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“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” That’s just what we need to hear right now. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” That’s just what we need to hear right now, because it reminds us who we are.
It’s really easy to become despondent, cynical, and despairing over all that’s happening right now. We can’t see how things are going to get any better, we don’t expect anything good to come out of it, and it’s really hard to see the bright side.
As we get closer to the election, I’ve noticed that people on both sides are starting to get this sinking sense that things are only going to get worse. I think we’re becoming resigned to the idea that no matter who wins the election, the conflict and divisions within our country aren’t going to get any better but only worse. No matter who is elected to office, the other side is just going to dig in their heels and become all the more vigilant in their opposition.
The pandemic seems just as hopeless. I’ve noticed that we’re not making plans anymore. When all of this started in March and April, even into June and July, we would say something like, “When this is all over, we’ll do this or that, and we’ll celebrate that it’s all over and done with.” But I don’t hear that much anymore. We don’t say that much anymore because we can’t see when or how it’s all going to be over and done with.
And this only makes the rest of life seem unbearable. The rest of life goes on just as before. People we love still struggle. We still have to pay the bills and keep up the house. We’re still plagued with chronic pain and saddened by death. But now there doesn’t seem to be any reprieve from it all. No relief or break from our sadness and struggle.
It’s really easy to be, as Paul says in our reading from Romans, “slothful in zeal,” that is to say, it’s easy to be despondent, cynical, and despairing over all that’s happening right now.
But why, of all people, should we think there’s no future? We know that in the end Jesus wins!
The same Jesus, who was on his way into the town of Nain when he ran into a funeral procession headed out of town to the cemetery. The funeral was for a young man who had died. He was the only son of his mother, and his mother was a widow. And when Jesus saw her, he was moved with compassion. He went up to her and said, “Do not weep.” Then he put his hand on the bier, stopped the procession, and said, “Young man, I say to you, arise,” and the man who had died sat up and began speaking, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Jesus wins! The same Jesus, who was leaving the town of Jericho, followed by a great crowd, when a blind beggar started shouting out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” And the more he shouted, the more the crowd pushed him away. But he didn’t give up and shouted all the more. And when Jesus heard him, he called him forward, and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” And he said, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately, he recovered his sight.
Jesus wins! The same Jesus, who was surrounded by a crowd, one day, and a woman who had an issue of blood that wouldn’t stop for twelve years and she had suffered from many doctors and spent all her money and hadn’t gotten any better but only worse, thought to herself, “If I but touch his garments, I will be made clean.” And when she did, immediately she was made well.
We know that in the end, Jesus wins! Jesus has taken on the futility and hopelessness of this world, dying the death of a sinner, only to be raised victorious over sin and death. And we know how it’s going to work out. All of creation will follow him through death and into the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
We aren’t people without hope. We know that in the end, Jesus wins! And that’s exactly why we need to hear these words from Paul, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
Rejoice in hope. Don’t mope and be cynical as if Jesus were still lying in the tomb and this is all there is. Rejoice in hope! We know how to do this when it comes to a weekend fishing or hunting trip, or a family reunion. When you know you’re going fishing or hunting on the weekend (or gathering with your family from near and far), you can endure just about anything during the work week. No matter how many hours you have to work, no matter what your job asks you to do, you can endure it, you can even enjoy it, because you know that Friday’s coming! Everyone else at work may think it’s another week of drudgery, and complain that the work is unbearable, and they look over at you and say, “What are you so cheerful about!” But that’s just it! If you have something to look forward to, then no matter how bad it is now, you can endure through it and even enjoy it because you know it’s going to give way to something good! And if we think that way about something simple like going fishing or hunting on the weekend, how much more do we have to look forward to in Jesus and the resurrection?! We may not be able to see at present how things are going to get better. But why should we despair and be cynical? We know what’s coming when all is said and done. Jesus, the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come! Do not be slothful in zeal but rejoice in hope.
Be patient in tribulation. Don’t flip out or panic or get angry as soon as something goes wrong, as if Jesus never existed. Be patient in tribulation. Sure, when you don’t have anything to look forward to, then every hardship and every wrong done against you seems like the end of the world. “If my party doesn’t win the election, then the world will fall apart!” It’s unbearable! But when we have something to look forward to, we can patiently endure any amount of loss. Because it’s only for a time. It won’t last forever. And if anyone has something to look forward to, it’s us. Our hope isn’t in a political candidate or a vaccine. If that’s all we had to hope in, we should flip out, panic and get angry because those things are about as certain as the weather. But our hope is in something far greater: Jesus, the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come. And nothing we go through now, no amount of struggle, loss, sickness, hardship or death will change the fact that Jesus wins in the end.
That’s why Paul says, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” Repaying evil for evil is something you do when you have nothing to look forward to, so you have to even the score now or lose out forever. But we have something coming that no amount of wrong done against us can take away: Jesus, the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come. So, we don’t have to worry about evening the score. God will take care of that. Instead, we can simply worry about doing good, contributing to the needs of the saints, living in harmony with one another. That’s not what we have to do in order to be good Christians. That’s what we get to do because we have a sure and certain hope that cannot be taken away.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Whatever difficulty you face, pray to God about it. Prayer is the ultimate act of hope, because it moves out from the promises of God, confident that what’s going on at present is not all there is, confident that God can and wants to do something about it. Prayer says, “Look, I can’t understand this, I can’t see a way forward, but I know you, O God, are in control.” Not to pray is to be overcome by hopelessness, the sense that this is all there is and nothing’s going to get better, so why bother. Things right now may be difficult, we may not see a way forward, we may have reason to be anxious. But the question is: What do you do with that dread and anxiety? Lash out at the people around you? No! Pray about it, as if God actually exists. As if God is your good and gracious heavenly father who raised Jesus from the dead. If there is anything difficult, hard to endure, worrying or saddening, pray about it.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. It’s easy to become despondent, cynical, and despairing about what’s going on right now. That is the world’s response. But we don’t belong to this age of sin and death. The good news of Jesus Christ has delivered us from death to life, from the flesh to the Spirit, from darkness to light. And we’re exactly what the world needs right now. The world doesn’t need a president or a vaccine as much as it needs a people who can rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer. It needs a people who can be the image of God we human beings were created to be. People whose joy, patience, and constancy in prayer point like a signpost to that great and glorious day when Jesus will return, raise the dead, and give us a whole new creation. So, put off the works of the flesh and put on Christ.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.