We have all heard about the tornado damage throughout the Midwest and especially in Oklahoma. It seemed that an explanation of the Trinity did not seem enough this week, even though it was Trinity Sunday. In looking at the second lesson from Romans, it spoke of Hope. After these most recent natural disasters, discussing the fact that suffering leads to hope seems like a good idea. Or is it? How can you tell the families that the suffering they are experiencing now, the loss of a loved one, of a child, of a home, a community, a livelihood, will produce endurance and that will produce character and eventually you will get to hope?
Already we have heard people say that the devastation is an act of God and that it is God’s will, part of His plan. But that just doesn’t work. It doesn’t fit with what we know about God. If we look at it as God’s plan, that means that he saved us but that someone else had to die. After what God did through Jesus’s death and resurrection, it really doesn’t seem like this would be God’s plan. It just doesn’t sound right. On Memorial Day, we will memorialize the over one million souls who have given their lives so we can have freedom. We cannot understand how this can be God’s plan either, that someone has to die so that we can have peace. In our own families, we have all had our own share of suffering, things that just don’t make sense; bad things happening to good people. Can this truly be God’s plan? After September 11th in lower Manhattan, they interviewed people asking questions about faith and doubt. An Orthodox Rabbi who was interviewed didn’t try to explain the mystery of God. There is no answer to the question of evil and suffering. He said he felt his job or task is to help people live in the mystery that is God.
For us, if Paul were standing amongst us right now telling us that our suffering will eventually lead to hope, we’d probably be a little mad at him right now. But let’s take a second look at what he wrote, at the beginning of the reading it says, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God”. Paul was writing to a congregation in Rome and although he had never been there, he knew they were suffering and he was offering words of encouragement to try and lift them up. He wanted them to know that their suffering was not in vain because through our baptism, God has already chosen us. We can boast because we are not defined by our suffering. God defines us. We understand that God is with us. He revealed his heart to us on the cross. This knowledge helps us learn how to live with the mystery. It helps to make sense of what Paul said. We already have the hope because we are among God’s chosen people. He is with us always, helping us through the suffering, giving us endurance, producing character and above all sharing with us a “hope that does not disappoint us”. God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit at our baptism.
Pastor then told the story of a dog, who was pretty laid back. Every Friday the family would sit down together to watch a movie rented from one of those movie rental places. (Yeah, this had to have been a while ago!) Anyhow, the dog would get excited, herding the family together onto the sofa to watch the movie. After the family settled in to watch the movie, they would have popcorn and drinks and the dog would lay there and watch them, keeping an eye on them to make sure that everyone stayed in the room so the movie would not be delayed. She had no idea what the family was doing, it was a mystery to her. And after the movie, the VCR tape would be put into the re-winder to get it ready to go back to the store and this is when the dog would go into an absolute tizzy, jumping and barking, running around the room because he knew that when the tape was snapped back into its case, he could go for a ride to return the video to the store. The dog was willing to live in the mystery due to the hope of the ride.
We also live in that hope, in the excitement that one day we get to go with God, and that hope doesn’t disappoint.