We talk a lot in our faith about peace and hope. We certainly know what those things are, and when we can feel them and when we can’t. But where do they come from?
According to Paul, peace and hope come from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and often as we move through difficult times. That’s a pretty big concept, though. What does this work of the Holy Spirit feel like? How do you know it when it shows up?
I’ve known a lot of people who have gone through unbelievably difficult times and they have come out stronger — and with this amazing sense of hope and an unshakeable feeling of peace. Instead of being destroyed by a horrific experience — and coming out of it with their sense that anything good can happen dashed — they emerge from these difficulties with incredibly strong character, deep peace, and real hope for the future.
Recently, I was sitting at a table with a young pastor from Oregon. I noticed that he had a tattoo on his left arm that was a passage in Greek. When he noticed that I was reading the tattoo, trying to translate it, I said, “I’m looking at your tattoo and trying to figure out what the passage is!”
He said, “Do you recognize it?”
“I’m picking up on some words,” I replied, “but I’m not fully getting it.”
So he told me the story of that tattoo — and what the passage was. He got that tattoo because when he decided that he was going to become a United Methodist pastor, his mother and father rejected him and haven’t spoken to him since. They have not even met their grandchildren.
That passage, he said, reframed his whole life. He told me that he does have a family. He does have brothers and sisters. The passage? Matthew 12:46-50. It reads,
While Jesus was speaking to the crowds, his mother and brothers stood outside trying to speak with him. Someone said to him, “Look, your mother and brothers are outside wanting to speak with you.” Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” He stretched out his hand toward his disciples and said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother.”
He had experienced the complete rejection of his family because of his faith — and yet he endured that and grew stronger in character and integrity as the Holy Spirit worked in his life to remind him constantly that he is a child of God. That was truly an example of “trouble produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope.” This young man grew stronger and came out of that terrible experience living his whole life with hope, knowing that he is a child of God with many brothers and sisters.
He also had a tattoo on the other arm.
“Tell me about that one,” I encouraged.
“Well, that’s another story,” he said.
He then told me about his little girl who had a brain bleed when she was 8 years old. She eventually came through it and is going to be OK, he said, but this other tattoo was to honor her and that experience. This man is not yet 40 — probably mid-thirties — and he has endured a lot — but he is a person of hope, maybe even more so than others who have been through much less. I was impressed.
So where does that kind of hope come from — and how do you get it if you don’t have it? It can’t be manufactured, that’s for sure.
I think it has to do with the way you deal with trouble.
Trouble can produce endurance, but it certainly doesn’t always. I think it’s when you rely on the presence of God, trusting in God to see you through, to enable you to endure the hardships or troubles or even the suffering that is coming your way, the way you handle those troubles in relation to God can produce endurance–help you to endure.
And then, as you endure, the experience becomes part of what builds character. And it’s that character that produces a kind of hopefulness in you: “I’ve seen trouble, I’ve endured it, I got through it.” So we feel this new resilience — and we then have hope that comes from knowing that God’s strength is there for us and that trouble, no matter what it is, doesn’t last. I think it all really comes down to the beginning of this passage. What do we do in times of trouble to endure? What helps us endure it?
Paul says it’s the Holy Spirit.
Then in this passage we see the faithfulness of Christ — we’ve been made righteous by the faithfulness of Christ. That passage gets translated in a number of different ways. The Greek is really about the faithfulness of Jesus, not our faith in Jesus. It’s a very different theological proposition, really. Our hope ultimately is in the faithfulness of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
This is Trinity Sunday, and this is one of those passages that speaks of the Trinity. In this passage you have the Son, Jesus and his faithfulness, the Spirit at work in our lives and the love of God, whose love is greater than the most loving parent.
I look forward to talking with you this Sunday in the Sanctuary services about what that means to talk about God as Father Son and Holy Spirit as we continue our series, Life in the Spirit.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
Romans 5:1-5 Common English Bible (CEB)
Therefore, we have peace with God
Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.