Scriptures: Matthew 6:16-21; Romans 5:1-11; Hebrews 6:10-12

But God … says it is worth it

The question (or statement) “What is worthwhile” is something that in many ways is subjective. As the liturgist noted, sometimes when we don't seem to get those immediate feedback results, we may start to wonder if something is worthwhile. That's often the case when we're doing something and for God.

The passage in Romans however, gives us a way of determining what is worthwhile, and that is on the basis of what it builds, up to and through hope. There's a hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

Edward Mote, who was born in 1797 and died in 1874, falls into the rare category of a Methodist hymn writer who grew up without religious training, and whose parents were pub owners. He was apprenticed at a young age by his parents to a cabinet maker, but found faith when he heard the preaching of John Hyatt at the Tottenham Court Road Chapel in London at age fifteen.

This Methodist preacher's hymn, however, captures the essence of the blessed assurance of the Christian hope in Jesus Christ and answers the need of the human spirit. The blessed assurance of salvation through Jesus Christ brings peace, acceptance, access, and lasting hope for the believer's life – past, present, and future.

The apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, captures that idea when he writes, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

The Christian faith, ultimately, is about hope. Those without hope don't have peace. As Darnell G. Neister once said, “Where there is no faith in the future, there is no work in the present.” Roy B. Zuck said, “Remove hope from a man and you make him a beast.” How often have we seen that seemingly in action in today's world? So many seem to have lost hope. Proverbs says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”

We all need peace. We all need hope. Without faith in God, we lack both hope and peace. And without that peace, we cannot persevere. By that peace, as always – for me at least, I believe that I'm consistent when I preach this – I don't mean lack of conflict. I mean assurance, security, comfort – that kind of peace, the kind of peace that this world cannot truly provide.

We will experience pain in this life. We cannot live life without experiencing pain. In fact, I would go so far as to say, in order to grow, you have to have pain. From the time you're born, when you're born into pain, or through pain, for both the mother and the child, culminating of course in that smack on the bottom, all the way through your life, the times you grow most are the times you have experienced pain.

In a book called When a Pill Won't Reach the Pain, the Rev. Judy Hames points out that pain does not discriminate. “Pain comes to us regardless of our status, income, culture, race Religion, or nationality. Pain may wear a different cloak or walk with a different gait, but pain inevitably finds us all. It is a symptom of our broken condition”.

This is actually, I think, a good thing in a way. If it discriminated, it would be really unjust and unfair. But also, because pain hits us in different ways, each and every day, we need strength for each day. It is how well we deal with the brokenness of our own lives that determines whether or not we have peace.

Note, it's our own lives, not somebody else's. Jesus once said, before you take out the speck in another person's eye, take out the log in your own. You need to deal with yourself first. You are the only person that you can change. There are a lot of us that have problems. remembering that.

How many people do we know who suffer from sick hearts because they feel that hope is deferred, it's not there? How do we handle the difficult things that happen in life?

Well, can we avoid pain or difficulty through blame? Sometimes it seems we try. One thing we might seek to do is blame someone or something for causing our pain. I can't help but think of Genesis 3, with original sin. God says, “What have you done?” And Adam immediately says, “It's her fault.” God looks at Eve, and she says, “It's the serpent's fault.” They are already experiencing pain, by the way, from shame. But they don't want to experience more.

Pain might drive a person to his knees, begging God for help. Or pain can be something that causes people to blame God and get angry with God. One of my roommates in graduate school was from South America. (I've mentioned him before.) When I knew him, he was an agnostic.

Now he was raised Catholic. He knew his Bible better than I did, during that time. Probably still – that's just his nature. But when he was 19, while he was still down in South America, he had someone whom he was engaged to, who was killed in the crossfire of a drug war. He could not accept that God would allow that to happen.

He needed healing. It took twenty years. He was 39 before he met someone who was able to heal him enough that he got married. Last I knew, which was admittedly well over a decade ago, he was a member of the Disciples of Christ, and was a leader in the church, once he had healed.

Do we acknowledge God in difficult times? Many of us will, but Paul says something weird. How many people do we see rejoice in their sufferings? Or boast in their troubles? And by “boast,” it doesn't mean “brag” there. By “boast,” it actually means giving glory to somebody else, praising somebody else for what they did, or do. I think of it kind of like a kid who says, “My dad, he does this, he's the greatest.”

Do we rejoice in our sufferings and boast about our troubles? Not often. Maybe not at all. Maybe we should take a look at it.

What do we think of when we hear the word perseverance? Do we think of strength? Do we think of unconquerable and or undefeated? Do we think of standing one's ground while refusing to back down? And what is the measure of our perseverance? I would suggest to you that perseverance is not remaining undefeated. Perseverance is not refusing to back down at times, but rather to keep on going.

