Through Life’s Struggles to Peace with God
(Lectionary Starters)

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B
April 6, 2003
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalms 51:1-12; Hebrews 5:5-10
Jim Killen, A minister of the United Methodist Church, Beaumont, TX

We have been talking together for several weeks about what it means to live a life shaped by a covenant with God. We have hoped that, by being at peace with God, we can also be at peace with ourselves – and with each other – and with life. Two of our scripture lessons teach us that this should be an inward thing that shapes our lives from the inside out. Jeremiah speaks of the law of God being put within us and written on our hearts. The psalmist teaches us to pray for a clean heart, for a new and right spirit, for a close relationship with God and for a renewal of the joy of our salvation.

Does that sound like something you want? For those of you who have spent much time fighting your way through a life that sometimes resembles a kind of warfare, that kind of peace with God may be something that your heart yearns for. But that same experience of struggling may make you doubt that such a peace could even be possible.

The Bible is realistic about that. It tells us that God can lead us through the struggles to peace.

I. Have you ever felt like giving up hope of ever living a peace with God?

The Bible talks a lot about what it means to live in a covenant with God. It tells us that God has promised to love us and to be there for us and to make fullness of life possible for us. It tells us that we are to respond by trusting God’s promise and by living lives shaped inwardly by obedience to God’s will and commitment to God’s loving purpose. That sounds good.

But life in the real world often seems to make that seem very difficult if not impossible. Sometimes we experience things in life that seem to represent God’s loving presence. But we experience lots of other things that seem cruel and exploitative or indifferent. And the things life requires us to do often make trusting seem foolish. They make obedience to God’s loving purpose seem like a loser’s role.

It is easy to lose hope and sink into cynical participation in all that is going on in the world.

II. But the Bible doesn’t say it will be easy to come into covenant with God.

Jeremiah represented God offering a new covenant to the people of Israel after a long and painful history of God offering covenant to the people but the people breaking the covenant and suffering for it. And the psalmist, a prayer for a clean heart is part of a prayer of repentance in which the prayer confesses and struggles with everything that is wrong in his life.

Here is another aspect of this struggle that you may not have thought of. God has been struggling to come into a right relationship with us. The history to which Jeremiah referred suggests a long and anguished process of God reaching out to us. The book of Hebrews tells us that, before Jesus was raised up to represent us in the presence of God, he shared our own experiences of life. He offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears, and “learned obedience through suffering”. John 12:27 tells us that Jesus had to work his way through great ambivalence to be obedient to what he found to be God’s purpose for him. “Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say…”

This right relationship with God is something that finally emerges when our struggling toward God meets God’s struggling to reach us.

III. How can that happen for us?

First, do not lose hope. Recognize that the spiritual struggles of your life are signs that you are spiritually alive, not that you are spiritually dead.

Eventually, in the midst of the struggle, you may break through into a sort of a “clearing” where you realize that some things you have been struggling with – or for – are not really important. You will realize that God really does forgive you for the wrongness in your life and accept you as you are. Then you will find yourself able to go on working with God – not against him – to become what you hope to be. This is more likely to happen when you have been in the struggle a long time. Those who are young can look forward to that and keep struggling.

Hold this vision of God in mind. There is one who is an aspect of God’s being who understands our life’s struggles because he has been through them. And God is working to reach out to us even as we reach out to him. It was for this purpose that Christ suffered and died. He said, “…when I am lifted up from the earth, (on a cross) I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). Remember that. Hang on to hope. Keep struggling.

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