Peace, Not Perfection
This week’s sacred story comes from Paul’s letter to the Roman church where they grapple with peace, justification, suffering and hope. Same. Read the full text from Romans [3:28-30] 5:1-11 here.
I want to invite you to take a few deep breaths, place your feet on the ground, lower your shoulders, relax your face. A few more deep breaths. Allow your mind to let go of all the things it’s trying to manage, all the “should”s, “could”s, and “have to”s. Breathe deep, breathe deep the breath of God. Linger here.
Do you feel a hint of peace? A glimpse of this peace that surpasses all understand. If you don’t, that’s ok too. It doesn’t seem to make sense to struggle to make yourself feel peaceful. In this scripture we are reminded that God meets us wherever we’re at. We are reminded that peace already belongs to us. It is the peace that was promised and is made real in Jesus Christ.
I’ve heard people say “you need to get right with God.” The apostle Paul writes about how God has already set us aright. That’s what justified means, it means things are made right. And scripture says that it has already been accomplished. Well, my instinct is to immediately argue. That can’t be true. How can I be declared right when I often feel so wrong? How can the world already be set aright when it also feels so terribly wrong?
The apostle Paul must have had similar thoughts. The people and the world around him were by no means perfect, not even close. I mean, life in the ancient Roman Empire was pretty messed up, aside from what I assume is the usual people hurting each other and themselves. How could he say these things about peace, hope, and love? And then in verse 6 he says, “WHILE we were still weak (not after), Christ died for us.” He goes on… “WHILE we were still sinners…” and even further… “For if WHILE we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.”
And then it hits me, we are justified, made right with God, filled with hope and love...not by our own hustle...but by God’s love. God demonstrates God’s love for us even and especially when it seems like we don’t deserve it, or when we’re at odds with the world. That’s where God does not abandon us but doubles down on insisting just how much we are loved. It is precisely when and where I feel like everything has gone to shit, that God says “I’ve still got you. I always have and I always will.” Sometimes I don’t even realize that under the weight of all this suffering, I subconsciously assumed that God was looking at me with the same disgust I had for myself or that God had even given up on me entirely. Sometimes I don’t even realize how badly I needed to hear these words from God. “We’re alright.”
And in that moment, my soul feels washed clean, still a bit heavy but somehow renewed, at peace. And then somehow, hope wiggles through. It’s a hope that goes beyond good vibes. It is a hope that does not disappoint. Hope that is not diminished even in suffering. Suffering does not separate us from the love of God in Christ, despite all evidence to the contrary. In fact, it is out of the depths of suffering, that God delivers new life. That same suffering that threatens to annihilate us can also produce fruit - the fruits of the Spirit - endurance, character, hope.
Now, this does NOT mean that we need seek out suffering NOR do we inflict suffering on others and justify it in this way. As in “maybe God wanted awful things to happen to you so you could learn some life lesson.” No. Or “sorry I made your life miserable, maybe God is just trying to teach how to be as amazing as me.” Miss me with that. That is not at all what Paul is saying. I don’t want to pretend that all suffering is productive or that it’s all for some greater good. I think there are too many people we allow to continue suffering, in isolation. We avert our eyes, perpetuate, or rationalize. And then sometimes suffering just is what it is. We know all too well that suffering is a part of our world, it doesn’t need our help through either apathy or glorification.
BUT the promise is that we need not live in the debilitating fear of it. God is not separate from but is present and moving in the midst of our suffering. God does not stand at a distance, with vague shouts of “it’s gonna be ok,” but enters into the mire with us.
This is what gives me hope. It’s what how I dare to speak of hope even when I’m not feeling it, until somehow it wiggles its way into my heart again. It is God’s endurance alongside me, God’s character of faithfulness, God’s hope for humanity and for the world. This is what strengthens me in times of trouble, to put one foot in front on the other, and to be transformed by the unending love of God through the Holy Spirit. God’s love, that has been poured into your hearts through the Holy Spirit, carries us through toward hope.
And so we boast in God’s triumph. We boast that what looked like the crucifixion of this poor Galilean guy is actually God’s epic victory, where God breaks in but we are also lifted up. We boast that this is not just some event in the past to say “oh that was nice” but still has ongoing relevance. We boast that neither ourselves nor others can say or do anything to us to contradict what God has already declared for us. That we ARE good and we ARE loved by God, even and especially in our mess. Amen.