To athletes, playing when hurt is almost a badge of honor, reflecting the measure of their inner drive. Their team needs them, they have to compete in the event, the work has to go on. When my brother and I were in high school, we were both wrestlers but he was better than I was. In one match, he broke his finger. They stopped the match briefly, and he had the finger taped up. Then he went back in and finished the match – and won. You could see he was using his hand as a whole hand, instead of his fingers.

Afterward, he went behind the bleachers. I went and looked for him, and he was sitting on the floor. And he said, “Jon, I can take pain, but this really hurts.” Then he went and took a shower, and then we went to the hospital. Yes, he persevered. Yes, he was a tough guy. Yes, you might even say he was macho. But the perseverance, I believe, really came when he went back into the match, despite being damaged.

Sometimes we have to move forward even while we're in pain. And in the end, that's what I believe makes it worthwhile. Does perseverance mean “no pain, no gain”? How many times have you heard that expression associated with working out? As I noted earlier, I think it's true, you do not grow without pain.

There's a story that doesn't deal with working out or sports. Every year Eric Clapton hosts a Guitar Festival in honor of a guitar-playing legend Robert Johnson, who died at the age of 27. Johnson only recorded some 29 songs in the mid 30's. In the context of this festival, “Crossroads is a metaphor for second chances”.

Eric Clapton knows something about his own second chance. He got to the point where he could not live without a drink. At the time Clapton was a new father. So he checked himself into rehab for the sake of his young son. “His love for his son proved to be his prime motivation”. Eric said that he wanted to break the chain and give his son what he never had – a father.

At the end of his rope with lack of hope. On his own Clapton knew that he was not going to make it. He got down on his knees and surrendered in the confines of the treatment center. I don't know that he was a Christian, but he certainly was part of a twelve-step program, which talks about needing a higher power. A change came over him. From that day on, Clapton never failed to pray. He always prayed in the morning on his knees. He said he chose to kneel because it was humbling.

In 1991, Eric Clapton's four-year-old son died from an accidental fall. Understandably, this crossroads devastated him. He went on to write the song “Tears in Heaven” out of the anguish and tragedy of his son's death. It helped him to cope.

Another thing that helped Eric Clapton cope was his twelve-step meetings. On one occasion, he was asked to chair the session for the third step. He recalled his time of praying in the treatment center, praying for help to stay sober. He told them about how his compulsion to drink was taken away. He also said that after that experience he could even get through this – that is, the death of his son.

Following that meeting, a woman came up to him and told him that he had just taken away her excuse to drink. In his own words, Eric Clapton said, “Well, if I can go through this and stay sober, anyone can.” He came to realize that there was no better way of honoring the memory of his son. Eric Clapton had helped another and others to find hope, the ability to persevere. I don't have any doubt that God intervened on the behalf of Eric Clapton. There's no doubt that God helped others gain access to Him through Eric's faith and witness.

What is it that makes Christians persevere? We have endurance. Our troubles produce endurance, endurance brings God's approval, and His approval creates hope. Another translation says that endurance brings character and character creates hope.

We are victorious. Why? Why is it that we glory in our tribulations in troubles? Why do we call ourselves victorious then? Because Christians can rise above these things, because they are not controlled by human nature, but rather by the Spirit of the Lord. We have peace, which we cannot have if we are at war with God.

We need to understand that we are justified by faith. We have to remember that we know that all things work together for good, for those that love God and are called according to His purposes. And as I noted in a previous sermon recently, that doesn't necessarily mean right now. It might not even be your life. It might be somebody else's that God works good from, as we saw with the story of Eric Clapton.

We know that we're inseparable from God's love, and therefore we need not give up hope. We need not be disappointed. “For hope does disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us.”

We know it's worthwhile, whatever it is, whatever the pain may be, whatever the trial may be, whatever the tribulation may be. Because we have hope, and an assurance of victory. And we can have hope because we have an example we can look to. Christ himself, God himself, thought it was worthwhile to become incarnate on the earth, suffer, and die on the cross for us, and be raised again – not for his own sake, he didn't need that – but for you, and for me. He thought you were worthwhile. Worth it all.

And that is knowledge that they can't take away from us here in this world. We can give it up, but they can't take it from us. And that hope that we have because of the Resurrection, which we will be celebrating next Sunday, is what gives us that foundation for hope. Because we have new life. We are new creatures in Christ.

So when your adversities hit, your tribulations, your trials, your pain, both physical and emotional, your doubts, perhaps of yourself or perhaps of God's presence, remember that persevering through those trials builds endurance, endurance will build character, character will manifest itself in hope that cannot be taken away, that you can hold on to, so that you can keep going.

And if somebody says, “Man, why are you having to go through all this?” you can say, “I don't know. But God does. God will make something good of it.”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.