Freedom to Live

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, 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; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing 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.

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You know as I get older I've been working on honing some of those essential life skills such as cooking. But at the same time, it's hard because when I do something, I like to do it well, and that can lead me down a lot of rabbit holes. Because I've always believed that if you were going to start out with a quality kitchen tool, it would be a knife, because let me tell you that there is nothing worse than a knife that dull or cheaply made. It's one of the most frustrating things for me when I cut into a fresh ripe tomato for example, and the knife just mushes it down instead of slicing through like a finely honed blade.

There's a lot of science behind a good knife. They take different metals, and they fold them together by exposing them to extremely high heat sources. And after working the metals to form the basic shape of a knife, they quench it and permanently freeze the particles that were under stress to create something that is durable and can hold a proper edge. You have different parts coming together to make something that is used in our everyday lives, and depending on what kind of tools you have, they might be under more stress than you think.

I was thinking a lot about the similarities of knife making and this passage from Paul's letter to the Romans. And I know that might sound odd at first but stick with me and I think you'll start to see the connection between the two. It starts by  upfront and open and acknowledging that the suffering and hardships Paul writes about are things that can range on a scale of manageable to needing help from others. And while Paul doesn't explore the varying level of which we experience such pains they are things that influences who we are and how we craft the narrative of that shapes our relationship to the world around us.

And when you start to think about it, I think the similarities come through. I mean, for example, think about the stresses that the metal goes under to become a hardened piece that is used to transform into a refined tool. And also, I think about how we go through a transformation when we undergo the trials life throws at us, and in the end, our hearts become honed and transformed as well. But in the same way, we need to be careful at what we have become because just as a knife that is skillfully made is also dangerous we will find that if we aren't careful just as we can cause harm as well if we aren't careful.

But it's in that living between the hazards of creation where we find the freedom and power to be who we were created to be in the eyes of God. We are free, free to live because we know, or should know now, that through our trials, there is hope and love, not only at the end of our lives, but throughout our life's journey as well. On those days when things seem dark, and it feels like there's no hope we might find solace in remembering that our lives have been tempered and forged in the hands of a loving God who knows what it was like to be filled with joy and grief.

When we consider what it means to be free, to live lives that are free to love and be generous, we might appreciate just how precious our lives are and how they reflect a God who is just as multifaceted as we are. We should have the strength to take on anything that comes our way as God who created the world and keeps watch over us, as Jesus walked upon the earth and knew our joys and sorrows, and as the Holy Spirit pours out an abundance of love for us as individuals created in the image of God, our sources of renewal are endless. And the cost of this freedom demands that our lives reflect the living God who opens up new paths when we find that we have overcome the hurdles that are in our way.

There is one thing though that strikes me as being odd in this passage, because it seems to go against everything we've heard so far from Paul in regards to boasting or being proud. Because according to Paul, boasting is one of those human characteristics that don't lead to anything good in the eyes of God. Yet unlike his previous critiques regarding boasting Paul seems to shift gears in this reading from Romans. In the text for this morning, our boasting can be done with a certain level of confidence and reassurance that it is being done in a way that brings glory to God and reminds us of how our work is done in partnership with a God who gives us the strength to carry on with a multitude of others.

What we find in Paul's letter to the Romans this morning is almost a type of "prophetic boasting," boasting which expresses hope in what the future holds. The early believers were never sure about what each day would bring. All they knew, all they professed, was that in Christ's death and resurrection creation was made the world anew and being restored it to reflect the beauty of its Creator. I know that we wrestle with a lot of things in our lives today, but I would have to hope that we can see the hope that is found in this passage if it was enough for the early Christians living in a dangerous Roman Empire.

Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, "We are justified by faith, and we have peace." Let those words sink in the next time you feel beat up or unsure of where you are going in life, because if we let these words and assurance be the things that ground us, then we will find that in those times of trouble we are well equipped to handle what comes our way. That doesn't mean we won't ever feel overwhelmed. Do you remember how in the beginning I said can take different kinds of metal to forge something sturdy? Keeping that in mind, then we should  remember that as those trials come our way we don’t have to take them on alone, because we are called to be with one another and take them on together.

We have been molded in the forge of life, refined by God as people created in the image of the divine, and loved as a cherished heirloom by the Spirit that sees the things that make each and every one of us unique. Bringing all these things together we find that we have a lot to consider, so perhaps it would be best to distill these thoughts into a few good points. A few takeaways for us this morning then is that we are free to live because of the experiences that have shaped who we are, the unconditional love that we have received from God, and the fact that hope that will not and never die.

I think that these are summed up or portrayed really well in a movie that you've might have seen called, The Shawshank Redemption. There's a scene in that movie where Andy has just been released from month-long solitary confinement as a result of him having hijacked the prison's loudspeaker system to broadcast a beautiful rendition of an aria by Mozart. Upon his release from solitary confinement, Andy has a conversation about hope with Red (played by Morgan Freeman) where Andy's sense of hope held in tension with the truth that talks about hope in the gray world of prison can do more harm than good if it does not come from a genuine place.

Hope can be a powerful thing when we find that we are in dark times or in need of a force that is uplifting. So friends go out, be free, and live in faith and confidence knowing that it is in God, and in one another that we find our strength to be the light, to be the hope, and love that stems from God.

But before I officially come to an end, I'd like you to spend some time thinking about what hope means to you, and the hope that we find in God and one another. And to help you spend that time thinking about the role that hope plays in your life and how it enables you to live freely in God’s grace, I want to sing you a song. This song comes from Lev Oshanin who grew up in Soviet Russia and depicted the things that he had hoped for as he grew up. Now I'm going to sing the song the way that he wrote it, but then I'm gonna add in a verse or two of my own:

May there always be sunshine,

May there always be blue skies,

May there always be mama/papa,

May there always be me.

May there always be friendships,

May there always be families,

May there always be hope

May we all share our joys.

May there always be friendships,

May there always be families,

May there always be hope

May we all share our tears.

May we help one another,

May we love  those around us,

May we walk side by side

May we all hope and dream.

Amen.