Our scripture is Romans, chapter 5,
verses one through eight (I'd like you to read this with me, from your
Therefore, since we
are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord
Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this
grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the
glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our
sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and
endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and
hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured
into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to
6 For while we
were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
7Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though
perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.
8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were
sinners Christ died for us.
The Apostle Paul, as you know, wrote a
good deal of the New Testament. I don't think he knew he was
writing the New Testament when he sent those letters to those churches
that he had started around the Mediterranean world. But his
letters were gathered and thank God we have many of them in the New
He took three missionary trips around
the world, establishing churches. And so his letters were to these
churches to encourage them, maybe rebuke them if they were going the
wrong direction. Or to give further teaching to them as he heard
back from them.
Paul was an amazing man. He could
write the book on something, if he chose to do that. His authority
was questioned by the church in Corinth, and so he fell into a
self-description list (which he apologized for) of accomplishments and
how he had suffered. We find those in the 11th chapter of 2
Corinthians, and I'm going to read from the a different translation:
This is a silly game,
but look at the list: I have worked harder than any of them, I
have served more prison sentences, I have been beaten times without
number, I have faced death again and again, I have been beaten the
regulation 39 stripes by the Jews five times, I have been beaten
with rods three times, I have been stoned once, I have been
shipwrecked three times, I have been 24 hours in the open sea.
In my travels, I have been in constant danger from rivers and
floods, from bandits, from my own countrymen, and from pagans.
I have faced danger in city streets, danger in the desert, danger on
the high seas, danger among false Christians. I have known
exhaustion, pain, long vigils, hunger and thirst, doing without
meals, cold and lacking clothing.
Apart from all
external trials, I have the daily burden of responsibility for all
the churches. Do you think anyone is weak without my feeling
his weakness? Does anyone has his faith upset without my
longing to restore him?
Well, it was a rare thing for Paul to
bare his soul and make a list like this. But you have to wonder,
what made this guy go? What made Paul tick? How could he
have this kind of resilience, endurance? He just wouldn't quit.
I mean, one 39-lashes would do it for both of us
But he just kept going.
He just kept going. And I feel
that our text that we just read together really gives a glimpse into his
faith, how he gets restored, how he keeps going through the struggles in
his life. Fortunately, Paul had never been to Rome. So he
wasn't burdened down, in his letter to the Romans, about problems in the
church. He didn't know anything about them. It gave him the
opportunity to just sit down and write out his own faith. And it
was a gift to the church of Rome and it's a gift to our church -- it's
been a gift to the church for 2,000 years now.
The bedrock of our text rests on the
death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that's why our text begins
"therefore" -- to note that the living Christ is before us.
This is Father's Day, and I'm convinced
that fathers teach more when they don't know it, than they do when
they're trying to teach their children something. It was 62 years
ago that my Dad taught me a lesson on faith, which he didn't realize.
My brother, Dale, who is a year older than me, was taken with Paul (my
oldest brother) up to Black Mountain in Eastern Oregon, deer hunting.
Somehow, Dale managed to get himself lost. He got lost in the
morning, and by that evening, there were 150 men looking for him.
I was 8 at the time. I remember the next day, waking up in a
sleeping bag in the tent, my Dad walked in. He'd been out all
night long trying to find Dale. He sat down at the camp table and
I saw tears coming down his cheeks. Now that really sort of shook
me up, because when you're 8 years old your Dad is Superman. He
can do anything.
And then he began to pray. I saw
his mouth moving, I couldn't hear any words, but I knew what he was
doing. And this went on, what seemed like to an 8 year-old, a long
time. Then he was just silent for awhile. It was in that
moment of silence that we heard a scream and a signal shot. Dale
had been found.
It taught me, for my Dad, it was faith.
And there was a real pride in that. And I never forgot it.
Fifty-four years ago, Dale was at his
graduation service. There was about 12 in his class, but you know,
it was a big deal. I was in the band -- everybody who wasn't
graduating was in the band, you had to be helping out. The speaker
was the President of Eastern Oregon College. I can't remember a
word he said except for this story:
He told us how, during the Depression,
he lived on a farm in Kansas. And on this farm, during the
dust-bowl days, they had two crop failures, two years in a row. He
had three brothers, and his Dad just told them straight out "If we don't
get a crop this year, we're going to lose the farm". But as it
turned out, when the spring came a beautiful crop of wheat came up, was
even, and thick. It kept coming along, the rains came at the right
time, and they were going to have a bumper crop, no question about it.
There's nothing prettier than a Kansas wheat field blowing in the breeze
and ready for harvest. In those days, they had a stationary
threshing machine, and he and his brothers pulled that machine out, and
their Dad got it all dusted off and ready to run for the harvest.
