God’s Love is FOR YOU!

Today has been declared, “Father’s day.” It is a good day to thank and honor and remember those men in your life who have encouraged you, challenged you, supported you and been an inspiration for you – even if they were not your birth father.   When I was young we always gave my father one of two gifts – a tie – or socks. And if it was a good year… he got both! I do have the secret to the best gift to give to a father…and it isn’t socks… but I can’t tell you yet…

Instead…. I have a question for you:

How many of you were encouraged by your father to boast when you were growing up?  I don’t think the word “boast” was even in my father’s vocabulary. He was such a humble man that I can’t imagine him boasting.  If he did something well, he never talked about it. And if he was caught doing something well, he would just say, “Thank you – you would have done the same thing.”

When I was growing up, I was taught NOT to boast. We were supposed to be humble – right?  And yet Paul is encouraging the Roman Christians to boast! He says, “we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”  And then he says, “we also boast in our sufferings.”

This didn’t make sense either. So I wondered what Paul was talking about when he encourages the Romans to boast. It turns out that the word “boast” could also be translated as “rejoice!” It makes much more sense to rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  But…when you are in pain or suffering, how many of you boast? Do you rejoice?

I don’t.  I complain. I certainly don’t seek out suffering – and I wouldn’t wish suffering and pain on anyone else either – and I certainly wouldn’t tell them to rejoice in their pain.

So what is Paul saying?  He isn’t masochistic – he doesn’t love pain. But….Paul does know that we live in a broken world and that pain and suffering happen in our world and in our lives.  

He also knows the story of Jesus and God’s great love. God not only took on human flesh and blood, but God revealed God’s love through the suffering and death of Jesus, his own Son on a cross, an instrument of terror and a symbol of shame.

In itself, Jesus’ death would have been have been incredibly powerful – and sad. But the cross is not the end of the story. God took what was shameful, painful and seemingly hopeless …. and turned it around to give us the incredible gift  - of grace, peace, hope, love and everlasting life. Where there was sorrow, death and despair, God brought joy, life and hope.

And this is not just what we believe about in our heads. This is how God works in live our lives. God is present with us – even as we struggle in our faith and in our lives. There will be suffering in our broken world. But, God promises to be with us even in the midst of our suffering, and just as God made joy, hope and life come out of sorrow, death and despair in Jesus, God also works in our lives, pouring love into us. God works through our suffering to build in us endurance and character and a capacity to hope.

It’s Father’s day today… and yet… it was hard for me to read this passage today – and not think about my mother Marilyn who we buried yesterday in the family grave in Wisconsin. As many of you know, she died recently after living with cancer for five and a half years. Those years were not without suffering and pain.  And yet… my mother taught me how she could rejoice – not for the pain – and yet rejoice…despite the pain and suffering. Like Paul, she could rejoice, because she knew three things:

First: she knew she was not forsaken by God. Her cancer was not a punishment. Cancer is part of the brokenness of our world. And God was with her through it all.  

Second: she knew the story of Jesus who brings life and hope.

But perhaps most importantly,  she knew what the story of Jesus meant for her life. She knew that she was a child of God. And, because of the love and support of God, and her Christian community… she knew that suffering and pain would not be what defined her life.

It was the witness of her parents, especially her father Spencer, that taught her endurance in the midst of suffering and pain. Their house burned down when she was about 8. For about two weeks, they lived with her father Spencer’s parents and aunts and cousins who lived at the top of the hill – maybe a mile away in a very big well maintained farm house. But then… they moved back to their farm and into a woodshed, for five years, while Spencer cut the trees, let them dry, planed the wood and built the house.  She learned endurance from her dad.

They could have been bitter. After all, their grandparents and cousins lived in relative luxury while they lived in a woodshed in which the water froze in the bucket under the sink on winter nights.  But they didn’t complain. In later years she wondered why, when her aunt lived in the big house at the top of the hill, that everyone came to their woodshed house for any celebration. Perhaps it was because her parents welcomed everyone… and just put up another sawhorse table when more people showed up. They didn’t just endure in the woodshed, they built character and shared the love of God with everyone.

I think it is because of the mentoring of her father – and others – that my mother learned to look at her situation, and even her cancer, as an opportunity.  

She told me that there was a bell in the cancer clinic that people would ring to celebrate the end of treatment when they were cancer free. On one day when one of her newfound friends was ringing a bell, my mother must have looked especially happy. A man turned to her and said, “When will you be ringing that bell? Sometime soon, I hope?”  Marilyn turned to him and said, “No, I will never ring that bell.” He was embarrassed and said, “Oh I’m so sorry – I just assumed that since you have had to endure so many treatments it would be your turn soon.”

Marilyn looked at him and smiled as she said, “I am glad for these treatments. They are what are keeping me alive!”  She rejoiced – not in the suffering but in the hope that she had of living fully another day.

Her cancer had made her more aware of the preciousness of life. It was because she knew that her days were numbered that she took time to tell stories, gather with friends and family, travel and enjoy life to the fullest.  Her prayer life deepened too.

Her intentionality of living a faith-filled life produced not only endurance, but character and the belief that life was worth living. This gave her hope, a hope that sustained her.  

Marilyn had hope – an audacious joy-filled hope - because she knew the story of Jesus – and what it meant for her. She knew she was a child of God.

Marilyn was a remarkable person – but so are you. As Apostle Paul’s said to the Romans, so I say to you: God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

You have received the gift of God’s love – and here is the double blessing of God’s love – it grows when it is shared.

Remember that I promised to tell you the best gift you could give today?  The best gift that you could possibly give to any father or anyone else for that matter -is the gift that our Heavenly Father gave to us – the gift of love and the assurance that God’s love is for them too.

God’s love is poured out without measure and without price for you – and it is given for you to share.  This love allows us the courage to rejoice – to boast – because we know that God is with us always and will be with us regardless of any challenges that we may face… and that gives us endurance… which gives us character… which gives us hope…and allows us to love…because we know God’s love is given for us. Thanks be to God!