March 19, 2017 – 3rd Sunday in Lent
by Pastor Pete Scheele
Read Romans 5: 1 – 11
Grace and Peace to you as you stand by grace at the Cross, from God, our Father, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We sing the praise of Him who died, of Him who died upon the cross. The sinner’s hope let all deride; for this we count the world but loss. In scribed upon the cross we see in shining letters, “God is Love.” He bears our sins upon the tree; He brings us mercy from above. (#429 vs. 1 & 2)
As we stand at the cross of Christ we see the shining letters that this hymn written by Thomas Kelly is talks about and this is what the Apostle Paul is also talking about in the 5th chapter of his letter to the Romans and us. The Love of God for all people is what our reading in Exodus and in St. John is all about, so let’s use the words of the Apostle Paul to come to a better understanding of the circle of love that God has given to each of us. The hymn writer Thomas Kelly but it this way, “The Cross! It takes our guilt away; it holds the fainting spirit up; it cheers with hope the gloomy day and sweetens every bitter cup.” (#429 vs. 3)
Grace, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense, that’s what the cross is all about and that’s the starting point of God’s Love for us. God’s love was given to us not because we had earned it, but because it is a gift to us, which is what we talked about last week as we dealt with the 4th chapter of Romans. Abraham didn’t earn or deserve God’s love any more than any of us do, because of our sins, but God’s Grace gives us God’s love. As we stand at the cross of Christ and realize that we neither deserved or desired God’s love given to us by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are experiencing God’s Grace. God’s Grace working in our lives through God’s Love for us brings us to Faith in all that Jesus Christ has done for us on the Cross of Calvary and we find ourselves Justified of all our sins because of God’s great Love for us.
The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The ‘Therefore’ in the Apostle Paul’s statement to us is God’s Grace, which leads us to faith in Jesus Christ, which bring us our justification in the sight of God so that we are no longer His enemies but at peace with God. The peace of God that is beyond the world’s understanding comes to us through God’s Love and Grace working in our lives. It is God’s Grace towards us that brings us to faith in Him so that we can live in peace with Him. The Apostle Paul explains this incredible work of God in our lives to the Romans and us with these words, “Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom. 5: 2)
There is no hope when there is no Love. God’s Love has justified us so that we have access by faith to the justification given to us by God’s Grace. God’s Love has justified us so that we can live in peace with God once again, which gives us a Hope of a better life and a better place waiting for us in our heavenly home. So, the circle of God’s love continues to work in our lives through God’s Grace given to us by the life, death and resurrection of His Only Son, Jesus Christ, so that we may have the true LOVE that is worth rejoice about.
There is more to God’s Circle of Love that the Apostle Paul wants us to understand as he goes on to tell us, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:3 – 5)
The circle of God’s Love for us also has its building characteristics as well for our lives, as the Apostle Paul explains. As we rejoice in the faith, peace and hope that we have receive from God’s Grace given to us, but we will also find that the Old Evil foes, Satan in this world, dislikes the rejoicing, faith, peace and hope that we have received from God’s Grace and he will be cause suffering in our lives. Suffering may come because we have faith and the Old Evil Foe doesn’t want us to trust in our faith. Suffering may come because we have peace and the Old Evil Foe wants us to have turmoil, hatred and war in our lives so that we wouldn’t trust in God’s love given to us. Suffering may even come from our own family because we have a hope that they don’t have because they would put their faith and trust in God’s love for them.
But with that suffering, as we hold onto God’s Word, endurance will also come into our lives. As any high-level athlete will tell you with the suffering come the endurance to do more in your life with the gifts given to you or as an old trains slogan goes, “No pain, no gain.” As you suffer for your faith so your faith will grow so that your endurance to face the trials of life will grow and we will find a greater peace with God.
Your life is changing because God’s Grace is working in your life to give you a greater faith that can stand up to the suffering of the world and the Old Evil Foe will be striving to work against us and our growth in our endurance to continue to live in the faith given to us and the peace that God wants us to have. This all gives us a different character than the one we once had when we had no faith or peace with God. It gives us a character that holds onto God’s Grace, Love and Mercy so that we can have a greater hope in all that we have in this world and look forward to the life that we will live with God for all eternity.
Yes, this is the Circle of God’s Love, but it’s not the only circle of God’s Love that we will find in our life and the Apostle Paul reminds us of what God has done for us so that we can live in the circle of His love by telling us, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Rom 5:6-11)
On March 17th many people celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, with very little understanding of what he stood for and brought to the people of Ireland. Though St. Patrick was the Arch Bishop of Ireland in the fifth century, the Catholic Church does not consider him a saint, but he is considered a saint of the Church and especially in the church of Ireland, the Lutheran church and most protestant churches. Why is St. Patrick considered a saint living in the heavenly glory of God for all eternity? Not because he was less of a sinner than any of us but because Christ died for him just as much a Christ died for each and every one of us.
God’s Grace was working in the life of St. Patrick even though the Irish took him as a slave from England in 403 AD, at the age of 16. 6 years later Patrick was led by a dream from God to escape from Ireland and came back to his home to become a priest and then at the age of 40 he was commissioned by the Catholic church to be a missionary to the Irish. Upon his arrival back into Ireland he when to the chieftain who had slaved him and was able to convert him to faith by using the things of nature that they worshiped, especially the shamrock to tell him about the love of God for him.
Have you ever sat down and looked at the three-leaf clover, a shamrock? They’re quite common, especially where there is a lot of grass. As you look at the clover you will see that it is made up of three heart shaped leaves. This is one of God’s many signs to us in nature about how God works in our lives, if only we understand what the Apostle Paul is talking to us about.
The first leaf of the shamrock is God the Father. God, our Father’s love for us was so great that when we committed the first sin, that destroyed the perfect world that He had made for us, He didn’t destroy us but instead gave us the promise of our justification by the life of His Only Son born in our world to take away all our sins and justify us in His sight once again.
The second leaf of the shamrock is God the Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ’s love for us was so great that even though we had become filled with sin, He was willing to come into our world and to lead a perfect life for us so that He could reconcile the debt that we owed to our Heavenly Father. As Jesus gave his life for us on the cross of Calvary He reconciled our debts and gave us a new life in the presents of God Love now and for all eternity.
The third leaf of the shamrock is God the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit’s love for us was so great that He comes into our lives through God’s Word and Sacraments to bring us to the knowledge of the salvation that God’s Grace has given to us so that we can come to faith in the justification, reconciliation and salvation given to us to give us peace with God and a new hope in this life.
The three persons of God work together to bring us to the circle of God’s love given to us so that we can come to know God’s Grace given to us and come to faith in the Justification of God the Father has promised for us from the first sin in this world. So that we can have faith in God and come to know of the reconciliation that God’s only Son, Jesus Christ has done for us, so that we can live in peace with God. It is through God’s Word and Sacraments that God the Holy Spirit comes to work in our lives to give us a hope that is not of this world but of God and will last for all eternity.
The circle of God’s Love is not easy to understand because it comes from God’s Grace and not our sin filled knowledge. By God’s Grace we find the Faith, Peace and Hope that God wants us to have and hold onto the Justification, Reconciliation and Salvation that can only come from God and need to be shared with others in the world. So, let us stand at the cross by grace like St. Patrick did and share the love of God wherever God has calls us to be. Amen.