And it was just then that this big black cloud came up, and it began to
hail. In 10 minutes time, there was 3 inches of ice all over the
ground. And the crop was done-for, they all knew what it meant.
His Dad stepped forward and said "Boys,
I left a tarp out in front of the machine shed, it's full of ice, if
you'll each go out and grab a corner of that tarp I'll bet we can get
enough ice together to make a good batch of ice cream".
He said his Dad didn't realize what he
had taught his boys, at that moment.
Paul said we also rejoice in our
sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance
produces character, and character produces hope. Paul must know
what he's talking about, he sure went through it. But we've had
episodes in our lives, haven't we, where our faith has helped us take
the next step.
Harold Willkie, was a psychiatrist and
also a theologian and a United Church of Christ minister. He came
and gave a lecture at the Phillips Graduate Seminary, so you know this
is an old story. Harold was an unusual man in that he didn't have
any arms. He had to struggle growing up, he learned how to dress
himself, to become self-sufficient, he even had a car that was rigged
with pedals so he could drive. He told them in his lecture about
driving down the highway and he pulled over to pick up a hitch-hiker.
And the hitch-hiker got in his car, and they started out, got up to
about 70 miles per hour, and pretty soon the hitch-hiker took a look at
him and his mouth dropped open, his eyes got a scared look, and he began
to talk non-stop!
"What do you do for a living?"
And Harold said: "I'm a preacher". The hitch-hiker was
dumbfounded. Then Harold said he was reading between the lines,
that he knew that he thought he was somehow deficient, and he was
worried and he was scared. But he said "In God's eyes, I'm whole.
God sees me as whole. And I choose to lead my life through the
eyes of God".
Fred Craddick, when he was a young man,
came to Phillips University. He was a professor in the
undergraduate school, so I never got a chance to take a class from him.
But word got around pretty quickly that he was a good preacher.
And he had a meeting in the student church outside of Enid, and I went
out to hear Fred Craddick preach. And one of the stories he told
left an impression on me.
He told about being a minister himself
before he was a professor, in Humboldt Tennessee. The workload had
been pretty rough, and he was so happy that it was vacation time.
There was something freeing about getting the family in the car and just
heading out of town. They went out of Humboldt Tennessee and went
east to the Smoky Mountains. There was a famous restaurant up
there called the Blackberry Inn, so Fred made a reservation. The
waiter led them back to a corner with a good sized table so the whole
family could sit down together. Just as they were ready to sit
down, this old gentleman showed up out of nowhere. And he said
"You mind if I join you?". Fred said that he kind of did mind, but
the guy was seated before he could say anything. So he sat down
with them. And be began to tell about his life.
He said "I was born just a couple miles
away from this restaurant. You know, I had a hard life growing up.
I never knew who my Dad was. I got teased a lot. We were so
poor, and it kind of had an effect on me. I became sort of a 'lone
wolf', just stuck to myself. But one thing that began to happen to
me was this old mountain church, log-cabin church. I'd go in, and
I'd make sure I was the last one in, I'd make sure that everybody else
went in first. And then I'd sit in the back row. Before the
'Amen!' was given at the end, I was out of there, so nobody slowed me
"But one Sunday (must have been
Easter), the back row was full. And more people were coming, and
they sort of herded me up to the 3rd row. So there I was sitting
in the middle of the 3rd row. I was so nervous, I couldn't hear a
word anyone was saying, I was just waiting for it to end so I could get
out. Finally, after an eternity, the preacher quit preaching, the
music stopped, and the people stood up to start visiting with each
other, and I couldn't get out the door! So I got down on my hands
and knees and crawled under a couple pews, saw daylight where the aisle
was, and got out to the aisle and started out, and just then I felt this
big hand on my shoulder. I looked up into the eyes of that
fearsome preacher. He had a beard, I thought he was pretty
fearsome -- at least from the back row. But up close it was a
different story, he didn't look that way -- he had a smile".
The preacher said he'd been noticing
him. "Yes sir, the resemblance is unmistakable. You are a
child of God". And he led him out the door, patted him on the
back-side, and said "You get out there and claim your inheritance".
Fred Craddick said by this time, he
recognized the man. His name was Ben Johnson, he was the 2-term
Governor of the state of Tennessee. But he looked back to that
time in that church when somebody told him he had worth. When
somebody told him there was grace, and he was part of it -- he was a
child of God.
There's no way we can receive this
grace in which we stand, and remain indifferent or uncommitted.
This grace is not a hitching post or a launching pad. The joy of
living and the joy of giving.
Christ was raised, living and going
before us in his way, with the peace of God, the grace in which we
stand. This enduring hope.
So let us open ourselves anew to this
good news. And let's claim it. Let's seek to live it out.
Our children are watching.