By Rev. Ken Suhr
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” -Romans 5:1-5
What do you get when you put 4 pastors, 2 campus ministers, and 1 activist (who all grew up in the UMC, but come from different parts of the country, different ethnic backgrounds, and have differing theological, political perspectives) in a small space for four days? Sounds like a joke (and one can make a case for this), but this is my accountability group that meets every year... and what you get are lively, contentious, sometimes painful, and eye-opening “conversations.” But after 20 years of gathering, while differences still remain, there is something we share and embrace together every year.
Our passage today reminds us of the eternal blessings that cannot be taken away from us no matter how much we agree or disagree with one another... for the blessings identified in Romans 5:1-5 do not come from human effort, but from the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul clearly articulates before and after our passage that the blessings... of peace with God, access to God’s grace, having a hope that cannot be tainted or taken away, and the experience of God’s love being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit... all come from the work of the One who said, “Thy will be done.”
“Thy will be done” were not only words prayed in a Garden on Thursday, but words acted upon on Friday... and words that were realized on Sunday! Have we, who have experienced such grace, and we, who have said yes to being disciples of Jesus Christ... spent time in the same Garden, and known what it is to live through Fridays so others might experience Sundays?
About 15 years ago, the activist in my group said that the problem with evangelicals is that they are always fighting against or for something that doesn't require change in their own lives. How convenient. However, in recent years, this individual has shared with me that although the beliefs and posters of progressives are different, the same unwillingness to change and sacrifice our preferences and privileges is the same. In short, the issue is the same... that we are so quick to fight for beliefs, but unwilling to actually change our lives and sacrifice for others. The issue too often is that we form a Jesus and an ideology to suit ourselves... which may not be ideology, but idolatry.
As we pray for all who gather in St. Louis in the upcoming week, let us also pray for the Holy Spirit to overwhelm all United Methodists globally with the assurance and knowledge of the peace, hope, and love that comes through Jesus Christ. Let us also pray for the Holy Spirit to cut through all our positioning and self-deception, and show us how we can be, as John Wesley said, “rigorous in judging ourselves and gracious in judging others.” Now, that’s a prayer!
My yearly group is not perfect, but it’s the group I have... and I am thankful that amidst our differences, it helps me continue to realize who the real Jesus is, and how I can faithfully live so that others might experience peace with God, access to all the blessings that God desires for all God’s children, hope that cannot be taken away, and the knowledge of the love of God that has been poured out for us all.
God of grace and power, we praise you for the eternal blessings that can never be taken away. Lord, we need you to overwhelm us with your grace once again. We need you to give us clarity, courage, and a spirit to persevere with you and for you and not against you. Lord, we need you. Show us our part, and may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In Jesus’ more than able name we pray, Amen.