Boasting in Hope
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
June 16, 2019
Main Idea – We have confidence in God.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
For the last two week we have had wonderful celebrations of our ministries; first our music ministries and last week our Church School. Last week we also celebrated of the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost by walking out of our building with brightly colored pinwheels to sing and pray at City Hall Park. This weekend has been one of graduations and celebrations for the great accomplishments of the graduates. These celebrations lend themselves to boasting as we recognize the gifts and blessings in our lives.
What do you think about the idea of boasting? Our New England reticence leads us to discourage boasting as self-promoting blather and yet our wider culture encourages it, even requires it in some situations. As my son gets ready to apply to college, he needs to be able to present himself in the best possible light. As the presidential primary season moves forward all of the candidates must boast about their accomplishments and talk about how they are the best person to lead our nation. A boast requires us to have someone we want to impress. (You can’t boast to yourself!) It requires us to share information designed to make that other person think better of us. It sometimes causes us to exaggerate or at least strongly emphasize our role in something exciting or important. A boast tries to imply superiority, although too much boasting reveals insecurity. As much as boasting proclaims the best, the greatest, etc, the word has a definite negative connotation.
So why does the Apostle Paul talk about boasting in today’s text, especially when earlier in this very letter, he condemns it? The key difference is between boasting in ourselves or boasting in God. The Greek word Paul uses for boast (kauchometha) can also be translated as “rejoice” or “exalt in” or “have confidence in”. It literally means “living with head held high”. That sounds kind of nice, yes? We can live with head held high, we can boast in God.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is placed as his first in our Bibles but actually was the last written of the letters we have. This book is the culmination of his teaching and preaching and was written to a church he had not yet met. As the good rabbinical scholar that he was, Paul’s letter has a clear and tight argument about the nature of life lived in Christ. In the first four chapters of Romans, Paul lays out the universality of sin and brokenness in humanity and God’s response to humanity; that through Christ, all may be reconciled. In chapter 5 he begins to talk about how we are to live out our reconciled life. “According to Paul’s anthropology boasting is a characteristic human activity. Boasting and being ashamed are part of the language of honor and shame typical of Greco-Roman culture. For a Christian, it is what one boasts about and on what basis that is a matter of debate and exhortation.” (Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, workingpreacher.org)
Our text for today, starts with the basis for our boast. “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we* have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (5:1). Regardless of social standing or accomplishment, we can be at peace with God through Jesus. There is no litmus test or entrance fee to the Body of Christ, all are welcomed. “Do you love Jesus? Come on in.” This was revolutionary in the early church, where people of means and those who were slaves were called to see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, all on equal footing. This equality subverts the way boasting works, for usually a boast tries to point out what the boaster has and the listener does not. (I caught the biggest fish. I have the nicest house. I’m better than you.) In God, everyone has the opportunity to boast.
Paul tells us that “we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (5:2b) Hope is not a birthday wish for a new pony, or purchasing a lottery ticket, or crossing our fingers that it won’t rain on our picnic. Hope is aligned with God and is built on the confidence that in the end, all things work together for the good. Hope buoys us and makes it possible for us to move forward into the future with our eyes focused on the glory of God. Because we have peace with God and because we know the love of Christ we have hope. We can live with our head held high, we can boast in hope.
Paul then tells us “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings.” This is harder. While some may feel that their suffering has been redemptive, there is a lot of suffering in this world which is not. Before Jesus, it was believed that suffering was caused by sin and God’s displeasure; if you were suffering, you must deserve it somehow. And this idea still lingers today. But Jesus and Paul both renounced this view. God does not zap us to teach us a lesson. At the last ABC Biennial, the Rev. Dr. Zina Jacque preached a sermon about the scars of Jesus. Why does Jesus’ resurrected body have scars? Zina said that Jesus’ scars give honor to all the scars we carry. These scars prove that we have overcome pain and adversity. They testify to our endurance, our character, and our hope for the future. We can live with our head held high, we can boast in our suffering.
Suffering is not only an individual experience. Paul was speaking to an early church who suffered together. As a community we suffer on behalf of others; we bear each others’ burdens, we pay attention to those in need, we advocate for the vulnerable, and we risk ourselves to reach out to those who are desperately hurting. This kind of suffering together also leads to endurance and character and back to hope which Paul tells us “does not disappoint”.
We can boast in our suffering, we can boast in our hope “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” We are filled to overflowing with the extravagant, outrageous, unending love of God which will not let us go. We are held and guided, and energized by the Holy Spirit. To experience this love and to talk about it is to boast, with our heads held high, of the joy and peace that God brings to our lives.
To boast in God is not to try and be superior to others. It is not to make ourselves seem better or more important. To boast in God is simply to share the love of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
This Spring the power of the Holy Spirit has been very evident among us at First Baptist and of this we can boast. Ideas that were planted in the past are growing and beginning to flower. Our partnership with the Karen Community continues to grow. The International Pasta Supper on Memorial Day weekend was a grand success with 114 people sharing a meal together and looking forward to next year. We welcomed Jeneve Joslin as our Director of Christian Education and she has already made a wonderful impact on our Church School and our congregation as a whole. We have begun a new partnership with a Sister Church in Puerto Rico and they are so excited to get to know us and to grow in fellowship together. After three years we are ready to decide about making our church governance structure more flexible and ministry focused. [This past week we found our next organist, a young man who will bring many musical gifts to our community.] We have hope! We can boast in God who makes all things possible.
As we look around the world we see trouble all around us; tensions rising between nations, climate change, to name just a few. But we have hope! We can see God’s spirit moving through the world, encouraging love and peace and justice among people of good will. So let us sit up, with our heads held high, and contemplate God’s blessings of which we can boast. And may we share these blessings with the world.
Let us pray, God of Hope, we praise you and thank you for your love and peace and grace which empowers us and enables us to serve you. We boast in your love. Amen.