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This Grace in Which We Stand

Sermon - 6/15/08
John Moore
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Romans 5:1-8

Our scripture is Romans, chapter 5, verses one through eight (I'd like you to read this with me, from your pew Bibles):

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 us.

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 Testament.

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 J.  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 down".

"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.

Amen.

 


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