Too Hot to Handle: Poured Out, Romans 5:1-5
First United Methodist Church, June 16, 2019
Pastor Toni Carmer
“Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As I began focusing on the text for this morning, these are the words that caught my attention, particularly, the phrase: we have peace with God. From there, the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul,” came to mind, and since the words and tune kept playing through my mind, I decided that singing it would be the way we should begin the message this a.m.
Peace with God/It is well with my soul, seem to go hand in hand, don’t you think?
Perhaps you know the story behind the hymn. In 1873, Chicago lawyer Horatio G. Spafford sent his wife and four daughters on a European trip, with plans to join them later. His family sailed on the SS Ville du Havre, which was struck by another ship and sank. Mrs. Spafford survived, but the daughters were lost. She cabled her husband from Cardiff, Wales: “Saved alone.” Spafford sailed to meet his wife and wrote this text near the scene of the tragedy. The tune (written 3 years later by Philip P. Bliss) is soul-catching and carries the name of the sunken ship. The words of the song carry us through pain and into a place of hope. A place of peacefulness even in the midst of the tragedies we encounter in our lives.
So, what is peace? What does it look like? How do we obtain it?
Some would say they’d like to experience peace of mind. (Let’s start small.)
- We might think that successfully climbing to the top of whatever kind of work we take on in life will bring us a sense of peace, relating peace to accomplishment. We may think: I’ve done what I hoped to do. My ducks are all in a row. I’m successful, therefore, I have peace of mind.
- Some might say that becoming everything one has always wanted to be will bring them peace. I’m talking less about success/accomplishment and more about being true to one’s self. Psychologists might chime in on that one, saying that peace of mind is the result of cultivating an intimate knowledge of oneself, knowing and valuing the person you are and want to be, and living fully in the moment.
- Some might say that managing one’s external world will bring about peace of mind: setting boundaries, sipping decaf tea, listening to quiet music, maybe soaking in a hot bubble bath. No doubt, that all sounds pretty peaceful. Unfortunately, you and I don’t have the ability to control the outside world, and at some point have to step out of the bubble of peace we’ve created and into the world where there are all kinds of non-peaceful things happening.
- Finally, others might look outside themselves and define peace in a much broader and less personal way, noting that you and I live in a world where conflict and hopelessness seem to be epidemic, where people live in competition with one another, seeking attention, success, and even competing for the basics of life. Someone is always fighting with someone else about something. Peace seems to be pretty elusive.
But Paul, I think, is talking about yet another kind of peace: peace with God. This is a peace that doesn’t originate with us, but comes from God, offered to us through the person of Christ. The promised reign of God, the shalom prophesied by Isaiah, begins to be fulfilled in the birth of Jesus and is made manifest in his life.
The peace of Christ, as defined in the Hebrew roots of shalom is about the fullness of life, the fertility of the land, the blessings of God, the joy of community. It is living out of the promise of peace that comes through our prayers and our actions. That cry for peace is as necessary today as it was when Paul first wrote this letter to the Christians in Rome.
As this 5th chapter in Romans begins, Paul talks about peace with God as the foundation for peace in general—the preposition “with” being the operative word of the phrase.
This is the first peace.
Let’s hear again verses 1 and 2: “Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In the New Revised Standard Version and in the New International Version, instead of “made righteous,” the translation is “justified,” which basically means that we exist now “just as though we had not sinned.” This is because of Christ’s dying on the cross for us/for our sins. God sees us as righteous, clean, washed of our sin.
God has no argument with us. We have peace with God, and God has peace with us, all thanks to Jesus. Which is, of course, a pretty cool thing.
It’s always fun to imagine different scenarios in our world today that help us to see just how cool/how unexpected grace really is. Here’s one: imagine you’ve committed a crime, but so far the authorities haven’t caught onto you. But to keep from being found out, you need to move around a lot. You create false identities. You use aliases. You’re always looking over your shoulder. You have no peace with the law, and the law has a rap sheet as long as your arm against you. It’s like every week or two, you’re on page 3 in the Jail Bookings in some community’s newspaper.
But then, it all disappears. Maybe the law nabs the wrong person. You’d have an ethical responsibility to set that straight. Or maybe the evidence room is destroyed in a fire, or there’s a huge computer glitch that strikes your name out of every “naughty list” in the country. Charges can’t be brought against you. Something’s happened and now you don’t need to run anymore. You don’t need to worry about getting caught.
That’s what Paul is saying here. The law is satisfied. Your slate has been wiped clean. You’ve been given a fresh start. You are in a state of peace with God and God is no longer demanding justice. Justice is done.
