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Sun, Jun 14, 2020

Let us Boast

Our Second Reading for this morning comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 5, verses 1-5. Most of the fourth chapter of Romans has been about how Abraham was justified or “reckoned was righteous,” by faith in God’s promises. This is Paul’s key exegetical find and it allows him to see how both Jews and Gentiles might be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ. Thus, chapter 4 concludes: It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification. This is life transforming good news as Paul begins to explain in our text for today. Let us hear this Word of God.

1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

I am sure that most of you will remember from your confirmation or new member class here at Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church, that we are part of a national denomination called the Presbyterian Church (USA). This coming Friday, June 19th, the 224th meeting of the PC(USA) General Assembly will come to order. And for the first time in the history of General Assembly meetings since 1789, the representatives from all the Presbyteries will meet online. Many of the normal items of business have been parred down given the online format. But one that remains, one of the first items on the agenda, is to choose a Moderator.

The Moderator, or now Co-Moderators, perform two essential functions. First, they moderate or run the General Assembly meeting with the help of the Stated Clerk, Committee Chairs, and delegates. Second, and perhaps more important, for the next two years the Moderator serves as the chief cheerleader for the church, traveling all over the world to tell the story of what God is doing through and in the PC(USA).

One of the Moderators who did this second task best was Marj Carpenter, who was elected Moderator back in 1995. As a college student, I spent that summer working in Youth Ministry at the General Assembly Offices in Louisville, KY and so was able to attend the General Assembly meeting in Cincinnati, OH. I still remember Carpenter’s speech before her election in which she said, "We can do a lot together in this church if we remember missions and forget to quarrel." And perhaps most famously, she described herself as “sinfully proud of being a Presbyterian!”

That phrase has stuck with me for twenty five years now, in part because I too am sinfully proud of being a Presbyterian. I am also sinfully proud to have been the pastor of Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church for the last seven years. Think of all that we have done together. We have performed over 60 baptisms (including Lee Lee and Drew Simpson as a part of this service). We received 201 new members, including 62 youth who made their public profession of faith that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior. We have started new ministries for fellowship and study for Senior Adults, Young Couples, Women and Men. We have renewed and deepened our mission relationships with GAP, Augusta Locally Grown, Turn Back the Block, the Master’s Table, and the Boys and Girls Club. We do not just write checks anymore, we are engaged in mission partnerships locally, across this country, and in Haiti and Guatemala.

Our worship life on Sunday mornings and with special services is more rich and faithful. We have the opportunity to read scripture and pray together daily with email and Facebook devotionals. We are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Midweek Wholeness Service.

We have refreshed our children’s ministry and Mothers’ Day Out space and rebranded our children’s and youth ministry in new and exciting ways. We have crossed off a long list of deferred maintenance items.

We have seen more than a 30% increase in giving and pledges. Each of the last seven years you have given more than we planned to spend, allowing us to increase our mission giving, build our church staff, and prepare for coming maintenance needs. Plus, we paid off the remaining $500,000 debt from the sanctuary renovation in the early 2000s.

We launched a new website and began regular engagement on Facebook, adding multiple online ministry components like weekly Sunday’s Coming and Moments with Ms. Maple videos, long before COVID-19 sent all of our ministry online.

We have engaged in some hard discussions and we have found a way to be the church even and especially when we do not all agree. And most of all, there is a renewed spirit of faith, hope, love, and joy in our midst. Yes, my friends I am sinfully proud to have been the pastor of Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church for the last seven years. And I hope that you are sinfully proud to be a member or guest of this church too.

Now, I could keep going on and on … but if I do you might accuse me of boasting. And you would probably be right. That is the danger, isn’t it? If I think about all that I have done as your pastor; if you think about all that your pastor has accomplished during his ministry here; if we think about all that we have done, it quickly becomes all about us. Pastors do it all the time - boasting to other pastors about their growing church membership and budget and buildings. Congregations do it too - on the one hand boasting about our programs or our pastor or our church staff; or on the other hand being jealous of a church you drive by with a full parking lot because they must be doing something better than our church is.

Yes, as sinners in need of God’s amazing grace, we are quite prone to making “church” all about us. It is all about me. As Jane Howington has shared with so many in this community for so many years, “I may not be much, but I’m all I think about.” There is no better statement of idolatry than that and we are all guilty!

Now we should probably admit that the apostle Paul sometimes falls prey to this kind of self-aggrandizement as well. But in our text for today at least, Paul does remind us of our proper boasting. Because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, we have peace with God, we do not need to worry if God is on our side, and we need not fear that evil will carry the day. Instead, we can boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

Yes, we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. If we think about it in that way, it reframes all the ministry that we have done over the last seven years. For it is not about me as your pastor; it’s not about our great church staff; it is not about what we have done together. No, we boast because we have glimpsed the glory of God. We have seen God at work in new and creative and life transforming ways. We have experienced the peace of God that passes all understanding. We have accomplished things we could never have done on our own because God was with us on the way. My friends, we are so blessed to be a part of this congregation because God keeps showing up in our midst! Anything we have done together is a witness to God’s showing up, a witness to our hope of sharing the glory of God. And God is not going anywhere!

Now, just because God is always present does not mean that being a follower of Jesus Christ is always an easy way. If it was all about us, we would make ministry as easy and comfortable as possible, right? But it’s all about God. And we know that there are powers in this world working against the plans and purposes of God.

So Paul adds another boast. He says that we boast in our suffering - not random suffering; not self-inflicted suffering; not intentional suffering - no we boast in our suffering for the gospel. Because suffering for the gospel produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.

So as the end of my time on this way with you draws to a close, I want to remind you of something I shared with you a few years ago after I had been to a conference with some pastoral colleagues. In addition to reading and talking about theology, I spent my time that week boasting about the endurance and steadfastness of Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church.

Yes, it is possible to tell the story of Reid Memorial over the last twenty-five years as a story of challenge, division, and difficult days. But with my colleagues that week, and with you again this morning, I choose to tell a different story. I tell the story of this congregation’s steadfastness and endurance in the midst of suffering for the gospel. It is the story of the faithfulness of the saints who have gone before us. A story of a remarkable kind of character that this congregation discovered and nurtured which enables it to meet new challenges. A story about spiritual maturity and grace and most all of hope.

My friends, I am sinfully proud to have been your pastor and I am going to keep on boasting about the ways that God is showing up in this church. Yes, in this church I choose to tell a good news story, a gospel story. A story of hope, of faith and love, of endurance and steadfastness. The story of a God who has called us to be the church together, who has redeemed us through the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross, and who by the power of the Holy Spirit refuses to ever let us go.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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