Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 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.
Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers and father-figures in the house today. Statistically, you’re bucking the norm simply by being here. Father’s Day is notoriously a low attendance Sunday in most churches across the United States. Mother’s Day worship attendance rivals Easter but on Dad’s day – many seem to be opting out of Sunday worship. That’s not a judgment… just a statistical observation. Some churches are gimmicking hard to get dads to church today. In the spirit of Paul who said, “I’ve become all things to all people that I might win some,” I heard about one church who is holding drawings in their worship service today for a .22 caliber rifle, a custom engraved pocket knife and holding a bacon buffet between services. Maybe that will take. Maybe a guy who wouldn’t otherwise step foot in a church will be pulled into the presence of Christ via the smell of bacon. Maybe. I’m not sure if this was Paul’s idea theologically speaking but… Who am I to say? I do think there’s gotta be more, right? We may be drawn to and clap for the spectacle for a while but at some point, the emptiness is too painful if there’s nothing deeper that we’re longing for in the great quest for meaning in our lives.
I’m a dad myself. I often have those moments of seeing one of my kids doing something… it may even be the most mundane of things… and I marvel that I have been called to play a formative role in their lives. That lump can find its way to my throat wondering what I’m not doing as well as I should, wondering if I’m striking the right balance of boundary-making and trusting them to learn on their own. We get caught up in matters of provision and ladder climbing and all the rest… and sometimes we do so in the name of – “Hey, I’m just taking care of my family.” But… like everyone else on the planet – in the end, our souls long for something more.
Classic rock fans will remember the chorus from the band Boston’s 1976 hit, “Peace of Mind.” It says, “I understand about indecision. I don’t care if I get behind. People livin’ in competition; All I want is to have my peace of mind.” Even if you know that song, you may not know the story behind those lyrics. The band’s founder and lead guitar player, Tom Scholz was an MIT grad working as a senior engineer for Polaroid while he was getting the band together. Plugging away at the day job, Scholz noticed that all around him, people were “climbing to the top of the company ladder” but didn’t realize, in his estimation, that they were propping that ladder against the wrong building. Scholz was not inspired by the predictability of corporate life. He wanted “peace of mind,” thus the song urging any who would listen to “take a look ahead” to something better. Peace of mind. Do you have it?
Robert Mitchum, an actor known for his keen roles as a villain – back-in-the-day as it were – is listed as the 23rd-greatest male star of classic Hollywood cinema. When asked about his contribution to cinema, Mitchum famously downplayed his career saying, “Look, I have two kinds of acting. One on a horse and one off a horse.” On his way to Hollywood stardom, Mitchum had all kinds of experiences in his life. He grew up in New York’s gritty “Hell’s Kitchen” neighborhood, rode the rails as vagabond, spent time on a Georgia chain gang and even had a stint in the boxing ring. Through all of that he came to a place of defining for himself what it meant to have peace of mind. He defined peace of mind as “becoming the person I always wanted to be.” No matter what he did in his life, he knew that peace of mind was the result of an internal orientation – not dependent on all of the external realities of his life. Peace of mind. Do you have it? Hmmm.
What about Mitchum’s idea of peace of mind – “becoming the person you always wanted to be.” Do you buy it? It’s a fascinating premise. And we try things on in the search for peace – a little more mindfulness; a new meditative practice; journaling thoughts and prayers. Peace of mind. Why the struggle? Especially as a person of faith – we’re supposed to grow through life’s anxieties, uncertainties and fears, right? But is there enough for us to make our way to peace? Are we enough? Paul’s sorting through these same questions himself when he writes this letter to the Roman church. He was a passionate thinker and having sold out to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – he was constantly considering the implications for the world. What is God up to? What’s behind all of this and where is it going? As Eugene Peterson says,
“Paul takes logic and argument, poetry and imagination, Scripture and prayer, creation and history and experience and weaves them into this letter that has become the premier document of Christian theology.”
