23 June 2019 Assembly Not Required Martin Baker
5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 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. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 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. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Two of the most troubling words for me, are the words ‘assembly required’.
I do not know how many of you have had this experience. But you go into a store, and you need to buy a table or a bed, or even say, some exercise equipment, or some sort of apparatus, and you see something you like. And you buy it. And you ask about delivery. And the person at the shop says you’ll be able to fit in your car. And no matter how large or complicated the thing is that you have bought, the salesperson presents you with a box about this big with the words ‘assembly required’ on the front.
And you come home, and the box is filled with screws and washer and tools you never imagined existed before, and pages of instructions on how to make the object you admired and paid, for in the shop.
And even after hours and days of concentrated all-consuming work, to reconstruct this thing that you have bought, you end up with not enough screws, or pieces left over. Important looking bits and bolts. I have at home a little box with leftover pieces for various failed assemblies.
We come to a reading like this today. We come with Paul with a sense of absence. That despite all the rules, or the instruction there is still something missing. Paul developed his theology negatively— the rule book, the instruction manual, the law is unable to cover everything. In fact, it is unable to cover the most important things. Paul discovers that the instruction manual, the rule book is unable to bring us into the things he says our hearts desire most of all - into a joyful, empowering, free, and full relationship with God.
No matter how sincerely we try, we always fall short of fulfilling the requirements of the rule book, the law. There are always things we have done, we should not have done, and things we have not done we should have done. To go back to the analogy, we do not have enough screws and bolts to finish assembling what we set out to assembly, or there are bits left over and we don’t know where they fit.
This understanding, this realisation of absence. We can’t finish the job ourselves, as much as we try. We do not have that ability. We are flawed; Paul would say we are all sinful.
And so it is only through faith, faith in God’s provision, in God’s providence, that the job can be completed. To be made right in our relationship with God. To be justified. We realise that that is something only God can do.
Paul affirmed that in all of us there is this desire for completeness. This desire to find God. He said there is for all people, experiences that speak of something greater. These experiences of love, of kindness of sacrifice for another.
7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.
We read in the Psalm in the Book of James - Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
Scripture is again and again life affirming. Celebrates the blessing we’ll all enjoy. This encounter with the wonders and bounty of the world around us.
But remember what Paul said to the learned people in Athens. And he’s not talking to followers of Christ but to philosophers and those who worshiped Zeus . He says, therefore since we are all God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
This morning, Paul is speaking to these Christians in Rome who have suffered so much persecution, torture executed by the Emperor. When he says-
But we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 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.
He is not saying to the Romans that suffering is a necessarily good thing, but there is something even greater than the terrible things that suffering does to us. This power of hope, the assurance of God’s spirit will get you through. Will get us through. He acknowledges that as horrible as suffering is, when everything else is stripped away, God has not abandoned him.
It is really important to remember that Paul isn’t speaking in theories here. He’s not an outsider offering words from the side-lines. He has already been tortured and imprisoned a number of times. He knows all too well the terrible things that are happening to the people he is writing to. He is speaking from personal experience about the reality of hope even in the midst of the awfulness of suffering. He will eventually be imprisoned in Rome and be executed.
9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him, through Jesus, from the wrath of God.
Christians writing in more troubled parts of the world, writing about these passages, responding to the wrath of God, remind us that our response to these passages often reflects our own situation. If we are living in comfort and security, if we think everything is fine, then the words about sinfulness and justification, about the wrath of God sounds really quite unpleasant.
But if we have seen your children suffer from violence and destruction, if you are a Christian in Syria who has seen your family killed, everything destroyed, forced into being a refugee, through barrel bombs dropped by the Assad regime, or missiles from an American or Russian or Turkish jets . You end up with a different take on the wrath of God. When we speak about God’s wrath we are not talking about destructive anger. We can’t overlay our experience of the abuse that comes from people who can’t control their anger. It is almost the opposite. We are talking about a faith in a God who is appalled, angry, wrathful, at the terrible things humans do to one another. We are talking about a faith in a God who has an overwhelming commitment to justice and restoration. The wrath of God focused in passionate opposition to the hatred, greed, fear that put Jesus on the cross. A wrath or anger that comes from a God fully involved through Jesus in our human affairs. But at the same time, a wrath that speaks words of forgiveness. Tells us from the cross that it is finished. They have done their very worst, but there is victory even over the most powerful of these things.
We don’t have a complete knowledge of what that means. We look through a glass dimly. We are not God. But we believe that ultimately God will restore humanity. This powerful imagine in John’s apocalypse where a New Jerusalem comes down from heaven. Where there is crying and pain no more. Where tears are wiped away from every eye.
Not to press the analogy too far of the assembly required. Or the human instruction book.
But imagine for a moment. You’ve got the pieces out of the box or the instructions manual in front of you. And you follow every instruction to the letter. You work and work on this. This thing you are building. More successful, more beautiful, more admired. But in your very effort you do not realise that you have become more isolated, more focused on yourself and even more frustrated or guilty that you still haven’t quite got it perfect. After all you’ve seen it on Facebook. Someone‘s family looks happier than yours, someone’s visited somewhere even more exotic or beautiful. Someone has an even nicer more perfect house or clearly has more money or perhaps more debt that you have.
And somehow, and maybe it is after a traumatic moment, or a sleepless night or something happens, and you realise that there must be another way.
Paul this morning talks about another way.
We need another way, a way that does not depend on our efforts. Through Christ, God reveals the nature of the divine love—a self-giving love that suffered death on the cross for us, even though some of the things we do hardly deserve this love.
Through faith we understand perfection is not necessary for us to be loved by God. We do not need to justify ourselves to strive endlessly for this thing. We are loved, and that is the thing that puts things right, it is all we need in the end. We are in relationship with God, not because of our efforts, but because of God's loving action. Paul is saying that through faith we enter into that relationship and discover peace, hope, and perseverance, even in suffering.
Have you ever been so consumed by one thing, that you have neglected or forgotten something else that’s really important?
To move on from my failed efforts to assemble things. I was so excited about getting back with a load of fish I had caught from the kayak that I lost focus on the most important thing at the time. The wave coming up behind me. Just a meter before the shore a wave came and tipped the boat over. And I end up sprawled out on the beach with rods and dead fish. Just at the moment that a group of people happened to be walking by. It was the only group of people on his 2km stretch of beach. And here I was floundering in the water an upturned kayak. A little 9 year old boy emerges from the group and asks me if I am okay? (There are a lot of answers I could give him t that point)
Have you ever been so consumed by one thing that you have neglected or forgotten something even more important?
And maybe that thing is something far worse than being tipped out of a kayak in half a meter of water?
Maybe this morning it is a sense of failure or grief or loss or pain or suffering.
Not easy. But Paul says that as overwhelming as this thing can be, there is an even greater hope. God's love has been poured into our hearts. Peace, reconciliation with God. Let’s refocus on the most important thing. Let’s pray again that we can accept the promises God makes to us
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