Oct 11, 2022

The Scripture

Romans 5: 1-11

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. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but wealso glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

The Sermon

Goodbye. Goodbyes are the subject of my sermon this morning. You’ll remember a couple of weeks ago, we talked about how important it is to say goodbye to something that is ending so we can say hello to what is beginning, something new. This week we are staying with the “goodbye,” a place we would rather move quickly through and on to the next. But we’re not moving forward into the hello. No, we’re lingering in the goodbye, fully recognizing that it is a place we would rather not be. We are remaining in the goodbye so we can honor what the goodbye can mean to us and what we can learn. So, this sermon is for those of us who have lived long enough to know that we have had some difficult goodbyes. Some of our goodbyes are around dreams that will not be realized, dreams that we have to let go of. I’m not saying we can’t still have dreams; I’m saying that some will never be fulfilled. I can’t help but think that Paul might have felt that some of his dreams and hopes for his ministry would not be realized in his lifetime. We are going to the book of Romans today in a letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome. It is thought that this letter might have been his last letter. This tells us that he has over two decades of teaching, preaching, writing letters, and traveling from city to city. That’s a lot of years! Paul has experienced a lot of goodbyes, and he has a perspective that gives encouragement and hope to the grieving heart. 

I don’t think I have ever shared this with you, but there was a time in my life when I dreamed of being a physician…I thought my work as a physical therapist and my deep compassion for hurting people would make me a perfect candidate for medical school. I really wanted to be a doctor! I took classes and studied for exams, but it wasn’t to be…grief filled my heart. I asked God why, and I questioned God. I didn’t have words for my grief…but Kate Bowler does. She calls it mourning a future self. That’s what I had to grieve, my future self. Does this resonate with you? Is there a future self you have mourned?

Of course, we grieve dreams not fulfilled, but we also grieve losses that come and go throughout our lives…spouses dying, divorce, jobs loss, friendships have gone…the list goes on and on. A goodbye goes with everything that we grieve. Kate Bowler said something in her book that caused me to pause a bit; she said, “we mourn not in general but in particular. After all, love is in the details.” This very comment caused me to wonder, do we sometimes avoid naming precisely what is causing us our grief? Do we gloss over the details of our losses so we don’t have to go deep inside and face the actual reality before us, the true reality that is so painful? It is so much easier to just move on…yet I’m not sure the path of faithfulness is easier. Being faithful is honoring our humanity and the full spectrum of emotional experiences that pepper our lives. It’s honoring yourself to say I miss my partner, my friend, my dog, my neighbor, I miss working, I miss …..you fill in the blank. But this honoring who we are with our losses requires honesty…honesty about what’s happening on the inside. Kate Bowler says, “loss requires us to reimagine hope. But before hope comes acknowledgment. Let us count not only our blessings but our losses.” Have you ever thought of grief in this way? Grief is experiencing loss, and acknowledging loss leads to hope. 

Paul knew about losses, suffering, disappointment, and, most of all, he knew about hope. He knew about hope because he suffered, and he persevered through his suffering because of his call to be a servant of Jesus Christ. I imagine what came to his mind often was the experience he had of Jesus speaking to him on the way to Damascus. He would remember over and over again the call that Jesus put on his heart. It would not let him stop or let him give up. And through his perseverance, Paul learned who he was and to whom he belonged. 

So, Paul realized that something comes from his suffering, that it was not meaningless or futile. And Paul told us that character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us. Why does hope not disappoint us? Because our hope is found in the living God, and God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 

So, for me, the grief of not getting into medical school was short-lived. A trip to Nigeria to visit missionary friends, encouragement from a pastor, and the work of the Holy Spirit turned my grief into the hope of becoming a pastor…and you know how that ended! Kate Bowler tells us, “…when you cannot have the future you imagined, let the tears flow. Let yourself mourn. Pour out your grief in all its truth, with all your power, in whatever form comes. Tell God the whole of it. Even though it hurts. And especially the honest, angry parts.” We need to say our goodbyes and acknowledge our goodbyes. Remember, Kate said we mourn not in general but in particular. Still, then she added this beautiful connection to our losses. She said love is in the details!

Something comes from our losses, from our grief too! And all these goodbyes are not meaningless or pointless. Our goodbyes require us to reimagine hope. And hope will not disappoint us, for God is in the details of our lives. Hope will rise out of the ashes of our goodbyes so that God’s love can be poured into our hearts. Amen