Without this peace with God, it’s pretty much impossible to have any other kind of peace. We continue to be filled with doubt and fear, realizing that we’re not the people we want to be; we’ve fallen short of being who God created us to be. We continue to focus on our past mistakes or worry about the future, and aren’t able to stand on the promises of God and experience joy in the new life we’ve been offered.
But if we have peace with God, Paul says that we are then able to live with a new kind of peace: the peace of God—this time the word “of” being our focus.
In verse 3, after Paul says we have peace with God, he goes on to say that we “also boast (again, different translations use different words: glory, rejoice, take pride. I kind of like “take comfort.” )in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and 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.”
Peace with God leads to the peace of God, and that is a peace that produces actual peace of mind within us. We have freedom from anxiety and panic because God is present with us in the Holy Spirit. It is not a peace that is dependent on circumstances but based on faith that God is at work in us and is caring for us. We can have joy and peace when it matters most, especially, when we are in the midst of difficult times. It’s this kind of inner peace that makes us resilient and makes us stand out in contrast to an anxious world.
Someone at Conference yesterday noted the kind of peace that Jesus has. He’s not pacing the floor, ringing his hands, trying to figure out what he might do next. Jesus has peace with God, and the peace of God.
We are able to experience this peace, as well.
A couple of months ago, perhaps you were able to be at the Well to listen to the witness of Becky Hahn who lost both an arm and a leg in a farm accident last fall. My understanding is that she was an amazing woman before the accident, and that hasn’t changed. She is a ball of fire, working hard to do the things she did before her accident, and witnessing to her faith every step along the way. She’s an inspiration and you can’t help but be attracted to her. She has this peace and this joy that radiates and encourages. I was thankful to listen to her witness and to her strength that comes from God. She has the peace of God that passes all understanding. She has experienced the Holy Spirit poured out, and it fills her.
But here’s the thing: the personal experience of peace isn’t the end goal. Peace always comes to us on the way to someone else.
Think of when Jesus sent his disciples out to spread the good news. He told them to greet everyone saying “Peace to this house” (Luke 10:5). Peace wasn’t intended to be an inner feeling/a feeling of contentment and happiness, peace was something they were to extend to others. Later in Romans, Paul says it this way, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (12:18). When we have peace with God, we also receive the peace of God, and that leads us to become peacemakers for God. We extend God’s peace to others. The peace we share is what really matters.
Toward the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans, beyond what we’ve read today in chapter 12, verses 9-21, Paul offers us guidance as to how people of peace act peacefully:
- They show genuine love to others (v. 9 & 10). People who live peaceably hate evil and hold fast to what is good, serving one another in mutual affection and showing honor to one another.
- They are enthusiastic, serving the Lord with the fire of the Spirit (v. 11). People of peace are genuinely pleased to serve and to do God’s work…it feels good and right and brings blessings.
- They have hope without regard to their circumstances. They’re patient in suffering and fervent in prayer (v. 12).
- They contribute to the needs of the saints and show hospitality to strangers (v. 13).
- They are able to bless their persecutors instead of cursing them (v. 14).
- They are empathic, rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep (v. 15).
- There is no jealousy, but a genuine hope for the well-being of others.
- They live as part of a community where they see everyone as equals and are humble about their own abilities (v. 16).
- And finally, they don’t seek revenge when they’re wronged. Instead, they care for their enemies and let God handle the rest (v. 19-21). Instead of overcoming evil with retaliation or revenge, they conquer evil with good to the point that their enemies are embarrassed. (The RSV says, “by doing this, you will heap burning coals upon their heads. Overcome evil with evil”).
Peace with God leads to the peace of God which leads to peacemaking—something we can help to bring about through the power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit—that has been poured out, and into us.
Scott gave me this Peace Pole when I was in seminary, which I keep in my office. It has written on it, “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in 4 different languages. About 10 years ago, we bought another one, a big and colorful one, that stands in our front yard. They remind us of our task to be peacemakers. They are reminders, as Paul says, that “God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
The Holy Spirit has been given to us for a reason. We can breathe in that Holy Spirit, be comforted by its presence, and know that we’re never alone. But God gave us this gift that we might be empowered to do God’s work. To make a difference.
May we receive and experience the gift of God’s Spirit. May we experience God’s peace. May that peace settle into our hearts and minds and fill us in such a way that in the places where we live and work and breath, we may be God’s peacemakers.
We pray this in Jesus name. Amen.