Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ … and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Romans 5:1-2.
To say that this has been a rough couple of months might be the understatement of the decade. Our country, our world changed overnight as the virus travelled around the globe, and all the routines, everything we considered “normal” was suddenly replaced by new terms we had never even heard before: social distancing, and self-isolation.
Then, in the weeks that followed, we began to see the economic impacts, as hard-working, self-supporting families turned to food banks, and hard decisions had to be made by people all around us; decisions whose effects will continue to ripple for months and years to come as we recover.
And with that, came the many less visible effects that have spread through every community, as isolation breeds depression, and people who had cleaned up and turned away from a life dependant on a bottle or a puff or a pill bought on the street were tempted to throw all that away to occupy their idle hands.
Many of us have also seen, or at least heard of, the effects of isolation for those whose homes are not happy places, as support structures – and ways to blow off steam – were taken away, and here in Canada, domestic violence help-lines have seen a 300% increase in calls, and that’s not to mention the normal, everyday grief and frustration that slowly simmers into anger as so many simply feel powerless as this invisible virus changes everything we’ve worked and hoped for, and everything from graduations and birthdays to mourning and supporting one another in times of need has changed.
And if that wasn’t enough, anyone who turns on the news knows the pain and deep division that’s coming to the surface now as racial tensions rise, and it seems day after day, even very close to home, video after video emerges to show just how depraved we can be in the way we treat one another.
It’s enough to make you throw your hands up in despair. No wonder the world around us is anxious.
…But then we turn to scripture. Hard as it is, we don’t turn to God’s Word to hear what we want to hear, but to hear what God is saying through the Church. And today, with all that’s happening in our world, what is God saying? “We have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ… and we boast in the hope of sharing in the glory of God.”
Boast in your hope.
Now I must say I’ve read this verse hundreds of times, but never before has that phrase jumped out like it did this week.
One of the marks of a Christian – one who has been forgiven, who has been made right in the eyes of God by believing and following Jesus – is that you boast in your hope.
Think about it: this is totally upside down from the world’s perspective. According to the world, we should boast in what we have, in what we’ve done. In the world, in the workplace, that’s how boasting works: people boast pridefully as they try to prove to others just how good they are. “I’ve done this, I’ve accomplished that; I built this from the ground up; look at my home, look at my car, look at my kids: one’s a teacher, one’s an engineer.”
But, for those following Jesus, that’s not the way. We boast in our hope; and hope, in a biblical sense, isn’t positive thoughts or wishful thinking. Hope, in scripture, is nothing short of the confident expectation that God will keep his promises.
When the world is swirling around us, when everywhere you look is nothing but bad news, those whose lives are built on themselves, on the work they have done, on their own accomplishments, are thrown into anxiety and despair. There’s not much to boast about when businesses are closed, bank accounts are draining, and you’re being asked the hard but serious questions about whether the opportunities you’ve been given and your success would have looked different based on the colour of your parents’ skin.
But, if we want to live as followers of Christ, we’re not to build our identity or our value or our worth in wealth or possessions or positions, we’re not to put our trust in the work of our own hands. The message of the cross is nothing short of radical surrender. The invitation of Jesus is to finally admit that we can’t do it on our own, that we can’t rely on ourselves, because, I can’t hope in my own future if I’m powerless to change the world around me, and the outcome of that, as we’re seeing every day, is anger, frustration, and despair.
Whether we work a trade like Sts. James and John, or work in an office like St. Matthew, or are among the ruling elite like Paul, or work with our hands and care for our families like Tabitha, all the world’s ambitions, hopes, and plans are worthless… all the world’s training in positive thinking and personal empowerment come crashing down when we learn, in times like these, that I really can’t control anything outside of myself, and no amount of worrying can add even a single hour to my life.
But the message of the cross is to surrender; to admit defeat; to stop playing the life-long games of trying to get ahead, and finally acknowledge my life is in God’s hands, I can’t do this on my own, I can’t see the path ahead… so Lord, let me follow you.
And when we finally bring ourselves to give up, everything changes.
My circumstances in this moment no longer matter. My identity, my value, my worth, isn’t found in the things I have done. Paul says I can even boast in my suffering.
Now, who in their right mind boasts in suffering… unless we have full confidence that even being the least of the sons and daughters of God is still better than all the praise or boasting that this world can offer.
It’s that confidence, that sure and certain hope, that the uncertainty, the frustration, the worry, the anger, the fear of today – even the loss of every thing that I have – cannot change my value or my worth as one who has been made right in the eyes of God by surrendering, by giving up the lead, and simply following the One who knows the way because he’s walked it before: Jesus knows poverty, he knows hunger, he knows ridicule and shame, he knows doubt, and he knows what it is to triumph over the sin of this world and to live not for yourself, but as a member of a body knit together by love, sacrifice, and a sure and certain hope in the One who holds the future.
Boast in your hope.
In spite of what’s happening around us, boast in the knowledge that tomorrow, and the day after that, and the days and weeks and years to come are in God’s hands; boast in the fact that your value isn’t in what you have or what you do, but in who you are in the eyes of God.
And does that mean all your anxiety goes away? Does that mean you never worry? Does that mean you won’t have days like I had on Friday morning when you are so darn frustrated that you’re ready to throw things out the window and snap at the next person unlucky enough to cross your path?
No. Not at all. That’ll still happen.
But that anxiety, that frustration, even that pain now carries no weight, because we know who holds tomorrow, and we know where our true worth is found.
And when we snap, or when we find out we were wrong, there’s no longer any need to be ashamed and get defensive. We can own it, and surrender once more, knowing that every time we’re out of line, the answer isn’t forging ahead, but to fall back and follow the Good Shepherd.
This is how we’re to live in difficult times. And, the harvest is plentiful – let’s not kid around, we don’t have to look very far to find someone who is anxious, depressed, frustrated, worried, angry, or fearful.
If we can learn to boast in our hope, even just a little, then two things happen:
We become the labourers in that harvest, like Jesus said. And, as we learn that confident hope, by God’s grace we find what we can never find for ourselves: that anxiety, that stress is replaced by a peace that passes understanding – a perfect peace that really makes no sense in the eyes of the world.
And yes, sometimes that hope sounds ridiculous. Who can blame Sarah for laughing anymore than we would laugh if someone said one of our dear 80-year-old ladies would bear a child. But that’s our task right now: to grin in the face of the impossible and say “God’s got this, I’m not going to worry about it; He’ll work it out, I’ll trust in Him, and follow where He leads, one day at a time”.
That’s hope to boast about. It sounds simple… simple enough that you and me, normal, everyday followers of Jesus, can start living that way today.
So let’s do it – because if there’s one thing the world needs now, it’s hope that the God who loves us will lead us, that his grace is sufficient, and that no matter what we face, he offers his peace; all we have to do is surrender and follow where he leads.
To God be the glory, now and forevermore. Amen.