To read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.
Sermon based on Romans 12:9-21
Some people would say that we live in a medicated nation. It is wonderful that the world of medicine has made such great advances to allow people suffering from various ailments to find relief. When thinking of finding relief we are also very blessed to be able to turn to Scripture for healing. Among my favorite writers in Scripture is the apostle Paul. Paul’s writings offer encouragement and challenges. Often when thinking of Paul’s writings we think of the 13th chapter from 1st Corinthians where the meaning of love is described. Today’s epistle lesson this morning from the book of Romans has often been described, “The Marks of a True Christian.” Within these verses is one of Paul’s most challenging writings. Imagine the possibilities in the church if every member did not lag in zeal, was ardent in spirit and served the Lord. What would our church look like if we extended hospitality to strangers as Paul instructs?
Perhaps we would have to consider adding an additional worship service, using our Fellowship Building for growing Sunday school needs if we followed this instruction more closely. One challenge that prevents us from following Paul’s instruction, as we would like is trying to avoid going through “the motions of faith.” These motions of faith will see us attend church regularly, contribute with our time, talent and treasure but things like our devotional and prayer life lag behind. Our wake up call comes (if it comes), is when things start becoming a little more difficult in our lives. During these times we begin to turn to God for our strength and comfort. Hopefully this transformation becomes permanent where we not only turn to God in a crisis, but everyday of our lives. Despite the challenge issued in this passage, I find this passage to be one filled with hope as well because there are so many Christians who are the opposite of what I just described. There are Christians who are joyful and steadfast in faith no matter what circumstance. Why the difference? I believe that the joyful and steadfast Christian has found the secret expressed in the Scriptures. One place this “secret” is found is in the twelfth chapter of Romans. Here in Romans, Paul has presented us some prescriptions for a happy life. Paul shares the marks of a true Christian. How do we achieve this happy life we might be asking? In verse 12 of this passage Paul writes out this prescription for us:
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Romans12:12
This morning we will explore these prescriptions for a happy life!
The first prescription is to rejoice in hope. There are several definitions of hope. Some would describe hope as a wish for something. Hope is also defined as looking forward to an event with confidence or expectation. In relationship to Christianity, hope is the theological virtue defined as the desire and search for a future good, difficult but not impossible to attain with God’s help. One of the places where we often turn for hope is in the Bible. Our faith grows from studying the Word of God. If we fail to read and study Scripture, our faith will become like muscles that are not exercised and they will become weak. To rejoice in hope means to be happy to have a good spirit and a positive attitude. If we spent more time thinking about the hope we have as Christians, joy would automatically follow! One great figure in world history demonstrated this spirit through his funeral service. Sir Winston Churchill, the great Prime Minister of Great Britain funeral service took place in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London in 1965. He included many of the great hymns of the church. At his direction, a bugler was positioned high in the dome of St. Paul’s, and was instructed after the benediction, to begin playing “Taps” the universal signal that the day is over. But then came a dramatic turn: as Churchill directed, after “Taps” was finished, another bugler placed on the other side of this great cathedral, played the notes of “Reveille.” This was Churchill’s testimony. When we pass from this earth, the last note will not be “Taps” but will be “Reveille.” This is the promise we have been given through the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ the promise that life does not end upon our death, but really begins!
Our second prescription for a happy life is to be patient in suffering. As a baseball fan, one of my favorite church comics once showed a Church member asking a man whether he would like to volunteer to serve in the church nursery. His reply was, “Sure, the year after the Red Sox win the World Series.” The last picture of this comic shows this man in the nursery with several crying children saying, “I should’ve said the Cubs!” These days if that comic were recreated it might be worth saying when the Cleveland Indians win the World Series! We often think of being patient as simply enduring something that is unpleasant. Patience however means more than simply enduring. Patience according to Paul’s interpretation is continuing to do well, regardless of the trials we are facing. For Paul the tribulations were those trials suffered for the cause of Christ. But tribulations are also those trials common to us all. There will be times in our lives when we suffer from illness or injury, grief, anxiety, rejection or failure. Paul urges us to accept these problems, which try as we might, we cannot avoid. Paul is living testimony that through suffering one’s faith can grow stronger. Paul wrote during his own imprisonment these words:
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… Romans 5:3-5
Speaking of sufferings and character, I love the story of a young boy and his first day of school for a new year. Somehow he scraped his arm on the seat of his school bus and he wiped the blood all over his new shirt. He forgot to bring all his supplies in his book bag so he wasn’t off to the best start in class. Later that day during recess he was hit in the mouth by a ball and lost a tooth. After school on his way back to the bus, he tripped on the sidewalk and injured his wrist. His mother came to pick him up at school and on the way to the hospital to have his wrist x-rayed; he reached into his pocket with his good hand and pulled something out. His mother asked him what it was and he said, “It’s a quarter, 25 cents! I found it on the playground when I fell down. It’s the first quarter I have ever found. This is the best day of my life! Like this young boy, we too should try to find the silver linings in any dark clouds that come our way.
Our third prescription for a happy life is to persevere in prayer. Paul’s ministry began in prayer and according to tradition ended in prayer as he was martyred. Jesus could have spent his entire ministry teaching, healing and performing miracles yet throughout the Gospels we see that Jesus would often venture off by himself to spend time in prayer with God. His disciples never once asked him how to teach them to heal others or perform miracles but had one single request for Jesus: teach them how to pray. William Barclay, the great Biblical scholar in his book, Prodigals and Those Who Love once wrote the following: When we pray, remember:
- The love of God that wants best for us.
- The wisdom of God that knows what is best for us.
- The power of God that can accomplish it.
As we speak of the power of prayer, there is a story of an elderly man who was very ill and the family called in their minister. As the minister entered the room and sat down, he noticed another chair on the opposite side of the bed, which had been drawn close. The pastor said, “Well, I see I’m not your first visitor for the day.” The man looked up, was puzzled and than recognized from the nod of the head that the pastor had noticed the empty chair. He went on to explain that many years ago he found that he was having difficulty in his prayer life. He shared with his pastor at the time that physically it was very difficult for him to pray and he also shared that he wasn’t sure what to pray for or even how to ask God for something in prayer. This pastor told him not to worry about kneeling or about placing himself in some reverent position. Instead he suggested that he sit down, put a chair opposite him and imagine Jesus sitting in the chair and talking to Him as you would a friend. The pastor hoped this would help him in his struggles and it had. A few days later, his daughter called to inform the pastor he had passed away. She shared with the pastor that upon discovering her father she noticed that his hand was on the empty chair beside the bed. The daughter thought this was very strange to which the pastor replied, “That’s not strange at all, I understand.” As this illustration demonstrates, God’s hand is always reaching out to us. Together we can enjoy the wonderful power and privileges of prayer.
As we persevere in prayer we also must rejoice in hope and be patient in those times of suffering. In our world where we try to find a quick fix for every problem, let’s remember these simple prescriptions from Paul. These are prescriptions for a happy life indeed!
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
September 3, 2017