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Series A
Suffering Produces Endurance, Character and Hope



Romans 5:1-5; 8:17b

FIVE BRIEF SERMONETTES: THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF 09/11/01

A CONVERSATON WITH PASTORS MARKQUART AND OíNEAL

PASTOR MARKQUART: WE REJOICE IN OUR SUFFERINGS

Welcome to our service of remembrance today. We are gathered together of honor the individuals who died in the bombing attacks on 9/11 last year. We gather together to remember the 3,079 people who were killed in those three attacks. These people were mostly from the United States but also from 78 different nations. We honor them today.

We have also come together to grieve their loss and the sorrow that is experienced by their loved loves and friends. As we know from experience, the first anniversaries of death seem to be always the worse. The first anniversary of a car accident which claimed the life of our child; the first anniversary of a suicide of a loved one; the first anniversary of a spouse who had a major and life ending heart attack. These anniversaries are written into the calendars of our lives and onto the calendars of our refrigerator door, and we remember the tragic losses that experienced so many years ago.

Today, we also gather together to hear the Word of the Lord. God is never silent in our lives and God is never silent in the catastrophes of our lives. Sometimes, our tears are so overwhelming that we cannot hear the voice of God, but God is still speaking to us, even in our sorrow. The Word of the Lord that has been chosen for todayís Scripture is from Romans 5:3 which says, ďWe rejoice in our sufferings because suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because the love of God is poured into our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.Ē This Bible verse is the outline of our sermonettes for today.

We rejoice in our sufferings. What a strange thing to say in Godís word. We rejoice in our sufferings. Does that mean we find joy as six million Jews were incinerated in the furnaces of the Holocaust? Does that mean that we find joy when more than two hundred million human beings were slaughtered under Stalin in the old Soviet Union? Does that mean we find joy in the horrific slaughtering of human life during the Civil War? Or during the immense flu epidemic in America earlier in this century when thousands of innocent lives died? Do we find joy in such suffering? What does this mean?

What this means is that Christians discover that the Holy Spirit in us can transform even the worst human situation into something that is good. The Bible says that ďall things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purposes.Ē  All things. God can take all things, including the most evil, and transform those things into good.

Let me explain by a simple analogy. At the 11:00 service today, there will be a young man sitting in a wheel chair. His name is Curtis, and he is about eighteen years old. He was born with cerebral palsy, was crippled at birth, his family disintegrated all around him due to drug addictions, and Curtis finally ended up living with his aunt and uncle a few years ago. His aunt, uncle and family are part of this church and so Curtis is now part of this church. Curtis may be the most inspiring member of our congregation at this moment, by the ways in which he has overcome his immense suffering. At the recent Bible camp, when Curtis spoke, the kids in the chapel became noiselessly still. You could hear a pin drop as Curtis spoke in his soft and measured tones. Every kid and adult in the room knew that Curtis was an angel and that God spoke through this divine messenger.

Curtis was and is a living example that God can transform the worst of human situations and bring goodness and greatness out of the sickness and cerebral palsy. Curtis would never say that his cerebral palsy is good, but God, the Holy Spirit, transformed Curtisís heart and goodness has come out of it.

Similarly, God can take the horrific evil of 9/11 and transform that evil into good. And that is why were are here today. We are here today to honor those who have given their lives for freedom; we are here today. We are here today to grieve on the first anniversary of this tragic day that lives in infamy. And we are here today to listen to the Word of the Lord who says, ďWe rejoice in our sufferings.Ē God can and does transform suffering. Amen.

PASTOR OíNEAL: ENDURANCE  

PASTOR MARKQUART: CHARACTER

The Word of the Lord says, ďWe rejoice in our sufferings because suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character.Ē

The word, character, is an interesting word, especially in the Greek language. In the Greek language, the word is associated with a refinerís fire such as in purifying silver whereby you create sterling silver. The Greek word is associated with a refinerís fire by which gold is put into a molten boiling gold by which the fire burns out all the impurities in the gold, so that you receive pure gold.

Similarly, in life as a human being, many people endure enormous suffering and this suffering often feels like a refinerís fire. 

At the contemporary worship service, we sing a praise song called, ďRefinerís Fire.Ē Refinerís fire, my one desire, to be holy, set apart for you Lord, ready to do your will.Ē In that song, we ask God to make of our lives, pure gold.

There are folks who have a lot of personality but they are short in character. You always want your son or daughter to marry a person of great character; you always want your son or daughter to be a person of great character. Suffering and learning how to handle suffering cannot be learned from the pages in a book but only can be learned from living the painful chapters in our lives. Enduring pain does not guarantee that character will develop, but character does not happen without pain.

I would like to share with you the stories of three people who have experienced the refinerís fire and the impurities of their lives have been burnt away and that these people are enormously strong and good. God has made them people of great character.

The first example is Gary and Carolynn Spies who years ago gave birth to a wonderful daughter by the name of Julie. Julie was born with a genetic heart defect, was not supposed to live for more than few days, came home from the hospital, grew up with in numeral surgeries, and still lives with the handicaps of that heart defect. Meanwhile, there was a car accident and their son, Daniel, was permanently injured mentally and physically and was not to walk or talk again. Both children have survived but with serious difficulties. Mom and Dad, Gary and Carolynn, have lived through the refinerís fire more than anyone else in the parish. Their marriage, unlike many other marriages in traumatic experiences, has survived and grown stronger. They are some of the strongest human beings and Christians we have ever met in our parish. For people who have know them for these several decades, the character of their lives is an inspiration to us all.