Remember Paul’s own journey – it’s sort of like Robert Mitchum’s – he’s been everywhere, man. As a ladder-climbing, successful, Pharisee, Paul fought for his own peace of mind through achievement. His encounter with Jesus changed his perspective – he knew peace was not an external quest but an internal depth. And so in this famed passage from Romans 5 – Paul lays out this path to peace that is not something we achieve, but a refining gift that comes in our connection with God. In fact, that’s what he names first. “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ – through whom we’ve found grace.” Peace with God – the pathway to peace. Seems easy enough but we know it’s more challenging than that.
H.G. Wells tells a story of a man who was stressed out to the max – his mind was so strained, and he was in serious danger of a total mental collapse and breakdown. His doctor told him the only thing that could save him was to find the peace that fellowship with God can give. “What?!?” the man says. “To think of that, up there, having fellowship with me!? I would as soon think of cooling my throat with the Milky Way or shaking hands with the stars!” To him – a connection with God was unfindable. Just impossible. Making peace with God can be a challenge of course. There’s a piece of our spirit that is so independent. We’re often raised this way, right? Our culture says, “You go get yours. You go earn your way. You control your own destiny.” And I’m all for effort and giving it your best – that’s what partnership with the gifts God has implanted within you works. But the hardest thing for many of us to do – and maybe those superhero dads especially – is accept that you are not God. Having peace with God is the acceptance that we don’t have to be.
Bob Goff is one of the most animated speakers you’ll ever hear and a guy who’s sort of a real-life Forest Gump in the sense that he’s been everywhere and done everything. Bob tried out for the role of Peter Pan when his elementary school put on the production. He didn’t get the part – turns out he couldn’t sing or dance or fly so… He did land a role, however. His official title was Tree #4. He had no lines. Didn’t even get a tree name like maple or birch or oak. His role was just to stand there, hold out his arms and look like a tree. His name didn’t make the program. No bouquets or gifts showered on him opening or closing nights. As uneventful as the role may have seemed, Bob loved it. He said, “I knew what was needed; my role was clear and it wasn’t too complicated. I knew what was mine to do.”
What Bob writes next brings this closer to home:
“Something changes for many of us after we leave elementary school. We try to make ourselves the hero or the victim of every story. Something goes wrong and we want to be the victim; something goes right and we want to make ourselves the hero. It doesn’t seem to matter which it is as long as we make it all about us. But if we make everything about us, it’ll never be about Jesus. What I’m coming to realize,” he writes, “is we’re not the heroes and we’re not the victims of all the stories happening around us. We’re just Tree #4.”
This is what we mean when we say, “You’re not God and you don’t have to be.” Peace with God is about discovering what you were made for… what is yours to do… and then doing it.
Making peace with God somehow opens us to know the peace of God. The peace of God is more mysterious than making peace with God. It is a receiving and trusting that seldom makes obvious sense. Mother Teresa knew that peace. Someone once asked her to pray that they would have clarity about a particular situation. Her response was humbling if not a tad shocking: “I will not do that,” she said. “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of. I have never had clarity,” she said. “What I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.” Experiencing the peace of God must come through this sense of trust and trust isn’t often our strong suit.
Paul’s pushing this idea of trust of God that brings about the peace of God when he says quite bluntly, “It’s gonna be tough.” He then has the audacity to push it further, “Boast in the toughness.” Thanks but no thanks, Paul. I think I’ll pass. He says, “No. Hear me out.”
“We boast in our sufferings because we know 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.”
Oh. Okay then. We all want the results of making it through hard things. “Builds good character,” we say… and who doesn’t want to be known for their good character. We want to be seen as resilient. But the journey; the process… can often seem too much. “We don’t want to,” as my friend and colleague Erin Wathen says, “wait for the teaching moment.” We don’t have patience for the teaching moment to come. Wisdom only comes through such experience as hard as it can be. I’m not one who believes God forces such hardship on us to teach us lessons. In this way, I’m not a “everything happens for a reason” guy. I buy that first part – “Everything happens.” What I believe next is about trust and peace and faith. Now that this has happened – what can we learn? What does Love say? What is God’s promise still? What can this transform? Being resurrection people means we imagine redemption is there, around us, within us, ready to be released into the healing needs of the world.
