Suffering Produces Endurance, Character
Romans 5:1-5; 8:17b
SERMONETTES: THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF 09/11/01
A CONVERSATON WITH
PASTORS MARKQUART AND O’NEAL
PASTOR MARKQUART: WE REJOICE IN OUR
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 today’s Scripture is
from Romans 5:3 which says, “We 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.” This Bible verse is the outline
of our sermonettes for today.
We rejoice in our
sufferings. What a strange thing to say in God’s 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 “all things work together for good for those who
love God, who are called according to his purposes.” 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
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 Curtis’s 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, “We rejoice in our sufferings.” God can and
does transform suffering. Amen.
PASTOR O’NEAL: ENDURANCE
PASTOR MARKQUART: CHARACTER
The Word of the
Lord says, “We rejoice in our sufferings because suffering
produces endurance and endurance produces character.”
character, is an interesting word, especially in the Greek language.
In the Greek language, the word is associated with a refiner’s
fire such as in purifying silver whereby you create sterling silver.
The Greek word is associated with a refiner’s 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 refiner’s fire.
At the contemporary
worship service, we sing a praise song called, “Refiner’s
Fire.” Refiner’s fire, my one desire, to be holy, set apart for
you Lord, ready to do your will.” 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
refiner’s 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 refiner’s 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
The second person
who has been through the refiner’s fire in my partner in ministry,
Pastor John O’Neal. He does not know I am going to mention him
today, but he told this story at last week’s 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 refiner’s fire. I
believe that I do not know of a person who has more integrity that
John O’Neal and wades into the suffering of people’s 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 refiner’s fire and he is a stronger
person because of it.
My third example of
the refiner’s 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 refiner’s fire and made them pure gold and
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 refiner’s fire.
Yes, we all admire
people of character, and pray that we are one of them. Amen.
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 BECAUSE… 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
Alzheimer’s. 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
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
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.
God’s love is
always in the form of the cross, in the form of suffering. This is
the very nature of God’s love: to die on the cross for another.
“No greater love has a person than this than they are willing to
lay down their life for their friends.” Jesus on the cross: that
is God’s love. You and me on the cross: willing to lay down our
life for another. That is God’s love.
There is a lot of
love around today that is not God’s love. Love in the movies. Love
in books. Love in the magazine racks. Love on television. But
God’s love, true love, genuine love, is a love that is willing to
die for another.
“Unless a seed dies, it will not sprout, grow and become a
plant.” 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 God’s 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
hearts…like from a waterfall, from a full pitcher. Our hearts
become full of God’s 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
Spirit’s 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 God’s Spirit can transform
9/11 into hope and love that binds us together in the spirit of
unity and peace. Amen.