Today begins our Pentecost season. Even though we celebrated Pentecost Sunday a couple weeks ago this is now what we refer to as the Pentecost “Season”. The Pentecost Season is considered to be the growing or teaching season of the church – and hence the paraments have been changed to green this week. Green representing “growth” such as when our lawns and gardens begin to grow with green shoots. The focus of the Pentecost season is on the teaching of Jesus’ disciples. Not just the 12 Apostles but all Christians – you and me. And so we see that in our Gospel reading: Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues. Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority to go out and preach and teach.
And our 2nd reading – St Paul’s letter to the Romans summarises the heart of the Christian teaching: He says: Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; We sometimes summarise this teaching as – saved by grace, through faith, for Christ’s sake. We even summarise that further by calling it “The Gospel” – saved by grace. We need to keep that teaching at the heart of our understanding and in everything that we teach because we need to keep coming back to it time and time again.
Paul teaches us how this understanding of God’s grace actually helps us in those difficult times to not only deal with life’s challenges and come through them but to actually grow through them. He speaks about how our faith and our knowledge that we are saved by God’s grace enables us to not only endure in times of suffering but to actually grow in faith through them. He says – 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 that has been given to us. Isn’t it interesting that at the heart of our growth is suffering? Usually we might associate suffering with a decaying of our growth. And we have seen this growth through suffering during this time of suffering in the church that could have easily have broken our spirits by being unable to gather for worship. But we have actually rallied together to support each other. New friendships have been formed as we have picked up the phone to call one another and check up on each other. What could have broken our spirits, I believe, has done exactly what St Paul said it would do – our suffering has produced endurance – our endurance has produced character and our character has produced hope in us.
In times of suffering it is easy to give up hope. But our faith in Christ reminds us that suffering is limited only to this lifetime. Without wanting to downplay suffering which can be extremely debilitating – our faith reminds us that suffering has a limited effect on our lives. One of the blessings that God did when evil entered into his perfect creation was he limited the reach of evil and suffering by removing the tree of life from the reach of Adam and Eve. One could associate the removal as a punishment but in reality it is a form of God’s protection and blessing to ensure we didn’t become exposed to evil and suffering eternally. And so death became not a punishment for sin but an end time for all suffering and evil which extends only for this life time. So our focus turns to what God has planned for after this lifetime where we are told that there will be no more suffering or death which are the old order of things as we hear in Revelation 21. And St Paul even says in chapter 8 of Romans that he considers the present suffering of this life is not worth comparing to the glory that awaits us in heaven. And even to the point of saying he rejoices in his suffering. Not because he enjoys suffering but because it reminds him that this life is not where true joy is to be found but in heaven.
And since he is saved by grace – he rejoices knowing that his rest and glory are soon coming.
Jesus also said that: As you go, proclaim Gospel, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near. In fact, in 2nd Corinthians, through his suffering Paul is able to gain strength in faith saying “when I am weak then I am strong” because his reliance on God is made even more clear.
Jesus also teaches in our Gospel reading a very real issue that faces Christians in the world and a reassurance so we do not lose hope. Jesus makes no secret that as we go out into the world as his disciples that we will not always be welcomed. He says: I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; So the first thing we learn from this statement by Jesus is that we should not be surprised or disheartened at the attacks and rejection. We should not see it as a failure of the church to connect with the world but rather a rejection of God because of the evil that has been released into the world that is against God and all who put their faith in him. So often the church has been afraid to speak out against sin and error in the world because it doesn’t want to be rejected by the world as antiquated and irrelevant. So often we have softened our message because we have wanted to be accepted and liked by the world. But that goes against what Jesus has warned us against when he said – you will be hated by all because of my name.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should look for ways for the world to hate us. But we should not be afraid to speak out where we see the world going off the rails. And we should not be afraid to be rejected or ridiculed for speaking the truth. But on the other hand too often the church has spoken out against issues without offering God’s word of grace and forgiveness but rather only judgment. Remember the Pentecost message that Jesus asked us to proclaim – that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to the entire world. In doing that we are reminded that we are all well off the mark when it comes to obedience before God. And, as Paul reminds us, this is how God has shown just how much he loves us:
He says: God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Can we honestly say that we have always dealt with people in the same way? That we have “while they were yet sinners” that we have shown love towards them?
That’s what being saved by grace means. Knowing that God has shown his grace to us that we have been freed to show grace towards others. This is the freedom that the Gospel brings us. That our one and only concern is getting the message out to all people that God loves them. And even if sometimes life doesn’t seem to be for us all that we hope for – our Christian hope reassures us that it’s okay because our life in heaven is guaranteed. And sometimes it’s in those disappointments – those times of suffering – those times of rejection – that we are redirected towards our faith because there is nothing else. And it is that faith – that hope that does not disappoint us, as St Paul said. Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us. And why doesn’t hope disappoint us? Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
What a wonderful and freeing Gospel that has been given to us. That our life’s destiny has been written and assured through Jesus Christ our Lord. That God’s love is proven to us that even while we were and still are sinners, Christ Jesus our Lord has given his life for us.
Let us continue to cling to that hope in all that we are going through and let us be prepared to give the reason for the hope that we have with anyone who asks so they too may know the comfort that God brings through Jesus Christ our Lord.