Last Tuesday marked the anniversary of the death of our beloved Jim Rosenlieb. His life was taken brutally and unnecessarily. His last words to me still ring in my soul. I hear those words in my soul in his very voice. I miss him. This passage from Romans was the lectionary reading assigned for today… of all the passages of scripture, this one was selected in a three-year rotation to be read this day. It was the same passage that “dinged” Mark’s phone (Jim’s son) as he was in route to Tulsa to be with his mom that day. I don’t know how it all works… but I know this passage, dinging Mark’s phone, on that day… meant something profound to him. And I trust that too. I’m not grateful for what happened. I’m not over what transpired to our brother Jim. But there’s a surpassing peace somewhere, somehow, that finds its way through the cracks of our shattered realities. Paul describes this elsewhere as “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.” (Phil. 4:7). This is not even a fake-it-‘til-you-make-it sort of deal for me… although I did hear someone call it “Faith it ‘til you make it.” which did give me reason to pause. This peace of God, however, is a gift… not some psychological discipline like marathon runners seem to have. It is a redemptive gift that we can’t create but we can come to know.
You’ve probably somewhat familiar with Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer. It’s a favorite of the Twelve-Step recovery movement. Typically, the first line is the one that gets quoted:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
It gets put on bumper stickers and crocheted into wall hangings. The rest of Neibuhr’s prayer is seldom-quoted. Do you know it? Here’s the rest of the prayer:
“Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace; taking, as [Jesus] did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that he will make all things right if I surrender to his will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with him forever in the next.”
Peace with God opens us to the peace of God… but that’s not where peace finally lands. Any peace we have gleaned comes to us on its way to someone else. When Jesus sent out his disciples, he told them to greet everyone with “Peace to this house.” And I think it was more than just a sales tactic to get their foot in the door to sell them a vacuum sweeper with a side of Gospel. I think he meant it. Paul… who was at odds with most everyone he met given his past, his present and his passion for the future… he included “Peace” as one the fruits of the Spirit and said, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom 12:18). This shared peace is really where redemption is found. This is the peace that leads people who have been through hell to say, “I want my suffering and my response to that suffering to bring hope to somebody else.” And what does Paul say about hope? Hope does not disappoint.
I know a pastor who resigned from his church on Easter Sunday a number of years ago – not really how they script it in seminary. But he was done. His life was falling apart, his spirit was dry. His marriage was disintegrating and everything that had been his identity – all he perceived to be the things that told him he mattered and he was special and he was important – were crumbling and he couldn’t do it anymore. He could have quoted this passage about all the boasting in the suffering and the endurance and character and hope stuff but he wouldn’t have meant it. But time and prayer and losing and finding and wonder and hope and trust do have a way of coming around. As he wrote about his heart wrenching passage through these darkest trials of his life, he was also able to encourage others going through their own trials, saying, “As much as you may have felt like you lost yourself, your presence in this world is enough for somebody else to feel found.”
I know you’ve been through some stuff. I know you’re going through some stuff now. I know the future is uncertain and there are days when it seems like the future is just rude for expecting you to enter into it. But your presence in this world is enough for somebody else to feel found. Kanakuk Counselors – your presence this week is enough to make a child know the love of Christ. Dads – as Mother Teresa also said, “You want to change the world – go home and love your family.” Friends, your presence is hope. Your presence, in this spirit, is the very peace of God. That’s no bacon buffet, I know. But we’re made for more than bacon. We’re made for the glory of God… with all of our struggles and pain and experiences and rejections and heartaches… we’re called to redeem it. Richard Rohr says it this way, “If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it.” The world has plenty of transmitters… let’s be transformers, shall we? Amen.
 Story of Scholz and Mitchum as shared by Bob Kaylor, Senior Writer for Homiletics Online in his work, “Real Peace.” www.homileticsonline.com.
 As found in William Barclay’s commentary on “The Letter to the Romans.” Westminster Press. 1975.
 Everybody Always. Bob Goff. Nelson Publishing. 2018.