that if God is working his Spirit into us in all these things, one day we will be like him. This is our salvation!

How? Imagine a colony of grubs living on the bottom of a swamp. And every once in a while, one of these grubs is inclined to climb a leaf stem to the surface. Then he disappears above the surface and never returns. All the grubs wonder why this is so and what it must be like up there, so they counsel among themselves and agree that the next one who goes up will come back and tell the others. Not long after that, one of the grubs feels the urge and climbs that leaf stem and goes out above the surface onto a lily pad. And there in the warmth of the sun, he falls asleep. While he sleeps, the carapace of the tiny creature breaks open, and out of the inside of the grub comes a magnificent dragonfly with beautiful, wide, rainbow-hued, iridescent wings. And he spreads those wings and flies, soaring out over those waters. But then he remembers the commitment he has made to those behind, yet now he knows he cannot return. They would not recognize him in the first place, and beyond that, he could not live again in such a place. But one thought is his that takes away all the distress: they, too, shall climb the stem, and they, too, shall know the glory (Bruce Thielemann, Christus Imperator). Remember this.... as a Christian, you are destined for glory

Why? Hear it again: God has acted for our salvation. God is going to accomplish his purpose! Here is a promise for every person who is trusting Jesus Christ: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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