The second person who has been through the refinerís fire in my partner in ministry, Pastor John OíNeal. He does not know I am going to mention him today, but he told this story at last weekís confirmation rehearsal and I know the story well. When John was a sophomore in high school, his mother, a surgical nurse, died of cancer, much too young and prematurely. His father had been an alcoholic, was already in prison due to a fatality in a driving accident, and so John was alone in life at a young age. Talk about a refinerís fire. I believe that I do not know of a person who has more integrity that John OíNeal and wades into the suffering of peopleís lives with incredible bravery and sensitivity. What some people would avoid because of so much pain, John wades right in. Why? Because I believe that he went through the refinerís fire and he is a stronger person because of it.

My third example of the refinerís fire is the World War II generation. Tom Brokaw has written a book, THE GREATEST GENERATION, and his basic thesis is that the World War II generation is the greatest generation of Americans precisely because those people experienced both the Great Depression and a Great War. The lives of these young men and women had been through the refinerís fire and made them pure gold and pure silver.

Suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character. In the Greek language, the word character is associated with pure silver and pure gold, silver and gold that has been purified with a refinerís fire.

Yes, we all admire people of character, and pray that we are one of them. Amen.

PASTOR OíNEAL:  HOPE

PASTOR MARKQUART: THE LOVE OF CHRIST IS POURED INTO OUR HEARTS

The Word of the Lord is from Romans 5:3, We rejoice in our sufferings. We sometimes forget that this section of Scripture begins with Romans 5:1. We sometimes erroneously conclude that this passage is a philosophical treatise about suffering that could have been written by Plato, Socrates, or some other stoic philosopher. Stoicism: keep a stiff upper lip, endure the pain, no pain no gain. Thereby Romans 5:3 is simply another exercise in human strength by means of suffering.

But we are not to begin with Romans 5:3 but with Romans 5:1 which is the gospel. Therefore, since we are justified by grace as a gift, we have peace with God. Therefore, since we are justified by grace as a gift, we obtain grace. Therefore, since we are justified by grace as a gift, we ALSO rejoice in our sufferings because suffering produces endurance and endurance character and character hope and hope does not disappoint us because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  First, we are justified by grace through faith in Christ, and thereby we find peace, we find grace, and suffering is transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Hope does not disappoint us BECAUSEÖ  That is one of the largest becauses in the Bible.  Hope does not disappoint, but fantasies do. We have this fantasy that everything should go well with us, that we should all live until our ninetieth birthday, and experience no senility or Alzheimerís. Fantasies always disappoint us. And so does wishful thinking. I wish that I would succeed in all I do; that my marriage would succeed, my kids would succeed, that my work would succeed, and that my life would be one continuous success. And such wishful thinking always disappoints. Fantasies disappoint; wishful thinking disappoints, and so do dreams. My dreams that human beings would live in perfect peace and harmony with no more war, no more starvation, no more ethnic strive. I have all these dreams which are forever disappointing.

 But not hope. We abound with hope. And hope does not disappoint us BECAUSE. There is that BECAUSE again. Because the love of God is poured into our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit who is given to us.

Hope does not disappoint because the love of God is poured into our hearts. We focus on that phrase, the love of God. Paul could have chosen the Greek word, eros, for erotic love. He could have chosen the word, philos, from Philadelphia, for brotherly love among friends. He could have chosen the word, storge, for family love of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and children and grandchildren. But Paul chose the word, agape, agape love, charitably love, love for the unlovely, love for the unlovable.

Godís love is always in the form of the cross, in the form of suffering. This is the very nature of Godís love: to die on the cross for another. ďNo greater love has a person than this than they are willing to lay down their life for their friends.Ē Jesus on the cross: that is Godís love. You and me on the cross: willing to lay down our life for another. That is Godís love.

There is a lot of love around today that is not Godís love. Love in the movies. Love in books. Love in the magazine racks. Love on television. But Godís love, true love, genuine love, is a love that is willing to die for another.

Jesus said, ďUnless a seed dies, it will not sprout, grow and become a plant.Ē The genius of life is spiritually discovering that as a person dies to self, you are born again, you find life. When you die to self, you are raised from the dead and from the ashes.

Hope does not disappoint because Godís love is POURED into our hearts. This love of God is not a little spoonful, is not an eyedropper of love, a little crumb or morsel of love. This love of God is poured into our heartsÖlike from a waterfall, from a full pitcher. Our hearts become full of Godís love.

Why? Through the power of the Holy Spirit. As was said in previous sermons, the floodgates below the dam are released and the power of the Spiritís love gushes into our lives with full torrent whereby we become loving people.

So hope does not disappoint us such as fantasies, wishful thinking and dreams do because of one factor: the love of God is pour into our hearts, transforming all human relationships, transforming the future, transforming the pain of the past.

9/11 is a day that lies in infamy, one of the worst days of American history. And God can take that day and transform it into a new day. The last day is not Good Friday and the suffering on the cross but the last day is Easter Sunday when God conquered the powers of death. The worst day of American history is not 9/11 because Godís Spirit can transform 9/11 into hope and love that binds us together in the spirit of unity and peace. Amen.


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